My Favourite Writers

As a first blog post, I thought that talking about my favourite authors might be the best start. I think you can judge a lot about someone by the books they like. Asking most people what their favourite book is can be a difficult question for them to answer. I’m no different. If I say one of my favourites is better than another, I immediately feel like an arse and I back pedal to make both books equal. So, instead of numbering off the books from one to ten, I’m just going to discuss five of my favourite authors. I’m sorry to any authors that aren’t on this post, but you probably aren’t reading thisand you may even be dead.

Neil Gaimanamerican-gods-cover

Gaiman is one of those authors where it’s almost impossible to pick a favourite book from among his collection. I loved the psychedelic adventure of his Sandman series so much when I read them, and I enjoyed the unpretentious dips into metafiction and mythology. I loved the not-so-light side of his children’s books – particularly The Graveyard Book, which presents a kind of Adam’s family approach to The Jungle Book,where instead of a jungle, a little boy, Bod, is brought up in a graveyard, his surrogate family a combination of ghosts, a vampire and a werewolf. But the first Gaiman I ever read was American Gods. When I first picked it up I read it all the way through the night and through the next morning. I read it until I was too tired to carry on. I originally bought it because I’d had an idea for a book and I’d described it to my friend.

Me: “It’d be a world where the old gods didn’t die when the Abrahamic religions took over. But they’d have diminished powers, and they’d have professions that connect with their roles as gods: Ares, the Greek God of War, would be a general, or George Bush (this was in 2006). Hermes would be an Olympic sprinter. Aphrodite would own her own matchmaking company!”

My friend Jenni: “Yes, that is a book already. It’s called American Gods.”

Me: “Fuck.”

Neil Gaiman has stolen a few other ideas of mine, years before I even had them. But I love him for it. With him, I get to read books that I love so much I would have written them myself. I’m not comparing my writing to Gaiman, but there is definitely a strong influence there. I think I’ve probably read more Neil Gaiman than any other author—over twenty of his books, so I guess he is technically my favourite, but then I’ve only read two of William Faulkner’s books (although he didn’t write as many as Gaiman), but I love them so much that he has to make this list.

 

William Faulknerthe-sound-and-the-fury-cover

Faulkner, for me, is a perfect writer, but I certainly didn’t realise this at first. When I first read his work, I was hungover and in my third year of University, studying 20th Century American Literature. It was a Sunday and I picked up The Sound and the Fury. Within the first two pages, I was confused, my head hurt, and I threw the book at my wall in frustration (sorry William). But I sobered up and started the book again in the evening. I realised what was happening with Benjy’s section: he clearly had learning difficulties and he could only think in present tense. So every memory was in present tense, along with the present action of the narrative. The giveaway was the single sentence in italics that signified each time he had a memory. This was hard stuff, and the year-ago Peter would not have enjoyed it. But it got me at the right time. I went on to read As I Lay Dying later that year. Both books told me a story from several perspectives, as Faulkner believed that sometimes one perspective wasn’t enough. This was experimental writing at a Joycean level, the only difference was that I actually enjoyed it. Through The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying I was introduced to the idea of multiple narrators and I realised that sometimes books that are tricky to get into can have an incredible payoff. But then the easier books are also some of my favourites too.

 

J.K. Rowling

harry-potter-booksI unapologetically include J.K Rowling in my list of favourite authors. She constructed such a wonderfully complex and consistent world with the Harry Potter series, and I got a lot of enjoyment out of it. I was actually at the age where I could have grown up with Harry Potter. I was roughly his age as each book came out – so I could have read them each year and really connected with them. Instead, I refused to read them—declaring them a fad, like Pokémon. But I loved Pokémon when I was a teenager. We all did! And when I finally read Harry Potter, at seventeen years old, I realised what I’d been missing. I mowed through the series at lightning speed, which meant I had to wait about six months for the last book in the series to come out. Harry Potter did something wonderful, as it provided us with a book that everyone loved. Absolutely everyone read it. I remember waiting in the queue of the book shop for the last Harry Potter book. I was waiting with my Mum. I noticed several boys from my year in school up ahead. They were with their Mums too. I don’t know if Dads read Harry Potter, but Mums bloody loved it. I remember when I’d started reading The Half-BloodPrince and I told a few of my friends how much I was enjoying it. (Spoiler alert! However, I’m judging you for not having read it yet.) My friend, who-shall-not-be-named, blurted out: “Dumbledore dies! Snape kills him!” I was inconsolably angry and saddened by the spoiler and I couldn’t understand why my friend had ruined it for me. I asked her why she did it, but she just grinned. I hope she realised what she’d done later. I hope she never did it again. Side note: if you love Snape and you haven’t watched it yet, it’s definitely worth watching this. It’s all of Snape’s scenes from the films in chronological order. It’s heart-breaking, and it reaffirms my assertion that Snape was the best character in the whole thing.The_Casual_Vacancy

I also read J.K. Rowling’s Casual Vacancy this year, and I loved it. The reviews seem to be very mixed and some people got very snooty about the odd slightly clumsy simile or metaphor. But this seems like a mad thing to focus on with this book. Casual Vacancy is a close look at the evils and hypocrisies of small town people. Every character is more real than any I’ve read before. This book has such sympathy and anger in it, and I definitely noticed some mutual themes with the Harry Potter books. However, it is obviously based on Middlemarch, which I also enjoyed a lot. Rowling decides to kill Fairbrother in the first scene. It’s brilliant. I imagine the eureka moment for J.K. when she was perhaps day dreaming about Middlemarch, and she thought: I wonder what would have happened if Fairbrother (a benign influence in the book) had died? How would Middlemarch have gone without him? I heard that some people had jokingly referred to this book as Mugglemarch, which is pretty much as good a pun as I’ve ever heard. Read Casual Vacancy, but be ready for Rowling’s more adult subject matter and style: there’s nothing like reading J.K. Rowling use the word ‘vulva’ nonchalantly to remind you that you are no longer in the world of Harry Potter. Another author that wasn’t afraid to openly declare admiration for J.K Rowling was Stephen King. And it’s to him that I go to next.

 

Stephen Kingthe-gunslinger-cover

I read Stephen King all wrong. I started off with Salem’s Lot when I was about fourteen. And I loved it. I loved anything about vampires at the time. Then I waited for over a decade before reading anything of his again. I don’t know why I avoided him. I guess I was at university and my reading lists had people like Milton, Shakespeare and Faulkner on them. But that’s not really a good excuse, as I was reading Neil Gaiman, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury and Philip Pullman all of the way through university. I guess I just thought that there was too much to even begin reading, so I avoided him. I always felt he was a great writer, though. Then I read his book, Stephen King On Writing and I knew that I had to read more of his work. This was only a few months ago. Since then, I’ve read his newest book, Revival,which I loved, and I’m currently reading The Gunslinger. And I’m enjoying it so much that I know I’ll mow right through his entire Dark Tower series as soon as possible.  What I’ve noticed about Stephen King is that he spends a lot of time giving you the context of the story. He spends hundreds of pages letting you get to know and love the characters. This way, it’s so much more frightening when it all goes wrong for them, as it always does in his books. Someone else who isn’t afraid to include a little bit of backstory is George R. R. Martin. I had so much fun reading the Song of Ice and Fire series that I had to include him in this list.

George R. R. Martinsong-of-ice-and-fire-covers

Some people think he describes food in too much detail. Some people think he normalises sexual violence against women—and that he writes women very poorly. Some people think he kills off his best characters. In my view, he does all of these things to some degree, but he’s not as bad as a lot of people claim. People sometimes complain about something that happened in the books, when it was really something that only happened in the television series. I think the television show and the book need to be viewed as separate things. George R. R. Martin makes my list because he made me love reading again after university had turned it into work. I also don’t see the third flaw (killing his best characters) as a negative at all, as it prevents smart arses like me from predicting twists and plots based on what I know about story telling rules. Mostly, when I can predict the ending of a book or film, it is because I think about what the best ending will be. I’m usually right when I use this method. I was always good at working out what would happen next. But then I entered Westeros and my mild superpowers of storytelling prophecy were rendered utterly useless. This is because George doesn’t follow any of the rules. I love his work because it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had reading. It’s probably the most shocked and the most excited I’ve ever been while reading a novel. His world is fully realised: there are background characters that come to the forefront and main characters that are thrown aside and killed just as you’ve begun to remember their names. Martin has produced a very realistic world and he does this through Faulkner’s multiple narratives method. It’s also what I use so in much of my writing. I was probably more influenced by Faulkner than Martin, but he has had his part to play as well. I wasn’t surprised to find out that Faulkner is one of Martin’s favourite writers. It makes sense given the multiple narrators, each telling their own tales, but, ultimately, being part of one overall story.

 

Conclusion

There would be lots of honourable mentions on my list, such as: Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway, Audrey Niffenegger, Richard Matheson, Alfred Bester, Patrick Ness… the list goes on. But the five authors listed above have made their way into this post because they are my favourites, and because they have probably influenced my writing most of all. I definitely see little pieces of these authors in my own work when my work is really working. And my writing is so much richer for the influence these authors have had on me. Years ago, a friend of mine was writing a book. I asked him who his favourite authors were and he said that he didn’t really read many books. I didn’t even know how to respond to him at first, but then I started a little debate with him.

Me: “Just as an electrician or a plumber needs to be an apprentice before they can be fully capable and qualified to do their jobs, a writer has to read as much as possible. Reading a book, for a writer, is like being the author’s apprentice.”

Friend: “But then you’ll be influenced by people. I don’t want to be influenced by anyone.”

Me: “It would be a wonderful thing to be influenced. Take the bits you like from other people and make it your own thing!”

Friend: “But then I might write too much like them.”

Me: “But if you don’t read, you can’t know if what you’re writing is any different to some other books out there.”

This ‘debate’ went on for a while. It was a little infuriating.

Reading is such a valuable thing to any writer, except my friend, who has written two books (neither of which are published). My writing used to be concise and brief, as I was going through my Hemingway phase. Then I had my Gaiman and Rowling phase, with loads of fantastical characters and long, winding plots. I think, at the moment, I’m maybe into my Bradbury phase, meaning I use a lot more poetic and figurative language than I used to. I don’t mind spending ten more words to say something if it’s worth saying. Hemingway Peter must be rolling about in his grave! Perhaps my next stage will be my Stephen King stage. I’m like a sponge, and I am very thankful for that.

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