One of the questions writers get asked fairly often is who their literary influences are. I rarely know how to answer that question. Mostly because it’s usually asked about a specific book. I have no idea what writers and books influenced How To Ditch Your Fairy. And the Magic or Madness trilogy was more influence by fantasy books that drove me spare than the ones I loved. The people asking the question tend not to want to hear about negative influences.
I suspect the people best positioned to answer the question are not the writers but the readers. I’m dreadful at spotting my influences.
SPOILER WARNING: The rest of this post is going behind a cut because I discuss literary influences on Liar and I happen to know that some of you are as nutty about spoilers as I am and don’t want to know even the tiniest bit about the book before you read it. Though I think identifying specific literary influences is way more that just a tiny bit spoilery. And one of the ones I’m going to talk about below this cut is MASSIVELY spoilery. (Well, in JustineLand. I have a much broader definition of spoiler than most people, which makes conversations with Sarah Rees Brennan and Diana Peterfreund difficult sometimes as neither seems to understand the concept of the spoiler at all. Bless them!)
You has been warned.
But a friend who’s read a lot of my work just pointed out to me that Patricia Highsmith is clearly a big influence on Liar. Which made me realise that, yes, she is. And so are Walter Mosley and Jim Thompson. All three of them are writers I’ve read obsessively for a good many years. When I set out to write a crime/psychological thriller (in the broadest sense) it’s not unsurprising that my three favourite writers of same would seep into the novel. I’d be hard pressed to tell you how or where their influences are closest to the surface in Liar you’d have to ask my friend.
Another big influence is We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. A novel I have been unable to get out of my head since I first read it a few years ago. The book is both sticky and disturbing and brilliant. As unreliable narrators go, Eva Khatchadourian,1 is one of the most disturbing, though definitely not one of the most unreliable. Some days I think that without realising it I rewrote We Need to Talk About Kevin from the pov of Kevin and the result is Liar.
Or perhaps not.
One of the reasons I’m so uncomfortable with talking about my influences is that these four writers are all brilliant. It’s extraordinarily boastful to mention my work in the same breath as theirs. I feel the need to point out that I’m not comparing Liar to their novels. I’m saying that if I hadn’t read their books I may never have written Liar. I’m saying not that their genius has seeped into it rendering Liar genius. Tragically, it doesn’t work like that. Highsmith, Mosley, Thompson, Shriver taught me a vast deal about psychological thrillers, and skads about writing, but what I did with their teachings is my own lookout. Genius is not transmitted through the eyeballs. Pity that.
Do any of you find the literary influence question as tricky as I do?
- It was just announced that Tilda Swinton will be playing her in the movie. Genius casting! [↩]