This is number seven of my blog, which is mainly about writing. This one as it says is about influences, and it came into my head while I was writing the previous one about Shakespeare, who means so much to me. After having written a big screed, I’ve decided to make it a multi-parter. Before I began in 1999 writing novels that actually finished, I had read a huge number of thrillers and detective stories, beginning decades before. I started with the puzzle type stories of Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham and similar British or British-style writers, and moved to the more realistic “hard-boiled” Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and their school later, and finally to spy-fi, which to some degree sprang out of the Hammett-Chandler approach to writing, to mystery, and suspense.Along the way I read a lot of straight-out thrillers. These did not have “mystery” associated with them, or did not need to: their model was and is to create tension and sustain it, and my taste in these was almost uniformly British. Writers like Eric Ambler and Graham Greene were my heroes of this genre. Greene remains to me outside the pale of the “typical” thriller writer: his interests and abilities far outshone others.There were others, and I’ll go into them perhaps another time. Anyway my familiarity with these genres and sub-genres was the underlying reason why I chose to write thrillers once I decided to try to succeed as a novelist. I had read so many of them the requirements of the form(s) were almost second nature to me; I could feel as much as think what would work as writing, as plot, as characterisation and so on as much as think these things through, and this gave me, or so I thought and think, an immense advantage in terms of creating believable stories that “follow the rules”.
Even so, my aims as a writer were never to exist wholly and solely within the thriller genre; I wanted to succeed in the ways that Dashiell Hammett succeeded, that Graham Greene succeeded, and Shakespeare too: to create work that was ultimately “literature” or as I like to put it yet, with “a serious purpose in a frivolous genre”.
This was out of a deep-seated prejudice against what is described usually as serious literature, and by Marxists as “the bourgeois novel”. I reckon that sometime in the 19th century popular taste and the taste of the “literati” began to diverge, and that in the 20th this divergence became a gulf, that vast numbers of readers ceased to be interested in “serious” fiction because they were bored and/or “left behind” by the writers. If James Joyce could be fairly numbered as number one of these alienators of readers, there are plenty more, with less talent, and they tend to people the book reviews while the greatest number of readers follow other writers. You won’t find Stephen King for example winning a Pulitzer, though in my opinion he should or even a Nobel Prize. Writers like Hammett, and Greene and Chandler, set the tone for me: they had serious purposes while the genre they chose was less “elevated”.
Shakespeare didn’t need to confront this problem, or perhaps more fairly, his genius allowed him to appeal to everyone – to the nobles and the “groundlings”. The point I am making is that he needed to appeal to the groundlings, and if he also needed to appeal to more aristocratic sensibilities, it was kind of on top of the basics.
That has been my aim as a writer. So my “first port of call” in terms of influences in this blog is those who master the genre, the “sub-literary” genre of the thriller. But it would be pointless if that was all there was to it, and my other influences, like Shakespeare, Euripides, Celine, Mark Twain, and others, are ultimately the source of my inspiration.
Do readers care about this? Do writers have the same feelings as I do? If you’ve got this far, feel free to comment.
Seven stars, with an extra three for the dedicated.
Published on July 03, 2012 14:38 • 53 views • Tags: agatha-christie,celine, dashiell-hammett, euripides, graham-greene, influences, james-joyce, mark-twain, nobel, pulitzer, raymond-chandler, shakespeare, stephen-king, thriller