Writers Influences 12: James Russell on Mike Leigh and Stephen King

Back with another feature for our ongoing series on Writers Influences series, today we feature the lovely James Russell who talks about his love of Mike Leigh, a playwright and director I encouraged myself originally at university more than a few years at university and whose work has always interested me since like Ken Loach, be it in a different way before then also bringing in Stephen King in a way I wasn’t expecting.

“It’s impossible to pin down one or even a few influences because what different writers bring to the table. Take a part of each of the following to build a super-writer with obligatory cape of course (and pray it doesn’t turn out like Frankenstein’s monster 😉 )” He begins with. “I feel a great deal of affinity for writers, in fiction, theatre and movies, that portray normal people dealing with what life throws at them. These days character driven writing is what I tend to admire most. I also enjoy working class and other less represented people’s stories, getting them out there is so important.”

“One of the best character writers around is Mike Leigh, little surprise he’s mainly a playwright and director.” He carries on making me think about the first time I encountered him with the tense ‘Naked’ starring David Thewlis which left me spellbound.

“He’s a master at producing tension and drama in the everyday.” He carries on mirroring my thoughts with Naked completely “He brilliantly observes human behaviour and our interactions. I love the melancholy of his writing. Resolution in a story doesn’t nor shouldn’t equate to a happy ending, even though a bit of escapism is what most readers want from their reading. Unfortunately reality isn’t like that.”

“Years ago I went to see his play ‘Two Thousand Years’ at the National Theatre in London a few nights after it opened. “ He expands things further “The entire row in front of me was completely empty which seemed very strange. About 10 minutes into the show the man himself came and sat right in front of me and then proceeded to sit in different seats along the empty row, scribbling notes, taking in different perspectives and views of the stage. I missed half of the performance because I was a bit star-struck and so absorbed in what he was up to. Real attention to detail.”

“You gotta laugh, ain’t ya, sweetheart? Or else you’d cry.” A brilliant line that perfectly sums up his style, by Brenda Blethyn’s character, Cynthia, in my all time favourite movie, ‘Secrets and Lies’. He carries on next reflecting on Brenda Blethyn’s simply stunning performance in said film.

“In a similar way Roddy Doyle writes about ‘normal’ working class people that do what they need to to get on with life. Doyle’s writing is more comedy and the hilarious dialogue keeps the whole thing fluid and together. “ He expands further drawing a comparison between Doyle and Leigh I hadn’t thought about previously until he mentioned it before” An author I couldn’t get enough of back in the day. I’m also a bit of a sucker for Stephen King. It might be a bit hackneyed to say it but he really is a master story-teller and when we strip it down, that’s probably what we as readers want, to be told a great story?”

“Although his books weren’t the first I read he, along with James Herbert, were the first authors I really got into.” He carries on making me thinking to my early teenage years with both Herbert and King like I suspect was the case of many teenage boys and some girls too “I loved the dark fantasy and horror that overlaps with our reality, an otherworldliness that is only around the corner, or even under our feet. Luckily when I started reading them as a teenager each already had an amazing back catalogue; Carrie, Rats, The Shining, Pet Sematary, It and his best novel, Misery. What a treasure trove that was to get stuck into. Part of King’s skill is using simple vocabulary and sentence structure, he says as much in ‘On Writing’ a book that I never shelve. You can really race through them which means it’s easy to keep on top of the plot. I think about this when I’m editing my own writing which can sometimes run away with itself.”

“Shirley Jackson wrote short stories that King himself has said were an influence on his writing.” He concludes with a lesser known influence on King’s work I certainly wasn’t aware off “There’s a sinister edge to many of her stories that I like because they start with normal situations that get turned on their head. ‘The Lottery’ is a terrific example, perhaps a bit dated now but must have caused a stir when it was published. Talking about causing a stir (understatement) another of my favourite authors is Hubert Selby Jr. One of the few books I’ve re-read is ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’, albeit with a bit of trepidation, knowing the shocking scenes that were coming. I love the gritty reality of his writing, people doing whatever they need to to get by and generally breaking the law or breaking someone else at the same time”

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More about James Russell can be seen on his twitter feed – twitter.com/jamesrwrites

He has had few short stories & flat fiction published including runner-up prize in the 2020 Bloomsday Fiction Competition.

His first novel ’Secret Lives of Neighbours’ will be self published later this year.

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Mike Leigh is British writer and director of film and theatre, known for his finely honed depictions of quotidian lives and for his improvisational rehearsal style.

Some of his more noted films include – Life Is Sweet (1990), Naked (1993), Secrets & Lies (1996),Topsy-Turvy (1999, Vera Drake (2004), Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), Another Year (2010) and Mr. Turner (2014) among others.

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Stephen King is an American author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, crime, science-fiction, and fantasy novels.

His books have sold more than 350 million copies, and many have been adapted into films, television series, miniseries and comic books.

His books include It, The Stand, Carrie, Salem’s Lot, Misery, Pet Sematary, The Shining, The Dark Tower series, The Green Mile, Needful things, Under the Dome and the Dead Zone to name but a few.

Andy N is the author of four full length poetry collections - the most recent being the Streets were all we could see. He is also the host / creator of 'Spoken Label' - a author / writer chat series as well as Podcast series such as Reading in Bed, Comics Unity, Wrestle-Up and the Koll, Andy N and Amanda show. He also ambient music under the name of Ocean in a Bottle. His official blog is onewriterandhispc.blogspot.com Occasionally he does sleep.