Secret Library is back for the lockdown. Lockdown library, anyone? You may recall that the premise is that we want to hear about three titles from an author’s own library. Today I’m delighted to be joined from the Scottish Highlands by Neil Lancaster, author of the Tom Novak thrillers, Going Dark and Going Rogue, drawn at least a little from his experience as a covert specialist at the Met. Over to you, Neil:
This has been a joy for me to consider three books that maybe don’t jump to the front of anyone’s minds when considering literary influences. I’ve never been one for the classics, beyond Beau Geste so, perhaps for me this wasn’t so difficult.
As I writer, I am committed to writing seat-of-your-pants thrillers and adventure stories. They are what I love to read and love to write. I want a reader once he’s picked my book up to be unable to even consider setting it aside. Writing this piece made me think where did my urge to write come from? What seeded that desire? What books did I read not just once or twice, but multiple times? You know, enough to make the them begin to fall apart such was the abuses they suffered. Once I settled upon this as a strategy it was simple and, there really was no choice. These are the books that turned me into a consumer, and lover of books. Today, as a writer I subconsciously draw on the lessons that are contained within their dog-eared pages. They aren’t highbrow, there are no Booker prize winners and I am not making any apologies for that. Inspiration comes from wherever you find it and I found inspiration within these three books.
My family and other animals by Gerald Durrell
The wonderfully sunlit tale of a middle-class family emigrating to Corfu in the 1930s. My Mum made me read this when I was about 10 or so. My big sister was doing it for her English Lit O’ level (as did everyone else in those days). Mum had read it and loved it so she threw it my way and basically forced me to read it. Until then I had only really read The Beano, but under threats of no food I reluctantly dived in and began to read. I was immediately transfixed by the novel. Gerald Durrell was an absolute master of drawing the reader in and making them almost feel the book as well as read it. It was so absorbing that I almost felt bathed in the Corfu sun that Durrell described so beautifully. Funnily enough I dismally failed my English Lit O’ Level along with all the others.
Legionnaire by Simon Murray
This is a true boys-own adventure that I first read as a teenager in the late 1970s. It is the true coming of age story of the author’s 5-year service with the French Foreign Legion in the 1960’s. Murray joined the Legion with a naïve and romantic heart leaving behind a comfortable middle-class existence to enter the toughest of arenas. Murray is a fascinating character who kept a diary of his brutal, tough and unrelenting service in Algeria. His account of the training and the heavy fighting with Algerian insurgents was both brutal and compelling. Described by Henry Kissinger “as a unique diary of hard living, harsh discipline, and the military tradition of ‘March or Die’ has ‘the drama, excitement and colour of a good guts-and-glory thriller.” A wonderfully absorbing read that can almost be read as if a fiction novel. That it is a true story just makes it all the more compelling.
Running Blind by Desmond Bagley
I read this book multiple times as a teenager, again, I have to thank my Mum for throwing it my way. It was this book that made me realise that the written word is easily as gripping as films and TV. Bagley is perhaps the least remembered of the thriller authors of the 1970s when compared to Alistair Maclean, Dick Francis or Hammond Innes which I think is a travesty. He established a USP of a fairly ordinary, but tough individual compelled into extraordinary circumstances. Running Blind is, I think the best of his novels which tells the story of a broken ex-spy forced into action in Iceland by corrupt forces. Bagley really understood the importance of place in a novel and his research, especially in the pre-internet days, of Iceland were evocative. I recently downloaded the book onto my e-reader and it is as gripping as I remember it. Bagley had a real gift for writing a book with real pace that meant once you’d started, you just had to finish. It’s only really occurred to me now but I really can see the influence of Bagley in the pages of my own book.
Thankyou so much for affording me the opportunity of sharing these much-loved old friends with you. It is only writing this piece that I have realised just how much they all mean to me. Must dash, I’m off to the book shop to buy three brand, spanking new copies of these beauties.
Thanks Neil – both for your choices and for a great lockdown motto: Inspiration comes from wherever you find it.
You can get Going Rogue here. (All links are affiliate links.)
Secret Library is back next Friday but in the meantime you can join previous librarians here.