Monday, March 7, 2011

Imogen Robertson

Imogen Robertson is a writer based in London. Her first book Instruments of Darkness was published in the U.K. in May 2009, and is now available in America. Her second novel Anatomy of Murder comes out at the end of April 2010 in Britain.

Not so long ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I always have several books on the go at once. Some I will be reading for research, others for stimulation, others for pure pleasure. Here are some of the books which are open on the desk as I write, or in the pile by my reading chair in the living room.

I’m currently deep into Behind Closed Doors by Amanda Vickery. She’s without doubt one of the best historians of the Georgian age, and her work particularly fascinates me because she concentrates of the day to day lives of ordinary people, their domestic duties and concerns. It is that sort of social history I’ve always loved, rather than a timeline of battles and kings. She has found some amazing sources and used them to great effect so, more than anything, you get a sense of individual people, their voices and their lives. Just the sort of thing you need if you are writing fiction set in the period. Which I am.

There is always a volume of W. Somerset Maugham stories about the place somewhere. There are some writers you absorb in your youth and they become a part of you, part of your writer’s DNA and Somerset Maugham is one of those for me. His stories are chronicles of the British Empire in decline and full of betrayal, suppression, heat, fear, desire, yet for all that they have a restraint that seems to give them an added power. He is also line by line, one of the best prose stylists in English. The romance of these stories appealed to me as an adolescent, now I’m in awe of the craft. We all need something to aspire to.

And poetry. A week or two ago I went to the launch of two new pamphlets by the young English poets Ahren Warner, and Wayne Holloway-Smith, so I am reading them at the moment. The pamphlets are produced by Donut Press, and are like miniature artworks themselves. Beautiful objects. When I pick one of them up I’m convinced that e-readers will never take over entirely. Ahren’s book is full of ideas, dense allusion, a concrete experience of place. Reading the poems is like traveling Europe with a bottle of red wine in one hand and an exploding philosophical primer in the other. Wayne’s book is full of characters struggling with themselves and each other in poems that make the world seem slightly askew, slightly off-centre. It’s a world of magicians and performers, you can hear the phut of old camera flashes as you read. Wayne and Ahren are both old friends of mine, so I am annoyingly proud of them and keep recommending their books to strangers at bus stops.

I read a lot of crime fiction too. You can only write the sort of fiction you love to read, and it is a genre packed with great writers and great writing. At the moment Louise Welsh’s latest, Naming the Bones, is keeping me up nights. It’s the story of a rather lost young man, obsessed with a poet who died young while living on the remote Scottish Island of Lismore. The writing is terrific, you can feel the rain on your face as you read, and it has an edge of the gothic to it too, which is something that always draws me in as a writer and as a reader. Actually, I think I might sneak off to the living room and finish it now…
Visit Imogen Robertson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Instruments of Darkness.

--Marshal Zeringue