Seeds of a Story
In an earlier post I promised to reveal those authors who have given me considerable reading pleasure and, in turn, may have influenced my writing preferences. The thing is, now that I’ve finally sat down to do so, what I thought would be a straight forward account is not that easy to explain. I mean, I’ve been reading for a good many of my fifty-seven years so there’ll be legions of writers whose works have struck chords with me to some degree, chords which continue to resonate through my own work. Not just authors of those genres in which I’ve chosen to write.
Like most people, I’ve not restricted myself to any one genre. Instead I’ve cast wide for material and, in consequence, I’ve read mysteries, thrillers, historical fiction and so on. Seeds from all of these and more will have undoubtedly scattered into the darker reaches of my imagination, biding their time before taking root somewhere in my writing. Nevertheless, so far I’ve only tended to write fantasy and horror. Here then, I’ll simply include my main sources of those two genres.
Swords and Sorcery
Right now I’m writing fantasy. Anyone who’s read my previous blog posts will be weary of hearing about my forthcoming book, a children’s ‘through the portal’ type fantasy adventure, so I won’t prattle on about it here. Instead, for those newcomers to my site, may I direct you to two blog posts in particular? Namely, ‘Fifty Years in the Making’ and ‘The Door to Caellfyon’. Those two posts will tell you all about the influences for my present undertaking and also the nature of the story itself.
Perhaps then I don’t need to explain that I have a love of fantasy and have read the genre for many years. However, it wasn’t until my early twenties that fantasy fiction featured at all in my life.
First Steps in Middle Earth
I guess it’s appropriate that my first taste of ‘swords and sorcery’ was courtesy of the great man himself: JRR Tolkien. Rather surprisingly ‘The Lord of the Rings’ took me a year to read first time around. The key words in that sentence are ‘surprisingly’ and ‘first time’. You see, ever since then, once the leaves begin to fall from the trees I’ve felt compelled to revisit Middle Earth. More often than not I’ve succumbed to those urges and embarked on the journey. Consequently, I can’t recount the number of times I’ve read LOTR – suffice to say it’s a lot. I did used to think perhaps I was odd in having these annual September impulses – until I learned that Christopher Lee (Saruman himself) also did this. I’m not sure whether his visits were timed to coincide with autumn, but mine certainly were. Frodo commenced his journey across Middle Earth on 23rd September, 3019; I’ve done the same since 1980.
‘Good-bye!’ said Frodo, looking at the dark blank windows. He waved his hand, and then turned and (following Bibo, if he had known it) hurried after Peregrin down the garden-path. They jumped over a low place in the hedge at the bottom and took to the fields, passing into the darkness like a rustle in in the grasses.
The Road Goes Ever On and On
Other wonderful journeys were to follow, courtesy of such greats as Raymond E. Feist, David Eddings, Stephen Lawhead and Stephen Donaldson. There were many others, of course, but these names are foremost in my mind. Curiously, all those listed are American. Why US authors feature to such a degree when we have some superb home grown fantasy writers is beyond me. However, Stephen Lawhead is an American who’s lived much of his life in the UK, namely Oxford. Unlike many of his colonial cousins, this has enabled him to write about British characters without resorting to worn-out (and inaccurate) clichés.
Island of the Mighty
The Paradise War is the first book in Stephen Lawhead’s epic series, Song of Albion. As in The Pendragon Cycle, Lawhead mines the rish vein of Celtic mythology, giving us a fresh look at what is and what may be.
Lawhead has been a significant source of inspiration for me. I’ve already explained how his ‘Song of Albion’ trilogy came to influence my own ‘Caellfyon’ series. Like Tolkien, Stephen Lawhead has an eye for detail that allows his readers to become immersed into the story, and his tales impart a sense of ‘being there’. Why ‘Song of Albion’ has never been made into a film – or at the very least, a TV series – will never cease to amaze me. Each and every one of his characters is well-rounded, totally believable and is – in the words of writer, Oakley Hall: “… produced on the page, whole and alive [their] breath congealing in the air”.
That then is a potted account of fantasy source material. However, I had of course read a great many books before taking my first steps in Middle Earth.
Things That Go ‘Bump’ in the Night
Before fantasy there was horror. Whilst perhaps not ‘The Golden Age’ of horror, the 1970s saw a significant amount of horror fiction published. It was a decade in which authors such as James Herbert, Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub and, of course, Stephen King were all enjoying huge popularity. The appetite for horror had been ongoing through the late ‘50s and all through the 1960s. Author Dennis Wheatley was immensely successful then, as were the famous ‘Quatermass’ films. Similarly, riding the same wave of popularity was the Hammer Horror film company, whose own film versions of classics by such as Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker were very well received.
More Than a Silver Bullet
Let’s not forget, the 1970s, were my formative years. Therefore, the popular culture for ghosties, ghoulies, and things that go ‘bump’ in the night’ became a stimulus for me. In fact, I can well recall the first horror film I ever saw. It was ‘The Curse of the Werewolf’, starring Oliver Reed. At that time, one of the (blissfully few) TV companies of the day had a regular Friday night slot in which they’d show a horror movie. Despite constant pleading on my part, I was never allowed to stay up that late to watch. The outcome then was inevitable and, having waited for my parents to go to bed, I sneaked down to watch my movie. There was one set-back, of course. Our lounge lights were those bulbous, Bakelite things that CLUNKED when they were turned on, and to do so would have woken the whole street. So, I watched my first movie in the dark. As Reed’s Werewolf howled into my face, the TVs monochrome awakened the room’s shadows which twitched and crawled around me. It takes more than a silver bullet to eradicate those memories, let me tell you.
It’s in the Trees … It’s Coming …
Despite the popularity at that time for the likes of Dracula et al, my favourite horror tipple was (and still is) the good old fashioned ghost story. M.R. James is my number one author here. His tales, written for late night readings to friends of Kings College Cambridge, may seem rather dated now, but the language only serves to add spice to the tale. One of his stories, ‘Casting the Runes’ was made into a film in 1957. The resulting ‘Night of the Demon’ gave me chills as a young teen and it now features in my DVD collection, along with the film of another classic novel: ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ by Shirley Jackson. ‘The Haunting’ was another of those films that became etched in my memory and has since provided material for my writing.
Finally, the work of a less well known writer of the supernatural has also had an impact on me. Elliot O’Donnell was a British ghost hunter in the early twentieth century, long before the likes of ‘Most Haunted’ hit our TV screens. He wrote accounts of his many investigations in a series of books. Of course, I had one. I can’t remember the details of many of his narratives but one account did leave its mark on me. So much so that it inspired one of my own stories, ‘Rockin’ Rosie‘, which was published in an anthology of new writers’ material. I had intended adding an extract of this early example of my work here, but I thought I’d read it first and … let’s just say I’ve run out of room.
Coming Soon …
In a later post I’ll mention another writer of the macabre who’s earned a place on my bookshelves and inspired some of my own material – Howard Phillips Lovecraft (HPL to his friends).