Christopher Fowler: I’m not fond of treacly sentiment
Christopher Fowler explains how J G Ballard influenced the design of his London home and reminisces about the uncertainty of youth.
Christopher Fowler is the author of cult novels such as Roofworld and Soho Black, as well as the Bryant & May detective series, which includes the award-winning Full Dark House and The Victoria Vanishes. His latest, Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, is out now.
A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
This classic tale of loss of innocence is full of adventure. A boat carrying children from Jamaica to England is taken over by pirates. There’s a shocking moment when one of the girls, on the cusp of womanhood, rather casually kills another captive she thinks is threatening her. I admire Hughes’s insight into children’s ability to be clear and cold when circumstances require. I was 18 when I read it, and wished I could be swept away by events beyond my control; at that age, you want your destiny to be taken out of your own hands because you’re so unsure of what lies ahead.
The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake
Certain books need to be read at the right age. This trilogy about a rebellious young hero who fights against everything and wants to smash the system really chimed with my mood, aged 15. It’s not the easiest of reads, but I’d never imagined that a world could be created so densely, beautifully and clearly. There’s a wonderful description of Titus Groan (who gives his name to the first novel in the series) climbing up to the roof of the castle and looking out over the world. I grew up in suburban London, and this really inflamed my desire to travel. I was certainly a different person after reading these books.
The Unlimited Dream Company by J G Ballard
People think of Ballard as dystopian, but this fable is hilarious. It centres on Blake, who crashes an aircraft into the Thames and ends up as a messiah figure, taking over the London suburb of Shepperton. He acquires special powers, and everyone seems happier as the town becomes almost tropical. I admire the expansiveness of character that you find in people who live in warm climates, though I’m not fond of treacly sentiment. I live in London now, and it’s a home created with Ballard’s Shepperton very firmly in mind.