Who Inspired you to write? By Ann Evans

Thriller writer James Hadley Chase

If you had to pinpoint one author who inspired you to write, who
would it be?

Just thinking back to my growing up years and trips to the library, I remember heading straight for the crime corner and in particular books by James Hadley Chase.

I was in my early teens at the time and can remember being so excited that I was actually allowed to borrow books from the adult section of the library. I can still picture myself stretching up to reach those James Hadley Chase hardback novels with their glamorous and daring covers. 

Mum and I used to go to our local library together. She was a massive murder mystery fan and loved Agatha Christie. She must have read every one of her novels.

So while mum was browsing titles such as Murder on the Orient Express and A Murder is Announced, I'd be just a bit further along looking for a James Hadley Chase thriller.

Looking back, I can't actually remember the details of his actual stories, but what I can remember is the fast moving pace and sharp dialogue. Thank goodness I blanked the gory murders, sex and violence from my innocent mind! 

And now, as I read about how controversial a writer he was, writing stories that shocked because of their ruthless sex and violence, it's no wonder my mum tried to get me into Agatha Christie books – which have far more tasteful murders!

Then however, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple just weren't for me. In fact for a time I just hadn't discovered any other authors who could match James Hadley Chase for exciting reading. Not even Raymond Chandler whose books must practically have been next to Hadley Chase's if you think alphabetically how the books would have been lined up on library shelves.

Back in the mid 1960s which was when I would have been reading Hadley Chase's work, there obviously wasn't Wikipedia, the internet and author websites, so all you knew about any author was the brief biog you might find written on the inside or back of a book jacket – if you bothered to look, and I don't think I did, I'm ashamed to say. At the time I assumed he was an American author. But how wrong could you be?

Now that research is just a click away, I've discovered my favourite author from my teen years who wrote so vividly about the New York underworld was actually born in London on 24th December 1906. Quite pleased to see we share the same birthday. (Not the year!!)

His real name was René Brabazon Raymond and he also wrote under the aliases of Raymond Marshall, James L Docherty, R Raymond and Ambrose Grant. He wrote over 90 books of which 50 have been made into films, and he has been referred to as the King of Thrillers writers in Europe. Pah! And I thought I'd discovered him!

It seems that he didn't start writing until he was in his 30s. Until then, while he had worked in books and literature, he was selling them - not writing them. However, just before the war, he realised there was a growing demand for American gangster stories so he tried his hand at writing one himself. 

In 1938, over six weekends, he wrote his first book, No Orchids for Miss Blandish which became one of the best selling books of the decade. It was also included in the Le Mondes 100 Books Of The Century. In 1948 Hollywood turned it into a highly controversial film that was criticised for its ruthless sex and violence. It also upset the Bishop of London and various politicians. Not surprisingly then, it became a commercial success. It also toured as a stage play and was also the basis for the 1971 film The Grissom Gang.

Not bad for a début novel!

My plan now is to re-read some of his books to see if my tastes have changed. 

So how about you, whose books did you read after you'd moved on from Enid Blyton and The Famous Five?

Please visit my website: www.annevansbooks.co.uk


Jan Needle said…
thanks for jogging my memory about chase. i used to love him. peter cheyney did a lot of keeping me up at nights, too. but the biggest 'influence' (whatever that might mean) was the wonderful gerald kersh, who nobody else ever seems to have heard of. he was a bad boy from way back, taught soldiers how to kill enemy operatives without trace during ww2 (apparently), wrote his first autobiography (maybe) while in his twenties, and revealed that as a child he was so naughty that 'when a tram fell over in clapham' his mother 'absent-mindedly' gave him a good smacking. makes us more modern writer chaps and chapesses seem desperately dull, innit!
Ann Evans said…
I haven't heard of Gerald Kersh either Jan,I like the anecdote of his mum blaming him for the tram falling over, that's funny. Maybe a character like the young Gerald would make for a good children's books now!
Jan Needle said…
Teaching Coldstream Guards how to kill somebody silently with a knife might be less kiddie-friendly, however! He was an amazing character, though. Russian origin, noted for eating raw liver out of newspaper while walking down the street, wartime proganda film writer, cinema manager, prize-winning boxer. It's a tragedy that he's faded completely from view. His autobiog book was called I Got References, and contains the best chapter heading ever: How You Feeling? Not So Good, I've Got Cancer. Ah Well, So Long You've Got Your Health and Strength!

As you can guess from that, he wrote a lot about East End Jews (Mr Yudenow; Hairy Cohen and many others) and was widely assumed to be Jewish. His brother, Cyril Kersh, also became a novelist, late in life, after being features editor of the Sunday Mirror (I think) for many years. Gerald Kersh once said the best pay for writing he ever got was when someone made a film of his book Night and the City. The cheque was enormous, and the only thing they used was the title!

Incidentally, isn't No Orchids for Miss Blandish fantastic? And the title, too.
Bill Kirton said…
Interesting, Ann, and it made me realise that I can't really connect my need to write with any particular author. I loved all the Just William books but, apart from Richmal Crompton, no individual writers spring to mind. I can remember being thrilled, shocked, amused and all sorts of other things by plenty of books but all by different people and in different genres.
Dan Holloway said…
I'm not sure I could give a one author answer. In fact I'm fairly sure a truthful answer wouldn't involve authors at all, save for a cursory mention of Milan Kundera with whom I fell in love at university, and who does things with prose that makes me want to do things with prose. But my creative influences by and large are from the art world. The thing that made me want to be creative in a serious way was my first encounter with Rothko, a whole room full just of crimson and black canvases in fact. Then over my formative years there were encouters with Pollock, Heron, Frida Kahlo, Sonia Delaunay, until finally I found myself at the 1999 Turner Prize exhibition, which was the moment I knew I *had* to write. That exhibition contained three totally different and utterly breathtaking works. Steve McQueen's Deadpan I didn't get at the time, certainly didn't understand why it won, but the fact I have come back to it again and again and again every few months since speaks volumes, and it is teh work that first introduced me to the full onslaught of Modernism, specifically to the use of repetition to disrupt metanarrative, something I come back to time and again in my writing. At the time the two exhibits that made most impact were the Wilson Twins' brutal, dank depictions of post-nuclear Europe, cementing my fascination with our fragmented post-communist identity, and, of course, Tracey Emin's My Bed, so stark, raw and honest that it slapped me in the face so hard it shook my whole creative brain and left me completely changed. There's an awful Oscar Wilde quotation people reel out about passion being the road to bad art or some such. If there is a single theme to my creative life it's tearing down every critical sentiment that's ever been built on that insidious, poisonous little lie. And My Bed (and the interplay between my experience of the work and the experience of the media response to the work beforehand) that set me on that iconoclastic road to put passion, soul, the uncaged voice of the human heart back at the centre of everything that matters about art.
Susan Price said…
You make me want to find Hadley Chase's books and read them, Ann! (Reaches for Kindle.)
Dennis Hamley said…
Very interesting, Ann. I don't remember reading any Chase when youngbut I recall the very title No Orchids for Miss Blandish having an exciting frisson. I must at last read it and see if the film is still around.

Yes, Jan, I've heard of Gerald Kersh. I don't know much about him except for two absolutely riveting short stories, The Old Burying Place and The Extraordinarily Horrible Dummy. Scare you half to death, they do. Dennis Pepper, who edited most of the Young Oxford short story collections, put me on to him. I should read more. He seems the sort of writer who should not be forgotten. Let's start a movement to revive him.

I loved thrillers and detective fiction when I was young (still do) but can't remember any particular authors having a special effect on me. James Hadley Chase might well have been among them. Did he write a novel about a serial killer who only murdered women whose names were a variation on 'Lily'?

The genre worked on me as a sort of collective influence, leaving me with the wish that I could do it too. Just William and Arthur Ransome were the big books for me. And the Hotspur, Wizard, Rover and Adventure. They were HUGE in my life.

Dan, I went to an Artweeks discussion with Will Gomperz last week. It was great. He asked a querulous questioner, 'Why is Emin's unmade bed a work of art while yours is just a mess?'
Dennis Hamley said…
I forgot Hank Janson and the dog-eared paperbacks passed furtively round under the desks at school.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in houses full of books. After my mandatory Blyton phase, I moved onto Agatha Christie and PG Wodehouse, pretty much in parallel. Books like The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd taught me that nothing is true and everything is permitted long before Assassin's Creed. While Psmith taught me a love of words. The people who truly inspired me to write, though, were my third wave of discoveries. Iain Banks, Martin Millar, Lawrence Block, Andrew Vachss, Lauren Henderson, Barbara Wilson, Val McDermid, and Mary Wing.

And about a million others. After the initial spark, pretty much everything inspires me to write.
Lydia Bennet said…
I devoured Blyton and lots of other books. My father loved to read crime fiction and when I was about 11 he handed me an Agatha Christie and I have been a keen crime fan, and more recently crime author, ever since.
Debbie Bennett said…
After Blyton, it was Nancy Drew, Willard Price and Malcolm Savile. Then - nothing. YA books didn't exist, so I wrote one! Meanwhiel I moved onto John Wyndham and Robert Heinlein and every Robert Hale yellow-hardback-sf in the library, I think.
Lydia Bennet said…
ooh I'd forgotten all about Malcolm Savile, I read those too Debbie!
Kathleen Jones said…
My first 'adult' novel was one of my mum's library books - The Feast of Lupercal by Brian Moore - so explicit it made my 12 year old self blush to think my mum read books like that!! Then I moved on to Margery Allingham .... But I've always loved Brian Moore. Must be the irish.
Lee said…
Mostly SF (lots of it) - and now, a good 40 years later, I find myself returning to my first love.

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