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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.

James Hilton

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.

Richard Halliburton

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.

Lucilla Andrews

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.

Gregory Clark

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.)

Nevil Shute

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.

Catherine Gaskin

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.

Kurt Vonnegut

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 goes.

Evelyn Anthony

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.

Agatha Christie

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.

Mary Stewart

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.

Writers I Love:

Don’t forget the animals.

I put pets and other animals in my books partly because, in my experience, it’s rare you’d find a group of people in which no one had a pet. But never underestimate the usefulness of animals to motivate your characters, and even to reveal a person’s nature. This encounter I had with a guard at the Temple of Zeus in Athens told me as much about the man as it did about the dogs he was describing (that’s one of them in the photo).

My Writing Room...
Writing Tips:

Right now I’m reading an advance copy of THE GIRL WHO WROTE IN SILK, by Kelli Estes, a beautiful tale of two lives interwoven through time.

I’ve finally sent off the last proofread pages of A DESPERATE FORTUNE to my publishers, so it’s a time of mixed emotions for me – sadness, because I won’t be living with those characters anymore; panic, because the book is now out of my hands and control; and excitement, because I want so badly to share the story with my readers. Managing these emotions is made easier, as always, by the fact I’ve started writing a new book: BELLEWETHER.

This one is a bit of a departure for me – not only is it set on Long Island, NY, but the historical plotline was inspired by an incident in my own family history that happened in the summer of 1757, at the height of the French & Indian (Seven Years’) War.

I’m just “meeting” the heroine, Charlie, right now.

BUY THE BOOKS. What I’m Reading: