First off, let me not claim any form of originality. It all probably started with my fab friend Dave Cousin’s Festive Fifteen (well worth a look) – which then inspired the lovely Candy Gourlay. She wrote more about the longer term influences on her work – and so did the inspiring Keren David. Another couple of my favourite blogsters took up the baton – Nicky Schmidt and Kathryn Evans ( just because they’re yummy and my friends doesn’t mean I’d link unless they had something worth saying!)
My slant comes from a quotation passed round the British SCBWI yahoo group – courtesy of the aforementioned Candy Gourlay:
In the movie You’ve Got Mail, the Meg Ryan character sums it up beautifully when she explained what her mum, an independent bookseller vs a discounting chain did:
“It wasn’t that she was just selling books, she was helping people become who they were going to be. When you read a book as a child, it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading does.”
So I had a good think about ten books that could make me the writer I aspire to be.
- ‘The Lord of the Rings’ by JRR Tolkien. This is terribly nerdy, not one you should admit to if you want to be taken seriously. I was allowed to read this ‘under the counter’ by a sympathetic librarian when I had finished all the children’s books in our little local library. Inside the plain dark covers I found such grandeur, such terror and beauty – not to mention a shieldmaiden and maps! This makes me want to write about big things.
- ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ by CS Lewis – in fact all the Narnia books. I loved the gloomy heroism of Puddleglum, Lucy’s innocence , the gallantry of Reepicheep and the redemption of Eustace the dragon. All these inspire me to show loveable, fickle humane characters – I hope.
- ‘The Water Babies’ Charles Kingsley – unabridged version! I was moved by Tom’s plight as a chimney sweep, delighted by his underwater adventures and terrified by Mrs Be-done-by-as-you-did. I should love to convey the sheer wonder of life that Kingsley does at his best, and to have that certainty of purpose shine through.
- ‘The Children of Green Knowe’ by L.M. Boston. Oh, how I identified with the lonely Tolly so wanting brothers and sisters and finding that he had friendly ghost family. I have a prized letter from Mrs Boston and I have had the joy of visting Hemingford Grey. Her work is imbued with a great sense of place and its history – I aspire to that too.
- ‘The Ghosts’ by Antonia Barber ( re issued as ‘The Amazing Mr Blunden’ after the film). I love ghost stories of any stripe -but this had such a sense of regret, of someone wanting to put things right (a little like ‘A Christmas Carol’) that I loved it. I’d like the sense of compasssion from this.
- ‘The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler’ by Gene Kemp. Spoiler Alert I was utterly thrilled by the undisclosed protagonist turning out to be a girl ( this was the Seventies) – I am still very, very interested in gender ascribed roles. I would still love to write a book where the protagonist might be male or female – and leave it to the reader to decide. Not a chance of getting published though – they wouldn’t know which shelves to put it on – or whether it should be black or pink.
- ‘His Dark Materials’ by Philip Pullman. Here, more recently, I found another world of big ideas – and Lyra Belaqua, what a heroine! I also have a soft spot for Lila in ‘The Firework Maker’s Daughter’. Unsurprisingly, I want to give my female characters room to express their courage and talents.
- ‘A Hat full of Sky’ by Terry Pratchett. Tiffany Aching had to make an entrance, didn’t she? All the books with the witches in are brilliant, and Susan Sto Helit , and… and… Bother it – bung in all of Discworld. The man’s a genius and won’t be properly recognised by the-literary-powers-that-be because he has committed the ultimate crime of … being popular. People read him and laugh and so he can’t possibly be any good, can he? Well, if I could have a smidgeon of Sir Terry’s observation and good sense to sprinkle on my work, I’d be very pleased.
- ‘Moonfleet’ by J. Meade Faulkner. An oldie but a goodie – this was read to our class way back in the Seventies and had us absolutely gripped with smuggling, diamonds, secret codes and splintering coffins. I love derring-do – and I would love to grab my readers by the imagination like that did. Of course, it’s melodramatic and overblown and often sentimental – but then again, so am I.
- ‘Kit’s Wilderness’ or anything else by David Almond. I’ve only read his work relatively recently – and I have been enthralled by his voice. It has such a sense of place, of his local character, without being off-putting. I was so heartened to read a regional voice that wasn’t clichéd – and got published. I have to be true to my roots too.