Author Mark Billingham not only wrote our Book of the Month, Cry Baby, but has a myriad of other achievements under his belt, including performing at Glastonbury with his band The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers and twice winning the most wanted award in crime fiction: the Theakston Old Peculier Award for Crime Novel of the Year. This year he also celebrates his 20th book – seriously impressive stuff!

Mark’s bookshelf is rather excellently full, reflecting his taste not only in reading, but in collectibles and pop culture. This is no Zoom showpiece but the bookshelf of someone with a busy life, a love of books and music.

Join us as we take a sneak peek at this Mark’s bookshelf, learn a little more about his twentieth novel, and see if he can give us any tips on what to read right now:

Mark’s fabulously full bookshelf. 

Hi Mark, where’s your bookcase located, and what does it look like?

This particular one is in my office at home. Yes, there are obviously lots of books, but many are obscured by the collection of random tat and nerdy collectibles I’ve amassed over the years. There are probably far too many Beatles and James Bond toys than any grown man should have, but I don’t care. There’s a treasured photo of myself with Elvis Costello and other mementos from events. All a bit untidy and odd but not compared to the stuff on the mantelpiece just out of shot. At least this bookcase isn’t festooned with stuffed animals and dolls’ heads, though it IS watched over by the somewhat spooky fellow in the armchair. Here, behind the assorted ephemera there are my collections of first edition Rankin, Connelly, James Lee Burke and many other great crime writers. These books are hugely precious to me, of course, but if there was a fire and I had to choose between saving a treasured crime novel or my Yellow Submarine figures, I would be…conflicted.

Are there any authors that you have discovered recently that you’ve loved?
The American writer Lou Berney. He’s been around for a while, but I was late to the party. His most recent novels THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE and NOVEMBER ROAD are breath-taking. So rich and beautifully written that they make you feel like a rank amateur.

For us, so much of reading is the comfort, and the curling up with a good book. Where is your favourite place to read?
In bed. If the bed happens to be on a sun-drenched island or in an enormous penthouse overlooking Central Park, so much the better. North London will do, though. It’s easy to lose yourself in a great book when you’re so comfortable. Though you should never forget that it’s also easy to drift off and, if you’re reading a chunky hardback, it can fall down on to your face and break your nose.

We all have genres we love, but are there any kind of books will not be found in your bookcase?
Certainly nothing about Formula One. Or jazz. Or morris dancing. In terms of crime fiction (which probably constitutes the majority of the books) there’s not too much at the…lighter end of the spectrum. I tend to go for darker stuff, so you won’t find any quilting mysteries or mysteries in which recipes are dotted between the chapters. You certainly won’t find anything in which a pet of any sort solves the crime. Don’t get me wrong, I love all sorts of crime novels, but I certainly don’t own any books with titles like, “Tibbles Cracks The Case” or “The Talented Mr Pickle.”

2020 is a milestone year for you, as you’re celebrating your 20th Anniversary of the Thorne Books with the upcoming publication of Cry Baby. It might be impossible to choose, but do you have a favourite of the books you’ve written?
Well, strictly speaking it’s actually the 20th book as opposed to the 20th anniversary, which will be in the summer of next year, because the first book came out in 2001. It’s that whole birthday/anniversary thing. Yes, I’m the sort of annoying pedant who STILL insists that the millennium should have been celebrated on New Year’s Eve 2000 as opposed to 1999. *Breathes* I’ll always be fond of SLEEPYHEAD because it was the first book and I’m very attached to a standalone called IN THE DARK, but right this minute, my favourite would probably be a Thorne novel from a few years back called LOVE LIKE BLOOD.

Do you think that books can change lives? If so, which one changed yours?
A couple, actually. THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, which was read to me by a Maths teacher who got bored during his own lessons, was the book that turned me on to detective fiction. The two books that really showed me what popular fiction could do were both blockbusters – JAWS and THE GODFATHER – which I read back to back in the summer of 1975. I had simply never read anything as powerful, but then again, blood and gore and a decent smattering of dirty bits (Sonny and the bridesmaid! Hooper and Brody’s wife!) are exactly what a 14 year-old boy is looking for. Well, this one certainly was.

Author, Mark Billingham

Which book would you choose to take on a desert island with you?
Obviously, my first choice would be a book that’s dinghy-shaped. Failing that…I should probably go with something impenetrable that I’ve never managed to crack, like ULYSSES, though I KNOW I’d have a much better time with Jilly Cooper or Jackie Collins. If you REALLY want me to choose, I’ll go for the DEPTFORD TRILOGY by Robertson Davies.

Your bookcase is a pretty impressive mix. What’s your most treasured book on your bookcase and why?
There are a couple. I can often be found stroking my copy of Elvis Costello’s autobiography, UNFAITHFUL MUSIC AND DISAPPEARING INK. Because he was my chosen specialist subject on Celebrity Mastermind, Elvis inscribed it: “To Mark. I’ve started so I’ll finish…” Perhaps the most treasured is a first edition of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD that was given to me 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.

What does the pleasure of reading mean to you?
Reading tells us about the world and in doing so, it tells us about ourselves. We discover how different we are from other people and, crucially, how alike. Reading improves our minds; it gives us wit and strengthens our imaginations. It builds self-confidence and understanding, but more importantly…MUCH more importantly reading is FUN. Yes, we have movies and computer games and endless social media to take up our time, but those are communal activities. The experiences are more or less the same for everyone. When you read a book, the pictures in your head are yours and yours alone. Human beings are hard-wired to look for story, and there is nothing that comes close to losing yourself in a good one.

And finally, can you tell us what new projects you’re working on now?
I’m just finishing off a standalone novel which will be out next summer (on the 20th anniversary). It’s something very different and not just because it’s my first time writing a whole book in the first person. I wrote it very quickly (pretty much all during the lockdown) and that could be a good sign or a very bad one. I’ll let you know once my editor’s seen it…

Thanks, Mark! 

What an incredible peak into Mark Billingham’s reading habits, love of books, and of course his bookshelf.

Mark’s brand new book (and our Book Of The Month) Cry Baby out this week on Thursday 23rd July. It is a thrilling treat for fans of the Thorne series and new readers alike – and is a prequel to his landmark, massively influential debut novel, Sleepyhead. So whether this is your first, or twentieth Mark Billingham read, it’s the perfect book to pick up this month.

Mark will also be joining us for our free, online Festival the #HIFWeekender this Saturday, for a celebratory event looking back on his twenty year’s of Thorne – make sure you join us for this great online event here. 


Mark’s brand new book (and our Book Of The Month): Cry Baby.

Get the book now:

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Praise for Mark Billingham:

‘Tom Thorne is one of the most credible and engaging heroes in contemporary crime fiction. Mark Billingham is a master of psychology, plotting and the contemporary scene… Twenty years in and better than ever.’ Ian Rankin

‘Billingham is always a must read’ Harlan Coben

‘Mark Billingham is one of the biggest names in crime fiction and one of the genre’s most formidable talents.’ Peter James