I was asked what influenced me as writer recently. At first I thought it was an easy thing to answer. I’ve said before that Arthur C Clarke’s Childhood’s End is what got me hooked on science fiction, the ending blew my teenage mind. That lead me to reading more Clarke and Asimov then authors such as Greg Bear and Ben Bova. Also, I grew up at the time of the Apollo missions and the moon landings. As a young lad, how could that not captivate my imagination? Then later films such as 2001, Close Encounters and Star Wars were taking science fiction on the screen from clunky B Movie status to the mainstream.
However, having given my standard answer it occurred to me that these were things that had sparked my interest as a consumer of science fiction, and later fantasy through authors such as Raymond Feist and David Eddings. However, had they influenced my writing? In terms of the subject matter, yes. I have adapted themes that those writers have explored before me (and I presume they adapted from earlier writers). As for my actual writing, perhaps much less than Imagined. They may have placed that spark, the desire to write. However, as to influencing my writing that comes later, from the authors I’ve read just before and while I’ve been writing.
I know there’s no defining moment when my interest as a reader morphed into my interest as a writer. However, I do know what I was reading at around the time when those first thoughts that maybe, just maybe, I’d like to write (some years before I did commit more than a few ideas to the page). All those influences were positive in the sense that I was in awe of their talent, almost to the point that I wondered who was I to think that I could ever produce anything worth publishing? Later, and I now think equally important, are those works I’ve read that have reminded me of what I don’t want to do, of how I don’t want to write.
So the good first. I love the imagination, the worlds and quality of writing of Iain M Banks. However, I think if there is one lesson I have taken from his work is the humour that permeates his books. Human interaction depends so much on the use of humour and yet I believe it’s one of the most difficult thing to achieve in writing. It’s something I struggle with when revising my work. After all, when you’ve read it so many times It’s hard to judge if it’s as amusing as you first thought. It no longer has that “off the cuff” nature that humour often relies on.
Examples of other authors who have influenced my writing: Terry Pratchett, again for his humour. Also, for his use of language in unexpected ways and his ability to see the ordinary from a different angle making it extraordinary. Bernhard Cornwell for his story telling. There doesn’t seem to be anything “clever” going on, however, maybe that’s the secret. His writing makes me want to turn the page and the next, and the next . A lesson for all authors in gripping the reader. For story-telling, humour and use of language I would also have to include Terry Pratchett’s friend, Neil Gaiman. I’m sure there are many more authors that have influenced my writing for the better, however, to my mind this isn’t a bad place to start.
Now for the bad. First I’m not naming names here because I can’t remember them. Second I have found my “bad” in both traditionally published authors and self-published authors. And I acknowledge that this is a very personal opinion. I’m sure all authors have pet hates. However, I am grateful to these books. In some ways the “bad” are more influential than the good, as they remind me of things I’m trying to avoid. It may be how important proof reading is when I find a book sprinkled with typo’s (I’ll forgive one or two). Or perhaps a fantasy book I started and didn’t finish because it was the Lord of the Rings plot rehashed. Then there’s the particular pet hate of too many adverbs. A recent book often had two or three adverbs in a single sentence, something I struggle to forgive (as does Stephen King, if you’ve read his book on writing). I did, however, finish it because I enjoyed the story. I suppose that shows the power of good story telling.
So, I’ve found it intriguing to think about those authors and books (both good and bad) that have influenced me as a writer, as opposed to a reader, and to analyse why. One of the downsides of being an author is that whatever book I’m reading, lurking at the back of my mind is the writer. As well as enjoying the story, I hope, I’m looking at style, language and plot. And yes, since becoming a writer I am more critical. Perhaps not a bad thing?
As always comments are welcome,