Monday 14 March 2016

My Life in Books ~ talking to author Elizabeth Haynes

My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've invited authors to share with us a list of the books that are special to them and have made a lasting impression on their life.

I'm pleased to welcome Elizabeth Haynes to Random Things today. I've been a huge fan of Elizabeth's books for a long time. Her first novel,  Into The Darkest Corner (2011) is one of my all-time favourite psychological thrillers. 

Thank you Anne for giving me this opportunity to reminisce about the books that have stayed with me over the years. I've done similar exercises to this one before, but this time I've thought carefully about different stages of my life and which books I remember from those times. For some reason they are (mostly) coming to me in pairs, so that's how I'm going to offer them to you.

Z for Zachariah by Robert C O'Brien and Noah's Castle by John Rowe Townsend.  These two books seem tied together in my memories, along with, of all things, The Hues Corporation's 'Rock the Boat', The Kinks' 'Come Dancing' and Grandmaster Flash and the Sugar Hill Gang's 'White Lines' (possibly they were all in the charts at the same time, and gleefully recorded from the radio on a Sunday evening?).  I remember reading in the tiny box room of our terraced house, which had been formerly occupied by my Nan and had a large over-the-stairs cupboard in which I had built a sort of den. I think I must have been 12 or 13 and the threat of an apocalyptic nuclear attack felt very real in the early 1980s. They were both the sort of books that you should read whilst hidden in a cupboard.

The Illustrated Man and The October Country by Ray Bradbury   Ray Bradbury's short stories had a profound impact on me as a child. I think I realised then that writing was an art form that I hungered for, and the more I read the more I wanted to create. Bradbury more than any other had a peculiar skill for creating extraordinary places and making them seem everday, and yet terrifying. The mundane setting that appears safe and is actually anything but - it's the ultimate skill of a writer, isn't it? I devoured everything that library could offer me by Ray Bradbury but his contribution to science fiction (Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles) did not inspire me as much as his tales of small town Americana and the horrors that lurk beneath the surface.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne  Between school and university I spent a year working as an au pair in Germany, just north of Hamburg. Whilst this was an incredible year in many ways (I was there in 1989 when the walls between East and West Germany came down) I spent the first few months desperately homesick. The library once again became my sanctuary and I borrowed books in German and, from their very limited selection, in English. I remember both of these books - very different stories, but each dealing with the subjugation of women - from this time. It's interesting to realise, looking back through the lens of these stories of triumph over the worst of hardships, that I was reading them at a time when Europe was finally able to throw off its shackles and experience cultural freedom. (I was an au pair for seven year old Dennis, who was obsessed with David Hasselhoff - a big star in Germany back then - so, appropriately, the soundrack for these books has to be 'I've Been Looking For Freedom' which I must have had to listen to many thousands of times. Happy Days).

The Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke and The Collected Poems of T S Eliot   I studied Eliot at A Level and it took me a long time to catch a glimpse of what it all meant. I remember moments (in a Portakabin, baking in the summer sun) giggling with my friends about the symbolism piled high on top of metaphor and what if, in fact, Eliot had meant nothing at all by it? But eventually I saw past all that, rather in the manner of one of those infernal Magic Eye pictures, brought helpfully to that point by my patient English teacher, Mr Wallace. I loved Eliot after that, to the extent that I wrote my final-year university dissertation on comparing metaphors for death in the work of Eliot and a German modernist poet, Ranier Maria Rilke. I found it in a box when I moved house recently. I'm happy to say it's all completely baffling to me now. 

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood  Both of these books were (I think) set texts for the feminist literary criticsim element of my English studies and, whilst I read many books which affected me profoundly, these two I loved. I felt a sense of aspiration from the writing of Winterson which I'd not felt since Ray Bradbury - this desperate need to create something for its own sake, for the beauty of the language itself.  Atwood, in this and in her other books (The Blind Assassin, for example) introduced me to the mystical craft of telling a story in a way that was less than straightforward.

some point in my adult life, my reading preference focused on the thriller, and the psychological thrillers in particular. Occasionally I strayed into police procedurals (John Harvey being a favourite) but in the main I devoured everything by Nicci French, Barbara Vine (and of course Ruth Rendell), Minette Walters and Mo Hayder. I wished I had the skill they all clearly possessed to be able to weave the threads of a mystery, to tempt, to mislead, to thrill, to deceive - by this time I longed to be a writer. It had always been, secretly, my ambition but it had never felt within my reach. Reading the intricacies of these novels made it feel even further away - but I loved them no less fiercely for it. 

Roger's Profanisaurus - The Magna Farta  My pattern of books in pairs breaks down at this point because there can be no companion to this masterpiece. I picked this book up quite by chance in Waterstone's and it found its way to the bottom drawer of my desk at work in the analyst's office at the police station. In moments of stress, of which there were many, we would reach for the Profanisaurus and suggest page numbers at random for one of us to read aloud. For the uninitiatied, this is an off-shoot of the irreverent Viz comic and is described as a 'sweary dictionary'. The humour is generally filthy but very good for brightening up an otherwise grey day. Highly recommended. My personal favourite remains 'Lord Winston's moustache'.

On that cheerful but distinctly un-literary note, I feel I have come full circle! I hope you've enjoyed my eclectic selection and that you might find something to inspire you in it.
Elizabeth Haynes, March 2016 

Elizabeth Haynes grew up in Seaford, Sussex, and studied English, German and Art History at the University of Leicester. Her previous jobs have included selling cars, working as a medical rep and selling printing consumables. A former police intelligence analyst, she now writes full time and lives in Kent with her husband and son.

Elizabeth Haynes' first novel Into The Darkest Corner, was Amazon's Best Book of the Year 2011 and is now a New York Times Bestseller. Now published in 37 countries, it was originally written as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an online challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Her second novel, Revenge of the Tide, was published by Myriad in 2012, and her third, Human Remains, was published in 2013.

Under A Silent Moon, the first in her Detective Inspector Louisa Smith series was published in 2014 by Little Brown, and the second novel in the series, Behind Closed Doors in 2015.

Visit Elizabeth's website at
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @Elizjhaynes


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