Saturday, 13 November 2010

Fifteen authors who influenced you

Denis, Denis!
It's probably obvious that many of the non-review items on this blog began life as Facebook or forum posts that got a bit out of control… Here's another in that line, a little something to distract me from a backlog of reviews in various stages of composition.

It's the usual kind of thing: fifteen authors (poets included) who've influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. An acknowledgment here to Tej Turner, who tagged me with this on Facebook.

I'm not really a writer these days – or at least not a writer of fiction. It's been a few years since I last completed one of my terrible novels, and I've never really been one for writing short stories. But these are the fifteen writers I came up with, fifteen writers who have done a great deal to shape my thinking about writing, and, by extension, reading.

Jean Racine – for his plotting, his approach to the dramatic unities. In my memory his plays are structured like arrowheads, shiny, sharp and ruthless. I've never written anything like that, but I always begin with that intention.

Jack Vance – for the humour, the creativity, the language, the cruelty, the shared universe of his science fiction. There's very little I don't love about Jack Vance's writing.

Michael Moorcock – for writing novels in three days, and for writing even better ones when he took a bit longer. Stormbringer, The Final Programme, A Cure for Cancer, Count Brass, Byzantium Endures – every one of them was a revelation.

Lionel Fanthorpe – for showing how easy it is to write novels; he taught me to think about what could come next, rather than what should come next. (I have yet to learn how to write good novels.)

Diana Wynne Jones – for being so interesting, for never repeating herself, even in sequels.

Denis Diderot – for Jacques le FatalisteIts narrative playfulness astonished me. In English, Tristram Shandy played similar tricks, but I didn't read that until much later.

Gustave Flaubert – for the care he took over his prose, and Bouvard et Pecuchet. He's not a writer I would ever have had the patience to emulate, but he's important to me nevertheless: Flaubert and Fanthorpe stand at either end of a scale which measures the care you take over your writing.

Stendhal – for the novels, of course, but also for his acceptance of the fact that not everyone would like his work: to the happy few. One particular comment about his work impressed me deeply; whether it was one of my tutors at university, or an essay , or an introduction to his work, I'm not sure: that his sentences will often end with a word or phrase that changes the entire sense of what you thought you had been reading.

Jean-Paul Sartre – for plays like Les Mains Sales and Huis Clos. Sartre had an immense effect on my life: an excellent GCSE essay score persuaded me to study French literature at sixth form and degree level. I should really have studied maths, IT or science: I would have been an awesome accountant. My spoken French, however, is so poor that as I left the oral for my degree I heard the examiners begin to laugh.

John Brunner – for his perfect little Ace books. I would love to write short novels exactly like them in every regard.

Grant Morrison – for constant invention, and never writing down to his readers. He's written comics that didn't work, or were a bit confusing, or where his late scripts have caused problems with the art, but I've never read a Grant Morrison comic that felt pointless, average or dull.

Rhys Hughes – for writing the kind of thing I would like to write, saving me the trouble! And for making me feel better about my over-enthusiastic use of exclamation marks!

Terrance Dicks – for the spare emptiness of his prose. I grew up a fan of the Doctor Who novels as much as the television series.

Roland Barthes – for the relationship between the author and the text, and the interpretation of the text – and indeed the interpretation of everything else, from advertising to clothes. I doubt a day goes by without me thinking a thought influenced by Barthes.

Robert Silverberg – for the brilliant short novels of the fifties and sixties. If I have a true ambition left, it's to write a serious and profound short novel in that style.

I realise now that I should probably have included Philip K. Dick (for his reality-bending), Harry Harrison (for his humour and action), Russell T Davies (for his approach to rewriting) and Philip Jose Farmer (for his big ideas), but too late now. I had fifteen minutes to make my list, and these are the names I came up with!

I'm sure in some cases I've got the wrong end of the stick about a writer – are Racine's plays really as well-structured as I remember them? would Terrance Dicks even be readable now I'm an adult? – but it is after all how I remember them, faultily or not, that influences me.

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