By Rose Billington, Associate Editor, The Literary Consultancy


Goodbye to all that. Robert Graves

A haunting exploration of the legacy of WW1 by the English poet.

A voice through a cloud. Denton Welch

An account of the terrible accident in 1935 that left this creative artist bed bound and his hospital experiences afterwards until his early death at aged 31.

Hons and Rebels. Jessica Mitford

Comic yet feeling portrait of an isolated and eccentric upbringing amidst the aristocratic Mitford family in 1920s/30s.

Bad Blood. Lorna Sage

Searing account of a childhood and adolescence in the 1940s and 50s on the Welsh borders where family trauma reverberates through the generations.

Fierce Attachments. Vivian Gornick

Love and hatred between mother and daughter starting in the Bronx in the 1940s.

Miracles of Life. J G Ballard

Childhood in a Japanese internment camp by the author of The Empire of the Sun and then adulthood in the swinging sixties bringing up three children after the tragedy of his wife’s early death.

Grief and illness

The Last Act of Love. Cathy Rentzenbrink

The author’s teenage brother was knocked down by a car and in a coma for eight years before he died: how to find hope and joy when your world has changed forever. Cathy is the Bridport Prize’s 2022 memoir judge.

When Breath becomes Air. Paul Kalanathi

A 36 year old surgeon faces cancer and death with unflinching honesty.

The IcebergMarion Coutts

A wife’s experience of the effect of a deadly brain tumour on her husband while bringing up their young child.

Interesting form

Sleepless NightsElizabeth Hardwick

First published in the US in 1979, a unique and kaleidoscopic account of images and memories from the wife of Robert Lowell.

Bluets. Maggie Nelson

Ostensibly about the author’s obsession with the colour blue, this is also about the end of an affair and questions the role of beauty in facing pain and grief.

Annie Ernaux series

Especially The Years. 1941-2006 from memory, photos, songs, past impressions, a French writer’s personal and universal highly original charting of her times.

Where shall we run to? Alan Garner

Charming account of the writer’s rural Cheshire childhood up to the age of 11, deceptively simple portrait of a vanished England.

Contemporary women’s lives

Everything I know about love. Dolly Alderton

The author’s exploration of her twenties in the 1990s with all the heartbreak and revelation it entailed.

Deborah Levy’s trilogy series

From what it is to be a woman writer to her divorce to the power of ‘real estate’ and how to live alone, this is a hugely powerful, honest and uplifting trilogy.

Clothes, clothes clothes, music, music music, boys, boys, boys and To Throw Away Unopened. Viv Albertine

The female punk singer’s life and loves; and the devastation and family drama when her mother is dying.

The Wild Other and My Wild and Sleepless Nights. Clover Stroud After her mother’s tragic accident when the author is 16, she travels from gypsy camps to Texas to war torn Russia finding a way through her grief; years later an emotional depiction of what it means to be a mother of 5 children – with conflicting feelings of loneliness, despair and joy.

Consumed. Arifa Akbar

When her artist sister dies of TB in a modern London hospital, the author looks back at their relationship with each other and their Pakistani parents who arrived penniless in 1970s Britain.

20th century 

Educated. Tara Westover

The author’s account of her radical religious “off-grid” family and how reading took her into a new world.

Nothing holds back the Night. Delphine de Vigan

Shocking and tender depiction of family secrets and revelations in one 20th century French family.

The Devil that Danced on the WaterAminatta Forna

Powerful account of post-colonial African childhood and exile showing consequences of her father’s stand against tyranny.

Don’t let’s go to the dogs tonight & Leaving before the Rains come. Alexandra Fuller

Dramatic childhood in southern Africa filled with grief and violence and later, a turbulent marriage and travels.

Hillbilly Elegy. J D Vance

Portrait of the white working class in 20th century America and how the author escaped the legacies of abuse, alcoholism, poverty and trauma.

Rose Billington is an editorial consultant, adviser and mentor. She was an agent at the Wylie Agency where her clients included Salman Rushdie, and is now Associate Editor at the Literary Consultancy, as well as editor and reader for a variety of publishers, agents and literary scouts. She has an MA in English Literature from Cambridge University and lives in London.  

Line Break