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Reading as Inspiration

Guest post by May Cobb

author of BIG WOODS

If I don’t have a novel going at all times, I feel adrift and empty. And this is certainly never truer than when I’m working on a manuscript. For my debut thriller, BIG WOODS, I read three novels back to back (and then actually re-read them all) while I was writing the first draft:  Amanda Eyre Ward’s THE SAME SKY, Mary Helen Specht’s MIGRATORY ANIMALS, and Paula Hawkin’s THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN.


I had the privilege of studying under Ward and she’s long been of my favorite novelists. I devoured her page-turning novel, THE SAME SKY, which has a carefully-crafted dual narrative that keeps you guessing and in suspense (though it’s not a suspense novel by genre) until the end when the two separate narratives connect. I shamelessly borrowed heavily from that structure while drafting BIG WOODS, and no matter what I’m working on, I always keep a Ward novel within arm’s reach for its crisp, clear prose, and for Ward’s superlative scenes and dialogue.


Reading Specht’s novel, MIGRATORY ANIMALS, was like entering into a dreamscape. Her sentences are like paintings and she moves fluidly and effortlessly between multiple perspectives. This was a page-turning read for me, too.


And what can I say about Paula Hawkin’s THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN that hasn’t been said already? This novel inspired me to try my hand at writing a thriller (I’d been working on a nonfiction project up until then) and I read it over and over, dog-earing the pages and underlining sentences. I loved her poetic voice and her otherworldly gift for propulsion. Reading her scenes almost feel like listening to music, there’s a cadence to them that keeps the pages turning.


While I was working on the final act of BIG WOODS, I luckily discovered the novels of Tessa Hadley, especially the stellar novel, THE PAST. I luxuriated in her gorgeous prose and her uncanny knack for atmosphere.


While revising my novel, I binged on three Tana French novels, THE TRESPASSER, THE LIKENESS, and THE SECRET PLACE. Like Hadley, French has this unbelievable gift for atmospheric writing and reading her novels are like entering a self-contained world. She does dread like nobody’s business and I love her strong female protagonists and liquid, alive prose.



May Cobb is a novelist and freelance writer based in Austin, Texas.

BIG WOODS was selected as the Winner in the 2015 Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest, and the pitch to BIG WOODS was selected as the Winner for the 2016 NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza. May earned her M.A. in Literature from San Francisco State University and has spent the past several years researching and writing a book about the late jazz great, Rahsaan Roland Kirk (forthcoming). Her essays and interviews have appeared in The Washington Post, The Rumpus, Edible Austin, and Austin Monthly.


Big Woods is published by Midnight Ink.




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