Today I give a huge welcome to Iain Rowan as he joins me for this week’s Author Influences. Iain is a local-to-me author, so I’m thrilled to have him ‘visiting’ the blog.
Which authors/books did you like to read as a child?
Everything I could lay my hands on. Children’s fiction, adult fiction, you name it. I can still remain the day I got my adult tickets for the library, when I was 13. Was like the keys to the kingdom. I loved Alan Garner, still do as an adult, and his books made me see the world as a haunted, mythic place. Not fiction, but when my dad died and my mum asked me to take anything of his I wanted, the first thing was a book I loved more than anything as a child: Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, a massive reader’s digest thing crammed full of potent and strange legends from all around the country, alternately fascinating and terrifying.
Although I don’t write sf or read much of it now, I crammed in as much as I could as a child, people like Andre Norton, and Jack Vance. Fantasy by people like Tolkien, Moorcock and Lieber because as that kind of bookish kid you do, don’t you. And the Moomin books because they were just much weirdness.
Were you good at English at school? Did you like it?
I have mixed views on English education. There was more emphasis in primary school on creativity, and in particular one teacher encouraged me to write (a long series of interlinked spy stories, if I remember right) and I loved it to bits. Then came secondary school, and: read Mayor of Casterbridge and Sons and Lovers. Now read it again. And again. And let’s discuss some really laboured points about imagery. To death. I did well enough, especially at A Level, but I can’t help thinking it’s like taking Art and finding out it’s all just theory and art history. There should be room in the syllabus for creativity, and creatively responding to what you have read via your own fiction, poetry, whatever. Maybe it’s changed since the 80s and there is now, but given the onslaught on creativity across the rest of the curriculum, I doubt it.
What genres do you like to read? Have they had an impact on the genre you write?
I’ll read most things – I tend to look out for reviews or descriptions of a book that for some reason push a particular button in me, and then read that, rather than pick by genre. I read a fair amount of crime fiction, because that’s what I write and I need to soak up what’s out there, but tend to steer clear of it when I’m really in the thick of writing my own. Am a sucker for a classic ghost story, and novels that make me feel like Alan Garner’s did – Michael Hurley’s The Loney and Devil’s Day are two great examples of that, as is the novel I’m in the middle of reading: Folk by Zoe Gilbert. Also, if your novel’s set in a run-down out of season coastal town, that’s me sold in an instant.
If you were to write a different genre what would it be and why?
As my answers to the previous questions probably show, I’d love to write a classic spooky, weird, mythic YA novel – a haunting folk fantasy that makes the reader shiver at the thought that there are huge and important and ancient things happening just out of sight, but that sometimes we catch an unsettling glimpse of them creeping out from around the edges of the real world.
Did any author’s work encourage you to pick up your pen and write and if so who, what and why?
A couple of writers in particular made me determined to write, while also putting me off writing because they were so good, what’s the point. Rupert Thomson is an amazing writer, who writes better prose than anyone else around. I thought: if I could be one tenth of the prose stylist he is, I’d be a good writer. The other is Michael Marshall Smith, for a long time a successful novelist, but I discovered him early on through his short stories which were weird sometimes-horror sometimes fabulist things, and they made me feel: I want to try and do this.
Are there any authors who, as soon as they publish a new book, you have to get it?
Donna Tartt, Rupert Thomson, Emily St. John Mandel and now Mick Herron.
Which books have you read that have made you think ’Wow, I wish I had written that’ and what was it about the book?
Hmmm. I think I’ve probably answered bits of this one already. Every one of Thomson’s novels for the sheer brilliance of style. The Secret History (my favourite novel) for making me think: I never ever want to leave these people. It’s my definition of a brilliant novel that when you finish it, you feel an almost visceral sense of loss. John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meaney for the way that all the plot he’s set up starts rolling out at the end like a machine. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News for the compassion and warmth and the way it made me want to live there. Emily St. John Mandel’s Last Night In Montreal for being exactly the kind of novel I’d like to have written, in every way.
Have any of your plots/characters been influenced by real life events/people? (Be careful, I don’t want you getting sued!)
People who die in my books are generally thinly disguised versions of people who stood in front of me on an escalator and then got off and STOPPED right at the top. Also people who talk on their mobiles while someone in a shop is serving them. You’re all in there.
The novel I’m working on now is influenced by the undercover policing scandal which saw police going undercover for years – often in largely harmless parts of the environmental protest movement – forming relationships, fathering children, and then one day disappearing as if they never existed.
Years ago I kicked around a few ideas for a novel which I never really took forward. Was set amongst a (then) fictional group of people who were working hacking phones and reading bins for tabloid newspapers. I didn’t follow it through, and then a couple of years later…dear reader, if you are a writer and have a really interesting idea: write it now. Don’t be like Iain.
Thanks for taking part, Iain. I really enjoyed reading your answers and I’m pleased to have found another Finn Family Moomintroll fan. And The Secret History is one of my all time favourite books too.
Iain’s latest book, Sea Change, is out now. Here’s what it’s about:
“You owe it to yourself to discover Rowan’s fiction if you haven’t already had the pleasure.” (Jeff Vandermeer, two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award)
When John is sent to stay with his sister in a small fishing village on the North Yorkshire coast, his parents thought that it would give him a chance to get over the tragedy that happened at school.
But when John arrives in Saltcliff, he is threatened by a strange old man who has waited years for him to appear, he is followed by a mysterious black dog, and he learns that he has a part to play in an ancient legend that is older than the village itself.
Can John leave the tragedies of his past behind and find the courage to save the village? And most important of all, can he stay out of the mist…
Sea Change is a Young Adult novel.
Check out Iain’s Amazon author page for details of his other books HERE.
About Iain Rowan
Iain Rowan is author of the Bath Novel Award and CWA Debut Dagger shortlisted novel One of Us, as well as over thirty published short stories, and is represented by the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency. He is Creative Director for the Sunderland Festival of Creative Writing, and runs Sunderland writers’ group Holmeside Writers. Like a bad 80s metal band, he found himself unexpectedly big in Mexico.