Monday 18 April 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Chris Cleave

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 books which are special to them and have made an impression on their life.

I'm thrilled to welcome Chris Cleave to Random Things today. I've read all of Chris Cleave's books, he's a wonderful author of fabulous books.

His latest novel, Everything Brave Is Forgotten is published on 21 April by Sceptre  and is my favourite of his books. I adored it and have been shouting about it for months.
Click on the title of the book to read my review. 

My Life In Books ~ Chris Cleave

Stories for Tomorrow edited by William Sloane  At nine I read this austere collection of classic 50s sci-fi as a sort of Haynes Manual of a future that I knew would be our own.
I more or less memorised it.  It wasn't entertainment, it was preparation.

The Outward Urge by John Wyndham  Ten years old, and still reading up on my future in space exploration. 
Wyndham introduced a little style into the mix. I read everything else he wrote too.

I, Robot by Isaac Asinov  At eleven I couldn't get enough of the conflicts Asimov creates between the Laws of Robotics.
I used to write my own stories based on them, which I suppose was fan fiction.

It by Stephen King  I still remember every page of It, which I read on the school bus in my first year at secondary school. 
Even now I get the chills, thinking about that book and that year. Horror is all about becoming adult.

Laughable Loves by Milan Kundera  I'd have been thirteen or fourteen, I suppose, and feigning an implausible sophistication.  I might have been an undersized teenager lugging his sports kit through the rain in an off-brand nylon holdall, but in my mind I was an intellectual Czech swinger, chuckling at life's bittersweet ironies.

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi  At university, studying chemistry, I picked up the book for its obscure intersection with my subject, and also because I had been much affected by Levi's autobiographical works.
Halfway through the Mercury story I had an epiphany, realised I was supposed to be a writer, and went with it. Ah, to be twenty.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez  I read it in Mexico, in a hammock, and when it was over I went back to the first page and read it again, and again. 
I engaged with the book for a week or two, spent the next year trying to write like that, an the five years after that forcing myself not to. 
I still dream about the novel sometimes. I could have a pretty good go at writing a magical realist soap opera set in Macondo.

Mrs Dalloway by Virgina Woolf  I've said so much about my love of Woolf's writing and I don't want to become a bore. I'll just say that I think her the cleverest and bravest of all the English writers.
She kept a tiny part of me alive and believing in the possibility of doing beautiful work - this in my early twenties when I was going downhill in London during three years of late shifts as a sub editor on a national daily.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir  At thirty years of age, this book was my second epiphany. I realised that existentialism was available as a way of being, not just as an intellectual position.
I've been working on my own headspace since then. I began not to need my male identity, and started to inhabit a wider spectrum of consciousness.
I quit my job. I began to write not just about different characters, or from the point of view of different characters, but as different characters. None of it has made me any taller.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion  Joan Didion was the first author I did an event with. Her book was out at the same time as my debut, Incendiary, and Knopf put us together for a New York pre-publication reading.
I hadn't had enough notice to read The Year of Magical Thinking, so I turned up cold, with no idea that the author loses her husband in the most desperate circumstances, round about page one. Joan Didion asked me to what my book was about and I blurted, "traumatic bereavement".
She lifted her eyes over the tops of her very dark glasses, and gave me the most enduring look.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride  We picked this as the winner when I chaired the judges for the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2014.
I've never been so moved by a book.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel  For me Mantel is the most inspiring writer alive. She's brave, she reinvents herself, and she has the talent to match her ambition.
At forty her historical fiction opened my mind to that modality's great virtue - namely, that it brings inherent structure to a novel, allowing the writer to do less exposition and more character development.
If you like to let your characters talk to each other, as I do, then you can do worse than take them back in time.

Chris Cleave ~ April 2016

Chris Cleave's debut novel Incendiary, was an international bestseller. His prize-winning second novel, The Other Hand, has found phenomenal success both in the UK, and abroad, hitting number one on the New York Times bestseller list (under the title Little Bee).

His third book, Gold, confirmed his status as one of our most powerful, important and psychologically insightful novelists.

His fourth novel, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is published by Sceptre on 21 April 2016.

Chris lives in London with his wife and three children.

For more information about the author and his books, visit his website
Follow him on Twitter @chriscleave


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