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Jan Cox Speas

I still remember every detail of the rainy afternoon when, looking through my parents’ bookcase, I first found Bride of the MacHugh and took it to my room to read it.  She was an amazingly gifted writer. Her My Lord Monleigh ends with one of my favourite last lines. When I first included her here, and mentioned that I hadn’t been able to find out much about her, her daughter Cynthia Speas got in touch with details of her mother’s life and work, which I can now share with you here.

James Hilton

My father first urged me to read Random Harvest, a favourite of his, and I loved it. Add to it books like Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr Chips, and you’ll understand why I’m so in awe of Hilton’s writing. And on top of it all, he was born in Leigh, Lancashire, where my great-grandparents came from, and where I still have family living. Small world. You can learn more about the man in this biography.

Thomas H. Raddall

A fellow Canadian, and sadly overlooked these days, his novels had a passion and a beauty all their own. My favourite is Pride’s Fancy (I’m still awestruck whenever I read his description of launching the ship in that novel...) If you haven’t yet discovered him, do yourself a favour and start here.

Richard Halliburton

Funny and fearless and like no one else, he died young doing what he loved best – living life on the edge. The books he wrote of his adventures opened up whole worlds to me, and I will never think about the Marathon the same way after reading his own re-creation of the run... Here’s a small taste of his life and accomplishments.

Daphne du Maurier

A Grand Master of romantic suspense. I love Jamaica Inn the best, though The House on the Strand runs a very close second. There are many good web sites to visit, but here’s one to start with.

Lucilla Andrews

Her beautifully-rendered and memorable novels are snobbishly dismissed as ‘hospital romances’ by people who don’t know better, but they’re much more than that. I absolutely love her book The First Year, and am happy to see that Corgi has reissued her autobiographical No Time For Romance, the book that controversially inspired many of the scenes in Ian McEwan’s Atonement. With the film version of Atonement coming out, I thought it only fair to shine a little of the spotlight where it properly belongs. To learn more about the woman, her work, and her link to Atonement, read this article first, then this list of the similar passages, Ian McEwan’s rebuttal, and this final word on the subject.

Gregory Clark

There was a time when virtually everyone in Canada turned to the back page of Weekend Magazine to read Greg Clark’s weekly columns - gems of a few hundred words that touched the heart and funny bone with equal skill.  Though I was of a later generation, I discovered these stories in my own turn in his many book-length collections, all of which are now in my own bookcase, and among my best-loved treasures, especially his May Your First Love Be Your Last.  In addition to his columns, he was a reporter, feature writer and war correspondent, and in his day was considered the most widely-read writer in Canada.  I couldn’t find a link that did him justice, so I made my own.  Click here for my tribute.

(I’m pleased to report that, since I wrote this, a listing for ‘Greg Clark, journalist’ has appeared on Wikipedia.)

Nevil Shute

A wonderful storyteller.  Read A Town Like Alice, then try to forget it.  You won’t.

To find out more about the man and his books, just click here.

Erle Stanley Gardner

My bookshelves are full of old Perry Mason books because few writers, then or now, match Gardner’s skill in depicting American law and the ways an intelligent lawyer can bend it to best serve his clients. Here’s his Wikipedia page.

Catherine Gaskin

Her thriller The File on Devlin is another of my treasured reads, and one I love to pass along to others. There isn’t much about her on the internet as yet, but the site Fantastic Fiction does have a brief biography, and shows some of her books. They’re well worth hunting down.

Kurt Vonnegut

A talented, clever and principled man who was never afraid to point out that the emperor didn’t have clothes on. The ending of Player Piano is classic, and Cat’s Cradle changed my whole view of what fiction could be. Read this tribute to learn more about how he lived and what he wrote and why he’s a favourite of mine. So it goes.

Evelyn Anthony

The fact that she was one of the judges of the prize that launched my own career made the prize itself more precious to me, and the fact that I met her in person at the awards luncheon put me over the moon. Among her many thrillers, The Tamarind Seed remains my favourite, and her series that begins with The Defector, featuring Davina Graham, gave me inspiration to attempt a series of my own. Here’s an introduction to her life and work.

Agatha Christie

I think - I think - I’ve read them all, and likely own them, too. And unlike some critics, I think she had a rare gift for characterization. Her people are always very real to me, and some of her plots are beyond brilliant. I have so many favourites of her books, but The Hollow and Sleeping Murder probably lead the pack. Here’s one of many good web sites about her.

Anne Armstrong Thompson

Her Message from Absalom remains one of my all-time favourites. She also wrote The Swiss Legacy and The Romanov Ransom, wonderful thrillers with razor-sharp heroines. I’m still looking for a biography of her that I can link to, but don’t wait for that before reading her.

Mary Stewart

A true master. No one can make me get lost in a book like this woman. If you’ve never read her, try This Rough Magic or The Moonspinners for starters, and you’ll know why I’m so keen to take my characters to Greece. To learn more about the woman and her work, click here.

Writers I Love:
My Writing Room...

I’m happily treating myself to an advance copy of Alyssa Cole’s AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION. This one’s special. And the rest of you can read it on March 28.

I always think that anybody seeing me when I’m deep in the writing of a book would find it very underwhelming.

I don’t look like those writers in the movies, typing madly, driven on by inspiration. I look more like someone sitting doing nothing, drinking coffee, staring into space between sporadic bouts of tapping at the keyboard. Underwhelming.

But the truth is, when I reach this stage, I’m honestly not here. I’m in a farmhouse on the north shore of Long Island with the winter closing in and half the world at war, in the mid-18th century.

And if I’m in the present day, I’m also on Long Island with my characters, who never seem to care if I’m still wearing my pajamas or the breakfast dishes haven’t yet been washed.

So if my writing room looks quiet at the moment, that’s the reason. I’m not here.

I’m in the story.

If you want to keep up to date on my progress with this new book, BELLEWETHER, you might want to check out the lines I post up every Wednesday on my facebook page.

BUY THE BOOKS. What I’m Reading:
Writing Tips:

You can't please everybody.  I don't write the story thinking, Gee, I hope everybody loves it, because I know it's never going to happen.  But I want it to be the best I can put on the page, and I want it to be true to the characters and true to what I set out to do. In the end, I’m always writing for myself.