But if you've ever been curious to know why I write what I do, or why I write how I do, then this post may
It's also a journey through my writing career, from daydreamer to writer, so to speak. So let's go back to the beginning to when I was a wee lad... (cue fade out and harp music).
Frederick E Smith. I don't know what attracted me to them - maybe it was the stirring theme music from the movie - but I shelled out serious pocket money on gathering the series. Which was a big deal for me in those days, as I really didn't get much, and books were expensive.
Each book covered a different operation as the mixed nationality squadron flew out in their Mosquito fighter-bombers to hit Jerry where it hurt, culminating in a near-suicide mission at the end. It was stirring stuff, packed with detail and great characters. I don't own the books now and haven't read them for years, so I have no idea how well the novels have aged. Were they well written, or slightly cheesy? Your guess is as good as mine, but I enjoyed them and if some part of them hasn't sneaked into my writing style, I'd be very surprised.
Goodbye Mickey Mouse
Len Deighton was famous for his Cold War spy thrillers, including the Harry Palmer series, some of which were made into movies, starring Michael Caine as the laconic spy anti-hero who was supposed to be the antidote to the more fantasy-based James Bond. Harry Palmer is history now, while James Bond and his special effects stunt team remains. Draw your own conclusions.
But Len Deighton was also a fine historian and he wrote several historically accurate WWII novels, one of which was Goodbye Mickey Mouse.
I read Goodbye Mickey Mouse just as I was getting to the end of my war book phase, and it marked an interesting watershed for me. Unlike previous books I'd read, Goodbye Mickey Mouse is more about the characters than the action, and it was probably my first introduction into serious character development. The novel charts a brief spell in the lives of US pilots (and the women who loved them) in 1944. It covers airbase culture, combat operations, life in wartime England and the thoughts and feelings of young Americans, plucked from mid-west farms and east coast cities, strapped into the cockpit of powerful Mustangs and sent to fight over the turbulent skies of Europe, where a single missed dot in the distance could be the aircraft that kills you.
It's a powerful novel and the ending is a real kick in the guts. For me, it was an introduction to a different kind of story telling, and a lesson in brilliant, multi-layered plotting. I do still own this book and yes, it's still a good book.
I consider it to be one of Len Deighton's best.
The Sunset Warrior
Eric Van Lustbader, was my first solo venture into fantasy books. I'd had The Hobbit read to me at school, and I have a vague recollection of someone reading a Narnia novel to the class at some point, but fantasy stories didn't grip me the way war stories did - not at that age anyway. As a teenager I attempted to read The Lord of the Rings, but the pace and complexity defeated my immature mind. I wanted action, not Hobbit birthday parties. I didn't appreciate that kind of writing until much, much later.
When I tired of reading war novels, but unwilling as yet to tackle Tolkien again, I ventured into my local library in Leicester and saw The Sunset Warrior on display. I liked the cover so I took it home to my bedroom to read.
I'd just bought the album Pyromania by Def Leppard (1983) and I was keen to listen to that too, so I put it on the record player (remember them?) and flopped down onto my bed to read.
To this day, Pyromania remains synonymous with The Sunset Warrior in my mind. I played the record over and over, and it became the soundtrack to the movie in my mind.
What kind of novel was The Sunset Warrior? Well, I remember lending it a few years later to a real fantasy buff, and he scoffed at it, saying it was cliched and derivative. He recommended another, more well known fantasy series to me.
I read his recommendation, but it turned out to be a right load of cheesy bollocks that looked as if it had been written by a five year old, so I don't know what that was all about.
But I liked Eric Van Lustbader's immediate writing style. It was quite stylised, almost literary, with flashbacks thrown in without warning, the drama accented by abrupt, punchy prose. I have a copy with me now - found recently second hand - and I'm still impressed.
The story was first published in 1977 and is set in a deep underground settlement that was built after some sort of apocalypse. I don't know how derivative that was for the time, but considering that Hugh Howey has recently hit the bestseller charts with Wool, which also features an underground post-apocalyptic society, I don't know how derivative it could have been. It certainly hasn't done Hugh Howey any harm.
Eric Van Lustbader is also known for his injection of Japanese culture into his novels, combining East with West, and the Sunset Warrior trilogy is packed full of samurai influences and eastern mythology. I'm not sure how common this was in 70s fantasy, but I can't imagine it was much.
It's not a particularly complex story, and the characters aren't that well developed, but it's cohesive, dramatic and features attractive fantasy settings (the sense-of-wonder factor).
The highlight, for me, was the journey into the old abandoned City of Ten Thousand Paths, with its dark mysteries and nameless, hidden horrors, while listening to the song Die Hard The Hunter.
Darkness is falling, danger is closing in and it doesn't look as if they're going to make it out of the city in time...
It still sends a chill down my spine to hear that song. Honestly, I don't know how you can ask for more.
But in time, I did.
The Lord of the Rings
liberalism - which is why it appealed so much to 60's hippies. Frodo is the archetypal liberal.
The book is about individual choices in a time of war. It's centred on the four hobbits, whose psychological journey mirrors that of Tolkien and his friends in WWI. The experience of that terrible conflict is what flows through the heart of The Lord of the Rings. As the world falls apart around them, the hobbits journey from innocence to hard choice. Each of them will, at some point, find themselves alone, taken from the safety of the group, separated from their friends and stripped of their culture. The choices they make are existential choices and, at the end, each comes back changed. Nothing is ever the same again. Frodo especially comes back traumatised. Being back in his community offers him no solace - neither tradition nor familiarity can bring him back to where he came from - and in the end he has to leave. Even Sam, the most grounded of the four, returns - in the last sentence - alone. He's home, he's with his family, but in his head, he's existentially very much alone - as many war veterans are.
It's a rich book, it's a heartbreaking book, it's funny and profound and there's something in it for everyone. But for me, the final part, The Scouring of the Shire, touched me at a time when I myself was alone.
It was a journey, and that too taught me what a story could be.
Veteran of the Psychic Wars.
And I enjoyed Diamond Head's nod in his direction too.
But his actual stories slip from my brain like water off a well oiled sword.
He was never a deep writer. He dashed off trilogies in three days when he was desperate for money. He dabbled in fantasy, sci-fi and magazine editing, and he went bankrupt twice. He worked hard, never stood still, and is understandably a bit pissed that no one really remembers him (compared to Tolkien). But that's just the way it goes. He never wrote anything as deep and enduring as The Lord of the Rings, and his books were never made into movies like those of Philip K Dick. And nobody these days cares about 70s Heavy Metal.
So how did he influence me?
I wasn't influenced by his stories, but I was influenced by his writing. Let me explain.
One winter I found myself stranded in the seaside town of Morecambe. Some people may be charmed by Morecambe's bucket-and-spade postcard qualities, but I remember it as a cold, miserable shithole - deader than a dead thing in a very dead place. Out of season, places like that just crawl into a grave during winter, waiting for next spring to resurrect. I was unemployed, living in a bedsit, and I had hardly any money for food and none at all for heating.
The only warm place to be was the public library, so that's where I spent my days.
It was during that time that I decided to be a writer, and the library seemed the perfect place to write. So I wrote.
And that's when I discovered I couldn't write. I hadn't paid attention in school. I didn't know how to use a comma, didn't know when to start a new paragraph, had never heard of section breaks and had no real idea how to use quotation marks. Primary nouns? Inserted clauses? No clue at all.
I can remember the view out of the classroom window quite well because I spent a lot of time gazing at it. But that was about the extent of my education.
Still, I did read a lot (and that's the weird thing) and there I was, in Morecambe, in a library and surrounded by books. If I wanted to write like an author, I just needed to check out their stuff and emulate their writing style. Simple, right?
Morecambe Library back then (this is 1988, I think) had a lot of Michael Moorcock books. I mean, a lot. And the good thing about Mr Moorcock is that he's very readable. He may not be very deep, but he's got a natural talent that just makes his stories flow. Bear in mind that some of his stuff was just first draft - with no rewrites - and you can see he's got a gift for story telling. So I took his books, examined his writing forensically and filled in the blanks in my knowledge:
...Oh that's how you use paragraph breaks for dramatic effect, gee that's clever...
I might have been hungry and freezing my butt off, but I did learn something that winter, and Michael Moorcock was my tutor. Which is why I write exactly like him.
Well, actually, I don't. My self-taught journey took a few more years, by which time I'd moved to other places and done other things. My own writing style took a while to mature, and I'm not done learning yet, but Michael Moorcock put me on the right road and, to be honest, it was a pretty good place to start.
More to follow...
That's enough of my influences for today. I'll reveal more in further posts - and I know you're just dying to find out about the new age romance, aren't you? - and just leave you with the news that Bunker 51 is in its final editing stages and should be out in a couple of weeks time. Subscribe to my New Releases blog if you want an email notification the minute it's released, and don't forget to subscribe to this Author blog too if you don't want to miss the next blog post. Until then, have fun.