Monday 20 March 2017

My Life In Books ~ talking to author Catherine Ryan Howard @cathryanhoward #MyLifeInBooks

My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors and people in publishing 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 author Catherine Ryan Howard to Random Things today. Catherine is the author of Distress Signals, I read and and reviewed here on Random Things back in May last year.

I was thrilled to see a quote from my review in the paperback edition, it takes pride of place on my bookshelf!

Catherine Ryan Howard was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1982. Prior to writing full-time, Catherine worked as a campsite courier in France and a front desk agent in Walt Disney World, Florida, and most recently was a social media marketer for a major publisher.
She is currently studying for a BA in English at Trinity College, Dublin

Find out more about the author and her writing at
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @catherineryanhoward

My Life In Books ~ Catherine Ryan Howard

It was so hard to whittle these down, but these are the books that I think had the biggest impact on my life, for various reasons. We’re going to do this chronologically, so let’s start with…

I first read Jurassic Park in the summer of 1993, when the movie hit cinemas. I still have my ragged movie tie-in paperback, held together now with only strips of Sellotape and hope. I was only 11 at the time, so I did have to skip the genetic engineering and chaos theory bits the first few times through. I often say this is my favourite novel, and that’s partly because I think it is all the things a popular novel should be: incredibly imaginative, utterly riveting and an entertaining adventure from beginning to end. I remember thinking, ‘Someone made this all up! I can’t believe it.’ It was the first proper adult novel I read and it made me think, ‘I want to make stuff like this up too.’ I re-read it every year and recommend it to everybody. It’s a fantastic tech-thriller – and it’s not just about dinosaurs. (Although I admit it is mainly about them…)

Growing up I was obsessed with the Point Horror series and the novels of Christopher Pike, but it was only when I discovered Patricia Cornwell that I graduated to actual crime fiction. It was the Christmas holidays from school when I was 12, and I somehow got a hold of three Cornwell paperbacks from my classmate’s older brother: Postmortem, Cornwell’s debut, and the two that followed, Body of Evidence and All ThatRemains, featuring Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta. I was hooked by the mystery element and terrified as I watched it unfold. I really think this is what started me on the path to writing crime fiction myself. (Fun fact: when I went out with writing friends to celebrate getting my book deal a couple of years back, we let the waiter choose the wine and he randomly – I swear – brought us a bottle of Scarpetta wine!)

But originally I was going to become a virologist, thanks to The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, which I read when I was 13. I bought it (or asked my parents to buy it for me) because there was a blurb on the cover by Stephen King that said something like, ‘The most terrifying true story I’ve ever read.’ It was about an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Virginia back in 1989, but it was the insight into the lives of BSL4 virologists – the guys in the space suits; think the movies Outbreak or Contagion – that really struck me. My dream became to end up working at USAMRIID (the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infection Diseases, don’t ya know) – even though I was Irish, squeamish and didn’t fancy becoming an actual medical doctor. Obviously I didn’t end up doing that, but I think spending all of my teenage years telling people I had this ridiculous dream made it easier for me to dream as an adult, and be quietly confident that no matter the odds, I was going to get published.

Things are very different now, thankfully, but growing up in Ireland in the 1990s it felt like it could be slim pickings when it came to authentic, contemporary crime fiction set in Ireland. I think that’s one of the reasons that Gemma O’Connor’s Sins of Omission stands out so clearly in my mind. This was a very unsettling tale set in present day Dublin with flashbacks to a rural Irish town, and it had an absolutely devastating, shocking, incredible twist that I won’t forget for as long as I live. Honestly, I can still remember the sick feeling in my stomach, the utter shock, as realisation dawned. It made me think, okay, amazing crime fiction can just easily be set here in Ireland, and it also made me want to shock readers in the same way O’Connor did me. This book is out of print now, but I managed to track down a second-hand copy not too long ago and it was every bit as good as I remembered.

I met my true (literary) love when I was 16, purely by chance. I was browsing the book selection in a newsagents’ in Cork, the kind of newsagents that does remaindered books like hardbacks at knock-down prices, when I spotted Void Moon by Michael Connelly. I even remember the price: £5. I bought it because it looked new and I happened to have £5 – and thus discovered my favourite crime writer of all time. I went back and read everything else he’d written up until that point, and every year since – almost twenty years and counting – I buy his new novel on the day of release and go home and read it all in one go. I’ve even done this when I’ve been abroad and had to pay through the nose for an English import. What’s funny is Void Moon is a standalone, it doesn’t even feature his detective, Harry Bosch – who feels like an old friend to me now!

Catherine Ryan Howard ~ March 2017


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