My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors to share with us a list of the books that are important to them and have made a lasting impression on their life.
I'm delighted to welcome Jason Hewitt to Random Things today. Jason is the author of two novels; The Dynamite Room which was published by Scribner in March 2014.
His second novel, Devastation Road was published in hardback by Scribner in July last year, I reviewed it on Random Things in August.
Devastation Road is published in paperback today - July 14th 2016. It's a wonderful story, I called it a "brilliant reading journey that will stay with me for a long time."
My Life In Books ~ Jason Hewitt
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende I am not talking about the film here. The film is atrocious. However in 1984 as a small boy any film seen at the cinema, no matter how ropey, blew my mind and so I went out and bought the book. The story is less dense than The Lord of the Rings, less geeky than Douglas Adams, has hints of The Wizard of Oz, and the oddities of Alice In Wonderland, and with flourishes of Narnia thrown in for good measure. In fact it's got everything you want in a children's book - sprites, and ogres, and talking horses, and flying dragons, and riddles - and with its post-modernist plot I remember thinking it was the cleverest story I had ever read. (And still do,) What's more it's a book about books. So, what's not to like about that? I hold Michael Ende entirely responsible for me wanting to become an author.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie By my teenage years I had got into Agatha Christie. And I mean to the point of obsession. I even bought her biography and avidly read the background to each of her novels that I had read. The version I read of this particular classic had a different title (Ten Little Indians) which didn't give the twist away, so I still remember that gasp when I got to the end and thought: 'hang on, but they're all dead. So ... oh my God, who did it?' I was completely blown away. To be fair, the writing is clunky as hell and the characters are all abysmal stereotypes - but it's a masterclass on how to structure a story. Reading this was the first time I began to wonder about the actual mechanics of crafting a plot.
I'm the King of the Castle by Susan Hill My A Level English teacher, Mrs Baldock, introduced me to two authors that I fell in love with - Iris Murdoch and Susan Hill. We read Susan Hill's short story collection, A Bit of Singing & Dancing, but it was I'm the King of the Castle that had a profound effect on me. Reading it there are still whole sections when I can feel my chest tightening. She writes so simply and yet is the ultimate Queen of Threat. No one creates atmosphere like Susan Hill, and the relationship she builds between Hooper and Kingshaw is so strained that it makes your ears want to pop. It also contains one of the most terrifying bird incidents ever committed to paper.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte I first read Wuthering Heights at university, and then incorporated it into a dissertation that I wrote on Victorian attitudes to mental illness and its portrayal in gothic fiction. I have always loved dark, brooding novels (My university years were also spent devouring Thomas Hardy), but few are as brutal and savage as this. It's intensely visceral and violent, and without any let-up. I love gothic fiction too, and whilst this skirts around the edges of it we have all the gothic elements that you might expect - damsels in distress, ghosts as windows, premonitions, hauntings, graveyardss and bleak but beautiful landscapes.
Perfume by Patrick Suskind Set in 18th century France, it's about the life of a boy called Jean-Baptiste Grenouille who has an intense sense of smell but no smell himself. It's a fantastic fable and satire and the most rich and consistently inventive one that I think I have ever come across. It's also savagely funny, unashamedly depraved, and, as the title suggests, thick with scent. In fact the attention to details and descriptions are just incredible. Throw in Grenouille, an anti-hero second only to Tom Ripley, and the novel's tongue in cheek attack on humanity, and you've got one of the most imaginative pieces of literature ever written. I'm regularly prone to random bookshop purchases when a book on a table catches my attention but this is by far the best accidental purchase I have ever made.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy Finally, this is the book that was the most influential to me in writing Devastation Road. It's set in the near future after an environmental catastrophe has left the planet dying so, to be fair, it's not big on laughs. It is, however, stunning in its simplicity, and, despite it's bleak storyline, is told with immense warmth and love. I don't mind admitting that the relationship between the father and son reduces me to tears every time I read it. The writing is a perfect reflection on the situation. Everything is stripped back and raw - punctuation, speech marks, names - reduced to the basics just as the characters are within their situation. If ever there was a lesson to a writer that less is more, this is it.
Jason Hewitt ~ July 2016
Jason Hewitt was born in Oxford and lives in London. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and English and an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University.
After completing his degree he spent a number of years working in a bookshop before eventually succumbing to the publishing industry and moving to London.
He is also a playwright and actor. His latest play, Claustrophobia, premiered at Edinburgh Fringe in August 2014, and was previewed at the St James Theatre, London.
As an actor he has performed major roles in a number of plays in London including Pericles, A Christmas Carol, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, The Merchant of Venice and King Lear.
Find his Author page on Facebook
Follow him on Twitter @JasonHewitt123