‘I very much doubt I’d have become a writer had it not been for her influence.’
By Denzil Meyrick
Published by Polygon
The book as . . . memory. What is your first memory of books and reading?
My granny was the first person I remember reading to me. I can still see picture books called Mary Mouse, Rupert Bear and Barbar the Elephant. When I got to the stage of reading myself in the late sixties/early seventies, I began to read Enid Blyton – like so many others of my vintage.
I was lucky to have access to the wonderful children’s books by Kintyre Author Angus MacVicar. Much of his work was set in Kintyre in the past, present, or future. He also described places that sounded very like where I lived, though they were fictional. I remember thinking what a good idea that was.
From memory, my overwhelming feeling at being able to read was one of the thrill of independence and discovery. I still have that feeling to this day.
The book as . . . your work. Tell us about your latest book Jeremiah’s Bell. Is there something in particular you’re setting out to explore?
Jeremiah’s Bell is a study of family dynamics over a period of many years. Of course, being a DCI Daley novel, the family are dysfunctional in the extreme, and live a rather isolated and unusual life. Add a colourful history, and barbaric behaviour, and the circle is complete.
I suppose I’m saying that grudges and bad feeling can last for many years within an extended family unit. In some cases for generations. Also, patterns of behaviour can be replicated by members of a particular family, even though they may never have met, and are separated by many years.
It’s a tale of greed and revenge, where almost nobody is how they seem at first sight.
The book as . . . object. What is your favourite beautiful book?
I have an old leather-bound Bible with my late mother’s initials stamped on the cover. It’s moving in all sorts of ways.
Some of my most prized books are a pair signed by the late, great Iain Banks, gifted to me by my publisher. He was a fabulous, imaginative and original writer. Sadly gone too soon; but what a body of work he left behind.
The book as . . . inspiration. What is your favourite book that has informed how you see yourself?
It’s so hard to pick one book; there are so, so many I’ve read that have shaped my life, and the way I think of existence and the human condition. Having said that, Farewell to All That by Robert Graves is a moving and unforgettable book. Within its pages both the best and worst of human nature is portrayed.
Like all great books, you can revisit it again and again and always find something new.
The book as . . . a relationship. What is your favourite book that bonded you to someone else?
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. My granny, Margaret Pinkney, nee Macmillan read it to me when I was perhaps four years old. I can still see the cover.
She was the Dux of the tiny country school in Kintyre she attended. Her father worked as a shepherd and cowhand. She had to trudge for miles backwards and forwards every day across the hills just to get to school. Now, she would likely have attended university, but in those days from her humble background, that wasn’t possible. Sent to service in Hull as a teenager, she became the chef to the city’s Lord Mayor. With my grandfather and my mum, they returned to Kintyre during the war to avoid the horrors of the blitz. Every time I think of Treasure Island, I think of her.
I very much doubt I’d have become a writer had it not been for her influence.
The book as . . . entertainment. What is your favourite rattling good read?
I’m going to pick two series of books, here.
First, the wonderful Flashman books by George MacDonald Fraser. Here we have the arch-cad from Tom Brown’s Schooldays, grown up and soldering his way through the battles of the Victorian era, but having lost none of his venality. Great writing, that is both funny and informative. The author’s attention to detail as far as the historical elements of the books are concerned is on the button.
Then there’s the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. These books are set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars. O’Brian recreates the wooden world of a man-of-war with stunning clarity and compelling storytelling, in all its complexity. Like the Flashman books, these are easily dismissed as tales of adventure. But they are so much more; beautifully written and inspirational works, brimming with invention and more than a touch of humour.
Brian Scott and Hamish owe a debt of gratitude to them both.
The book as . . . a destination. What is your favourite book set in a place unknown to you?
In the Court of the Red Czar by Simon Sebag Montefiore takes us to Russia during the height of Stalin’s power and cruelty. Here’s a huge nation, where almost nobody – including the dictator’s family – is safe. It’s harrowing stuff, history in the raw, rather than fiction.
I’ve been fascinated by Russia since school. This book brought the horrors of the Gulag and Stalin’s infamous purges to me in all their grim reality. A masterful recreation of a time and place I’ll never see – thankfully.
The book as . . . the future. What are you looking forward to reading next?
I’ve just finished reading Hilary Mantel’s brilliant trilogy based on the world of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII. Right now, it’s hard to imagine reading another book – follow that! But I’m looking forward to continuing to work my way through Robert A Caro’s forensic account of the life of LBJ. Another step back in time, but so much to say about the present, and why America is the country it is today.
However, I’m always looking forward to discovering new books and writers. Reading is indeed a habit of a lifetime.
Jeremiah’s Bell by Denzil Meyrick is published by Polygon, priced £8.99