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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: 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: 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.

An Interview with ZEN CHO

str2_shgzencho_sharmilla_12 FOR ONLINE Name: ZEN CHO

Author of: SORCERER TO THE CROWN (2015)

On the web: zencho.org

On Twitter: @zenaldehyde

Zen Cho is a Malaysian writer of SFF and romance. She was born and raised in Selangor, read law at Cambridge, and currently lives in London. Her debut historical fantasy Sorcerer to the Crown is out now in the UK, published by Pan Macmillan.

Thank you, Zen, for taking the time to chat with us.

Thanks for having me!

Sorcerer to the Crown is garnering lots of favourable reviews, and has been compared to everything from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell to the work of Terry Pratchett. The obvious question to start us off, then, is: what or who were the influences for Sorcerer and how far from the original idea is the finished book?

You’ve named two big influences on me! Terry Pratchett’s books taught me that writing could be serious and smart while also being funny and silly. And I love Susanna Clarke’s writing – it’s so erudite and elegant. I don’t know that Sorcerer to the Crown is anything like their stuff, but I’m certainly a huge fan of both of them.

I did write Sorcerer in conversation with other books, though, and the direct influences are actually P. G. Wodehouse, with his absurd young gentlemen, and Heyer’s frothy romances.

A lot of the basic elements of the original idea have survived into the finished book, but I spent more than a year revising Sorcerer to the Crown and it certainly looks very different from the first draft. One of the biggest differences is that Prunella Gentleman, who’s one of the two main characters, became much more central. In earlier drafts you saw her from the outside, but she became much more of a co-protagonist in revisions.

A fun and magical “Regency Romp” it might be, but Sorcerer also has a very serious side that is as relevant today as it was in the book’s setting. The novel examines, in some depth, the question prejudice, both the racism directed at the book’s two main characters, and the sexism aimed at Prunella and the other women with magical abilities. One of the main criticisms aimed at SFF works is the lack of diversity, and you have gone almost to the opposite extreme. How important were these themes to you when you were writing the book, and did you encounter any difficulties in finding the right balance between story and “lecture” (which, to my mind, you have managed perfectly)?

Good, I’m glad it didn’t feel too much like a lecture! That was actually one of my main challenges when writing the book: I wanted it to be fun, but I had these quite serious ideas I was interested in exploring as well, and it was a hard line to walk. I didn’t go into the project saying, "I’m going to write the most diverse book ever" – there’s lots of axes of diversity it doesn’t address. But these themes were my entry-point for the story. From the very outset I wanted it to be about a black man in Regency London and about an irrepressible female magician in a society that disapproved of female magic, and once you make those decisions the rest of the story unfolds from there.

There is a beauty to the language you use in the book, a very formal English that you manage to maintain for the duration of the story. What sort of research did you need to do to find the right voice, the right sentence structure to ensure the story fit into the Regency setting?

I did a lot of research on Regency England because I wanted the world to feel convincing and complete. So I made these lists of what they would have worn and what they would have eaten and so on, so I could make references to them that would flesh out the setting. When it comes to the language, I’ve always enjoyed the Regency "voice" – several of my favourite authors have that voice, whether it’s an assumed voice or just their actual voice, like Jane Austen, Patrick O’Brian, Georgette Heyer and so on. Getting to play with that voice was one of the main attractions of writing a novel set in Regency London. I read a lot of books written during and set in that period, including diaries and letters as well as fiction – I love reading people’s correspondence so it was a great excuse.

And speaking of research: you have created a detailed magical world, both in England and in Fairyland. Was there much research involved in getting the details right: the structure of the Society, for example, or the different creatures that inhabit the magical realm of fairy?

The structure of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers was built piecemeal in response to what the plot required, but of course it’s supposed to sound a bit like the actual Royal Society. I have no idea how similar it is to the real Royal Societies and how they’re structured, but it’s to be expected that thaumaturges will do things a little differently …

With the different creatures in Fairy, I’m quite nerdy about supernatural beings and magical creatures and because of my cultural background I’m aware of lots of different sorts. I included magical creatures from different cultures because I wanted the world to feel convincingly like ours – large and full of different types of people and things and stories.

Sorcerer to the Crown is the first in a proposed series. Can you talk about where the story will take us next, what is likely to become of Zacharias and Prunella?

Book 2 is very much a work in progress so even I don’t entirely know where it will end up! I can say that Zacharias and Prunella will make a reappearance, along with a few other familiar faces, but the story will also follow the adventures of a couple of new characters. There’s a couple of explosions and there will be at least one mistaken elopement.

Beyond the scope of Sorcerer, what authors or works have influenced you as a writer?

I’m influenced by the authors, primarily British, I read as a child – so Edith Nesbit, Diana Wynne Jones and the like. More recently I’ve been inspired by other Commonwealth writers – the historical adventure novels of Amitav Ghosh, for example, and the elegant science fiction of Karen Lord.

And as a follow-on, is there one book (or more than one) that you wish you had written?

I’d like to write a book that is like Stella Benson’s Living Alone. It’s quite an obscure novel about a witch in London during the Great War. It’s very sad and funny and whimsical, and just on the right side of twee (in my opinion). My version would probably be less sad and more Asian.

What does a typical (writing) day in the life of Zen Cho look like?

I wake up at 9-10 am and have a look at what’s going on on social media over coffee and breakfast. After some futzing around I settle down to writing. When I’m actively drafting a novel (as distinct from planning and outlining or revising) I have a daily wordcount I’ll be aiming for and I use a Pomodoro app to help me keep on track – you write for 25 minutes, take a break, then go for another 25 minutes, etc. That’s my main job of the day, but I’ll also take time out from fiction writing to deal with what I think of as the "busy work" – dealing with emails, writing blog posts, updating my website and so on. I usually also check my day job emails at least once a day to make sure nothing’s on fire at the office. Because I take breaks throughout the day I usually work into the evening.

And what advice would you have for people hoping to pursue fiction-writing as a career?

Keep going, enjoy writing for its own sake, and don’t worry about the externals too much. Do it regularly. Don’t be afraid of failure.

What are you reading now, and is it for business or pleasure?

I’m reading The Letters of Abigaill Levy Franks, 1733-1748, which is sort of for business. For pleasure I’m reading a novel called Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant, which is about a capable young woman who overhauls the society of a small Victorian town.

If Sorcerer to the Crown should ever make the jump from page to screen, do you have any dream casts/directors/whatever?

Not really! People have proposed fantasy casting for Prunella and Zacharias to me, but I don’t watch much TV or film so it’s not something I’ve thought about myself. I secretly think it’d make a better BBC miniseries than Hollywood movie, but I guess that’s already been done with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell …

And finally, on a lighter note…

If you could meet any writer (dead or alive) over the beverage of your choice for a chat, who would it be, and what would you talk about (and which beverage might be best suited)?

It would have been nice to have had the chance to meet Diana Wynne Jones. I love her work. If we imagine it happening at a con bar I’d probably have a gin or tonic. I don’t know what tipple she would have gone for!

Thank you once again, Zen, for taking time out to share your thoughts.

Thanks for the questions!

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.

INFLUENCES: Categories by AMY BIRD

Amy Bird Name: AMY BIRD

Author of: HIDE AND SEEK (2014)

On the web: amybirdwrites.com

On Twitter: @London_writer

To celebrate the launch of her latest novel, Hide and Seek, I’m delighted to welcome Amy Bird to Reader Dad to talk about her influences. Amy’s publisher, Carina UK, are running a competition to win a trip to Paris, so be sure to check out the end of the post for details. And don’t forget to check in on the other stops of the blog tour all this coming week.

H&S blog tour2There are some writers who refuse to read any fiction, lest their style be influenced. I am not such a writer. I always have a book on the go and I read as widely as I can. I like to indulge in plots and words, characters and ideas – both to learn from other writers’ technical skill, but also for the sheer joy of reading. I trust my own style to remain strong, or even get stronger, in the process. For this post, I was asked to write about the influences for my third novel, psychological thriller Hide and Seek. I thought about letting you just have a list of a few books that influence me. But really, I think the question of influence is subtler and runs deeper than that. So I came up with six categories instead.

1. The contemporary psychological thrillerBefore I Go To Sleep, Gone Girl, The Dinner and even books like The Secret History are a master-class in plot twists, unusual structure, warped characters, and claustrophobic relationships. These are all key features of the modern psychological thriller. As a writer in the genre, I have to be aware of the expectations of readers, and what really works to turn a page. All four of these books kept me up until 1am. I hope Hide and Seek will have the same effect on you.

2. The classic work of suspense – In this category I would group Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene, and most Hitchcock films. Their hallmarks are setting up a sense of unease before we know what is wrong, and then with the subtlest of details here and there building and building to a danger we know is going to befall the main characters, but we don’t know when or how. In Hide and Seek, we know that something isn’t right in Will’s apparently perfect life. Little by little we understand what that is – and, more alarmingly, what he is going to do about it.

3. Moody, unusual books – I love books that have a dark weirdness to them, when you are plunged into another world that your senses struggle to comprehend. So here I’m thinking of Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton, Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway, Busy Monsters by William Giraldi and even Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. The way I deal with that in Hide and Seek is to use first person, so that you are immediately thrown into the mind of a stranger and have to orientate yourself. As you get to know the characters, they become less strange. Just as you become comfortable with them, their thoughts start to shock and disturb you, as the extent of their obsessions become clear.

4. Detective and crime fiction – I spent a thrilling three months of my Creative Writing MA studying detective and crime fiction. This ranged from Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler (a personal favourite) to quirkier books such as In the Cut by Susannah Moore and The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer. All those books were linked by a quest for truth and a need to uncover secrets that someone else is determined should remain hidden. Hide and Seek isn’t a detective novel in the ‘pure’ sense, but there is the same obsessional search for an answer and the willingness to risk everything in pursuit of the truth.

5. Music – at the heart of Hide and Seek, there is a piano concerto that holds some of the secrets Will is searching for, and which fuels his obsession with his past. I’ve structured the novel as a concerto – it falls into the three parts of exposition, development and recapitulation, plus everything from the motifs to the voices feed back into that structure. I therefore listened to a lot of piano concertos while I was writing Hide and Seek, to get the mood and the pace of my fictitious concerto and the book just right. Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Alkan and Beethoven emerged as the clear favourites. Mostly in a minor key, of course.

6. Everything else – I am always reading with my writer’s hat on. So even if I am enjoying the novel for its plot/ pace/ language/ bizarre characters, I am absorbing interesting sentence structures or devices – or reminding myself never to write like that writer does. At the moment, I’m reading three books: a contemporary crime thriller, a historical comedy-drama, and a real-life Second World War spy story. There’s a brilliant quote by Haruki Murakami: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” I hope that the result for readers of Hide and Seek is a novel that goes beyond the confines of its genre, and provides an original reading experience. But you will have to judge that for yourself.

Amy Bird is the author of the thrillers Three Steps Behind You and Yours Is Mine, and now Hide and Seek.

Having moved all over the UK as a child, she now lives in North London with her husband, dividing her time between working part-time as a lawyer and writing.

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#CarrieAt40: Constant Reader by NNEDI OKORAFOR

nnediheehee NNEDI OKORAFOR

On the web: www.nnedi.com

On Twitter: @Nnedi

At the end of Nnedi Okorafor’s latest novel, Lagoon, there is a deleted scene that references a room 217. Because I was in the middle of planning #CarrieAt40 when I read it, and my mind was filled with all things Stephen King, I wondered if there was a connection with King’s novel, The Shining. So, I asked:

The following exchange of Tweets was enough for me to ask Nnedi if she would like to take part in the project.

When I asked, Nnedi was preparing for a tour of Brazil and the United Arab Emirates to promote Lagoon, so her contribution is short and sweet, but is extremely relevant to what I’ve been aiming for throughout #CarrieAt40, and I am glad I asked that initial question about Room 217.

I read Stephen King’s novel It when I was 12 years old. I had no business reading that book but I saw it in the library and thought the cover was cool, so I picked it up. It turned out to be one of the most terrifying and influential experiences for me as a young reader and later a writer (I even have Stephen King shout outs and references all over my work). That book showed me just how much I could enjoy the art of storytelling (and be terrified by it). I went on to read every King book I could find that year. I soon became one of King’s Constant Readers. Stephen King remains one of my greatest writing teachers and favourite authors.

Nnedi Okorafor’s novels include Who Fears Death (winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel), Akata Witch (an Amazon.com Best Book of the Year), Zahrah the Windseeker (winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature), and The Shadow Speaker (winner of the CBS Parallax Award). Her short story collection Kabu Kabu was released in October and her science fiction novel Lagoon was released on April 10, 2014. Her young adult novel Akata Witch 2: Breaking Kola is scheduled for release in 2015. Nnedi is a creative writing professor at the University of Buffalo.

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