6 brilliant LGBT+ authors on the profound, moving and exhilarating books that changed their lives

Covers of the books featured in this article

Books can help people discover new emotional depths and develop better self-understanding – something especially true for LGBT+ book nerds.

More than 212 million print books were sold in the UK in 2021, a five per cent increase from the year before and the highest number in a decade.

People have devoured books to discover new worlds, escape from the pressures of the pandemic or even just to unwind at the end of the day.

For some, cracking open a book and seeing yourself reflected in its pages can help those feeling marginalised connect with a broader outside world.

With this in mind, PinkNews asked six LGBT+ authors from across a variety of genres, experiences and countries to share the books – queer or not – that changed their lives and helped them feel seen for the first time.

Noughts & Crosses – Malorie Blackman

Cover image for Noughts & Crosses by Mallory Black

(Amazon UK/Noughts & Crosses/Penguin; 1st edition 6 April 2017)

Adiba Jaigirdar, author of Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, said that Malorie Blackman’s book not only had a life-changing impact on her, but also a “major impact in the publishing industry at large” in the UK and Ireland.

“I think it was actually the first book that I read which was by a marginalised person in general, but definitely it was the first book that I read that was by a woman of colour,” Jaigirdar said of Noughts & Crosses.

She explained that seeing characters who were people of colour helped her realise that she could be an author and “write about people who look like me or experience life like I do”.

“Before that, I didn’t necessarily know if that was a possibility because I had never seen those characters written out,” Jaigirdar said. “I’d never seen those authors writing books.”

Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor and And I Darken – Kiersten White

Side by side images of the cover pages for Daughter of Smoke and Bone and And I Darken

(Amazon UK/Daughter of Smoke and Bone/Hodder Paperbacks 10 Dec 2020/And I Darken/Corgi Childrens 7 July 2016)

Xiran Jay Zhao, author of Iron Widow, said Daughter of Smoke and Bone was the first book that first helped them see “how beautiful language could be”.

“Laini Taylor is a storytelling master, and I’m always astounded by her ability to balance gorgeous descriptions and page-turning tension,” they said.

Zhao said their own novel couldn’t have been written without White’s And I Darken, which they said “expanded my view of what a YA protagonist could be like”.

“Lada was so fierce and vicious she took my breath away,” Zhao said. “Not to mention all the LGBT representation in a historical setting!”

Escape From Furnace – Alexander Gordon Smith and The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

Side by side images of the cover pages for Escape from Furnace and The Song of Achilles

(Amazon UK/The Song of Achilles/Bloomsbury Paperbacks; 1st edition 21 Sept 2017/Escape from Furnace 1: Lockdown/Faber & Faber 16 Aug 2013)

Andrew Joseph White, author of Hell Followed with Us, described Alexander Gordon Smith’s book as an “edgy, early-2010s young adult series that doesn’t get talked about much”.

“I read it in high school, and I’m almost scared to read it again in case it doesn’t hold up after all this time,” he said.

“But when I was 14 and unaware of my identity as a queer trans man, it practically wrote itself into my ribcage. The body horror solidified my life-long love of monstrosity, and how monstrosity can be a reflection of my gender and sexuality.

“Obviously, the series never intended any of this – I remember it being a mindless squick-fest that I devoured in one sitting – but I credit it for putting me on the path to the work I do now.”

White also recommended a The Song Of Achilles, a queer tale by Madeline Miller that focuses on the lives, friendship and eventual romantic feelings between Patroclus, an awkward young prince, and the demi-god Achilles.

He told PinkNews: “I also read this one in high school, right before I began to question everything about myself. The book was my first celebration of queer love as art, as something ancient and undying, as something surviving forever.

“In fact, Patroclus’ character shaped my transition to male years later: a soft man capable of loving other men, who masters the art of healing through getting his own hands bloody, and showing that the definition of ‘man’ can be softer than the world often wants it to be. I so desperately needed to see that.

“It’s the combination of those two things, I think, that helped shape me: a connection to monstrosity made soft, beasts as a representation of love and protection”

The Tortall series – Tamora Pierce

Side by side images of the cover pages for Alanna and First Test

(Amazon UK/Alanna/Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Reprint ed edition 7 Dec 2010/First Tes/HarperVoyager 5 Sept 2019)

Zabé Ellor, author of May the Best Man Win and Silk Fire, said Tamora Pierce’s expansive fantasy series mattered “most to me as a child” because the novels focused on “young women – magical or otherwise – achieving heroic feats in a world of obstacles political, cultural, and supernatural”

“What influenced me the most was seeing how hard her heroines had to work to deal with all the obstacles in their path — there was no magical shortcut to achieve their goals, and they often had to work twice as hard as male characters to get credit,” Ellor said.

He continued: “I really admire authors who can be honest to young readers about the struggles they’ll face in the real world and not over-simplify things for kids.”

The Arden St Ives series – Alexis Hall

Cover image for How to Bang a Billionaire by Alexis Hall

(Amazon UK/How to Bang a Billionaire/Forever Yours; Digital original edition 18 April 2017)

As a queer romance writer, Anita Kelly, author of Love & Other Disasters, told PinkNews there was “only one answer” when it came to which writer changed her life the most – Alexis Hall.

She described how much of Hall’s work focuses on the “kind of mess, complicated, unapologetically queer stories I live for”.

“The breadth of Hall’s work inspires me in itself; he is constantly taking risks and writing whatever the hell he wants. If I had to choose a favourite, though, it would have to be his Arden St Ives series,” Kelly said.

“It is sort of funny that these are my favourite books, considering the first book is titled How to Bang a Billionaire, and I most definitely think billionaires shouldn’t exist, but I now hear the title in a rather tongue-in-cheek way, just another hallmark of Hall’s humour.”

Kelly described the book as a “reaction to the 50 Shades empire” but “turned queer and kink positive”. As such, she said it was an “epic saga about power, sex, trauma, love, and vulnerability that I could read over and over again (and have)”.

Don’t Bite the Sun – Tanith Lee and Stealing Thunder – Alina Boyden

Side by side images of the cover pages for Don't Bite the Sun by Tanith Lee and Stealing Thunder by Alina Boyden

(Amazon UK/Don’t Bite the Sun/New Amer Library 1 July 1979/Stealing Thunder/Ace 28 May 2020)

Maya Deane, author of Wrath Goddess Sing, told PinkNews that one of the most influential books she read growing up was Tanith Lee’s Don’t Bite the Sun.

She described the book as a “fascinating, distant future science fiction novel” which is also a queer coming of age story for a character who “lives in a society run by robots”.

“[It’s] leapfrogging the series of coming of age processes you’re supposed to go through over the centuries,” Deane explained. “It’s a society where everyone changes bodies like they would change clothes.”

She said the main character “frequently just gets depressed and decides” to become “another glamorously attractive and beautiful woman”. But this is considered a “little weird” as others in society will “make a point of changing genders a lot more”.

“And as a young trans child, I was like ‘I feel weirdly seen by this very strange Tanith Lee novel’,” Deane said.

Deane also recommends Boyden’s Stealing Thunder and its sequel, Gifting Fire. She explained it was the “first big five fantasy novel” to star a trans woman which was also written by a trans woman.

“And that kind of made it clear to me that this is possible – this is a thing that can in fact happen,” Deane said. “There are readers who are interested in trans women stories, and that really set me on the path to well querying Wrath Goddess Sing and getting it out into the world.”