Search

Reader Dad – Book Reviews

Dark Crime and Speculative Fiction book reviews

Category

Influences

INFLUENCES: My Influences by NICHOLAS SEARLE

NICHOLAS SEARLE Name: NICHOLAS SEARLE

Author of: THE GOOD LIAR (2016)

On Twitter: @searlegoodliar

It’s difficult to list the influences on my writing. There are too many and several of them are subliminal rather than conscious. Plus, there’s a risk when you cite influences that you’re inviting comparisons. Definitely not, in my case: I’m looking up at people not seeking to emulate them or imagine I’m on the same level.

Let’s start with the obvious: John le Carré. His key espionage books – apart from the wonderful The Spy Who Came In From The Cold – were published in my adult formative years and seemed to sum so much up for me. I loved the serpentine plots but for me it was the characters and the integral cynicism – concealing idealism – and world-weariness that won me over. And, of course, the prose. I do think that spying is a rich vein for writers to mine, so long as they can do so convincingly. It contains a multitude of our most primal concerns in life. Who can I trust? Am I being disloyal myself? How can I make the right choice when faced with what looks like a range of bad ones? How do I balance heart and head? To see them distilled on the page in this setting can be very enriching. In common with several others, I think that when le Carré attempts to write ‘literary’ fiction (whatever that is) the end result can look mushy – The Naïve And Sentimental Lover being a prime example – and that recently he’s become a bit ‘shouty’ at times. But le Carré off form is often better than many others at the peak of their achievement, and it’s hard to beat the trio of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People.

Likewise Graham Greene, who like le Carré breaks the rules and straddles the boundary between what he calls ‘entertainments’ and serious fiction. I think he makes a false distinction and admit to being confused about the differentiations between genres: there’s as much truth for me in The Third Man or Our Man In Havana as there is in The Power And The Glory. If there is one book though that distils the darkness it’s Brighton Rock, still as vividly terrifying and cruel, and modern, as it was back in 1938. And you can trace the lineage back to Conrad: not so much the overblown seafaring epics like Lord Jim, but the much tighter stories that plumb our souls such as The Secret Agent and Heart of Darkness.

THE GOOD LIARI studied languages, so was fortunate enough to have been able to read some of the European classics of the mid-20th century in the original; and I loved their despair and desolation. I’ve a special place for Heinrich Böll and particularly Die Verlorene Ehre Der Katharina Blum (The Lost Honour Of Katharina Blum) and Ansichten Eines Clowns (a pretty poor English translation is long out of print). And I love Camus: the opening of L’Étranger (The Stranger) is possibly the best beginning sentence of any novel I’ve read.

I could go on. It seems perhaps scattergun but I admire immensely P.D. James, Richard Ford and Ian McEwan for the cool precision of their language that somehow conveys emotion. Kent Haruf’s brevity seeps feeling in each gap in the dialogue. And Kate Atkinson. Wow. In Life After Life and A God In Ruins she gives a masterclass in subtlety and complexity conveyed in the simplest of terms. She doesn’t treat the reader as a fool who needs to be led by the nose but challenges all the time and in the course of doing that tells fundamental truths, both about the thing that is fiction and about us.

And I haven’t even begun to describe my influences away from books, in film, TV, theatre and music!…

Nicholas Searle’s novel The Good Liar is out now from Penguin.

INFLUENCES: The Writer’s Bookshelf by ZYGMUNT MIŁOSZEWSKI

Zygmunt Miloszewski Name: ZYGMUNT MIŁOSZEWSKI

Author of: ENTANGLEMENT (2010)
                 A GRAIN OF TRUTH (2012)
                 RAGE (2016)

There are no schools or universities for writers. Well, there probably are some institutions out there that con people into believing they can be taught how to write, but the only school of writing worth mentioning is every writer’s bookshelf. So if I had to name my best teachers they would be: Astrid Lindgren, Charles Dickens, Kurt Vonnegut, Henning Mankell and Pierre Lemaitre.

Astrid Lindgren taught me that complexity and sophistication aren’t needed to make literature great. That wisdom and depth should be accompanied by light, warm humour and simple language, even when you’re writing about the darkest themes.

Charles Dickens is the only teacher you could possibly need for a Ph.D. in drawing characters.

Kurt Vonnegut makes this list for his constant ”Hey, but seriously?” irony, black humour and – in spite of all – his love of humanity. If you think a novel has to be serious to explain the world and you’re proud of having read Dostoevsky over and over, try Kurt. He explained everything that ever needed to be explained, his books are shorter and they‘re extremely funny.

Without Henning Mankell, I’d never have written a crime novel. I discovered him at the start of my career, and I was amazed to find that the same book can provide an in-depth analysis of a society as well as a gripping and well-plotted crime story. That was when I decided to write a crime novel underlined with a social commentary. Societies, with all their wrongs and lies, have always interested me more than individuals.

Pierre Lemaitre, on the contrary, was the reason why I stopped writing crime stories. I discovered his books and wept. While the rest of us competed within the genre of police procedurals, this French author upped and invented a crime genre of his own. The moment I realized what he had done, I decided to quit the contest. We may only be crime writers, but we’re still artists, whose task is to find our own way, not just to follow trails cut by others.

Rage Book Blog banner - Final

INFLUENCES: On ‘The Rock’ by GINA WOHLSDORF

Wohlsdorf-Gina-©-Rachel-Sundheim_2MB
Photo © Rachel Sundheim
Name: GINA WOHLSDORF

Author of: SECURITY (2016)

On the web: www.ginawohlsdorf.com

I was wracking my brain about which influence to discuss in this post. The truth is, everything I’ve read, watched and lived has had an influence on my fiction. I think that’s why I started writing to begin with, way back when I was too young to understand the relief I felt when I put my excess fascinations on paper. I retain too much. I need the outlet.

But don’t worry. As I debated how to consolidate my myriad artistic role models for your reading enjoyment, I dished some pot roast, flipped on DirectTV, and found The Rock playing on cable.

I’ve known a great many artists who are selective in the extreme about what they will permit themselves to learn from. Few of them would consider a scenery-chewing action film from 1996 as a proper place to gain storytelling skills. But as I said, I can’t help it. I’m an inveterate lover of a tale well-told. I decided this single film and the reasons I enjoy it could explain a lot about why I wrote a book like Security — a hybrid horror/mystery/romance with a narrator who pontificates on death and a heroine who makes a pretty good Sartre joke — as well as why I intend to write many more novels whose insouciant insistences on character and theme do not negate a concomitant devotion to thrills.

It’s all but impossible to argue that The Rock is in any way subtle. Firstly because Nicolas Cage is in it. His acting is a study in foregoing subtlety, and that’s its charm, its vividness. He’s a great match for Michael Bay, for whom this movie represents a fantastical departure from the digitally enhanced, narratively anorexic filmmaking he would embark upon later.

The plot: a legendary general takes over Alcatraz and threatens a poisoned gas attack on San Franciso. Cage is an FBI chemical weapons specialist tasked with disarming the rockets. He’ll be escorted in by a team of soldiers, and that team of soldiers will be led by the only convict who ever escaped the notorious American prison.

Enter Sean Connery. As with any movie he stars in, he is this one’s ace in the hole — a calm, wry presence who anchors the car chases, gun fights and explosions. He is also, undoubtedly, the greatest possible foil for Nicolas Cage, whose zany flights of improvised dialogue ring true and grounded and balanced in The Rock, more so than in any other work he’s done. My favorite line delivery in all of cinema is delivered in this movie, and it is delivered by Nicolas Cage.

“I drive a Volvo. Beige one.”

That line and the way he says it tells Connery’s character — and us — everything we could hope to know about Stanley Goodspeed, an unwilling hero who, of course, winds up going it alone with the grizzled escape artist, saving San Fran one scary bomb at a time.

It’s wonderful to have intriguing heroes. It is imperative to have interesting villains. That’s why Ed Harris is here, eminently buyable as a battalion commander with an axe to grind about soldiers killed in covert ops. He’s not just a maniac after money. The bad guys’ meltdown toward the finale reveals schisms within the ranks that distinguish the banally evil from the morally misguided.

Yet, for all that, what really makes The Rock a home run is The Rock itself. Alcatraz — the impenetrable, inescapable fortress that housed Capone, Doc Barker, and the first Public Enemy #1, Alvin Karpis. Who? Exactly. Alcatraz is where the worst of the worst were sent to disappear, and Bay actually filmed there. His taste for overkill color, off-putting in most of his projects, makes Alcatraz throb with age, reek, decay, danger. It’s like a decrepit playground for the dream cast to play on.

And yes, the slow-mo is overused. And yes, the set-up drags too long. Yes, lines like “You breathe, he breathes with you. You piss, he helps,” suggest the screenwriter took testosterone supplements to sound manlier. The music is overwrought (though the Irish flute is well-placed) and women are non-existent (except a meek daughter and a flighty fiance for the men to fret about). But when I went to this movie at age fifteen, I perfectly recall exiting the theater with my dad. The ground was soaked, the gutters flooded. A tornado had blown through while we were inside. There’s a joke in here about Michael Bay’s well-established love for loud, but had I been aware of the risk, I’d have probably just moved to a lower row. The finished cohesion of the story’s elements is that propulsive, alive, exciting, wild, and fun.

The Rock is not my favorite movie. I don’t think it cracks the top twenty. But it taught me lessons worth learning, and so have romance novels, and so have silly TV series about conflicted superheroes or melodramatic vampires. So has sitting in a coffeehouse on Sunday morning while the church crowd shows up for their after-worship mochas.

Writing is everywhere. Until you learn that, as well as how to swallow your pride and admit that Michael Bay once inspired you, your writing is nowhere.

Ergo . . .

Choose a setting pregnant with possibilities. Grow characters who spark off one another, challenge each other. Inhabit the big moments with shameless abandon. Allow wise voices to speak, but let the wiseasses have their say, too.

And resolve to fight — always, for all you’re worth — to be more compelling than a tornado.

Security is out now in Hardback and Audio CD

INFLUENCES: Five Books that Influenced Me by LIZ NUGENT

Liz Nugent Name: LIZ NUGENT

Author of: UNRAVELLING OLIVER (2014)
                 LYING IN WAIT (2016)

On the web: liznugent.ie

On Twitter: @lizzienugent

lying%20in%20wait%20blog%20tour1. The Book of Evidence by John Banville

I first read this when it was published in 1991 and thought it excellent. I wasn’t surprised when it won the Booker prize. In 2002, I was working as a stage manager on a stage adaptation of the book and with very close repeated reading, the story became more and more real to me. A middle-class sociopath is an intriguing central character. I determined then, that if I was ever going to write a book, it would be about someone as flawed as Freddie Montgomery.

2. Dreams of Leaving by Rupert Thomson

I read this while recuperating from an accident in 1988. I have never read anything like it in my life before or since. Highly original and beautifully written, the story of Moses who was born into a police state and smuggled out by his parents has stayed with me ever since. I’m a sucker for stories about orphans.

3. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

I came across this when touring as a stage manager across America with Riverdance. The opening chapter grabbed me and as the story unfolded, it never let go. This was a book stuffed full of incident on every page and multi-layered characters so damaged by life that it was impossible not to become emotionally involved with them.

4. Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes can find hilarity in the darkest of situations without ever losing the humanity of characters at their most vulnerable. This story of a young woman entering rehab for drug and alcohol addiction is funny, touching and uniquely courageous. I read it at a time in my life when I was quite lonely and it meant a lot.

5. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

This book is a masterpiece in its epic understanding and exploration of human nature and the depths of suffering (you’d need to read a Marian Keyes book straight afterwards). I’m almost scared to re-read it because I was so devastated by it. I think everyone should read it, but just once.

Lying-in-Wait-Blog-Tour

The Best Writers Are Onion Peelers by MICHAEL GROTHAUS

Mike_portraits_22Apr16-1 Name: MICHAEL GROTHAUS

Author of: EPIPHANY JONES (2016)

On the web: www.michaelgrothaus.com

On Twitter: @michaelgrothaus

Epiphany Jones, I’ve been told, is hard to categorize. When I ask people who have read it what kind of book they think it is they’ve replied “psychological thriller”, “literary fiction”, “crime”, “social satire”, “dark comedy”, “transgressive fiction”, and “a redemption story”.

Indeed, the story has elements of all those classifications: a page-turning plot (thriller) featuring a narrator named Jerry who is the personification of our society’s addiction to celebrity and sex (literary fiction, social satire). Jerry lives an isolating life (transgressive fiction) because he suffers from psychotic delusions—he sees people who don’t really exist (psychological thriller, dark comedy). When Jerry is framed for the murder of a colleague and theft of a Van Gogh painting (crime) by a woman who believes she talks to God, his life goes from bad to worse as he becomes entangled in this woman’s war with a sex trafficking ring that caters to the Hollywood elite–one that has links to his past Jerry could never have imagined (redemption story).

So yes, all of the classifications above are right. Epiphany Jones is a novel that explores the horrors of sex trafficking, isolation, and addiction on many different levels. In that way, it’s like an onion: peel back one layer only to find another. And for me, as a reader, the best books have always been onions and, as a writer, the novelists that have most influenced me are the ones who know how to peel those layers back. When I think of good “onion peelers” who have influenced my writing I think of a handful of novelists over the last 90 years whose stories work on so many different levels.

The most recent is Alex Garland, the British novelist who gave us The Beach. On first glance it’s a fun travel yarn–the story of Richard who leaves the UK to go off to have a fun holiday abroad. Peel back a layer, however, and the story becomes a commentary on the effects of mass media from the 90s. Peel back another layer and the story shifts to an examination of the animalistic nature that lies in all of us, and easily arises again soon after societal constrains are stripped away. And all of this is packaged in a page-turning thriller.

Almost a decade before Garland wrote The Beach, the Scottish novelist and journalist Gilbert Adair published a little-known novel called The Holy Innocents (the book is perhaps better known by the title given to it after it was made into a movie–The Dreamers). This is another onion. On the surface it’s a psychological drama about an American student’s adventure overseas studying in France–a story about both his cultural and sexual awakenings. Peel that layer back, and the same story is about the power of film and art to stir social change. Yet peel another layer back and the exact same story is revealed to be about the self-obsession of youth and the irreconcilability between the often stated desire of the young to “make a difference in the world” yet being too self-absorbed to actually recognize major events happening right outside their door. The Holy Innocents is a political commentary and cultural examination of youth packaged as one hell of a psychological drama.

Now jump back to the 1930s and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. On the surface, a science fiction novel. Set 500 years in the future it envisions the peace, stability, and health technology will one day bring us, but go one layer deeper and it becomes clear that Huxley was commenting on the anxieties of the 20th century, particularly worry among some how mass production and technological advances could strip away our individual identities. Peel another layer away and you realize that Brave New World isn’t just a science fiction story, nor only a social satire, it’s also a parody—it’s making fun of popular escapism novels of the day set in utopias. Science fiction, social commentary, and parody–all layered into one story.

There are plenty of other examples I could name, of course, but I think you get the point. The best novels are onions–and the onion peelers listed above have had a tremendous influence on my writing.

Epiphany Jones Blog tour

INFLUENCES: Magic on Every Shelf by VANESSA RONAN

Vanessa Ronan Name: Vanessa Ronan

Author of: THE LAST DAYS OF SUMMER (2016)

On the web: vanessaronanbooks.com

On Twitter: @vronan

To celebrate tomorrow’s launch of Vanessa Ronan’s debut novel, The Last Days of Summer, I’m very pleased to welcome the author to Reader Dad to talk about her influences as a writer.

My parents had a huge bookcase when I was little. This large, somewhat unsightly, slightly unstable-looking thing covered an entire wall. My father had built it himself, rather primitively, out of pine. Over the years, it served its purpose well enough, that bookcase. It moved to several houses with us—a clear, lasting testament in each that my father was no carpenter. Every warped shelf in it though was full. My whole life. Far back as I can remember. In fact, the bookcase was so full that that made its instability all the more frightening! Or thrilling. Depending on perspective. To me, that bookcase held magic on each shelf. I used to stand in front of it, looking up, wondering what stories on the upper shelves hid just out of sight and reach. By the time I left home, I’m pretty sure I’d read every book on those shelves…

My brother and I were home schooled all the way until college. My parents, both literature professors, placed a strong emphasis on our reading and writing from a very young age. We were taught that books were special things to be always handled with care. So, I guess it was somewhat unsurprising that my brother and I naturally gravitated more towards the literary side of our studies. Writing stories and poems was like a game for us, and we read and edited each other’s work from a very tender age. Who knows, maybe had our parents been astrophysicists or mathematicians that would have naturally turned our focus another way, but they weren’t, and in many ways it is only now as I reflect back on my early influences that I begin to fully realize just how deep an impact the classics—Mark Twain, Harper Lee, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Steinbeck, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens—we were read as bedtime stories, later had on my writing career.

We moved to Mexico when I was five. A small colonial village high in the mountains of Michoacan. We had planned to live there nine months, but ended up staying two and a half years! It didn’t take long before the limited supply of children’s books my mother had brought for us to read and study ran out. With no TV, books were like films to us and we were hungry for them. That was when my mother started reading us the classics, though, as we grew, more contemporary fiction was read to us as well. The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay and The Once and Future King by T H White were the first two novels I fell in love with.

Most of my favourite writers I was first introduced to in childhood, though I have reread them many times as an adult. Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo has long been one of my favourite books. Cormac McCarthy, Isabel Allende, Tony Hillerman, and Larry McMurtry are my greatest influences and have been since I was small. I love poetry and C. K. Williams, Sharon Olds, Sylvia Plath, and Franz Wright have been especially influential. Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell inspired me around the time The Last Days of Summer was in its fledgling stages, while Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony gave me the courage to keep my novel without chapters. Her description of her book as ‘a single telling’ really spoke to me.

In the last few years I’ve found documentary films and documentary style reality TV programs increasingly inspirational, and they have definitely had an influence on my writing. They are a brilliant resource for character research and development. Seeing different ways of life on the fringes of society away and aside from the mainstream has been my current fascination.

My writing has been described as “dark.” I think that surprises a lot of people who know me. I’m a pretty happy person. I smile a lot. Believe in good karma. But I happen to like dark stories, too. That bit of mystery. Bit of grit. I was raised on the original Hans Christian Andersen and Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales. Frankenstein and Dracula and The Shining were all bedtime stories before I was nine. Those early dark influences seem to have had a long-lasting reach…

It’s funny though, when I think back on my influences, I picture so many of those books that first inspired me where they sat on that bookcase my parents had. The pine one I mentioned before, so laden with books it looked about to keel over. I can see again the lines down their cracked spines. I can smell them. And it’s like I am a little girl again, standing there, looking up, just waiting for all the stories to rain down.

FINAL blog tour asset1

INFLUENCES: My Writing Influences by CHRIS WHITAKER

Whitaker, Chris Name: CHRIS WHITAKER

Author of: TALL OAKS (2016)

On Twitter: @whittyauthor

Tall OaksTo celebrate the launch of Chris Whitaker’s excellent debut novel, Tall Oaks, I’m very pleased to invite him to Reader Dad to talk about his writing influences. Be sure to check the other stops on the blog tour for more great insights into author and novel, and check back here soon for my own thoughts on the book.

When I was a child my favourite books were the Topsy and Tim series by Jean and Gareth Adamson. I had (and still have) about fifteen of them and I remember reading them so often that I’d memorised each and every story. I read them to my children now and it’s funny to see how dated they are. In Topsy and Tim Move House the removal men smoke pipes whilst lifting the sofas! I used to write my own Topsy and Tim books. I wish I still had them but my mum threw them away (sentimental old cow).

Tall Oaks Blog BannerFrom Topsy and Tim I moved on to The Famous Five by Enid Blyton. I hated The Famous Five, though my all-knowing parents decided I should love them as much as they did. My brother passed down the entire set to me. Apparently there were only due to be six originally published, but due to their success, and Blyton’s love of money, I had to suffer through twenty one of the things before I was suitably drowned in the wonders of cottages, islands, and the English and Welsh countryside. Looking back now I think I took such a dislike to them because they felt old fashioned even back then, boys don’t want to read about the joys of ‘picnicking’ even as a prelude to a treasure hunt. I yearned for escapism, and still do with the books I like to read now. That’s partly why I invented the town of Tall Oaks and set it 5,000 miles away from home.

I discovered the Point Horror books after getting caught, and banned from, reading Carrie by Stephen King when I was twelve. I think they were aimed at teenage girls (also an interest of mine at that time). I loved the Point Horror books, Trick or Treat by Richie Tankersly Cusick  was my favourite. It was so well written and creepy, definitely an inspiration for the opening chapter of Tall Oaks where Jess sees a clown in her son’s bedroom.

So on to my influences as an adult reader. There really are too many to list but I’ll have a go. Dennis Lehane is one of my all time favourite writers. From Mystic River to Live By Night, I love the detail in the setting for each of his novels. In Mystic River the streets of The Flats, and the neighbourhoods of East Buckingham and The Point almost become their own characters, which was definitely something I aimed for in Tall Oaks. I’m also a huge fan of Kazuo Ishigaro. Never Let Me Go is one of my favourites and I really love the sense of unease he creates throughout the book, and the characterisation is second to none. Cormac McCarthy, John Grisham, Graham Greene, Harper Lee, all masters of their craft and all have influenced me in the biggest way possible, by inspiring me to want to write.

Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker is published by Twenty7 and is now available in ebook, priced £4.99. A paperback release is scheduled for September.

INFLUENCES: The Sum of our Experiences by JASON STARR

JasonStarr Name: JASON STARR

Author of: SAVAGE LANE (2015)

On the web: www.jasonstarr.com

On Twitter: @JasonStarrBooks

"Who are your influences?"

This is a question all writers get, and I think I’ve given a different answer each time I’ve been asked.

To some degree, it depends on my mood. If I’m feeling a little haughty and literary, I’ll usually think of Hemingway first, and Gertrude Stein, but I’m not sure he was an actual influence? I liked Hemingway’s simplicity, but I didn’t connect with all of his themes. The reality is I was reading a lot of Hemingway in particular when I started taking writing seriously in college, so it has seemed natural to call him an influence. For similar reasons I’ve cited Raymond Carver and John Cheever as influences. I was a fan of Carver’s style and Cheever’s characterizations, but I don’t think they really affected my actual writing. I’ve  also cited playwrights like Beckett,  Mamet, and Pinter, but I’m not sure in actuality they had an affect on my writing–especially my novel writing. I wrote plays in my twenties so naturally I was reading a lot of plays.

In other moods I’ve gone right to my favorite crime writers as my major influences and give shout outs to Jim Thompson, James M. Cain, Patricia Highsmith, and Elmore Leonard. I was certainly reading a lot of crime fiction when I started writing crime fiction, but were these writers actual influencing my writing? Would my writing be different if I hadn’t read Leonard? Probably, but in other moods, I think Beckett had the biggest affect on me.

Sometimes when I’m answering the influences question, I feel like I’m giving lists of some of my favorite writers in various genres, rather than listing influences. So maybe the true answer to the influences question is that there is no answer. Maybe our real influences are a sum of our experiences, the novels we’ve read, and movies and TV shows we’ve seen, and it’s impossible to pinpoint the actual influencers. Maybe this is why my answer to this question has been so fluid–because it should be.

INFLUENCES: Literary Influences by OLIVER LANGMEAD & Competition

DARK STAR - Oliver Langmead Name: OLIVER LANGMEAD

Author of: DARK STAR (2015)

Literary Influences, Contemporary & Classic

 

Dark Star has a lot of influences, because it’s three things in one. It’s science fiction, it’s a detective story of the noir and hard-boiled brand, and it’s an epic in the classical sense.

Dark Star blog tour skyscraperThe best place to start is at the beginning, because it’s possible to see the exact moment when a fairly predictable trend in reading became something else. I started out with Brian Jacques and Roald Dahl from the age of about six, and by the time I was half way through my teens, I had devoured everything written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, as well as a few other authors writing along the same lines. Then, at the age of sixteen, I was made to read All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, and everything changed.

It’s difficult to describe exactly what that book did for me. It was as if I had certain expectations about what books were, what books could be, and I could see the limits of that. Then experiencing a book like All the Pretty Horses opened my mind to a whole world of literary writing that I had not really considered before.

This is where it’s possible to start to see where Dark Star came from. Over the past few years, I’ve been reading pretty much anything and everything to broaden my sense of what a book can be. From Lovecraft’s grim and verbose short stories, to Philip Roth’s beautiful but horrible Sabbath’s Theatre (the best book I’ve never finished) to Bret Easton Ellis, testing the idea of vacancy in the lines he writes, and beyond. I’ve loved the architecture behind Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast books, and been in awe of James Joyce’s almost impenetrable writing in Ulysses, and spent even more time investigating what makes gothic classics, Frankenstein and Dracula, tick.

From science fiction, I cite China Mieville and Michel Faber as major influences. Specifically, Mieville’s The City & The City, which had a sense of wonder behind each discovery that I desperately wanted to kindle for myself, and Faber’s Under The Skin, which evoked such a sense of character in both its place and in its moods, that I hoped to see something similar in my own work. For Dark Star, I wanted the reader to feel a sense of discovery in a world that is disarmingly familiar. I wanted to evoke that 1920s noir kind of atmosphere, then give the reader glimpses of the science fiction beyond.

I chose a few books from the classic detective genre to look at in order to understand it better, and Raymond Chandler is the author I have to cite above all others. The Big Sleep was crafted so well to be what it was, and it is possible to see why it has had such a big influence on authors other than myself. This is one of the main sources from which those most treasured clichés and tropes come, which I hope I have treated well in my own book. Making a world that felt familiar, just like Chandler did, was important to me. Closer to the atmosphere that Dark Star would have, however, has to be Frank Miller’s Sin City. Sin City had the voice that I wanted to use; that gritty internal monologue, bitter and beaten by its surroundings.

Dark Star is a love story for three genres, however, and the third might surprise you. I hope that you’ve heard of Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. I hope that you’ve heard of The Divine Comedy, and the Aeneid, and Paradise Lost. Because these are all epics, written in an ancient style, which I completely fell for and decided to try and emulate. I’m hoping that you’re wondering whether writing a science fiction noir in verse would work at all. Because I wondered that, as well. But… it does work. Some of those recognisable elements are there: the pentameter, the descent and the divine, and some of them are not, but Dark Star is undoubtedly written in the tradition of those ancient greats.

It all comes back to McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses, in the end. When I read it, I thought that it was completely marvellous that I had never read a book like it before: that someone had tried something so ambitious, and had been so successful with it. It’s something that I wanted to try for myself. And the result of that is Dark Star.

Competition

To celebrate the release of this excellent novel, Oliver’s publishers, Unsung Stories, are very kindly giving away a signed copy of Dark Star and a signed Dark Star poster to one lucky winner.

To be in with a chance of winning, all you have to do is send a single tweet answering the following question:

Which book changed your expectations of what books can be?

Make sure you include the hashtag #DarkStarGiveaway as well as including @MattGCraig @UnsungTweets to ensure your entry is included.

The competition will close at midnight, Monday 30th March 2015 and the winner will be notified shortly thereafter.

Book  & Publisher Information

Dark Star product page (Unsung Stories)

Amazon UK Dark Star product page

Amazon US Dark Star product page

Unsung Stories send excellent fortnightly short stories for free, direct to your email inbox. Sign up here to ensure you don’t miss a single one.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑