“THE WORLD IS GROWN SO BAD, THAT WRENS MAKE PREY WHERE EAGLES DARE NOT PERCH.”
It was my first author event and the bottle of Rescue Remedy I had glugged down on the train was not having the desired effect on my nerves. I was one of five or six new crime writers sitting in front of a large audience in Heffers Bookshop in Cambridge. One of our number had been published slightly earlier than the rest of us and was therefore an old hand. Although already in the bookshop, he had taken his seat last, strolling through the audience like Billy Graham (BG) at a revivalist meeting.
The first question we were asked was about writers who had influenced us. BG went first and expounded at length on John Steinbeck.
What, not dear Agatha, or Dorothy, or Margery? I mused.
Suddenly, I didn’t like the look of my choices anymore. They looked a bit lack lustre. Not very Nobel Prize-ish. I began to race through other options: Bukowski? B.S. Johnson? Dostoevsky? Chandler? Hammett? The only trouble (apart from the alarming sex-change of my influences) was that I could determine absolutely no link between my writing and theirs. To claim it would have been laughably arrogant not to mention misleading.
Then I remembered Sara Paretsky, the progenitor of the female private investigator novel. A writer I very much like and admire. But I immediately realised that I had no idea how to pronounce the name of her main character, V. I. Warshawski. Try it yourself now and then imagine saying it in front of a large audience with your heart beat skipping along at the rate of a marathon runner on her last legs. I knew that if I attempted that I would sound like a woman with a sock filled with marbles in her mouth.
And then I heard those rough-gruff tones of Richard Burton: ‘Broardsword calling Danny Boy, are you receiving?’ Well, yes I was. Loud and clear. Thank you very much, Richard.
And I saw a young man with a quiff (not Clint Eastwood although he does sport a very fine quiff in Where Eagles Dare), a white dog and an irascible, sweary captain. The audience was looking at me expectantly.
‘Alistair Maclean and Tintin,’ I blurted out.
BG looked bemused. I can’t remember much of what I said after that. No doubt something about the importance of pace and whizzing along, throwing a few jokes in there to keep the reader going and remembering that they may be reading you on the train on the way to work and just before they fall asleep so it’s important to ENTERTAIN THEM and KEEP THEIR ATTENTION! I gabbled and whizzed along myself.
BG went on to win prizes and occupy platforms all by himself; I went off to contemplate my influences and do a course on public speaking.
Here are some questions to end on.
1. Where does the quotation at the beginning of the post come from? Clue: Not a bad influence to claim!
2. Who or what has influenced you? High brow or low brow – in art or in life?