The Little Island World That Began My Love of Writing

The year was 2006. I sat at my desk, my hour-long lunch break feeling all too short.

I held my breath, the entire scene on the page unfolding in full colour in my mind:

A dying man with a shark bite being regretfully yet angrily suffocated by another man to end his long and painful suffering. I know full-well that what is happening is immoral and wrong, and yet the moment is laid out in such a way that I fully understood why it needed to happen. I felt the sadness and rising panic of the character telling their story.

The little alarm I set to mark the end of my lunch bleeped, and I’m yanked out of this beautifully written world, back to a hum-drum existence that won’t ever be as colourful or meaningful as the one inside of this book.

By the time I had finished reading The Beach by Alex Garland, I knew that I wanted to write novels.

Like many authors, I had written little stories, poems and plays my entire life. However, the absolute need to write and publish an entire novel had never struck me until I read that book.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter (@ScoutDawson) will know that I talk about Alex Garland a lot when chatter of favourite authors or books arises.

He is perhaps better known for his cinematic work, such as writing the screenplays for 28 Days Later, Ex-Machina and Annihilation, but I know him best for The Beach, my hands-down favourite book of all time.

The world and characters that Garland is capable of creating is breathtaking. I had read plenty of books before The Beach, of course, but it opened up an entirely new world of what a novel could be, making it stick in my mind like cement.

He is very much a fast-paced, no-nonsense writer; he puts exactly the image he intended in the reader’s head, and it’s something I appreciate about his work a lot. His works are very visual and cinematic – something which I can only attribute to his background in film – and rendering his words as pictures in your mind is never difficult.

His use of language is descriptive and beautiful, sometimes graphic and nightmarish. However, it never strays into the danger-zone of flowery or pretentious, and he will remain one of my favourite authors for that reason among many.

He also knows how to create people who are so real that it almost feels invasive at times.

He knows how to slink into your head and pull out the guilty pleasures and intrusive thoughts that you try to push away and places them into the lives of his characters.

We have all read (and left) one-star reviews on a book stating “the characters were horrible people”, as if the only way to write a good book is to have flawless, likeable Mary-Sue tropes with perfect hair and a winning smile.

Garland is never afraid to put a paranoid schizophrenic in the main role, or create a female who is neither weak nor cartoonishly strong. He’s not scared to make the villain a bit soft and almost pitiful.

He’s not afraid to write a book that unequivocally convinces you that this never happens in real life, but who says it couldn’t?

I took my hat off to that bravery long ago, and it has most definitely worked its way into my own writing ever since.

My first attempt at a novel in 2006, fresh after finishing The Beach was terrible (as most first novels are), but I was in love.

I will always attribute Alex Garland’s works for sparking that fire, which has done nothing but blossom ever since.