Wednesday 22 June 2016

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Mark Edwards

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 really pleased to welcome Mark Edwards to Random Things today.

I read Mark's first novel, The Magpies whilst I was on holiday in Corfu this month, and really enjoyed it.

I'm looking forward to catching up with more of his books very soon.

My Life In Books ~ Mark Edwards

Last year I was at a publisher's party (yes, my life is very swanky) where I met another novelist who told me never reads books. I was flabbergasted. Why would you want to be a writer if you don't like reading? And how can you learn to write well and find inspiration? It's like being a chef who lives on bread and water.

I write because I fell in love with reading at an impressionable age. I wrecked my eyesight reading under the covers by the light of a cheap plastic Star Wars light sabre. I need to read in order to write in the same way cars need fuel to run. For me, there's nothing as thrilling as finding an exciting, envy-inducing book, the kind that you want to press on all your friends. Here are the books that, at various points in my life, not only made a huge impression on me but influenced me as a writer.

The Fog by James Herbert   My parents divorced when I was eight or nine. One benefit of this was that my mum subsequently allowed me to stay up late to keep her company. She would nod off in her chair, leaving me to feast upon all sorts of inappropriate late-night films and TV programmes: Death Wish, An American Werewolf in London, Hammer House of Horror. One night, I found a library book that had the legend 'For goodness sake don't leave this on Aunt Edna's chair' emblazoned on the back. It was The Fog and it left an indelible impression on me. I am still recovering from the scene in the gym with the garden shears.

I spent my teenage years reading horror; Herbert and King and Clive Barker. I wanted to be a horror writer. Years later I discovered that no one wants to publish horror. But my imagination was warped and waned by those books, as if that greenish-yellow fog had crept into my brain .....

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham   When I was eleven my step-sister lent me a copy of The Chrysalids, and my love of John Wyndham's very English take on dystopian sci-fi was born. I had already read Triffids and went on to read all the others (even Web) but The Chrysalids is my favourite. The tale of a small group of 'mutants' in a post-apocalyptic England, it's about prejudice, religious intolerance and all sorts of Important Stuff. It's also an absorbing adventure story. But it was the first book that hit me with an emotional wallop. Over thirty years later, I can still remember the pain and joy and hope I experienced the first time I read it.

2000AD   OK, it's not a book. It's a comic. But it played such a large part in my writing and reading life that it needs a mention. If you're not familiar with 2000AD, it's a science fiction comic with an extra-terrestrial editor called Tharg the Mighty and it most famous character is Judge Dredd. I was a comic addict in the late 70s/early 80s and spent all my pocket money on them, Anything I had left was spent on paper and pens, because as well as reading comic books I created them. These were the first stories I wrote. I spent all of my spare time creating characters, dreaming up adventures for them, inventing universes. I would pass these comics around my friends - my first thrilling experience of having readers. I have spent many years as an adult trying to replicate that first thrill.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend   It wasn't all horror and sci-fi when I were a lad. At twelve, rumours of a sensational (and rude) book spread around our school. I learned an awful lot from this book and the follow-up, Growing Pains. Like Adrian, I was profoundly in love with Pandora, though Sharon Botts - who would apparently do anything for 50p and a pound of grapes - sounded more fun. I also experienced one of my most embarrassing moments thanks to this book, after asking my stepdad what a wet dream was. Cue excruciating birds and bees talk. Ah, how naive we were in those days. Now, every twelve year old boy has watched a hundred hours of porn online. The Adrian Mole books feel like a snapshot of more innocent times.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker   Despite being top of the class at English throughout my school years (I was bottom of the class at everything else) I hated nearly every book and play we were forced to study. Shakespeare - boring! Hardy - torturously tedious! I remember arguing with my English teacher about the merits of Stephen King's It, which she declared 'laughable', versus A Passage to India, which I declared to be 'the biggest pile of crap I've ever read'. English lessons seemed to be designed to put kids off books for life. The only one I loved was The Color Purple. What a book! This was what literature was supposed to be like: important, educational but above-all entertaining. Finally, there was something my teachers and I could agree on.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt  Anyone who knows me will at this point be rolling their eyes and  going, 'I wondered when he'd mention this one!'  The Secret History is not only my favourite book, it is my favourite anything. I love it more than any album, film, TV show or song. It came at exactly the right moment in my life. I was at university and hadn't been reading much. I picked this up after seeing a review in, I think, Melody Maker. And I was blown away. The atmosphere, the seduction of that elite and beautiful group, the dark wit. I was there, living that book, entranced and mesmerised. I've read it six times now. In 2014 I saw Donna Tartt give a reading from it. Afterwards, she shook my hand. It was the best moment of my life (um, apart from watching my children be born and when my wife said 'I do'!)
Reading The Secret History rekindled my desire to be a writer, and I spent the next ten years writing books that didn't get published. I probably tried too hard to emulate DT. Oh, and for the record, I loved The Goldfinch too. But nothing, nothing, is as amazing as The Secret History.

The Harry Bosch novels by Michael Connelly   These days I read crime novels almost exclusively but when I was in my twenties I mostly read literary fiction. Occasionally, I would treat myself to a crime novel (Val McDermid, Michael Dibdin, James Ellroy, Mo Hayder) but the books that mde me want to write in that genre were Michael Connelly's, which I still love. Bosch is such a moody, downbeat character, an old school hard man who probably votes Republican. But there's something lovable about him. My favourite is The Concrete Blonde, but it's the most remarkably consistent crime series out there. That plotting! Connelly is a genius. The TV series is excellent too.

Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes  In 2010 my wife bought me a Kindle for my fortieth birthday. It went on to change my life, not just because of the publishing opportunities it brought but because when I was browsing Amazon for something to rad on my new device, I came across Into The Darkest Corner. By the time I finished it I knew I wanted to write psychological thrillers. ITDC is a work of genius. Dark, sexy, exciting, thrumming with menace. Since then, psych thrillers have become the hot genre and I've been lucky enough to be part of that over the last few years. But for me, this is still the one to beat. It's the gold standard of psychological thrillers.

Mark Edwards - June 2016

Mark Edwards is the author of five psychological thrillers, including The Magpies and Follow You Home, and also co-writes with Louise Voss.
Mark has topped the UK Kindle chart four times and sold over 1.5 million books.
His next novel, The Devil's Work, will be published in September 2016.

You can find him on Twitter @mredwards


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