Dick Francis' death a few days ago has led to a number of reference in the press and blogs to Larkin's love of his work. However, my attention was drawn more to an article by John Crace in The Guardian, titled "How Dick Francis helped me through adolescence".
In my case the author in question was Alistair Maclean. I had sprinted through Blyton, etc, and started scavenging my parents' bookshelves for something even slightly more salacious yet not censored by them! I was already feeling the slow-building oppression of suburban Surrey and found an escape route in Maclean's thrillers.
I was pretty much immediately aware of the author's wonky attitude to women, paper-thin characterisation and clunky dialogue, but his overwhelming attribute for this teenage reader was pace. His books didn't let me switch off and drift, thus ensuring I didn't suspend my disbelief.
Even now, at times of stress, hangover or tiredness, I find myself turning to a Maclean novel, ready to read it through for the umpteenth time in the sure knowledge that it will lift me out of my immediate context. My writer's mindset finds it ever more difficult to read fiction, yet Maclean is still a refuge, a chance for me to rewind twenty years and shake off my acquired prejudices for a couple of hours.
On a busy rink with no one paying attention, a figure skater will land their double axel perfectly. Five minutes later, with their coach watching, the figu...