This week Crime Cymru’s Mark Ellis, author of the popular Frank Merlin series set in World War 2 gives us an insight into his writing influences – including quite a road trip!
Six of One
For my contribution to the Crime Cymru Blog this week I’m going with Six of One in which I choose six items which I believe have been an influence on me or my writing. Here goes:
Writer – Patricia Highsmith.
I think my first exposure to Patricia Highsmith was seeing the film Strangers on a Train, the marvellous Hitchcock adaptation of Highsmith’s book in which two men exchange murders. The first Highsmith book I read was The Talented Mr Ripley, and I soon went on to devour the rest of the Ripley series. The wholly original idea, to me at least, that a murderer could be the hero of a book was stunning. I haven’t yet attempted this in any of my books but I may give it a go one day. Meanwhile, Highsmith’s unique, stylish take on writing crime continues to influence me.
Album – Cesaria Evora: Miss Perfumado
I like writing to the accompaniment of music. Generally speaking, I prefer that music to be of the soothing variety. Thus I play a good deal of romantic classical music. However I do listen to other genres and I particularly like World Music. My absolute favourite world musician is the late Cesaria Evora, who came from the Cape Verde islands off the coast of West Africa, and Miss Perfumado is the album which introduced me to her music. Her lovely rolling rhythmic songs bear little relation to the world of my World War Two London detective Frank Merlin but somehow always manage to provide a conducive writing atmosphere.
Film – Une Partie De Campagne
This is a film made by Jean Renoir, son of the great painter, in 1936. It is based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant and is an exquisite vignette about a 19th century Parisian shop-owner and his family on a Sunday outing to the country. When they arrive at an old inn and settle to lunch the two ladies of the party find a little romance is in store. The musical score is wonderfully uplifting and I always find this engaging film a useful little diversion when I’m struggling with a book. As a creator of what are often rather complex plots it is a reminder that while complex can be good, simple can be wonderful too when handled properly.
Piece of Music
I have come late to Brahms, whose music I adore. Hungarian Dances is one of his loveliest pieces but my favourite of his works is his 4th symphony. With its lilting romantic opening passage it is, like the music of Cesaria Evora, a frequent background accompaniment to my writing process.
If I’d been writing this a year or so ago I’d probably have picked Breaking Bad as my TV series. However, I’ve recently been watching Gomorrah, a fabulous Italian series about mafia clans in Naples. Brilliantly acted and written, the plots are wonderfully constructed and the series is utterly compelling. Only watch it though if you don’t mind a lot of gore!
I was lucky enough to see The Rolling Stones in Hyde Park a few weeks ago and was tempted to include that as my experience. Mick Jagger still prancing wildly all over the stage certainly redefines what it means to be in your late seventies. However, I’ve decided to go with an experience from much longer ago. In the first 7 months of 1972, between finishing at my school in Llandovery and going to university, I was lucky enough to go on an English Speaking Union exchange trip to a school in Pittsburgh USA. A gap year, although I don’t think we used that terminology in those days. After the final school term was over I bought a Greyhound bus pass for $200 on which I was able to travel anywhere I liked in the US for a month. I used it to the maximum, travelling first from Pittsburgh to Vancouver. Then Vancouver to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Los Angeles to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Finally on to New Orleans, Washington and New York before returning home to Wales. I met all sorts of fascinating people and did all sorts of wonderful things even on a very tight budget. I came away with a love of America and in particular a love of its literature, particularly crime fiction. It was on this trip that I first read the likes of Raymond Chandler, James M Cain and Dashiel Hammett, all writers who influence me to this day.
Mark Ellis is the author of the DCI Frank Merlin wartime detective series. Dead In the Water, his new Merlin book, the 5th, came out in May of this year and was, inter alia, a Times Crime Pick of the week. Mark’s books are published by Hachette and are available in print, audio and digitally. His website is at markellisauthor.com and his Twitter hashtag is @MarkEllis15. He also has a dedicated Facebook page called Mark Ellis-Author Page, as well as a personal FB page and an Instagram account at markell1.