Mick Herron is a British mystery and thriller novelist, winner of the Crime Writers’ Association 2013 Gold Dagger award for Dead Lions. The Telegraph chose Slow Horses as one of the 20 best spy novels of all time. Mick’s books are very popular in Suffolk Libraries and they come with the highest recommendation from our stock librarians!
1. Who were your literary influences as you were growing up?
Hard to pin down. I read avidly and indiscriminately, as all aspiring authors should; you learn as much, if not more, from bad books as you do from good. I read Blyton, of course, and Malcolm Saville was a great favourite.
I read a lot of classic, or semi-classic, adventure stories, in editions I now suspect were heavily abridged: The Man in the Iron Mask, The Swiss Family Robinson, and so on. There was a wonderful version of The Adventures of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, which included the proper, tragic ending, curing me of the notion that “and they all lived happily ever after” was the only note to end on.
When I moved on to adult fiction, which I did at an early age, it was initially crime and thriller fiction I read – Dame Agatha, of course; Alistair MacLean; the wonderful Dick Francis – before more grown-up fare came along, largely American: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck. I read Nabokov quite young, because there was a copy of Laughter in the Dark on my parents’ bookshelves.
But mostly I was a library user, as I still am, which meant I could pick up anything that caught my eye. Writers now largely forgotten, like John O’Hara and Victor Canning. Anything with that yellow Victor Gollancz spine … loads of stuff, far more varied than my reading habits now. And everything was an influence, I’m sure.
2. Where did the inspiration for Jackson Lamb come from?
Well, he was never intended to be a major character. I found my original notes for Slow Horses not long ago, and all he amounted to then was “drunken has-been of a boss”. But he turned out to be fun to write, as monstrous characters tend to be, so his role grew and grew.
As for inspiration, I used to like to say that I was both a commuter and an office worker, so bile and rage were never very far below the surface. That’s what I tapped into to channel him. I’m neither of those things now, so maybe he’ll mellow … but I hope not.
3. How difficult did you find it to create your own place in writing about spies when everyone is inevitably compared to le Carré and Deighton?
I was quite a way into my career before I turned to writing about spies, and it was at least partly because there was no chance of my matching the standard set by those two masters. But when the urge became too strong, I gave in to it, and yes, inevitably, the comparisons arose. But I’m ploughing a different furrow, I hope. I’m not in their league, but I’ve found a way of working in the genre which has allowed me to use my own voice.
4. Was The Usual Santas as much fun to write as it sounds?
Yes! I don’t write many short stories, but I had a ball with that one. I’m delighted to say it’s about to appear in an anthology from Soho Press – a collection also called The Usual Santas.
5. Do you have a message for your many readers in Suffolk Libraries?
Hello, thank you, and make the most of your libraries – don’t let anyone take them away.
6. What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
About writing? Good question … I remember, at the age of ten or so, showing a story I’d written to my mum, and her telling me it had too many adjectives. I’ve tried to avoid that error since.
7. Can you tell us one thing that your readers might not know about you?
I used to have a goldfish called Harry Palmer.