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, Mark Ellis takes us on a journey from the French Revolution, via Vienna, Paris and Swansea, to Astral Weeks.
I have been asked by crime Cymru, of which I am a proud member, to choose six subjects or items which have influenced me or my writing. Here goes:
‘A Place Of Greater Safety” by Hilary Mantel.
This, a brilliant portrayal of the French Revolution, is my favourite book of historical fiction. When I first read it many years ago I marvelled at the way Mantel recreated the times and characters so vividly and imaginatively. The book influenced me, when I finally took up writing, to attempt something in a similar vein, albeit I chose to write historical mysteries rather than straight historical fiction. Mantel has been justifiably acclaimed recently for her marvellous series about Thomas Cromwell. I still think, however, that this novel is her greatest work.
One’s childhood home must have a great influence on character and personality. I’m not quite sure what influence Swansea had on me, but I absolutely loved growing up there. I was lucky enough to live in a house only a short walk away from Langland Bay beach. I have wonderful memories of long, hot lazy childhood summers there (the sun really did shine in those days!). I also remember great sporting occasions: seeing the All Blacks and the Australian cricket team at Saint Helens, being at the match in which Gary Sobers hit six sixes, watching Ivor Allchurch and the Swans battling away at the Vetch. My grandfather was station master at the now defunct Morriston Railway Station and I was allowed many times up into the cabs of the steam engines in the yard. I remember queuing up for hours with my mother to see ‘Summer Holiday’ at the Albert Hall (yes I’m not afraid to admit to liking Cliff Richard) and I remember long cycle rides in the beautiful Gower Peninsula. And there are many other great memories. Dylan Thomas called Swansea his ‘ugly, lovely town’. Proud to say it’s my town too.
The Third Man
This story about the trade in dodgy black market penicillin in partitioned Vienna just after the war is my favourite film of all time. If I could write noir fiction as great as this I’d be delighted. A brilliant script (Graham Greene), wonderful direction (Carol Reed) and a great cast (Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard). And who can forget the greatest theme music in cinema (Anton Karas). A joy!
One of the most prolific of modern authors, Simenon had a deceptively simple writing style which has been a great influence on me. Simenon’s prose is always lucid and never over-elaborate and I always think of him if my writing gets bogged down in complexity, as it often does. Most famous for his Parisian policeman Maigret, my favourite fictional detective, he also wrote a host of excellent one-off thrillers categorised as his ‘Romains Durs’. Happily he was so prolific that I still have many more of his books to read.
One TV series
What is crime-writing without great villains? This brilliant TV series has some of the greatest villains of all time, some likeable, some terrifying, some a little of both but all compelling. The plotting throughout the series is tremendous, as is the acting. I’m delighted to see that a movie prequel, The Many Saints of Newark, is about to come out. I can’t wait!
Van Morrison is my favourite singer/songwriter. Many pages of my books have been written to the accompaniment of this, his greatest album. I’m not sure what influence his songs have had on me but something of the music must surely have seeped into my books. I’m sure that Frank Merlin would have been a fan!
Mark Ellis writes the highly successful DCI Frank Merlin series, set in WW2 London. The fifth book in the series will be published in the first half of 2022.
You can order Mark’s books on his Amazon page.