Mark Billingham Author’s Bookshelf

Mark Billingham ABWhere’s your bookcase located and what does it look like?

Well, it’s one of several bookshelves in my office at home. I’ve gone for the traditional wooden planks and battens arrangement and, not wanting to be too ‘off the wall’ about things, it’s on the wall. There are books, of course, but also a variety of keepsakes and bits of memorabilia dotted about on the shelves. There are some Beatles figures, an alligator’s head, my old Wolves Subbuteo team, a treasured photograph of myself with Elvis Costello and a lovely picture drawn by a fan of John Connolly and myself in conversation. It’s great because we don’t look nearly as raddled and scary as we actually are…

What kind of books will definitely not be found in your bookcase?

There’s another shelf, out of picture, that’s mostly taken up by books about music, but in terms of crime fiction  – and you won’t be surprised to discover that most of the books on this bookshelf fall into that category – there’s not a lot that might be termed cosy. I tend towards the darker end of the spectrum where that’s concerned. So nothing where a cat solves the mystery, no quilting patterns and definitely no recipes.

What author have you discovered and loved recently?

I’m probably the last person in the world to have read The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley and I loved it. I also read the brilliant Fourth Of July Creek by Smith Henderson which was a debut novel and so fantastic that I was eaten up by envy, even as I was marveling at how good it was.

Where is your favourite place to read?

In bed, definitely. With biscuits.

Can books change lives?

Yes, I believe they can. They can certainly improve them. I think that the imagination is a muscle which can atrophy if it doesn’t get a workout and nothing fires the imagination more, especially as a child, than reading.

If so, which one changed yours?

It was probably two books, Jaws and The Godfather, which I read back to back one summer when I was fourteen. I’d read some perfectly good books, some great books at school – Animal Farm, To Kill A Mockingbird –  but they were books I’d had to read whereas these were books I discovered myself (I think I probably nicked them) and they knocked me for six. The sheer force of the storytelling was something I hadn’t encountered before. Yes, there were also some dirty bits, which is always a plus when you’re fourteen, but that was the first time I encountered the power of popular fiction and thereafter I could not get enough of it.

What’s the book you’d choose as your Desert Island read?

It would have to be the four great novels of Dashiell Hammett (you can get them in one volume, so it’s not cheating). The Maltese Falcon is still an amazing novel almost ninety years on, and as a writer, and a human being, Hammett remains something of a hero. Failing that, I’d go for a really BIG book that also happened to be dinghy shaped.

What book did you give last as a present and to whom?

It was actually a book that I sent to someone to give to someone else as a present. As part of a top secret mission, I sent a copy of Elvis Costello’s brilliant memoir across the Atlantic, so that Laura Lippman could surprise her husband, David Simon, with it for his birthday. Like all right-thinking people, David’s a big Costello fan and had worked with him on his show Treme. I was lucky enough to be able to get Costello to sign a copy for him. It went down very well!

What are you reading now?

It’s always tough to read crime fiction when you’re deep into a novel of your own, so I’m on a bit of a non-fiction kick at the moment. I’ve just finished Never A Dull Moment, David Hepworth’s brilliant book about the music of 1971, and I’m currently reading Foxes Unearthed. A book about…foxes. I love foxes, what can I say?

What are your top ten books?

OK, well on another day it might be different, but as things stand, for many different reasons and in no particular order:

  • The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Big Blowdown by George Pelecanos
  • Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
  • Night Dogs by Kent Anderson
  • The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies
  • The Book Of Lost Things by John Connolly
  • The Death Of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell
  • The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
  • Dare Me by Megan Abbott

What’s your most treasured book on your bookcase?

It’s a first edition of To Kill A Mockingbird that was given to my by my publisher when I first scraped into the bestseller list. It’s beautiful. That said, if they were still around, those old battered paperback editions of Jaws and The Godfather would come a very close second.