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A Fanboy Thrilled

 

Writers are big readers. They have to be. It’s something I always stress to kids when I do creative writing classes in schools – you want to be a writer? Then the first thing you have to be is a reader. A wannabe builder wouldn’t start his career without the guidance of an experienced mentor, and it’s the same with writers. We need guidance, someone to show us the tools of the trade and how to use them effectively. Unfortunately there isn’t an apprentice scheme for scribes. We can’t just pop round to our favourite writer’s house and ask to stand over his or her shoulder while they hammer out their words.  There’s really only one way a writer can learn his craft, and that’s by reading – observing from a distance the way in which experienced artisans ply their trade, picking up tips from a growing, often intuitive understanding of how words are put together. Then it’s just a matter of lots and lots of practice.

Reading a lot will inevitably lead to obsession with certain authors. If you love books enough that you want to write them then the hero-worship of some authors is pretty inevitable! The other aspect of this is that writers just starting out will write in the style of their heroes. Stephen King has remarked that, as a huge HP Lovecraft fan, his early stories were full of the outer space ‘eldritch horrors’ and purple prose of his favourite writer. This is all very natural on a writer’s journey to discovering their own voice. Gradually, as you write more and more stories, these influences will fade and fall away and you’ll hopefully be left with your own particular style. There are no shortcuts to achieving this – it’ll take a lot of blood, sweat, tears and ink!

Anyway, what I really wanted to say in this blog is that writers as readers never stop discovering new heroes. About five years ago I picked up a book called ‘Every Dead Thing’ by writer John Connolly. I have two major genre passions in my life – horror tales and detective stories. My twin obsessions growing up were Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula and, as the late Michael Dibdin once observed (in a TV piece called J’accuse: Agatha Christie), these two genres have a common ancestry in the gothic novel.

Up until the ‘Golden Age’ of detective stories (brought about by writers like Christie and Dorothy L Sayers), when detective fiction largely turned its backs on the horror element of crime and switched to bloodless but elaborate puzzles, it had always contained a touch of  the macabre. Let’s not forget that the grandfather of detective stories was Edgar Allan Poe, a writer who introduced one of the earliest sleuths, C Auguste Dupin, in the distinctly horrific The Murders in the Rue Morgue. The trend for detective tales to have an almost supernatural frisson of terror exists even in those where Sherlock Holmes, that most logical of bloodhounds, is the hero. Now don’t get me wrong, I grew up devouring the puzzles of Agatha Christie, but it always seemed a shame that the horror element had been so completely ushered out the door.

Reading the first Charlie Parker book, ‘Every Dead Thing’, I soon realised that John Connolly had answered my prayers. He’d brought the gothic, the horrific, the downright creepy back to crime. The supernatural element of private investigator Charlie Parker’s life is only hinted at in the first book in the series, but as the novels evolve so does the sense of a mysterious hidden world (as John describes it, a ‘honeycomb world’) just waiting to consume our vulnerable, two-fisted protagonist. I have since read everything John Connolly has written – the Parker books, the lyrical and very funny fairytale The Book of Lost Things, the new YA thrillers and, my favourite, his collection of MR James-inspired short stories Nocturnes. Not only are his books stuffed with terrifying villains and breathless action, he has a poetic turn of phrase that makes me want to be a better writer.

That, in essence, is why writers continue to be big readers – we need these inspiring voices to keep us at it and to make us better!

So, I’m a BIG fanboy of John Connolly. I think we’ve firmly established that! Imagine my delight, then, when these signed books arrived through the post! John was doing a series of school events in Boston, Lincolnshire for his brilliant ‘Hells Bells’, the sequel to the equally brilliant ‘The Gates’ (supernatural thrillers for Young Adults). Knowing I was a fan, my friend Deborah Chaffey promised to get my books signed. The other lovely thing was that John and I had contributed articles to Mark Morris’ ‘Cinema Futura’ – a collection of essays by genre writers on their favourite sci-fi movies (John’s was The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, mine, Village of the Damned (1960) –  so to have that signed was a real treat. Not only that, but John very kindly gave me a copy of Love & Whispers, a collection of music that has played in the background while John wrote his Parker books.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank John Connolly for signing these wonderful books. More than that, I’d like to thank him for the many hours of thrilling and inspiring  reading!

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