Books of my life by Louise Welsh

Louise Welsh (MA 1990, MLitt 2000) has loved literature ever since she was a child. After graduating from Glasgow, Louise opened her own second-hand bookshop – an attempt, she says, to get closer to the book. She has written eight novels, including ‘The Cutting Room’ and the ‘Plague Times Trilogy', and four opera librettos. Life came full circle for Louise in 2015 when she returned to Glasgow as Professor of Creative Writing. Here, she tells us about the books of her life.

The book that makes me laugh the most
When I’m down, PG Wodehouse's 'Jeeves and Wooster' books can generally raise a smile. He’s a master storyteller and I like the farce element in his books. The laugh is not in finding out what happens, but in the anticipation. In that way, humour writing is not so far away from horror writing. The scare is important, but it’s not really about the monster jumping out of the cupboard, or whatever. It’s about that build-up, that delicious “Argh! What’s going to happen?”

The books I come back to again and again
I probably read James Hogg’s 'Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner' once a year. I also regularly reread Patricia Highsmith. Her crime novels are intelligent, beautifully constructed examinations of the human psyche.

The book I loved most as a child
I loved E Nesbit's books, particularly 'Five Children and It'. They’re imaginative, fantastical novels which are underpinned by socialism. I wouldn’t have recognised the political aspect as a child, but reading them now, I spot messages about equality. There’s a steampunk aspect to the books – Victorian children go forward in time to a future that we’re now living in but, of course, our reality is very different to what E Nesbit imagined.

The book that I would recommend to others
'Inside the Wave', a collection of poetry written by Helen Dunmore while she was dying of cancer. It’s a stunning collection and I would recommend it to anyone going through something similar, or who has a relative or close friend who is. Dunmore knows that she is dying, but while she is alive and able to, she continues to create. The collection reminds us of the joy of being alive.

The book that changed my mind
Robert Macfarlane’s 'Underland: A Deep Time Journey' literally travels underground. In one section, Macfarlane explains some of the ways in which trees communicate and help each other through underground networks. That has changed my outlook. Now, when I’m out walking, I’m looking at the trees and thinking of them as lifelike or sentient. 

The book that inspired me
'Treasure Island' was the first book I remember that kept me awake at night. Most Scottish writers love Robert Louis Stevenson. I am no exception. RLS also wrote beautifully about the power of dreams. I try and tap into my unconscious as well as my conscious mind when I write. It may look as if I am having a nap, but I can assure you I'm working!

The book I'm currently reading
I recently finished Polly Clark’s thrilling second novel, 'Tiger', set mainly in Siberia. I’m in awe of the research Polly did and how lightly she wears it. She took me to a location I have never physically visited and made me very afraid.

Current projects
'Anthropocene', Louise’s 2019 eco-opera written in collaboration with composer Stuart MacRae, will have a new production at Salzburg State Theatre in March 2020.

'No One Called Her Angel', a creepy five-part radio series for BBC Radio 4, will air in January–February 2020.

Louise’s next novel, working title 'The Nature of Dogs', is set on a university campus somewhere in Central Scotland and will appear in early 2021.

This article was first published in January 2020.