In preparation for the publication of Paying the Ferryman – Severn House – I was asked to fill in an author questionnaire and a couple of the sections dealt with influential and treasured books. I’ve been asked many times which books or writers influenced me and it’s not an easy question to answer because there have been so many – and that process is an ongoing one. I love to read, I love stories, I’m hooked on the way different writers can take the same idea, the same scenario even very similar characters and create something which is unique and exciting and thought provoking – or is simply a really good trip.
But anyway, I gave it my best shot and had a really hard think about which books have consistently influenced me. Which ones do I still recall and talk about and which still make me angry, bring tears, evoke memories? The list turned out to be a slightly odd one and the funny thing is, a lot of these books are from my childhood or teenage years. They still matter to me after all this time. That has to say something very special about the authors.
So, below, is an extract from the author questionnaire complete with my – sometimes weird – choices.

• Cherished books. My very tatty Penguin copy of TS Elliot’s collected poems. The covers fell off years ago and have been restuck many times, but I acquired it secondhand when I was about fourteen and it’s been with me ever since.
• An odd little book called Clater’s Farrier. It’s appeared in at least one of my novels and the one I first knew belonged to my father. When he died my brother claimed it, so I had to find another copy. I finally managed to get one – all the way from Australia. I suppose it’s a kind of step relative to the original but the connection is still there. It’s a strange Victorian publication, a mix of advice on the treatment of horses and also advice and information on everything from how to make wine to how to cure cold feet.

I’ve gone on to collect quite a lot of books in the same idiom. Following their advice, I could probably build a house, make a fretwork clock and brew honey beer.

• Books that have influenced me…Can I only have five!
• Most come from childhood or teenage years. I think the love of story was born then – it took a lot longer for me to want to write my own! Strangely, none of the really influential books is Crime, though I read a great deal of it and continue to do so, it was stories from the more fantastical genres on the whole, that first really appealed.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. I read a lot of SF in my teens and this one made a big impact. It was the first time I’d really understood time dilation and one of the first really ‘adult’ books I’d read. I still use it with students to demonstrate ways that character and place can be built at the same time.

Alan Garner’s Moonstone of Gomrath and Wierdstone of Brisingamen . There’s a scene when Susan is riding with the Wild Hunt and they slowly pull away from her and she’s left alone. It made me cry when I first read it and it still makes me cry now. I so wanted to be Susan! But I didn’t want to be left behind. Alan Garner came to talk at DMU last year, so I finally got to meet him – and managed to be totally inarticulate!

Just about anything by Malcolm Saville. I read his ‘Seven White Gates when I was, maybe 8 years old and was hooked. Later, I especially loved his Marston Baines books – the mix of adventure and history really appealed – and got into real trouble at school for reading it under the desk when I was supposed to be listening to my English teacher.

Gordon Honeycomb, Dragon Under the Hill. It was published in 1973 and I must have read it about that same time. Vikings, mystery – and rather tantalising sexual glimpses! – it was a book that lived with me for a long time and spurred a major interest in Viking and Anglo Saxon culture. I got into trouble for reading that in class too…
And, sadly, I still haven’t made it to Lindisfarne.

The last is a short story.
No, sorry, I have to have two short stories.
Guy de Maupassant’s story Châli is the first. I read my way through his collected stories, again when I was about thirteen or fourteen, and loved them dearly because of the mix of intimate character development and social commentary. Chali sideswiped me, initially with the injustice of the conclusion and later with the strangely detached storytelling that somehow added to the emotional impact.

The second is a long short story by Mary Gentle, The Road to Jerusalem, which I read in Interzone in about 1991. I’m still not sure what it was about the story that clicked, but I knew as soon as I’d read it that I really wanted to tell stories like that. It was an impulse that coalesced, I suppose over the next eighteen months or so and led to a determination to be published in Interzone too….though things didn’t quite turn out that way and that’s an ambition still to be fulfilled!

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