James Swallow: Books that changed my life
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams
This book always makes me laugh, even though I’ve read it countless times. My 1979-vintage Pan edition, signed by the author himself, is in danger of falling apart after so many re-reads. Throughout my teens I’d read it once a year as an annual treat, and the writing never fails to work perfectly for me.
Adams blends humour and science fiction in precise measures, and his use of language is just great. Hitchhiker’s Guide was definitely a book that made me want to write my own stories, partly because of the gleeful way it stretched my imagination and partly because the tone seemed to always ring true, no matter how crazy the narrative gets. Although the novel is full of wild ideas, it’s always grounded in a sort of “amazing-mundane” and I loved the thought of being able to communicate the essence of a story like that.
by Ian Fleming
Growing up, the James Bond movies were a big part of my entertainment landscape, but I never got into the books until the heyday of the Roger Moore era—and when I did, it was like discovering the character of 007 all over again. I distinctly remember the photo cover that featured a shattered SCUBA mask, and a slick opening line, “It was one of those days when it seemed to James Bond that life, as someone put it, was nothing but a heap of six to four against.”
Coming to Fleming’s books with the movies as my origin point was an interesting learning experience that redrew my love of the Bond mythos. I was fascinated by his descriptive method and that certain kind of whip-crack sentence structure he excelled at. Reading Fleming taught me lessons about the essential pitch and moment of a thriller, and it stoked my ambition to one day write my own spy stories.
By William Gibson
Another book with a killer opening line here, “The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.” Gibson’s Neuromancer hit me like a shockwave when I read it in the Eighties, around about the time I was starting to convince myself that I might try to be a writer, and his laconic authorial voice and penchant for hyper-nuanced detail absolutely left an imprint on me.
This is the definitive cyberpunk thriller novel, gritty and rough-edged urban science fiction that comes together with such certainty. The seamless sense of location and the pace made me want to write with the same confidence. There are few books I’ve read that have resonated so strongly with me—three decades later, I thumb through the pages and feel the same pull to put aside whatever I’m doing and start reading it again.
About my new novel Exile...
Exile takes place a year after the events of my first thriller novel Nomad, bringing back the character of ex-MI6 field technician-turned-freelancer Marc Dane. Marc exists in the shadow realm of 21st century digital age espionage, a Post-WikiLeaks world where private military contractors, agile terror cells and corporations wield as much power as national intelligence agencies.
With this character and these stories, I wanted to write about an everyman hero thrown into the deep end of a dangerous milieu, someone who is forced to succeed against great odds using his wits and his adaptability rather than being an effortlessly infallible super-spy—Marc Dane he must rely on skill and determination to win through.
Exile by James Swallow is published by Zaffre
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