The other day I got tagged in Facebook on one of those memes where you have to give your favourite blah blah blah blah, this time by one of my writer friends, to name 15 authors who influenced me. Naturally, I started to think through this, and started to write a response, but it became a bit unwieldy for a facebook post. If only, I thought, I had somewhere to further elaborate my thoughts on this matter. A website, perhaps, with some kind of blog function. Oh hey, I have one of those!
So, the challenge was to list 15 authors who have influenced me. I actually had to come up with three for my recent interview over at Jessica Meats’ blog, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that it’s not just authors who have propelled me headfirst into this thing we call writing. So I’m going to be a contrary bastard and widen it out to the fifteen writers that have most influenced me as a writer. So here goes.
Stephen King – The granddaddy of my wanting to be a writer, partly because he was such a big part of my early reading. Like most kids growing up in the 80s and 90’s, King was an ever present, the writer that all the kids in the playground could talk about without being accused of being a big sissy, I fell in love with King’s writing, hard. His mixture of genres, his brilliant characters, the horror, and the lacing of music throughout his books, it’s all there in my work, albeit in a faded facsimile kind of way. Not only that but On Writing, his book about the craft of writing, remains the best book on writing I’ve read to date.
Douglas Coupland – If King was my entry to the world of writing then Coupland had a profound impact on me as I entered my teenage years and actually turned my thoughts towards becoming a writer. Able to somehow bottle the ennui of Generation X (as well as coining the phrase) Coupland had a way of squeezing big ideas into seemingly tiny stories that was like pressing the accelerator pad on my own brain. Not only that but he was damn funny too.
Hunter S Thomson – While I benefitted from an English education full of Shakespeare, Austen and all the other masters of language, it wasn’t until I read Hunter that I truly fell in love with language. There’s something primal and raw about Hunter’s work, yet it flies off in cascades of lyrical invention that I can’t even begin to wrap my head around.
Harper Lee – I can still pinpoint the moment I truly fell in love with books. It was when my English teacher Mr Gatherum spotted a nascent interest in reading in me, and handed me To Kill a Mockingbird, which was the first book I’d read with an overt social message, a conscience. It burned itself into my memory, and now even when I’m writing about the end of the world, I’m always trying to get a bit of Atticus Finch’s sense of social justice somewhere in the mix.
John Wyndham – Another one of Mr Gatherum’s recommendations (I owe that man a lot), Day of the Triffids, Chocky and many other Wyndham books had a huge impact on me, and are probably the reason that when it came to writing my first novel, going for a decidedly English apocalyptic novel seemed like such an appealing idea. Wyndham was the master of mixing the everyday with the sensational, and if I’m half as good at it as he is, then I’ll be very happy indeed.
Eddie Vedder – Veering away from authors, Vedder has always been one of my favourite writers. A songwriter in the storytelling vein, he is unbelievably talented at distilling incredibly powerful stories into a short space, a king of brevity (clearly not much of an influence on my actual style, then). Listen to songs like Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town and you’ll get what I mean. He’s also always broadened his characters to be hugely diverse. Oh, okay, he’s just my hero.
Bill Hicks – I got into Bill long after he’d died. I discovered him at the perfect time – my first year of university. His righteous anger coupled with a dark and twisted sense of humour that has run through my writing ever since. Bill helped shape a lot of my political world view in my late teens and early twenties, and I consider myself a fairly political writer. So, you can imagine my joy yesterday when I was posthumously endorsed by the great man’s twitter account (and yes I know it’s not him. I’m not an idiot. Well, not that much of an idiot.)
Charlie Brooker – When I used to write for Demon Pigeon (RIP) we used to joke that we wouldn’t be anything without Brooker’s style, even though we’d all gone off him by that point. But for a few years I was addicted to his caustic takedowns on popular culture, until he naturally got too entwined with that same culture to properly satirise it. Since he moved into dramatic writing with Dead Set and Black Mirror, I’ve remained obsessed with the quality of his writing and his ability to inject tension into the everyday.
Noel Oxford – Speaking of Demon Pigeon, I think the best thing I ever did for my writing was try to keep up with the other writers there, Noel especially. Every time a new post would go up I’d read it and think ‘well, fuck.’ I was going to choose another music journalist from when I used to regularly read the music trades, but fuck ‘em, Noel and the others were better than the lot of them.
JK Rowling – It was a toss up between Tolkien and Rowling, both of whom I came to relatively late, but both of whom I ended up falling deeply in love with. Rowling just about edges it, for her marriage of accessibility and complexity. I have it on my list to one day write YA, and it’s because of JK.
Aaron Sorkin – When it comes to dialogue, nobody betters Sorkin. I’m a little bit obsessed with Sorkin’s writing, having watched The West Wing at least five times (I’m currently very much enjoying The West Wing Weekly podcast too, and it’s making me want to rewatch them all over again) and I’ve just done The Newsroom and I’m working through Studio 60 for the second time. There’s one thing that draws me back, time and again, despite all the many flaws, and that’s the dialogue. It’s like taking a bath in words.
Joss Whedon – The very obvious decline in the output of Mr Whedon doesn’t change the way that he completely redefined the concept of genre for me, back in the late 90’s. I was big into vampire tales back then, but they were staler than a crypt, for the most part, until Joss introduced a teenage girl hero and her Scooby gang and made me incredibly excited about the genre again. I even started to write a vampire novel at the time, until I went to see Blade and it turned out to have the exact same plot. One day.
Nick Hornby – I don’t think a book has ever spoken to me as much as High Fidelity has. I remember hearing read from the book when it came out, at a university thing. We were from the poor local college, and after he read people from the university were all standing up and asking very worthy questions about journalism, memoir writing, and literature. The kid next to me stood up in his Arsenal top and asked where we were going to finish that season. Hornby’s face lit up, and after the event he sought us out. He defined what fandom is, and both the pitfalls but also the great joy it can bring.
Quentin Tarantino – As soon as I saw Reservoir Dogs on a dodgy bootlegged VHS sold under the counter from somewhere I went out and bought the screenplay, and started trying to write a script. I’ve yet to finish one, but if I ever do it’ll be because of the spark that Quentin lit.
Tori Amos – Going back to lyricists, there’s few out there who can impact me the way Tori can. She’s able to achieve a beauty in her words that, coupled with her voice, haunt me completely. When I heard Little Earthquakes for the first time, I started to try my hand at poetry. Thankfully for the rest of the world, I gave it up very quickly.
There you go. My 15 writers. Feel free to sound off in the comments about the writers that shaped you, whether you’re a writer or not.
Also, why not pick up a copy of my first novel, Blood on the Motorway – An apocalyptic tale of murder and stale sandwiches. Available in print from Amazon or ebook from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and many more.
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