The times in which we live can seriously impact the type of books we choose to read. When an economy is booming, unemployment low and the national feeling is upbeat, we often indulge ourselves with reading books about war, natural disasters and murderous crimes.  But in unsettled, worrying and tragic times, such as the world pandemic we have been living through, some of us prefer to divert ourselves with romantic fiction, and gentler stories of human frailties, aspirations and hope. We like thought-provoking books, but we also want to be touched and inspired.

We may all have been reading more in recent years, with lockdown and self-isolation. Instructed to stay at home to reduce the spread of the Covid infection, some of us had a lot of time on our hands and turned to books for stimulation and consolation. Or just to pass the time pleasurably. So what do you like to read?

Some people prefer non-fiction and like history, biography, science, current affairs, philosophy, cookery books, and sport, to name a few. Most of us love stories – and fiction offers us a huge choice of these. There are so many genres in fiction – crime, adventure, thriller, sci-fi, rom com, adventure, ‘chic lit’, historical fiction, fantasy or serious literary fiction. Do you like being gripped by a crime story or lifted out of reality with fantasy? Or delving into the past with an historical romance?

It appears that in the last few years, there has been a new trend for uplifting literature known as ‘Up-Lit’ or Feel Good Fiction.  These books deal honestly with issues that society is less than comfortable talking about such as loneliness, mental health, anxiety and trauma. Such books involve a voyage of self-discovery on the part of the main characters who learn that life has possibilities beyond their current existence with its cramped boundaries, and by the end of the story they will form friendships and been swept into a community and achieved change in their lives

Such inspirational books might be delightful and funny but also heart-wrenching and sad. I know, as an author myself, that with books in this genre, the main character is the key to the books appeal and its success. I should like to tell you about five that are beautifully written and a really good read.

My Top Five Feel-Good Fiction Recommendations. 

The Love Story of Missy Carmichael by Beth Morrey (2020) is a life affirming, moving ‘coming-of-old’ story about a courageous but vulnerable 79-year-old woman. The novel demonstrates that life can be turned transformed through community, friendships and – in the case of this story – a dog. This insightful book about love, loss and guilt illustrates the need to forgive ourselves.  At a time when people are having to isolate and often feel lonely, books like this are a balm and resonate with readers because they offer a story of life, connection and friendship.   

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman (2017) is another fine book which has boosted the popularity of this genre, winning the Costa Debut Novel Award in 2017 and becoming a bestseller. The protagonist and narrator, a 29-year-old woman who is socially awkward and solitary, has been scarred mentally and physically by her past. Dealing with issues of loneliness, prejudice and trauma, and the importance of kindness which transforms her life, the book has warmth and humour, and is ultimately joyful.

A Man called Ove by Swedish author, Fredrik Backman (2015) is a heart-warming book of love, loss and second chances and tells the moving story of a grumpy middle-aged man who adheres to his idiosyncratic routine, can’t understand modern technology and doesn’t want to. His intolerance  reminds one of Victor Meldrew (One Foot in the Grave). There is some wonderful black humour in this sad but uplifting tale of how kindness, love and happiness can be found in the most unlikely places.  It was a bestseller.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (2013) is a wise and wonderfully original book about an ordinary man who one day finds himself unexpectedly walking along the length of England to save the life of a dying woman. This moving, intriguing and funny story is a celebration of being human and of the redemptive power of kindness. It teaches us to have hope during the loneliness and doubt we often feel in our travels through life and it encourages us to keep moving, finding understanding and trying to do our best.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (2008, but republished in 2018 when the film was made) is written in epistolary form as an exchange of letters in 1946 between a young authoress, Juliet Ashton, and the quirky members of the society, whose lives were impacted by tragedy and the deprivations during the Second World War by cause by the German occupation of the island.  Alexander McCall Smith has praised this beautiful book: “Atmospheric and touching, it is about love and friendship and the ability of these qualities to survive adversity.” 

This novel gave me the idea how to write my fourth book, Dear Magpies.

I have been a compulsive letter writer all my life and realised that the story could be told through letters or emails. I decided to have an older main character – a resilient woman around 60 with a fascinating past – and in deep trouble of some sort.  I wanted to illustrate how people cope with living on their own, whether they are solitary by choice or by circumstance.  Though people can be extremely lonely living in big cities, I placed my story with its themes of loss, hope and endurance in a rural village, where sometimes it can be hard to find a kindred spirit or a friend with the same values and interests.

Dear Magpies is a family drama with a strong sense of place and a tinge of suspense, dealing with tragic secrets, loneliness and poverty. My main character, Josie Cuff, has lost almost everyone she has ever loved – and now, having moved to a small village in Dorset after years in South America, she is trying to make a new life and to find herself a permanent place in the community. More urgently she is searching for her lost grandchildren, who ten years before disappeared on the other side of the world. Trying to create some sort of connection with the only family members she has left, she writes to her teenage grandchildren, recounting her turbulent life through letters which she is unable to send. She also tells them about her present life in a village, where she has encountered various eccentric and enigmatic individuals, with whom she tries to make friends.

In common with other feel-good books, my protagonist moves from a dark place of anxiety and isolation to find self-awareness, contentment and hope. Sometimes the reader moves in the same direction.