Sharon Owens studied Illustration at the Belfast School of Art, and after graduation decided to become a painter. Her work has been shortlisted by the Royal Ulster Academy. She also writes Women’s Fiction, and is best known for her debut novel, 'The Tea House On Mulberry Street', which was a global success, selling almost half a million copies, and shortlisted by the Romantic Novelists Association. She is currently working on her eighth novel. Website: www.sharonowens.co.uk Instagram: SharonOwensTea Twitter: SharonOwensTea Etsy: SharonOwensArt
A book you loved as a child?
I loved The Borrowers series by Mary Norton. There were five books in the series, and I still have my original copies. As a child of the Troubles, and of divorced parents, and educated at a time when children were still caned at school, I identified hugely with the Clock family, and their desire to live quietly under the floorboards. The beautiful pen & ink illustrations by Diana Stanley were the reason I went to the Belfast School of Art, when I was twenty. I still get a thrill when I hear Leighton Buzzard mentioned, in any capacity, as I didn’t know back then that it was a real town.
A book you have read more than once?
I re-read a lot of books, mostly my Janet McNeill collection. But I’d have to say Little Deaths by Emma Flint, which is a conjectural thriller. It’s incredibly clever, atmospheric, stylish and tender. I aspire to write a book like this, though I know I never will. I also re-read The Blue Tango by Eoin McNamee. I love reading melancholy books but only ever seem able to write funny, romantic ones.
A book that deserves more attention?
Travelling In A Strange Land by David Park. This novel is just so beautiful. It’s about a father’s love for his family, and the terrible choice he must make, knowing he can never tell his wife about it. I don’t think I’ve ever read such a moving novel about fatherhood, or about being a parent. Or about driving in the snow. I would love to see this novel made into a film. I think it would win every category at the Oscars.
A book you have given as a gift?
Copies of Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine. What can I say? A collection of short stories so well-crafted you can almost hear the characters talking over one another in draughty Belfast houses. A masterpiece, by surely one of the leading literary stars of Northern Ireland. Another writer I aspire to be like one day but know that I never will. Most days I wish I could be paid for reviewing books, so I didn’t have to try to write another one myself.
A book with personal resonance?
The Maiden Dinosaur by Janet McNeill. Sarah Vincent, a 52-year-old spinster schoolteacher in pre-Troubles Belfast is a sort of living fossil. A childhood trauma has left her wary of relationships, and her social circle is confined to the girls she knew at school, now women like herself, trying to cope with the “indignities and absurdities” of middle age.
I love this novel, now even more than I did when I first discovered it thirty years ago, because now I know that middle age does not bring any satisfactory answers to the great questions of life. How true, how disappointing. Though Sarah does find someone to share her life with, at the end, which is always wonderful, and every time I read it, I feel a physical surge of joy for her. This novel is wonderful about men too, how most men also struggle to find validation in life, and someone to care about them. I think that’s what I will always write about, finding sanctuary and acceptance in a humdrum world.