AN AUTHOR’S JOURNEY – FROM CRIME WRITING TO GENRE FICTION
When you're a writer, you get asked quite a bit about what you're currently reading. I started writing crime novels almost by accident, because that was the idea I had at the time – but the truth is that I'm far more likely to be reading a comic, or something science fiction or fantasy, than anything else.
I've already had a few of my crime books published, partly by accident, partly by design. I started out self-publishing a series about a detective sergeant in Manchester and they took off, largely through word of mouth but also because I had so many innovative ways to describe rain in the northwest of England that people simply had to read them. Well, either that, or they couldn't work out if I was male or female. Regardless, one thing led to another, the world kept turning, and there are now six Jessica Daniel books cluttering up a shop or e-shelf near you, with my gender-defying name on the spine.
"Whoa there," I hear all dozen of you saying, "What's a bunch of crime-book-talk doing on the Tor blog? There's not an intergalactic crime-solving dog named Alfie involved in your stories, is there?"
No, but that is GOLD. Instead, my first young adult / fantasy novel is out in 2014. It is called Reckoning and is part one of Silver Blackthorn trilogy. It's set a little in the future, with a teenage girl as the main character. There are mad kings, underclasses, boy-girl angst, big set-pieces, twists and surprises. It's a giant fantasy-science fiction-dystopian-British odyssey of a trilogy, which I wrote back-to-back-to-back. I'm really proud of it. My trilogy even has three parts – as I think only Douglas Adams can get away with a trilogy in more than three parts. I've been reading fantasy and science fiction books my entire life. My house is full of comics – largely Marvel or Image – although there are a few from the adult DC imprints, Vertigo and Wildstorm.
This shelf has some of my favourite-ever reads. I like collecting the hardbacks of the stuff I really like and don't really distinguish between a good read that happens to be a comic and a good read that is purely prose.
The two Amazing Spider-Man omnibi at the bottom hold the first 70 or so issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko and John Romita. The serialised storytelling teaches you pretty much anything you might want to know about how to pace a tale, with each issue both telling its own adventure with Spider-Man, while being part of the ongoing drama involving Peter Parker. That's something which influences more or less everything I try to do. With my crime novels, I never wanted to write a point-to-point detective story, I wanted to write about someone's life, where they just happened to be a police officer.
What Lee, Ditko and Romita do so well in these 1960s comics is make the stories multi-faceted. There's a will-they, won't-they drama involving Peter and Betty Brant, Aunt May is constantly ill or in some sort of peril, and Peter's trying to conceal his secret identity, while making money to pay for web formula. He's also studying and going out as Spider-Man to try to make up for the guilt he feels at Uncle Ben's death. So much of it still stands up 50 years on.
There's a bit more Spider-Man on that stack but the Alias book in that pile is what got me back into comics around 10 years ago. It was one of Marvel's first forays into publications aimed solely at adults, with grown-up language and scenes of an, ahem, sexual nature. It's written by Brian Bendis, who is probably my favourite comics writer, and drawn by Alex Maleev.
It tells the story of a former female superhero who has given up being a heroine and works as a private investigator. Over the course of 28 issues and three years, it shows her growing up and gradually becoming involved in the superhero fold again. What really blew me away was the final seven issues – the Purple Man arc – where the villain uses his powers to get into our hero's head and control her. It's claustrophobic and terrifying, showing the power of what comics can do.
I also have a confession to make.
The private investigator in Alias is named Jessica Jones. She's incredible and something about her name must have stuck because, when I came to write my crime series, my main character ended up being called Jessica too.
To finish for this shelf, there are three hardcovers of the Runaways series, written by the brilliant Brian Vaughan.
The set tells the story of a group of young people who discover their parents are supervillains. It's set in the Marvel universe but has its own characters and is terrific. With a lot of superhero tales, you have a rough idea of where it might go – good guy beats up bad guy – but Runaways broke the rules from the very first issue. Throughout the series, I had little idea of what it was going to do next. It's also one of the few comics my wife has read.
Anyway, this is one shelf of around 40 – and that's just the comics I have. There are Doctor Who books and all sorts of other things. I will endeavour to share some more at another time.
Thicker Than Water, the latest book in the Jessica Daniel crime series, published on 24th October 2013. Reckoning, the first book in the Silver Blackthorn trilogy, publishes in May 2014.