Monday, September 30, 2013

Fifteen authors

Thanks to fellow author Sharon Bidwell for providing the inspiration for this.  Apparently it's part of one of these mass round-robin affairs where bloggers tag one another to fill in questionnaires.  In this case I wasn't tagged, but Sharon's blog post got the old grey cobwebs drifting about and I thought I'd have a go.

Basically you have to come up with a list of fifteen authors who have inspired you over the years - and preferably without thinking too long or too hard about the names.  I found this surprisingly difficult.  The first half dozen came to me very quickly, but after that I had to scratch my head, dredge up old memories, and even trawl the internet to track down one or two.

The end result, in no particular order, is as follows:

1.  J R R Tolkien.  A massive influence on me from the age of about eleven onwards.  I love the vast narrative sweep, the sheer scope of both world-building and language, and his ability to keep track of every single detail and loose end over three volumes' worth of writing.  Sheer brilliance.

2.  Mary Stewart.  Some of her holiday romance books are a little lightweight but I adore her Crystal Cave/Hollow Hills trilogy which tells the tale of Merlin and Arthur from Merlin's point of view; and I'm also a sucker for any of her books which contain hints of magic.  The Ivy Tree, Touch Not the Cat, and Thornyhold are my favourites, adding to a lifelong love of anything subtly supernatural.

3.  Mary Renault.  I first borrowed one of her books from the library and was gobsmacked that a woman writer had written books about gay men (albeit in the Greek and Roman worlds) and even better, had them published.  A real source of inspiration.

4.  Philippa Pearce.  The author of one of my favourite children's books, Tom's Midnight Garden.  This may well have kicked off my love of time-travel and the unexplained.  The book's atmosphere stays with me to this day.

5.  Patrick Gale.  A more recent discovery and one that almost never fails to immerse me in his worlds, and above all his characters.  Rough Magic is a particular favourite.

6.  Andrew Lang.  Not really an 'author' as such, more of an editor, but I devoured his series of 'coloured' fairy tale books as a kid and loved them all.

7.  Douglas Adams.  His books are brilliant, inventive, and laugh-out-loud funny.  I quite often find that I've been unintentionally using some of his phrases; they have a habit of burrowing into your brain and staying there.

8.  Georgette Heyer.  Although I've read many of her historical novels, and still have a passing fondness for some of them, it's her crime novels that inspired me - especially romps like Why Shoot a Butler and Footsteps in the Dark.

9.  Daphne du Maurier.  I'd give a lot to be able to write like her.  Some of her earliest (and best known, oddly) works are a little too melodramatic for me, but The House on the Strand would be high up on the list of books to take to a desert island.  Again, it's that element of other-worldliness, time travel, and general not-quite-knowing-what's-going-on that does it for me.  That and the brilliant writing, of course.

10.  Dorothy Dunnett.  Each of her Lymond Chronicles novels is my idea of the perfect book to get lost in.  Historical fiction but with a level of research that's quite staggering; you almost get the feeling she lived through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries herself.  And Lymond is a wonderfully flawed hero.

11.  A E W Mason.  Considered quite old-fashioned these days but his yarns were a window to another world when I was growing up and I adored The Three Gentlemen, with its staggering (for the time) premise of reincarnation.

12.  Anne Rice.  I went off her later books but the Vampire Chronicles, and particularly The Vampire Lestat, have been firm favourites for years.  Lestat is a wonderful character - egotistic, hedonistic and impulsive, yet somehow Rice manages to make him sympathetic.

13.  Lynn Ellison.  Included for one book only - a Young Adult title called The Green Bronze Mirror  about a young girl time-travelling to Ancient Rome.  I read it as a young teenager and although I promptly forgot the title and the author, the basic story and atmosphere have stayed with me for over thirty years.  Sadly, I believe the current edition is almost unreadable due to the number of typos and errata; a shame, as I'd quite like to re-read it at some point.

14.  C S Lewis.  I enjoyed nearly all of his Narnia novels (with the exception of The Last Battle, which was just too distressing), probably more than Tolkien at the time.  Sheer escapism for a rather dreamy child.

15.  Last but not least, Leslie Charteris.  The author of the original The Saint books.  Many of them were first published in the 1930s and the style is a little old-fashioned now, but his early titles are a scream - full of action, with a distinctly unheroic hero and flashes of truly hilarious humour.  The television series (both of them) just didn't do Simon Templar justice.

So there you have it.  There are probably all sorts of wonderful authors I've forgotten about, and I might have to come back and tweak the list from time to time.  But that should give you some idea about the sort of books I like, and the sort of writers who've influenced my own work.

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