Inspiration, Part 1: Childhood Influences

I’ve never been one to follow trends or pander to a particular audience. I write what I feel like writing, in the hope that if I like it, others will too. It might mean my books will never gain much of a readership but it feels like the only way to be true to myself, and more than that, it feels like freedom.

But why do I write SF? And why my particular brand of SF? What were the inspirations that led me in this direction?

It’s not something I’ve ever tried to analyse but let’s have a look at books and films that have inspired me and maybe I can work it out.

I’m doubtful whether this post is going to be of interest to anyone at all, but from a personal perspective it was a blast putting it together, a real trip down memory lane. There are so many books and films that have inspired me, way too many for a blog post. For Part 1, I’ve picked a few from my childhood.

There was a series of books by Enid Blyton: ‘The Island of Adventure’, ‘The Castle of Adventure’, and so on. Didn’t everybody love those? They were such fun. For me, I loved the sense of discovery as the children uncovered nefarious plots in interesting locations.

Then there was Roald Dahl. My Dad read ‘Danny the Champion of the World’ to my brother and I once on a camping holiday. I think my brother liked it more than I did – maybe it was too down-to-earth for me. I went on to read ‘Charlie and The Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator’ and loved those. I adored ‘The Magic Finger’. Maybe it was the impossibility of it all that appealed to me – the idea of an elevator going up into space, and people being turned into birds. Maybe I’m attracted to the bizarre and impossible.

I think ‘Pippi Longstocking’ by Astrid Lindgren appealed to me for similar reasons – it was her amazing strength that I loved, and the way she was so unconventional.

I remember a few novels about children placed in survival situations. Funnily enough, I don’t think I particularly enjoying reading them, yet bits and pieces have stuck enduringly in my memory. Stories about surviving extreme events and situations are inherently powerful and they always show something remarkable about human nature. The best were probably ‘Children on the Oregon Trail’ by A. Rutgers van der Loeff, and ‘Hills End’ by Ivan Southall.

I have particularly fond memories of novels by Joan Aiken. ‘Midnight is a Place’ and ‘Black Hearts in Battersea’ were my favourites. I think it was the way she imbued the children in her novels with heart, character and individuality as they strove to cope in a dangerous, adult world.

When I was in my tweens, a friend introduced me to The Lord of the Rings. What can I say? Wow. Thinking back, though, I was never a great fan of epic fantasy apart from TLOTR. What I really loved was the Earthsea trilogy by Ursula LeGuin, with its hero who, despite his strong magical abilities, struggled to find his way and not turn to evil. Maybe it is this psychological aspect that appeals – it’s certainly an aspect of my books. The second in the trilogy, ‘The Tombs of Atuan’, also influenced me towards series in which the main character from one book becomes a secondary character in another.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that my list so far has not included any science fiction books. It wasn’t until my mid-teens that I started reading sci fi and thrillers, two genres that I still enjoy today. I’ll have to discuss those in Part Two, else this blog will go on forever.

I was primed already, though, by childhood exposure to the Star Wars movies. These have had a huge influence on me. It was the cinematic wonder of it: the starships and the stormtroopers, the aliens, the jedi lightsabers, and the wonderfully evil Darth Vader. Magical and unforgettable.

Again, there was that moral dilemma of choosing the difficult path of good against the easier path of evil – an especially strong theme in “The Empire Strikes Back’. Perhaps I’m a sucker for this age-old battle. I certainly hope I’ve managed to get a little of that Star Wars cinematic wonder into my books.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for sticking with me in my personal reminiscences, and stand by for Part 2 in which I will wallow in self-indulgent memories of teenage reads.