This is the second in a series on my favourite authors that started way back last October with Jane Austen. You can read that post here. My second author is William Boyd, who though of Scottish descent and educated in Scotland, has spent most of life elsewhere and currently lives in London. Boyd is a prolific writer of short stories, novels and screenplays. He is unusual in that he does not stick to one style or one genre of writing.
I had the great pleasure of listening to a talk by Boyd on his writing. He is a very articulate and charming talker. One of the fascinating insights from his talk was how he uses snippets from everyday life as the basis for some of his writing. Bits of conversations overheard etc. What was most surprising was that he claimed that he knew immediately how these snippets could be used – in a short story, a novel or a radio play or whatever. Quite amazing. He also outlined his theory that all short stories fall into one of seven types. You can get more information about these categories in this Guardian article. The seven categories are:
1 The event-plot story
2 The Chekhovian story
3 The ‘Modernist’ story
4 The cryptic/ludic story
5 The mini-novel story
6 The poetic/mythic story
7 The biographical story
I have read some of his short stories, but am more familiar with his novels and have now read five of them – The New Confessions, The Blue Afternoon, Any Human Heart, Restless and Ordinary Thunderstorms. All of them very good reads and thoroughly enjoyable. The New Confessions and Any Human Heart are similar in that both recount the life story of the main character. Both characters, John James Todd in the New Confessions, and Logan Montstuart in Any Human Heart, lived throughout most of the 20th century. They are also very lively and colourful characters who get into all kinds of spats and adventures. This allows Boyd to paint a wonderfully funny, witty and exciting tapestry of that century. These are probably my favourites of his novels.
The other three are shorter in length and more focussed. They all deal with murders and mysteries. The Blue Afternoon is about a grown up daughter finding out about the life of her mysterious father in the early decades of the century. Ordinary Thunderstorms is set in present day London and recounts how one man can be unwittingly caught up in conspiracy and scandal. Restless is an exciting and action packed spy mystery which switches between the present day and the Second World War. Brilliant stuff. If you haven’t read anything by William Boyd I would definitely recommend his work.