A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR
Alex Marwood author of The Killer Next Door and Edgar Award-winning The Wicked Girls for Best Paperback Original.
Recession-gripped provincial Britain isn’t the ideal place to spend your teens. As a nation, in hard times, we tend to retrench into an aggressively grey conformity that matches the rain, and it’s not the most nurturing atmosphere for the naturally eccentric. The adults around me, everywhere I went, seemed either angry or mad or, occasionally, both (an impression that, as an adult myself, I realise was entirely accurate; sometimes teenagers have a far clearer picture of the world around them than they’re credited with), and the world seemed a bitter, frightening place. I dreamed of escape, but escape often seemed a million miles from my reality.
And then there was every other Wednesday. There was one great advantage, did I but know it, to my parents’ collapsing marriage, and that was that they frankly weren’t noticing a great deal of what we were up to. No-one ever looked into my bags of books to check them for suitability (checked that I was really staying at my friend Joanna’s house, further down the line). And every other Wednesday, they went off to shout at a counsellor and my sister and I got to stay in town until seven o’clock. I had no money, but I had a library card, and it was in my library that I discovered the world. Still in my school uniform, I would have two hours to pick five books for the coming fortnight, and it was sheer blue bliss.
The librarians at that library were wonderful. Where my teachers pursed their lips and hinted at a Dark Future if one failed to worship at the altar of Austen, these women (yes, they were all women) never tried to improve me, just to encourage my voracious hunger for the written word. I sunk into science fiction, whodunnits, horror, thrillers, bonkbusters – all the things we didn’t have at home, all the things school said would lead to hell – and they gently steered me to more, only better, of the same. I read the whole of Agatha Christie the summer I turned eleven, and was then introduced to the psych thrillers of Highsmith and Rendell. Learned about sex and triumph through adversity from Jacqueline Susann and Eric Jong and Marilyn French. Travelled the universe with Asimov and Bradbury, and, from there, came to John Wyndham and my lifelong romantic adoration of Kurt Vonnegut. Became obsessed with James Herbert and Dean Koonz, until one day a librarian pushed a collected MR James and a copy of The Turn of the Screw into my hands.
I vividly remember sitting on the orange carpet at the foot of the reference stacks reading Whistle and I’ll Come to You and feeling that gorgeous moment when the hairs on the back of your neck prickle up even though you’re in a crowd and thinking: yes. This is what I want to do when I grow up. I want to scare people for a living, and not by working at the tax office. I really don’t know, but I think that if it hadn’t been for the Oxford Central Library I might well never have become a writer.