Monday 2 May 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Alex Marwood

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 crime author Alex Marwood to Random Things today. I am a huge fan of this lady!  We met a few years ago at a launch party in London and I was in complete awe; here, sitting next to me, chatting about e cigarettes and striking tube drivers was the actual person who'd written one of my very favourite books.  Alex began her writing career as Serena Mackesy, I really love her book, The Temp, it brings back lots of memories for me. 

Alex Marwood  has written three crime novels; The Wicked Girls (June 2012),  The Killer Next Door (June 2014) and The Darkest Secret, which was released as an ebook in January this year, the paperback will be available 30 June.

My Life In Books ~ Alex Marwood

Like many artists, I'm disappointingly uncultured. Certainly, the cultured find me so. I've received many lectures over the course of my adulthood about how If I Want To Be A Writer I Should Read ... oh, I don't know.  Whatever's popular with the cultured this week.  Derrida; Will Self; magical realism, Marx. And actually, I have read most of those things, or at least bits of them, but none of them have ever inspired me, given me pleasure or the I-want-to-do-that feeling. But like almost all writers (with a few notable exceptions, Belinda Bauer is someone I really respect who barely reads at all), I read and read and read, and if I really love a book, I'll reread it til it falls apart. Some of the books that have left me desperate to be a writer myself are:

The House of the Nightmare and other eerie tales ~ Edited by Kathleen Lines, Puffin, 1967  My introduction to scary: a gift for my sixth birthday, from my oldest friend, Claudia (well, probably from her mum, of course), it's followed me from house to house throughout my life. I was a precocious child, and I see from the blurb that it's for "readers of eleven years and upwards". Anyway, it was from this wondrous tome that I learned the absolute joy of the endorphin rush you get from being terrified. Even just glimpsing the cover used to send shivers up my spine. I must have read it twenty times by the time I went to university.

The Magician's Nephew or The Silver Chair - C S Lewis  I can't decide between them. The most disturbing of the Narnia books. I love his gossipy, intimate way with ancient legend and fantasy, the way he probes really deep themes without talking down to the reader. But most of all, I love the dying world of Charn and the marvellous punning way in which the children present themselves to the Giants as "sent by the Green Lady for the Autumn Feast".  No-one is so gleeful about the truly dark as Lewis was.

Flambards - K M Peyton  The first really sexy book I ever read. Well, it was sexy to me, at eleven. Horses, the looming First World War, a heroine with a mind of her own and boys who are both brutish and thoughtful. God, I loved this series, and so did my burgeoning sex drive.

The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham  Oh, that opening, that opening! The waking in a hospital bed to a world that's irrevocably changed, the silence in the streets, the blind man cradling the pot of paint that he thinks is food .....   Wyndham was brilliant. I swallowed his books over and over again through my teens, but this one is particularly wonderful because no-one has ever really bettered how to open a dystopia. It's been copied time and time again - to greatest effect most recently by The Walking Dead - and it gets me every single time.

The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut  I think I read this for the first time when I was twelve or thirteen - I was one of those lucky kids who had an adult library card and indifferent parents - and it was like having an electrode attached to my brain and switched on. I have never felt such excitement. Whole worlds opening up in front of me, whole new ways of expressing oneself; such ideas, such questioning, such imagination, such irreverence, such emotional truth! Vonnegut is probably the writer who has ultimately influenced me more than any other. I met him once, when I was twenty, and of course just mumbled and gave him a battered copy of Breakfast of Champions to sign rather than falling at his feet and kissing his shins. I still regret that. Writers like people being nice about their work.

The Rats - James Herbert  Good grief, I haven't even reached puberty yet. Read this in the same year as Vonnegut, I think, and again all the lightbulbs went off. Rats! Superintelligent rats eating people! Blood and gore and guts and dark places with only one avenue of retreat! Oh, and sex, of  course. Our lives were very tame in the seventies, what with the power cuts, and I must have read that sex scene til the pages were grubby.

Misery - Stephen King  The Daddy of us all. Like several of the writers on this list, their whole oeuvre has influenced me, made me want to write, filled me with self-loathing because I can't do it as well as they can. But Misery is really special. Especially for writers. I don't know a writer, even ones who shriek and run at the thought of a horror novel, who don't get the stuff about writing in this book. Not the surface stuff about writing - King's On Writing is the best book you can ever read about that - but the visceral horrible trapped feeling we all go through when we're in the process of producing. God knows I chose to to this for a career, it's the thing I care most about in the world, but every time I'm hunkered over my screen, the only thing that keeps going through my head is 'the bastards are making me do it.' Annie Wilkes is the creative urge in human form; and she has a mallet.

A Fatal Inversion - Barbara Vine  This was the moment when I realised what sort of books I wanted to write myself when I grew up. Vine is, of course, the psychological-thriller-writing pseudonym of Ruth Rendell, and this was the first of her books I read. I'd somehow missed out on crime novels up til my mid twenties, possibly because, well, honestly, Poirot. But once I'd discovered Vine, I caught up sharpish. This book is brilliant, word-perfect. Thirty years later, I still couldn't recommend a better book for getting people into the crime genre.

If This Is A Man - Primo Levi  Poetically told memoir about the author's time in Auschwitz. The single most devastating book I have ever read. I remember giving an extract to teenagers I was teaching Practical Criticism to in the late eighties, and they seemed, weirdly, to think that it was fiction. These kids were mostly Jewish, and had never heard of the Holocaust.

Emma Who Saved My Life - Wilton Barnhardt  Yes, I do love some contemporary literary writers, and Barnhardt is my favourite of them all. Emma is a love letter to the New York City of the Seventies and early Eighties: one of the funniest, sharpest, most moving meanders through the nostalgia of youth you will ever read. It doesn't have a plot, as such; no-one dies, no great events play out, but every tiny detail of a lost world of junk food and late nights and flatshares and the promise of the future and the fear that you will never achieve etches itself onto your memory. God, I have a lump in my throat just thinking about it, and must go and read it again.

Alex Marwood - May 2016

Alex Marwood is the pseudonym of a journalist who has worked extensively across the British press.
She is the author of the word-of-mouth sensation The Wicked Girls which won a prestigious Edgar Award and The Killer Next Door which won the coveted Macavity Award.
She has also been shortlisted for numerous other crime writing awards and her first two novels have been optioned for the screen.
Alex lives in South London.

Find out more at

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexMarwood1


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