Five books that loomed large while I was writing Little Hands Clapping
1. The Young Visiters by Daisy Ashford.
Whenever I’m writing a book I reach a point where I can’t understand why anybody would want to read about a bunch of imaginary people doing make-believe things. The whole exercise seems like a great big waste of time, and to get over this I return to my favourite fiction, to remind myself that there is a point to it. One book I always reach for is The Young Visiters. It’s just perfect.
2. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
The prose is terrible. The characters are cardboard. Everything that happens is preposterous. But in spite of all that it’s a page turner of the highest order, and I would so much rather read something that made me want to read on than something that ticks all the ‘literary’ boxes but is a thankless trudge. It was tragic that people took it seriously though — it’s Scooby Doo for grown-ups. This is entertainment, a dirty word in some houses, but not mine. I had no hesitation in chucking a load of action and plot in Little Hands Clapping, alongside the more serious stuff.
3. Rendezvous In Black by Cornell Woolrich.
Woolrich’s output is a mixed bag, but his best work is top quality suspense. I read him a lot while writing Little Hands Clapping, and I think he fed into the book. His speciality is having an ordinary Joe haplessly stumble into a situation that results in their life spiralling out of control. Rendezvous in Black, from 1948, is as good a starting point as any, not least because the main character is called Johnny Marr, and at one point he has a fight with a man called Morrissey.
4. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe.
Like Little Hands Clapping, this is a German suicide novel. I’d read this in 1998 and 1999, and deliberately didn’t return to it until after I’d signed off the book. It’s every bit as wonderful as I remembered, and on reading it back I realised I had made what must be subconscious nods to it — a sunny and attractive character called Lotte, the name Klopstock… These look like deliberate, thought-through references, but they aren’t. Go figure.
5. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan.
Sometimes it helps to read a book that is relentlessly terrible. It’s energising to have something to fight against, and knowing you aren’t the worst writer in the world can lift the spirits. This book is a pile of dog’s mess. The ‘themes’ aren’t so much spoon-fed to the reader as bellowed at them with a loud hailer, the characters are dull people dismally written, their world is devoid of even the possibility of humour, and don’t get me started on the spunking scene… or the ending, for that matter — the main character’s life turns out so unsatisfactory that he ends up owning only a share of a house in France, unlike McEwan, who owns a whole house in France. Holy smoke this is a bad read. But what really makes me angry isn’t so much the book itself, it’s the way the literary establishment queued up to kiss its dreary arse. “Oh Florence.” “Oh Edward.” This book is the enemy.
[Further: Dan's 2006 Top 5 + 3:AM's 2003 and 2007 interviews with Mr Rhodes + Pic: Dan at 3:AM's 2003 Xmas bash at the Aquarium Gallery + Little Hands Clapping recently won the 2010 EM Forster Award]
First posted: Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010.