I was a voracious reader as a kid – everything I could get my hands on from DC and Marvel comics, very British ones like The Hotspur, The Victor and The Valiant, all of the children’s classics, and most of our local library’s genre section which included everything I could find from Verne, Wells, Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle, Tolkien, Arthur C Clarke and Edgar Rice Burroughs. At the same time I was making my way though my granddad’s paperbacks – the Pan Books of Horror, Dennis Wheatley, Alistair MacLean, Agatha Christie, Louis L’Amour, Len Deighton, Ian Fleming and Ed McBain all figuring large
I found Wyndham, Lovecraft and Moorcock round about 1970 at the age of 12 and things were getting set pretty much for the rest of my lifetime’s reading preferences by the time Stephen King and James Herbert came along a few years later.
But there’s another constant. My granddad was also a big Bogart fan, and I’d already been introduced to THE BIG SLEEP on the telly when I found the paperback in our local shop in ’71. I took it home and read it on one sitting, completely lost in Raymond Chandler’s California – a far cry from our wee steelworking town in the west of Scotland, but somehow Chandler’s voice spoke straight to me – laconic hard-edged cynicism with an underlying deep seated romanticism fuelled by snappy one liners. I was hooked.
It took me a wee while after that to find all the books – my home town wasn’t exactly brimming with choice, and I was too young to be allowed up to Glasgow on the hunt for reading material on my own, so it was around ’75 before I finally got all the paperbacks, but they started a love affair that’s continued to this day. Even the titles are enough to evoke the memory – The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely, The Long Goodybe, The Little Sister and more… each perfecly perfect in its own way, each soaked in gin, bourbon, cigarette smoke and regret. I love them deeply.
The paperbacks have long since fallen to bits but I have nice sturdy hardbacks now, courtesy of my lovely wife, who bought me the FOLIO SOCIETY boxed set which is a thing of beauty in its own right.
I read them all again every so often, and still get lost in Chandler’s world every time. There’s few other writers who can stand up to multiple reads like that, and they’re all great ones.
When I started to write for myself, one of the first things I did was create my detective Derek Adams, a character who has shown enough resilience to still be with me these 25 years later. Derek may be a Scot in Glasgow, but his soul, like mine, is in ’40s and ’50s California, drinking gimlets in smoky bars with Marlowe and listening to tales of woe from fast broads and cheap crooks.