Jan Cox Speas
I still remember every detail of the rainy afternoon when, looking through my parents’
bookcase, I first found Bride of the MacHugh and took it to my room to read it. She
was an amazingly gifted writer. Her My Lord Monleigh ends with one of my favourite
last lines. When I first included her here, and mentioned that I hadn’t been able
to find out much about her, her daughter Cynthia Speas got in touch with details
of her mother’s life and work, which I can now share with you here.
My father first urged me to read Random Harvest, a favourite of his, and I loved
it. Add to it books like Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr Chips, and you’ll understand
why I’m so in awe of Hilton’s writing. And on top of it all, he was born in Leigh,
Lancashire, where my great-grandparents came from, and where I still have family
living. Small world. You can learn more about the man in this biography.
Thomas H. Raddall
A fellow Canadian, and sadly overlooked these days, his novels had a passion and
a beauty all their own. My favourite is Pride’s Fancy (I’m still awestruck whenever
I read his description of launching the ship in that novel...) If you haven’t yet
discovered him, do yourself a favour and start here.
Funny and fearless and like no one else, he died young doing what he loved best –
living life on the edge. The books he wrote of his adventures opened up whole worlds
to me, and I will never think about the Marathon the same way after reading his own
re-creation of the run... Here’s a small taste of his life and accomplishments.
Daphne du Maurier
A Grand Master of romantic suspense. I love Jamaica Inn the best, though The House
on the Strand runs a very close second. There are many good web sites to visit, but
here’s one to start with.
Her beautifully-rendered and memorable novels are snobbishly dismissed as ‘hospital
romances’ by people who don’t know better, but they’re much more than that. I absolutely
love her book The First Year, and am happy to see that Corgi has reissued her autobiographical
No Time For Romance, the book that controversially inspired many of the scenes in
Ian McEwan’s Atonement. With the film version of Atonement coming out, I thought
it only fair to shine a little of the spotlight where it properly belongs. To learn
more about the woman, her work, and her link to Atonement, read this article first,
then this list of the similar passages, Ian McEwan’s rebuttal, and this final word
on the subject.
There was a time when virtually everyone in Canada turned to the back page of Weekend
Magazine to read Greg Clark’s weekly columns - gems of a few hundred words that touched
the heart and funny bone with equal skill. Though I was of a later generation, I
discovered these stories in my own turn in his many book-length collections, all
of which are now in my own bookcase, and among my best-loved treasures, especially
his May Your First Love Be Your Last. In addition to his columns, he was a reporter,
feature writer and war correspondent, and in his day was considered the most widely-read
writer in Canada. I couldn’t find a link that did him justice, so I made my own.
Click here for my tribute.
(I’m pleased to report that, since I wrote this, a listing for ‘Greg Clark, journalist’
has appeared on Wikipedia.)
A wonderful storyteller. Read A Town Like Alice, then try to forget it. You won’t.
To find out more about the man and his books, just click here.
Erle Stanley Gardner
My bookshelves are full of old Perry Mason books because few writers, then or now,
match Gardner’s skill in depicting American law and the ways an intelligent lawyer
can bend it to best serve his clients. Here’s his Wikipedia page.
Her thriller The File on Devlin is another of my treasured reads, and one I love
to pass along to others. There isn’t much about her on the internet as yet, but the
site Fantastic Fiction does have a brief biography, and shows some of her books.
They’re well worth hunting down.
A talented, clever and principled man who was never afraid to point out that the
emperor didn’t have clothes on. The ending of Player Piano is classic, and Cat’s
Cradle changed my whole view of what fiction could be. Read this tribute to learn
more about how he lived and what he wrote and why he’s a favourite of mine. So it
The fact that she was one of the judges of the prize that launched my own career
made the prize itself more precious to me, and the fact that I met her in person
at the awards luncheon put me over the moon. Among her many thrillers, The Tamarind
Seed remains my favourite, and her series that begins with The Defector, featuring
Davina Graham, gave me inspiration to attempt a series of my own. Here’s an introduction
to her life and work.
I think - I think - I’ve read them all, and likely own them, too. And unlike some
critics, I think she had a rare gift for characterization. Her people are always
very real to me, and some of her plots are beyond brilliant. I have so many favourites
of her books, but The Hollow and Sleeping Murder probably lead the pack. Here’s one
of many good web sites about her.
Anne Armstrong Thompson
Her Message from Absalom remains one of my all-time favourites. She also wrote The
Swiss Legacy and The Romanov Ransom, wonderful thrillers with razor-sharp heroines.
I’m still looking for a biography of her that I can link to, but don’t wait for that
before reading her.
A true master. No one can make me get lost in a book like this woman. If you’ve never
read her, try This Rough Magic or The Moonspinners for starters, and you’ll know
why I’m so keen to take my characters to Greece. To learn more about the woman and
her work, click here.
I always think that anybody seeing me when I’m deep in the writing of a book would
find it very underwhelming.
I don’t look like those writers in the movies, typing madly, driven on by inspiration.
I look more like someone sitting doing nothing, drinking coffee, staring into space
between sporadic bouts of tapping at the keyboard. Underwhelming.
But the truth is, when I reach this stage, I’m honestly not here. I’m in a farmhouse
on the north shore of Long Island with the winter closing in and half the world at
war, in the mid-18th century.
And if I’m in the present day, I’m also on Long Island with my characters, who never
seem to care if I’m still wearing my pajamas or the breakfast dishes haven’t yet
So if my writing room looks quiet at the moment, that’s the reason. I’m not here.
I’m in the story.
If you want to keep up to date on my progress with this new book, BELLEWETHER, you
might want to check out the lines I post up every Wednesday on my facebook page.