Wednesday, 10 December 2008

A book's not just for Christmas...

In the run-up to Christmas, and always eager to find new books, I thought it might be an idea if any of us who are interested recommended a book. More than that, I thought it might be nice, as we’re all New Writers, to recommend the book that most influenced your first novel. Not necessarily the book that made you want to write, but the book that made you want to write your MNW title, if there is one in particular.

The Outsiders by SE Hinton made me want to be a writer when I was a teenager. The Great Gatsby made me want to write in the first person. But, James Lee Burke’s Last Car to Elysian Fields was the book that made me want to write Borderlands. Here’s Amazon’s description of the book:
It is a rainy late-summer's night in New Orleans. Detective Dave Robicheaux is about to confront the man who may have savagely assaulted his friend, Father Jimmie Dolan, a Catholic priest who's always at the centre of controversy. But things are never as they seem and soon Robicheaux is back in New Iberia, probing a car crash that killed three teenage girls. A grief-crazed father and a maniacal, complex assassin are just a few of the characters Robicheaux meets as he is drawn deeper into a web of sordid secrets and escalating violence. A masterful exploration of the troubled side of human nature and the dark corners of the heart, peopled by familiar characters such as P.I. Clete Purcel and Robicheaux's old flame Theodosia LeJeune, LAST CAR TO ELYSIAN FIELDS is vintage Burke - moody, hard-hitting, with his trademark blend of human drama and relentless noir suspense.


Why it appealed to me? Beyond the stunning writing and the deep rooted sense of place and time? Beyond the sense of decency and anger at the way in which humans treat each other, and especially treat those unable to speak for themselves? There was one scene in particular. Late in the book, Robicheaux jogging in the park at dawn, believes he is having a heart attack and is going to die:
‘Is this the way it comes? I thought – not with a clicking sound ands a brilliant flash of light on a night trail in Vietnam, or with a high powered round fired by a sniper in a compact automobile, but instead with a racing of the heart and a shortening of the breath in a black-green deserted park smudged by mist and threaded by a tidal stream.’


I remember reading that scene and feeling sad at the thought that Robicheaux might not live to fight another day, almost as if I was losing a friend with whom, in my reading, I had spent a lot of time. Rebus was retiring, Morse had died, now Robicheaux. So I decided to write a new series that I would ant to read, with a detective I could understand, just in case all the other detectives died. And that was the catalyst that finally pushed me to write Borderlands.
As for Robicheaux – he lived to fight another day, thankfully.


So, anyone else want to suggest what book most influenced you to write your first novel?

8 comments:

Tim Stretton said...

Great idea, Brian - and a gret piece.

My book won't be too hard to guess, but I'll do it anyway...

Aliya Whiteley said...

Yes, great idea. Big Brother (the TV series) inspired Three Things About Me so I can't really write about that, but there was a book that was very instrumental in my first novella, Mean Mode Median. I might write about that one instead.

Frances said...

I don't think any novel influenced my first book - it was more prompted by the idea of widowhood (my worst experience, although I hasten to say that the marriage in Dead Ernest was entirely different from my own). One of the novels I most admire is Brothers by Bernice Rubens, a harrowing account of pairs of Jewish brothers down the generations. I believe this is (sadly) out of print, but it is a wonderful, if painful, story, and one which gave me a lot of insight into what it means to be Jewish. It is one of my top ten books.

Neil said...

Hi, Brian.

I'm not a Macmillan New Writer, but thought I'd add my tuppenceworth as the book I would recommend is fairly unknown. When I was about seventeen I read The Gypsy Storyteller by Thomas William Simpson. It's a book pretty much about relationships. I've only re-read it once. Might be worth another visit sometime soon. It's quiet, and a bit dark, and it's a love story. There are much better books, but not many that, for me at least, pack so much of an emotional punch. I didn't start writing anything much until several years later, but it's one book I can honestly say has been a direct influence, trying to regain the impact of writing. The problem with being the writer and not the reader though, is not knowing if you have ever achieved that.

Doug Worgul said...

The novels of Frederick Buechner, Jim Harrison and John Irving made me want to be a writer. But, like Aliya, it was a television series — HBO's "Deadwood" — and a long-running radio series — Garrison Kiellor's Lake Wobegon stories on his program "A Prairie Home Companion" that inspired my novel. Both are low on plot, high on character.

David Isaak said...

Heya, Brian! I'm not sure any novel motivated me to write Shock and Awe. I was just annoyed by current events.

The author who inspired me to write in the first place was probably A.A. Milne, which was certainly A Very Bad Thing for him to do.

Burke is a treasure. Also a record-holder: "Lost Get-Back Boogie" was rejected by 111 editors before Lousiana State University Press published it. That record is unlikely to be broken, as today there aren't 111 places to submit a manuscript.

Brian McGilloway said...

Thanks folks

Some fine suggestions for Christmas reading there.

David - I remember reading that Burke used a 72 hour rule with the Lost Get Back... If he was returned the ms by a publisher he aimed to have it on another one's desk within 72 hours. Makes perfect sense really. And of course, when it was finally published it was nominated for a Pulitzer!

Matt Curran said...

Apologies for coming to the party late...
...Echoing everyone here, this is a great post, Brian, (so my short ramblings here won't probably do it enough justice, I'm afraid).

I wouldn't say any novel inspired The Secret War - probably the opposite really, because I wrote The Secret War because there was no other book like it out there, i.e. the mix of monsters and muskets.

If there are any influences on the writing they would probably include Lovecraft and Barker (for my most hellish creations) and Stephen Pressfield for the battles that thunder on through the story. Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, for example is one of the few books I've read in recent years that has been terrifying, compelling and emotionally draining. Definitely recommended, but perhaps one to savour after Christmas (makes a great beach-read!!).