Leigh Russell has kindly agreed to give us a sneak peek into the books that, now very tidily, line her shelves. So, Leigh, it’s over to you…
For someone who spends so much time making up stories I’m a terrible liar, so I’ll come clean straight away and admit the bookshelf in this photo was tidied before the picture was taken. The rest of my bookshelves are an eclectic jumble of literature spanning the centuries, all muddled up in no particular order, but I do tend to keep my crime novels in alphabetical order. Only my own books are placed out of order at the beginning of the row, a proof copy and a sale print copy of each. If you look closely, you can see that the eye on the spine of the Cut Short proof is a reverse image of the final version, so it looks as though someone is watching me as I write… appropriate for a shelf of crime novels…
What author have you discovered and loved recently?
That’s a hard question. There are so many brilliant crime authors around, producing a constant stream of new novels. I tend to read English and US authors: Val McDermid, PD James, Mark Billingham, Matt Hilton, Simon Beckett, Ian Rankin, Dreda Say Mitchell, Linwood Barclay, Tess Gerritsen, Jeffery Deaver to name just a few, although Henning Mankell is a favourite of mine. He is such an interesting man, as well as a great writer.
Recently I’ve been rediscovering Wilkie Collins, rereading The Moonstone which TS Eliot described as ‘the first and greatest of English detective novels’. Although I’d take issue with both of Eliot’s claims, it is interesting to see how much the novel has changed. The Moonstone caused a sensation when it was serialised in the mid-nineteenth century, a kind of Victorian version of the Harry Potter phenomenon. Reading it today, one is struck by how slowly the narrative builds compared to modern crime novels.
Is there any book you’d rather have a brown paper bag over while reading?
At school I remember leafing through Lady Chatterley’s Lover with my friends, looking for the salacious parts. We were quite disappointed. But my guilty admission would have to be that sadly, since I started writing, I don’t have enough time to read.
What’s the book you’d choose as your Desert Island book?
Not an original choice, but this would have to be a collected works of Shakespeare for so many reasons. Of course there’s plenty of crime in Shakespeare. Hamlet is one long murder investigation, Macbeth an exploration of the effects of guilt on a murderer, Othello murders his wife, Gloucester is mutilated on stage in Lear, and Titus Andronicus presents a variety of atrocities: 14 killings, 9 of them on stage, 6 severed members, 3 rapes, 1 live burial, 1 case of insanity and 1 of cannibalism – over 5 atrocities per act, or one for every 97 lines. But I’d choose Shakespeare for his poetry and his characterisation, not for the violence in his plays.
Is there a book you lend out and push onto all your friends?
I tend to recommend authors rather than specific books, so will ask my friends if they have read the new Lee Child, or the new Matt Hilton, for example. Occasionally I’m grabbed by an author I’m not familiar with. I enjoyed ‘To Miss with Love’ by Katharine Birbalsingh, a compelling book for anyone interested in our flawed education system. ‘Vernon God Little’ is an unusual crime novel set in America after a shooting in a school. When the one survivor becomes a suspect, there is no one left to confirm his innocence. It’s a wickedly funny narrative told by the teenage suspect.
Can books change lives?
Books that influenced me would probably be the ones I read as a teenager. Wuthering Heights, To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies are a few that spring to mind, powerful unforgettable novels that tell much more than just their stories. They expose something about human nature.
What are you top ten books?
Off the top of my head because this is an impossible question – and keeping to novels, in no particular order – Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguru), To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte), Bleak House (Dickens), Enduring Love (Ian McEwan), Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), The Great Gatsby (F Scott Fitzgerald), The Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton), Nineteen Eighty Four (George Orwell), The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) – how many is that? I suppose what the list reveals is that I’m a bit of a romantic on the quiet. But if you asked me tomorrow, I might give you a different list.
What’s your most treasured book on your own bookcase?
That’s like asking ‘which of your children do you love the most?’
I love them all!
Leigh Russell’s latest novel ‘Dead End‘ is out now.
To find out more visit http://leighrussell.co.uk/