What was so compelling about those two books was not just the magical, almost-real worlds they created in which boys my age proved themselves on their own terms in the face of the adult realm of adversity, but that I saw in the characters of Conrad and Danny a twin reflection of myself. It’s a strange and beautiful thing when you first recognise yourself in a work of fiction. I did not immediately like everything I saw, either. But I did respect it. And that taught me an early lesson: if you do not respect yourself, you cannot write a single word that anyone will believe, even if – especially if - what you write is fiction.
In the Skin of a Lion
Finally, there is In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje, which takes pride of place. It is very hard to describe what this book means to me, because it feels like an experience that I have lived and not read and which I remember as fragments of a dream. A spell-binding prose-poem and gritty, magical ode to a lost generation of anonymous migrant workers who built Toronto in the 1930s, In the Skin of a Lion is a masterpiece of changing perspectives, the transformation of identity and the revelation of whole lives lived on the ragged margins of society. It is the most perfect story I have ever read, and the one that has influenced most what and why I write.
Of course, there are many other books that have fired my imagination and provided the foundation upon which the experience of reading those five books rests. Among those related directly to the writing of The Break Line are Homer’s Odyssey, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Bible (especially The Book of Genesis) and Beowulf stand out. These four great pieces of literature have taught me two enduring truths: that a story told without moral purpose is not worth telling; and that a story that is not entertaining will not be read.
And as for the adventure-thriller genre itself – there are three specific books that inspired me to write The Break Line: Lionel Davidson’s Kolymsky Heights; Ernest Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
Finally, there are three authors that so profoundly influenced my life and how I have lived it that not to mention them would feel disrespectful. They are Patrick Leigh Fermor, Laurie Lee and Don McCullin: “On the shoulders of giants.”