Now that I am getting used to the concept of placing the word “writer” behind my name, it’s making me think more about the impact that books have had on my life. I don’t mean the lump I received from a textbook in school, thrown my way by a teacher with a particularly good aim. I mean the books which I can say, to some degree or another, created a line in my life. The bit before I read it, and the bit after I’d read it.
These books are ones that I hold dear to this day and have, in each case, been read over and over.
(And no spoilers ahead, don’t worry!!)
Dragons of Autumn Twilight
(Dragonlance Chronicles) – Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
In the late 80’s I wasn’t a particularly well-read child. I lived in the countryside and split my time between TV, the outdoors and wanting to be Luke Skywalker. But, then my parents, under huge pressure, purchased a Commodore 64 home computer and my life was never the same again. Playing games was the new TV. This soon led to us joining a club where you could buy and be sent the latest games in the post.
But why does this matter? Well, one day I received a copy of a Dragonlance game and in the huge box came this book. It had an exciting cover and sounded pretty interesting, so I started to read.
Over the next few days, the world of Krynn revealed its secrets to me. Friends were made. Adventures had and, when completed, I went straight back to the start and began again.
The Chronicles trilogy, of which Autumn Twilight is the first, taught my young mind so much. It ignited my imagination and showed me a world beyond my own. I laughed, I cried, I feared for my friends as they fought for their lives and I learnt about friendship, truth, honesty, love and so much more.
When I’d finished this book, it set me up for a lifetime of adventuring and loving books. Without this book and my chance meeting with it, I might not be writing this blog or my own book today.
Oh and, in case you’re wondering, I don’t think I ever played the game which came with it…
(The Rats series)- James Herbert
With the love of books now thoroughly established, I found myself in my early teens reading anything I could get my hands on. In some cases, “borrowing” books from my sister to read. One such book was the original Rats and then it’s sequel, Lair, by the legendary horror writer, James Herbert.
Now these books scared the life out of me, Herbert wrote with the raw energy of a missile and with a subtlety to match! Each description was brought vividly to life in my mind… and all too often in my nightmares come bedtime.
But it was the third book, Domain, which really terrified me. It combined the horrifying flesh-eating rats of the previous two books, with a nuclear war. It was… nasty. The tables are turned in this one with people often trapped or powerless to defend themselves against a sea of black monsters with razor sharp teeth. The book still unsettles me now! But it showed me the strength of words, when used with energy and passion, and the real impact they could have.
By the time of Night Watch’s release, I was a full-blown, card carrying Pratchett fan. I knew the world, the characters, I got the in-jokes and many of the references. I was there.
For those who don’t know Terry Pratchett’s work, he wrote very well-judged fantasy books, set in a different world that mirrored our own. The humour and observational wit are so beautifully executed. His subtlety and light touch made it possible to handle even the hardest topics.
And then came Night Watch. A book centred around my favourite characters, The Watch, a police force in a huge city. The book moved on rapidly to include time travel and, for me, a much tougher, darker tone than the previous books had strived for. Leaving a much-loved character fighting for his life, identity and future against a malevolent and vicious evil. Though the wit still runs joyously through the book, the darkness and intensity of the story added an impact beyond the books before it. I try to read this book once a year and, when I do, it always leaves me thoughtful and thankful for the legacy of Terry Pratchett.
The Lost King
(Star of the Guardians series)- Margaret Weis
The second book to make this list from Margaret Weis, and one I’ve always struggled to describe. Because, well, it sounds like Star Wars! So, we have these super-human folks with laser swords and powers. But they got betrayed and over thrown by one of their own. So, now there’s this kid who doesn’t know who he is, but he’s like the most awesome one. Oh, he’s got the power to bring it all back to where it should be. And yeah, he has to go on a journey with this guy who is a bit of a pirate and it’s sci-fi… but it’s not like Star Wars, okay? It’s not.
These books are what Star Wars would be if it left the opera at home, grew up and injected the reality of how people are into its story. The narrative is much deeper, more potent and understandable. It’s also, for me, more deeply affecting. When I finished the third book I stopped reading for about a month. It was intense. But for an epic and distinctly human story, I’ve not read anything some beautifully constructed or executed before or since.
This series is how I aspire to write.
If you have a keen eye, you may even detect their influence around Relative Horizon. Or, I hope you will!
Have you read any of these? What are the most influential books that you’ve read in your life? Let me know in the comments below or, if you’ve written a blog on a similar topic, feel free to share it in the comments too.