Books That Have Inspired Me:
- Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square and Graham Greene’s Ministry of Fear.
All of my earlier novels were pale imitations of either Graham Greene or Patrick Hamilton. They are the writers I go back to time and time again. Any book by either of them is worth reading.
- Raymond Chandler’s Short Stories.
Any of his collections are worth reading. He can say more in a line of dialogue than many writers manage in a chapter. The king of lean, spare, precise prose.
- Anything by Anne Tyler.
Again, a brilliant facility for capturing the nuances of human interactions. Small scale domestic pieces with huge resonance.
- Anything by Shena Mackay.
An overlooked, brilliant writer of short stories and novels. Try any of her collections.
Three Books I Have Enjoyed Reading Recently:
- Malcolm Lowry, Under The Volcano.
I’ve been putting off reading this for years. This summer I decided I was sufficiently grown up. I read it in Croatia. The heat suited it. Many of Lowry’s references went over my head but I enjoyed the noise of the words drumming into my brain. Like Samuel Beckett he has a way of ordering words and sentences that somehow make them ring out and make a connection deep inside your brain. It’s real stream of consciousness stuff and predates the beat writers of the 50s. To my mind he writes much better. Brilliant stuff.
- John Braine, Life at the Top.
Braine is hugely unfashionable nowadays but I enjoyed this piece of 60s nostaligia. Unreconstructed, bleak, but some very nice writing in it.
- Jonathan Little, The Kindly Ones.
A hefty book, widely praised, and hugely garlanded. The story of Dr Max Aue, an intellectual and former SS officer, a witness and participant at the siege of Stalingrad, the death camps and the fall of Berlin. Although I waded through it, the narrative died for me after 200 or so pages and I finished it with a sense of duty. I don’t think this is as good as it professes to be, but literary critics are pack animals and few are prepared to put their head above the parapet and go against the tide of critical acclaim. If you have a spare couple of weeks give it a go, but maybe spend them on something more rewarding.
Chris at Word Factory:
Chris Paling has published 9 novels, the latest of which was Nimrod’s Shadow (Portobello), which earned him a place on the Fiction Uncovered list. He also writes short stories for various publications. The Red Car was longlisted for the inaugural Sunday Times Short Story award. Earlier this year Radio 4 broadcast 3 of his stories in a series called “Words and Music”. He is also a playwright. His play “the Final Test” toured for three months last summer. After thirty odd years as a Radio 4 producer he has now given up the daily commute between Brighton and London and tries to spend as much time as possible writing. Sadly, having more time and space to write, has caused a severe decline in his output. He has, however, just completed his tenth novel. He is unique in that he remains the only living British writer never to have been longlisted (or, indeed shortlisted) for a major (or minor) literary prize.