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GOOD STORY WELL TOLD: how what I read in my formative years helped define what I write today

Guest Post by C J Carver


When I was a kid, I read all my Dad’s books and since he was addicted to thrillers and adventure stories, I guess it was inevitable I would follow suit.  Eric Ambler, Alistair Maclean, Ken Follett, I gobbled them up, but when I fell on Wilbur Smith I thought all my dreams had come true.


I started with Smith’s debut novel When the Lion Feeds and didn’t think I’d read such an action packed, emotionally powerful story.  The Courtney family rampaged through the jungles of East Africa, vanquishing lion and elephant as well as human foes.  This trilogy didn’t just get me to Africa – I’ve spent six months in the African bush – but it had a major effect on what I write today.  I love writing big actions scenes and exploring family conflicts.


Thanks to Smith, I also enjoy pitting humans against wildlife.  In Dead Heat, set in the steaming tropical jungle of Queensland, Australia, there’s a big saltwater crocodile who plays a major part in the final action scenes.  I also use two vicious Rottweillers in Spare Me The Truth.  Facing any kind of animal protecting its territory is terrifying, especially when they have claws and teeth and a bite pressure of two thousand pounds per square inch (and that’s just the dog).


As a teenager I read Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  I can remember my fascinated horror at the injustices in Russia, Dostoyevsky being arrested for reading the “wrong literature” and narrowly escaping execution to serve four years of exile with hard labour at a Siberian prison camp.  I devoured Solzehnitsyn’s Gulag beneath the bed covers (yep, I went to boarding school but that’s another story), another writer incarcerated in a brutal system of forced labour camps.


Little wonder I have one of my characters in Back With Vengeance banged up in a Siberian gulag.  Apparently little has changed since Solzehnisyn’s time except today, I could use a helicopter to effect a rescue.


I’m still fascinated by Russia. I visited Moscow during its dissolution in 1991.  I met with factory workers in Samara and farmers in Bishkek.  I suppose it’s no surprise I’ve set two books there.  It has everything a thriller writer needs from spies to oligarchs, corrupt officials and dystopia breathing from every pore.


As I write this, I’m beginning to wonder if what I read in my formative years didn’t just define my writing, but defined my life.  It has long been said that readers are shaped by the books they read, and here I am, looking out of my office window at the frosty valley below and wondering if I’d read nothing but romance novels as a child, how my life would have turned out.


Would I be writing romances instead of gritty international thrillers?  Would I have stayed at home instead of travelling the world?


Hmmm.  After some deep thought – the sun has now set and the rooks and tree sparrows have roosted - I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever influences my childhood reading had on me, I wouldn’t change a thing.


© CJ Carver 2017



About CJ Carver:

CJ Carver is the bestselling author of seven crime fiction novels including Blood Junction. She has won the CWA debut dagger and the Barry Award for Best British Crime Fiction. CJ was born in the UK and grew up on one of the country's first organic farms, before a holiday in Australia at age 22 turned into a ten-year stay. She has been a long-distance rally driver and is also the founding judge for Women’s World Car of The Year. Her mother, Mary Seed, set the Australian land speed record in 1957.


@C_J_Carver           #TellMeALie



Praise for Tell Me A Lie:


‘Hard, fast and real - a solid gold A-grade thriller.’ Lee Child


‘A terrific page-turner. Heart-stopping action and a heroine with guile as well as guts.’ Harlan Coben


'An adrenalin-rush of a novel with plenty of heart, Tell Me a Lie is a page-turning thrill.’ Mick Herron


‘A fast and ingenious thriller that pits the brilliantly addictive Forrester and Davies against a tense and chillingly real Russian conspiracy. Even better, Tell Me a Lie combines all the excitement of spooks, fast cars, guns and helicopters with brave and compassionate female characters who all pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours! I'm full of admiration.’ Isabelle Grey




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