Back when I was growing up, it’s fair to say that the explosion of artistic experimentation represented by the post-war literary boom, the New Wave, the Sixties, sexual liberation, good music, haircuts longer than a piece of peach fuzz, and colour television hadn’t really reached my hometown of Boganville. When I first started to entertain the idea of becoming a writer, benchmarking options were fairly thin on the ground: what i looked on as some sort of aspirational holy trinity consisted of everybody’s starter for 10: Asimov, Bradbury and Heinlein.
It’s far to say, I don’t exaggerate when I say going to University was the saving of my soul.
Over the years, I’ve stumbled across countless authors who have filled in gaps in my education, my understanding of the Universe, and paved the way for me to become an infinitely better human being than I was the day I first walked across campus (First, yes, I pretty much do separate my life into before and after day one of Uni, and second, if you think I’m an arsehole now, that’s probably fair, you should have known me then).
So, for today, here’s a list of five authors whose works I remain in love with, who continue to inspire me, and for whom I am, unashamedly, a fanboy.
FIVE for FRIDAY: AUTHORS
Voice. Pure, individual, unique voice. The man writes crime like nobody else. From The Black Dahlia on, everything Ellroy has written– and make no mistake, he writes a brilliant story– hinges on that helter-skelter, edge-of-madness voice. Every Ellroy novel is a carnival ride through the sticky residue of the human soul, and it’s utterly, utterly compelling. He’s probably most famous for his LA Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, and White Jazz), but the Underworld USA trilogy, especially the middle volume, The Cold Six Thousand, is his great tour de force.
Nottingham-born author of hidden histories of London, covering topics like the City’s funerary practices, criminal underworld and insane asylums, I am an unabashed fanboy of Catharine Arnold’s work. Her book Necropolis: London and its Dead was the source text for the development of Magrit, and I could be mining her work for inspiration to my dying day. Check out Bedlam: London and Its Mad for another astonishing read.
I’ve been a Mieville fan ever since I reviewed The Scar for a website on first release. I’ve assiduously laid my hands on everything I can find ever since. I love his slightly-gothic worldbuilding; his long, looping approach to plotting; and his use of mundane props as indicators to deeper weirdnesses beneath. And, in what seems to be a peculiarly English literary tradition, his notion that the weird itself be presented as mundane and unworthy of comment: what is, just is, and it is the imposition of the outside voice, that insists on seeing the weird as weird, that causes the disruption of reality. The City and the City is, for me, his best work, but I also have a deep love for The Iron Council.
Lethem occupies a place I want to manage, straddling speculative and realistic works and themes and seamlessly moving between them at will. I first came across his story collection Men and Cartoons when it was gifted to me by a fellow writer, and have jumped on everything I can find since. His not-quite-SF work, As She Climbed Across the Table, about a woman who falls in love with, literally, nothing, is among my very favourite works.
Philip K Dick
I don’t really know what I can say about Dick that hasn’t already been said, or written, or filmed, or blogged, or printed on a tee shirt. I mean, come on: Ubik. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Or, you know, pretty much literally anything the man ever wrote. Fucking genius.