MY BOOKS by crime writer William Shaw who discovered one Christmas that owning a book was very special
William Shaw, described by The Sun as a “a master of modern crime” is the author of The Birdwatcher,Salt Lane and Dungeness (2019); also of the Breen and Tozer detective series set in 1960s London.
His non-fiction books include Westsiders, about young African-Americna men growing up in South Central Los Angeles.
What’s the first book you remember reading (or being read to you)? Probably Are You My Mother? by P D Eastman in the Dr Seuss series. A fledgling chick falls from the next and asks a mixture of creatures and inanimate objects if they’re its mother. Heartbreaking stuff.
Can you name a book from your childhood that made a big impact on you? Speed Six!by Bruce Carter. It was a rollicking boy-tale of Bentley racing and smuggling but I remember two things about it more than the story. Firstly that it was given to me as a Christmas present and created that thrilling idea that owning books was somehow special. Secondly that I then declared Bruce Carter to be my favourite writer – and that somehow having a favourite writer was quite a good idea. Looking him up I discover that Carter was the father of writer Deborah Moggach.
What book are you reading right now? Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fires. Brilliant – half literary, half like an absurd Jed Mercurio thriller that manages to take on the genuine discomfort of being a British Asian post-9/11. Let down by being a bit wooden at times though.
And the one you read before that? Dark Water by Elizabeth Lowry. Dense and metaphor-laden exploration historical novel about mental illness. That’s probably not selling it well.
Favourite non fiction book? Akenfield by Ronald Blythe. The aural history of an East Anglian village. The voices in that book were a massive revelation to me. Aside from it being the darkest depiction of the English countryside I’ve ever read, the idea that you could extract narrative and character from a long conversation with someone was amazing. I moved on to read Studs Terkel who was a master of that stuff, but Akenfield kind of inspired me to co-write my first book, Travellers – also an aural history. That also fed into a series of columns I used to do in the Observer yonks ago called The Small Ads.
Favourite poetry book? Or poem? Probably Snow by Louis MacNeice. World is crazier and more of it than we think, incorrigibly plural.
I like that phrase a lot. Especially when the crazy world is viewed from a nice cosy Irish living room, as I imagine McNeice’s one to be.
(Read it HERE)
And a short story that has lived with you ever since you first read it? Gooseberries by Chekov. Held up as a story about the disappointment of getting what you wish for. The man has wanted to grow gooseberries all his life and in the end retires to the country to lead ugly, bourgois country life. To everyone else his cherished gooseberries taste bitter. But I like that the priggish man is happy. He thinks they’re delicious.
(Read it HERE)
What book (if any) have you found yourself re-reading over the years? Love in Amsterdam by Nicholas Freeling. Brilliant outward-looking crime fiction; written in the early sixties, it was set in Europe and was cosmopolitan and rich at a time when England was so inward-looking and dull. When I started writing crime, I thought I was following in Nicholas Freeling’s footsteps. So I re-read him and discovered that what I was doing was completely different. There are people who say when you write, you try and copy the books that first grabbed you when you were young. Or a weirdly mis-remembered version of them, in my case.
What contemporary book (written in the last 30 years) would you save from a bonfire? Can I save Alan Warner’s The Sopranos? I can’t think why anyone would put it on the bonfire, but I think he’s really overlooked these days. He should be up there with Nicola Barker for wit and invention. I think he writes the best dialogue in the English language.
Finally, what do you prefer: a real book with pages that move, an ebook, an audio device? I’m a technophile, so it’s a big disappointment to me that e-books really aren’t a patch on the real thing.
Would you like to take part in MY BOOKS?
I would love to hear from you. Drop me a line at bridgetwhelan AT hotmail.co.uk and I will send you a list of questions to ponder over. Please put MY BOOKS in the subject line.