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My life in books: Stuart Neville


Stuart Neville. Picture by Johanne Atkinson

Stuart Neville. Picture by Johanne Atkinson

Stuart Neville. Picture by Johanne Atkinson

Stuart Neville’s debut, The Twelve was picked as one of the top crime novels of 2009 by both the New York Times and the LA Times. He has been shortlisted for this year’s An Post Irish Book Awards. His new novel The House of Ashes is published by Zaffre.

The books on your bedside?
I’m not getting much time to read at the minute, but I’ve got an excellent debut called Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden and a new biography of Eddie Van Halen, Eruption by Paul Brannigan, that I’m itching to get to.

The first book you remember?
Amazon Adventure by Willard Price got me excited about reading. I devoured this entire series about two brothers travelling the world, collecting specimens for their father’s zoo. They were written in the 1950s and 1960s and would probably seem very old-fashioned now.

Your book of the year?
I’m a little biased because it’s by a very good friend of mine, but Rabbit Hole by Mark Billingham has been my highlight of 2021. It’s set entirely on a mental health ward, told from the point of view of a police officer who has been sectioned. When a murder occurs amongst the patients, she sets about trying to solve this refreshing take on the locked room mystery.

Your favourite literary character?
Francis Dolarhyde, the killer in Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon.  He’s the most skilfully drawn villain in any novel I’ve ever read. That Harris can have us actually rooting for this monster is really quite a feat of character development

A book that changed your life?
I read On Writing by Stephen King while I was working on my debut, The Twelve. It’s part autobiography and part writing manual, all told in King’s easy voice. It’s a book any aspiring writer would do well to check out. 

The book you couldn’t finish?
I thoroughly disliked Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I found it a troublingly misogynistic book. Lisbeth Salander seemed to me more like a schoolboy’s fantasy than a feminist icon, and the journalist protagonist is somehow irresistible to every woman he meets.

Your Covid comfort read?
I’m fond of short stories, so I often dip in and out of The Lottery, a collection of Shirley Jackson’s work. The title story is a deserved classic, but the whole book is terrific. I’m a sucker for a distinctive voice, so I’ll sometimes pick up a Megan Abbott book and read a few pages, just to absorb the prose, like someone whispering the story in your ear.

The book you give as a present?
When they were very small, our children loved the Sandra Boynton picture books, like Moo, Baa, La La La and But Not the Hippopotamus, so whenever a friend of ours becomes a new parent, we always like to give them a few of those.

The writer who shaped you?
If you grew up in the 1980s, as I did, you read Stephen King. I first read The Shining, and he became the first grown-up author whose catalogue I gobbled up. He’s the reason supernatural elements keep creeping into my crime novels.

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The book you would most like to be remembered for?
I’m most proud of Those We Left Behind. I realised it wasn’t the violence or plotting that my readers were interested in, but the emotional journeys of the characters. I really delved into that side of my writing with that book, finding the heart of the story and its characters.

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