Thursday, September 21, 2017

Alys Clare

Alys Clare lives in the English countryside, where her novels are set. She went to school in Tonbridge and later studied archaeology at the University of Kent.

Clare's new novel is The Devil's Cup.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
This question has come at an opportune moment, since I’ve just been enjoying a short break from writing and have caught up with a great deal of reading. One of my early mentors used to say that a writer needs to breathe in as well as breathe out, and ever since in the course of my 28 years as a professional writer, I’ve tried to have regular breathing-in breaks in my work schedule.

I’ve read quite a stack of recent best-sellers, as another good piece of advice for writers is to stay aware of what’s doing well. With the exception of Ruth Hogan’s charming and delightfully idiosyncratic The Keeper of Lost Things, however, I’ve been disappointed, since the rave reviews clearly saw something in the fast-paced and often shallow thrillers and psychological mysteries that clearly I was missing. With relief, then, I went back to a tried and tested favourite and re-read Ruth Rendell’s Going Wrong. (I should perhaps point out here that my summer reading hasn’t been restricted to authors called Ruth and this was purely a coincidence).

Going Wrong was written in 1998, at a time when Ruth Rendell was at the height of her powers. On the face of it, it’s simply the story of a very good-looking man who falls for a rather ordinary girl when they are young and whose love for her endures when hers fades away as they both grow to maturity. But in the hands of a master of the psychological intricacies of human beings, what a tale develops. Ruth Rendell had a rare ability for going into the minds of superficially ordinary, socially functioning people and, by taking the reader in there with her, making it steadily and alarmingly clear how far from normal these people are. Guy Curran is such a man, and his obsession for Leonora, as we see it from the vantage point of his own mind, is perfectly sane and reasonable; there's always a logical explanation for those aspects of her behaviour that don't conform to what Guy wants, and he will find it even if it takes him all night.

But Guy, we soon realise, is a person with serious problems. But so is Leonora. And why is she so irresistible? Dowdy, unfashionable, greasy hair and no make up, capricious, feeble... unless you are Guy or Leonora’s somewhat compliant fiancĂ©, it’s impossible to say. But it’s precisely such questions as these, prompted by the intimacy and credibility of the skewed mental worlds into which the reader is drawn, that make classic Ruth Rendell such a joy to read.

If I may be allowed to extend the question to include what I’m listening to, I’m a latecomer to the delights of audio books. My summers are spent in a cottage on the edge of a Breton forest where it’s very, very dark at night and there are no sounds except those emanating from the natural world, and I’ve discovered that a good ghost story has about ten times the impact when narrated by a skilled reader. E. F. Benson’s Ghost Stories, selected and read by Mark Gatiss, was my first selection, and there’s one about a strange creature shaped like a huge slug that haunts a wood that really freaked me out. Later I went on to Thin Air and Dark Matter, both by Michelle Paver, the first read by Daniel Weyman and the second by Jeremy Northam. Both books concern hauntings in wild, inhospitable and desolate places, inimical to human life; both were so well-read by their respective narrators that at times, lying perfectly safe and secure in a comfy bed with my sleeping husband beside me, the utter darkness of the Breton night got to me - but it wasn’t, of course, the darkness - and I had to press the pause putting on my headphones and put the story aside till daylight.
Learn more about The Devil's Cup at the publisher's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Devil's Cup.

--Marshal Zeringue