In this feature, we ask our Crime Cymru authors to name six things that influenced their life and shaped them as a writer. This week, Stephen Puleston sings the praises of a noir classic and talks of the significance of Ty Newydd on his writing career.
One TV Series
Mentioning two of my current favourite TV series is probably a cheat. The last series of Bosch has just started screening on Amazon Prime and I’ve just finished watching the second series of The Sinner having watched the first and third out of order. Both are different and both quite similar.
The one common thread is that both police officers have a dedication to unearthing the truth and seeking justice. Bill Pullman acts as Harry Ambrose the dogged, determined but flawed detective in The Sinner. What sets this series apart is the psychological drama that unfolds from the first episode of each series. It is a why-done-it rather than a classical whodunnit where the police officers uncover one clue after another. It’s no less effective for this and it is the quality of the acting and the script that sets the series apart earning the plaudits that it well deserves. Each series delves deep into the back story of the characters involved, unearthing motivations, hidden prejudices and childhood influences that build into a complex psychological profile.
What carries us as the viewer is that sense of wanting to see justice done. But what is justice? Is it as simple as locking up the perpetrator after a guilty verdict? And are the guilty parties simply those who pull the trigger?
Each of the series is a stand-alone but probably best watched in sequence. The Sinner is therefore my one TV series. Next week I will be catching up with the last series of Bosch. I could write a blog entry itself about Michael Connolly and his brilliant writing – perhaps next time. All these excellent TV crime drama series help influence my writing, sometimes consciously, other times they add to the totality of experiences that colour and influence my novels.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Nobody has been able to replicate the American noir novel that Raymond Chandler made his own in the Philip Marlowe series. There is a crackle and fizz to the narrative. And the quality of the dialogue was superb. This is one of my favourites:
‘Tall aren’t you,’ she said.
‘I didn’t mean to be.’
Her eyes rounded. She was puzzled. She was thinking. I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be a bother to her.
There is an elegance and simplicity to his writing that makes it so effective. No long sentences, and brisk sharp dialogue. When I decided to write my Inspector Marco novels the use by Chandler of the first person strongly influenced my decision to write the Marco novels in that tense rather than use the more common third person. It does present difficulties and offer opportunities to develop a strong main character.
Chandler certainly achieved that with his Philip Marlowe series.
I was reminded by an old university friend recently that when Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album was released in 1975 I was completely enthralled. I still enjoy Thunder Road and Born to Run two of the highlights from the album. Springsteen’s ability is to tell an expansive story and reflect the lives of blue-collar workers in working-class districts of America all in song lyrics. Thunder Road would be one of my desert island discs.
Several years ago I decided that if I was going to take writing seriously I needed to invest time in learning the craft of good writing. So I booked to attend a course at the Welsh Writers Centre in Llanystumdwy. It was my first such course, and I found the experience extremely helpful as the tutors were informative and effective. So I would have to say that Ty Newydd at Llanystumdwy is one place that had a significant influence on my writing.
I remember watching Star Wars at the Odeon in Tottenham Court Road, London when I was trying to make my mind up about two job offers. There is a timeless quality to the film and its screenplay is a masterclass in structuring the various points in a story. I frequently return to the outline of the film when I’m struggling for plot points.
I dedicate each of my books to my mother. She was an avid reader who read widely and always had two or three books on the go. She instilled in me a love of reading but sadly she died before I self-published my first novel but I hope she would have enjoyed it had she had the opportunity of reading it.
You can see Stephen’s books on his Amazon page.