I’ve been thinking over the weekend about what kind of ‘features’ I want to include here on RWN, to break up the stream of reviews and give me or other guest bloggers (another idea, for a bit later on!) a chance to talk outside of any particular book currently being read/reviewed.
For this first feature of many, I’ve chosen to write about five authors who have inspired me – and it was VERY HARD to choose only five! I might have to do a follow up post with another 20 on one day…
The Five Are:
1. Enid Blyton.
Enid Blyton is the first author I can remember reading, if I discount those Children’s Reading Scheme books at pre-school. I completely fell in love with The Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair, The Secret Seven and The Famous Five, and would spend the hours between school and bed with my nose stuck in enchanted forests, play sheds, lands above the clouds and towns by the beach. The Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair allowed me to experience fantasy and imagination that wasn’t purely my own for the first time, and I still blame the Famous Five and Secret Seven for my obsession with detective dramas and crime fiction today. Beyond the bones of the story, Enid Blyton told of the importance of friendship and the joys that came with exploring, adventure and confidence. She wrote for children and provided a source of magic and animation that at all times remained utterly innocent, and in my opinion she is the best among those who stuck to this simply formula. I have huge amounts of respect and admiration for Enid Blyton, and think of her stories with such fond nostalgia; I’d love to go back and read them as an adult to see what, if anything, has changed.
It might be a cliche to mention Rowling, given how popular she is, but I don’t feel at all as if I’m jumping on a bandwagon – I grew up with Harry Potter, I was one of the lucky ones who received the first book when they were 11, (just like Harry!), and so ‘experienced’ Hogwarts over practically the same time frame as he and his friends. The world of Harry Potter captured my attention and emotions in a way that few books have managed; I didn’t just believe in them for the sake of the story, I wanted to believe in them, wanted so desperately for that world to be real. I devoured each chapter, laughing and crying and getting ill from lack of sleep. I refused to put them down until they were finished, I queued up at midnight at the local bookshop for the next instalment and then read it through till morning. Every time.
The world of Harry Potter almost did become real, in that it was somewhere recognisable, somewhere that I knew as well as my own town, somewhere that I felt I was part of, even though I was the reader and it was inside the book. I’ve read each book over 8 times now, and for every re-read, it’s just as good. It might even be better, because you know it so well, it’s like visiting an old friend or the place of your childhood. I will be forever grateful to J.K for giving me my favourite memories of growing up, and a place that I always will sort of suspect is real. In addition, she wrote the first book on napkins in cafes and on trains, both of which may possibly be among my best things to do in the whole world.
3. John Steinbeck.
My appreciation of Steinbeck stems from a very different sort of reason from the ones above, and the thanks I award to him aren’t because I find him a brilliant author or adore his work or understand the important issues that motivated him to write in the way he does. I do, but that should really say ‘do NOW’ – for the reason I find Steinbeck inspiring is that he wrote the book that showed me I could dislike a story intensely, and still be gripped by it and want to read it again. His ‘Of Mice And Men‘ was a book that intrigued me; for it was the first story I’d read that I’d actively hated it places, yet found unable to put down. I was young when I read it, and up till then I’d enjoyed stories that had mostly a positive theme, so the unsettling and tragic overtones somewhat shocked me and upset me in ways that books hadn’t yet managed to do. With hindsight, maybe I was too young to read it when I did- for now of course I understand that fiction doesn’t have to be happy to be brilliant, and stories don’t have to make you laugh so you fall in love with them. Now, I love Of Mice And Men for the very same reasons that I originally disliked it, and I count Steinbeck amongst my favourite authors of all time. It’s still shocking, but now I can appreciate the beauty of being shocked, and it is that quality in books that make me go back to them again and again.
4. Linda Newbery.
Linda Newbery makes the list because reading her YA book The Shell House back in the first few years of secondary school was the reason I fell in love with dual perspective novels -two sets of characters, two timelines, two beautifully poignant stories, independent from each other yet expertly woven together as the narrative develops. The Shell House has a semi-historical setting, telling the story of Greg in the present day, a photography student intrigued by the ruin of Graveney Hall, and Edmund, a soldier of WW2, living in Graveney Hall in it’s heyday. The novel is written like a jigsaw puzzle, swapping and changing perspective chapter by chapter, constantly reflecting and feeding into each other. Since discovering this way of writing through Newbery I have been drawn to more authors who employ this tactic, and used it many times in my own draft scribblings.
5. Alice Hoffman.
Purely for the beauty of her quote:
Books may well be the only true magic.
In eight words, Hoffman basically contains everything I’ve said about the other four authors, everything I like about reading and fiction, the entire reason I started this blog, and the main reason I’m training for the job that I am. Those eight words are perfect. And what makes them even more perfect? That they say ‘may well be’. Not ‘are’. Giving us a chance to retain the belief that MAYBE what we find in some books* might actually be true after all. And what are books and reading for, if not imagination?
*Harry Potter, I’m looking at you.
Which authors have inspired you? Why? Are they the same as your favourite authors? Discussions welcome! x