Welcome to Will Dean, author of Dark Pines.
I am first and foremost a reader. I’m grateful to all storytellers, but I hold special affection for the authors I’ve listed. They have shaped me as a writer and as a person.
When I wrote the first draft of Dark Pines I imagined a circle of my favourite novels: the ten I’ve listed here plus others by Patricia Highsmith and Susan Hill and Kazuo Ishiguro and Val McDermid and Agatha Christie and Gillian Flynn. And then I imagined my blank white page in the centre of the circle. That’s the novel I wanted to write. Something atmospheric and tense and claustrophobic and vivid. A book with a strong sense of time and place. A story with a protagonist you want to spend time with.
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
I read this book as a teenager and it changed everything. I hadn’t been this terrified and immersed since reading children’s books (often the darkest of all). The sense of place here is so vivid, and I was fascinated by the fact that I felt sorry for the monster. Frankenstein taught me atmosphere. And it taught me that interesting characters are complex. They are good and bad. They are shades of grey.
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy
This is the book I reread most often (about once every 18 months). It’s bleak but it is also beautiful and moving. The dynamic between the man and the boy, and how their roles change over the course of the short novel, is breath-taking. I love the way McCarthy mixes nature writing (his descriptions are exquisite) with drama. This novel taught me so much: pacing and rhythm and not being afraid to stay narrow and deep.
- Home Going by Yaa Gyasi
My favourite book of 2017. This is one of the most ambitious novels I’ve ever read. Gyassi’s book covers several centuries, spans the Atlantic, and focuses on multiple main characters. And yet I cared deeply for them all. It covers slavery and identity and family and legacy. I’m still not sure how she managed it. This book showed me how limited I am and how much I still have to learn.
- The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
I adore this book. I could have chosen any one of about four Sarah Waters novels for this list – she’s one of my all-time favourite writers. The setting, Hundreds Hall, is so finely rendered. Waters is one of the masters at twists, and hers are always satisfying. The scene with the dog and the wash bowl is one of the most unsettling things I have ever read. The Little Stranger taught me how to connect readers to a place and a person, and it taught me that novel openings don’t always need to be explosive or obviously hooky.
- The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
Muriel Spark was a genius. I love her work. My favourites, apart from The Driver’s Seat, are her London-based novels (and I like the fact that she had the audacity to name a character ‘Douglas Douglas’ in The Ballad of Peckham Rye). But there is something incredibly unpredictable and dangerous about The Driver’s Seat. I raced through this short book (most of her books are very short) and the ending is spectacular. This novel taught me how to be playful and mischievous with storytelling.
- No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Sorry, but I have to include two McCarthy novels. This one is very different to The Road. Whereas that is a tight post-apocalyptic story about two people surviving, No Country For Old Men is a crime novel (ish). It’s told from three points of view and spans two countries. The scene where Chiguhr asks a gas station owner to flip a coin is probably the most tense thing I have ever read. This story taught me about low-level, simmering menace.
- On Writing – A Memoir by Stephen King
This is the most useful, most eloquent, most generous book. Part memoir, part writing guide. When I read a Stephen King novel I always feel, from the very first page, that I am in the hands of a confident, kind writer. I feel like I will be looked after and lead through safely to the final paragraph. I read (or reread) one or two King novels a year and each time I feel an overwhelming sense of relief. He’s very special. On Writing taught me a hundred different things. But there is one mantra he mentions: ‘you may not come lightly to the blank page’ that I think over and over before I begin each first draft.
- A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee
Thank God this is a series! Abir Mukherjee writes 1920s India so viscerally, and when I read this book I wished it was three times as long as it is. His protagonist, Captain Wyndham, and his sidekick, Sergeant Banerjee, are superbly drawn. It takes real skill to sculpt a main character so layered and complex that readers want to spend book after book in their company. Mukherjee does it incredibly well. A Rising Man taught me how to bring a setting to life, and how time and place and food and weather can anchor readers to a story.
- We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson
Possibly the best opening paragraph ever written. Jackson’s books (I also love The Haunting of Hill House, and all her short stories, but especially two: The Lottery, and The Witch) are deliciously dark. She writes unnerving better than anyone else. Her characters, in this case Merricat and family, are fascinating and quirky. Just writing this piece makes me want to stop what I’m doing and run off and hide and read the book all over again. We Have Always Lived In The Castle taught me how to create a landscape for the reader to move around in. It taught me to be bold with surprises and with creepy details. And it taught me that most people (if not all people) are delightfully unreliable.
- Ru by Kim Thúy (translated by Sheila Fischman)
Ru is a poetic, autobiographical novel about migration, identity, and love. Kim Thúy writes about escaping the Tet offensive in Saigon, fleeing to a Malaysian refugee camp, and then moving on to Quebec, Canada. Western writing teaches us of the need for a (Western style) narrative arc. Ru has none. The story is told through short passages (Canada in present tense, Vietnam in past), and Kim Thúy weaves them all together beautifully. This book taught me the power of sparse prose, and how identity is central to each character’s story.
SEE NO EVIL
Eyes missing, two bodies lie deep in the forest near a small Swedish town.
HEAR NO EVIL
Tuva Moodyson, a deaf reporter on a small-time local paper, is looking for the story that could make her career.
SPEAK NO EVIL
A web of secrets. And an unsolved murder from twenty years ago.
Can Tuva outwit the killer before she becomes the final victim? She’d like to think so. But first she must face her demons and venture far into the deep, dark woods if she wants to stand any chance of getting the hell out of small-time Gavrik.
Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands, living in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying law at the LSE, and working many varied jobs in London, he settled in rural Sweden with his wife. He built a wooden house in a boggy forest clearing and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes.