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?
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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.
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?'
And about a million others. After the initial spark, pretty much everything inspires me to write.