Peter Swanson: ‘Being lost in a book is one of the greatest feelings in the world’
Brought to Book Q&A: Author of The Kind Worth Killing on Harry Potter, Lucky Jim and his other favourite reads
Peter Swanson is the author of two novels, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, and The Kind Worth Killing (Faber & Faber, £14.99). His poems, stories and reviews have been published in journals such as The Atlantic, and he has won awards for his poetry from The Lyric and Yankee Magazine. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
What was the first book to make an impression on you?
The first book I remember loving was called The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. There was no false advertising in the title--it was simply about a snowy day. The main character was named Peter, so maybe that’s why I liked it so much.
What was your favourite book as a child?
Anything by Roald Dahl. I loved all his books.
And what is your favourite book or books now?
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. I read it once a year.
What is your favourite quotation?
It actually comes from Lucky Jim: “There was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones.”
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Travis McGee from the series of thrillers by John D MacDonald.
Who is the most under-rated Irish author?
Patrick McGinley, who wrote the very clever, and very funny mystery novel Bogmail.
Which do you prefer - ebooks or the traditional print version?
Print books, now and forever. But I can see which way the wind is blowing, and e-books are going to win. It will be good for the trees.
What is the most beautiful book you own?
I have a vintage hardcover of Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Death that I’m pretty fond of.
Where and how do you write?
In my office, during the morning hours. I sit on a couch with my laptop on my lap.
What book changed the way you think about fiction?
I remember reading One Across, Two Down by Ruth Rendell and realising you could write a gripping story without likable characters.
What is the most research you have done for a book?
I do very little, and what I do, I tend to do on the internet. That said, for my newest book, The Kind Worth Killing, I spent a nice afternoon in an old graveyard because of a specific scene in the book.
What book influenced you the most?
Goldfinger by Ian Fleming, because it was the first adult book I read. It was filled with sex and violence and it was a real page turner. I thought: Where can I get more books like this?
What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?
Philip Larkin’s Collected Poetry, on the off chance they would become a poetry reader.
What book do you wish you had read when you were young?
I wish the Harry Potter books had been around when I was young. I read them as an adult and liked them a lot, but I would have devoured them as a child.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Write every day and don’t worry too much about the writing style. Worry about the characters and the story.
What weight do you give reviews?
The good ones clock in at featherweight, unfortunately, and the bad ones feel like heavyweights. I skim all my reviews, then remind myself how lucky I am to have published two books.
Where do you see the publishing industry going?
Reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated, I think. It will chug along, because I do believe people will always love to read.
What writing trends have struck you lately?
In the mystery field, there are still a lot of serial killer novels. Thomas Harris started a trend that just won’t quit. I like a lot of these books, but it seems to me the brilliant, twisted serial killer has been overworked recently.
What lessons have you learned about life from reading?
Too many to count, but the greatest lesson is this: Being lost in a book, totally removed from your own life, is one of the greatest feelings in the world.
What has being a writer taught you?
It’s all about persistence. If you keep doing something over and over you will be rewarded. Not necessarily by publications, and riches, and fame (or things like that), but by writing something you feel good about.
Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
What is the funniest scene you’ve read?
Well, it’s Lucky Jim again, the funniest book I’ve ever read. The hangover scene is an uncomfortable classic.
What is your favourite word?
If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?
Something having to do with the golden age of Hollywood, or the British film industry of the 1930s. For something like that, I’d be happy to do lots of research.
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