Photo by Nick Fallowfield-Cooper
1. Carp Fishing on Valium – Graham Parker (Scribner 2000)
Graham Parker’s semi-autobiographical and rites of passage novel about the young life of one Brian Porker has taken me back to the Surrey/Hampshire borders of my youth, to the banks of the Basingstoke Canal and beyond. The world needs more novels about this place and time. One to read if you loved Kevin Sampson’s Awaydays or the times evoked in The Football Factory Trilogy, or indeed if you grew up in the borderlands between London and the country. A book dripping with the tang of casual violence, and lit by the spellbinding mystical glory of carp fishing in the heat of a long summer’s night. This is how it was.
2. Ground Work – Edited by Tim Dee (Jonathan Cape 2018)
Ground Work: Writings on Places and People is a vital and beautiful anthology and is what most anthologies are not: emminently readable. From the surprise of reading Barbara Bender’s ‘Notes from a Devon Village’ thirty-odd years after I read her academic works and attended her lectures as part of my degree, to the truth and beauty of Dexter Petley in ‘The Four Wents of Craster’ this book is an absolute gem. Masterfully edited by the sageful Tim Dee, it is packed with as much soul as it is intellect. Helen Macdonald’s evocation of her childhood in ‘Tekels Park’ in Camberley occupies the same ground (literally) as Graham Parker’s Carp Fishing on Valium – an unlikely couple you might think, but two works with the same sense of heart, whose writing meets and unites across the fence of time.
3.Casino Royale – Ian Fleming (22nd Reprint 1965 Pan); Diamonds Are Forever – Ian Fleming (20th Printing 1965 Pan); Goldfinger – Ian Fleming (7th Printing 1963 Pan) & Codename Villanelle – Luke Jennings (John Murray 2017)
The Fleming paperbacks were a chance buy at the A3 Car Boot at half six on a Sunday morning in June. Since reading the essential The Man With the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters, edited by Fergus Fleming (Bloomsbury 2015), I’ve been reading the James Bond books whenever I come across them. The last one I bought was a 1st Edition of Thunderball (Glidrose Productions 1961), and these were a tenth of the price for all three. One reason I’m studying Fleming so keenly is that I see echoes of his journey in the progression of my good friend Luke Jennings’ writing life. In May of last year Luke’s first crime fiction novel Codename Villanelle was published by John Murray. Earlier this summer the television adaptation of the same book entitled Killing Eve was screened on BBC America and became an overnight word-of-mouth hit. Its audience grew every week, something quite rare on American television. It will be shown here on BBC One by which time I suspect you will watching and talking about nothing else. It has a soundtrack by David Holmes and a cast that includes Liverpool’s Jodie Comer as Villanelle alongside Sandra Oh, Fiona Shaw, Kim Bodnia, David Haig and more. I’m chuffed to bits for Luke, I remember the night we sat in the pub and he first told me he was embarking on writing a short series of crime novels which were originally only available as e-books in serialised form. I look forward to years hence when someone will pause at a car boot stall and spend £8 on three Luke Jennings paperbacks. Until then I would recommend grabbing a 1st Edition of Codename Villanelle before it becomes a collectors’ item. The second Luke Jennings Villanelle novel will be out soon.
4. Red Hot Front – Henry Sutton (Corsair 2018)
The follow-up to last year’s Time To Win, this is the second crime novel penned by Harry Brett – the pseudonym of the novelist Henry Sutton, my original writing mentor and the current director of the Creative Writing MA in Crime Fiction at UEA. Tony Parsons said of the Brett, ‘In Harry Brett, British crime fiction has its new big beast and in Time to Win, Brett has written a heart-pounding thriller for our time – a 21st Century Long Good Friday. Both books are set in Sutton’s native Great Yarmouth – a town you might think twice about visiting once you’ve read these. These are less kiss me quick than kill me quick, less bucket and spade than spade to the back of the head followed by a low tide burial in a hastily dug grave. Time to Win is out in paperback now and Red Hot Front in hardback. Fans of Mark Timlin will love both.
And so there you have it, a summer spent holidaying between 1970’s surburbia and the grimy sea front of Great Yarmouth under the constant diversion of post-war and current spy intrigue.
As ever, John undertakes MCing duties on our stage at this year’s Port Eliot Festival, which kicks off today.