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Nightjar
  • Writer's picturePaul Jameson

Influential Books On Me (Part 4): As a Crazed and Grumpy Old Man

And so I come to the final instalment of this blog inspired by a Threads game where one is challenged to name twenty books you'd read that had greatly influenced you - without commenting why or how. At first I didn't think much of it, but as I progressed I realised it was really quite interesting - possibly more so personally - to think whether or not...

These authors and works, Have they influenced me as an author?

So I figured as a blog I'd consider them in more detail, looking at how and why they'd influenced me. Perhaps they do influence my writing without me ever having been aware. We will see. But rather than looking at one book at a time, I'll try to group them as of a kind, read either by my age, perhaps the genre into which they fall, or a particular stage in my life.


For the fourth and final instalment, the books I chose as influential to me were all read as a crazed and grumpy old man. In this I'm being quite liberal with the age range, from about 50 to 55 - now - and after I suffered my first mental breakdown at 45 (there were four) and life for me changed quite dramatically overnight, so to speak. One day I was sane with a well-paid management role in business intelligence, the next I was shaking, hallucinating, suffering from the most intense head pain, and unable to string a sentence together. Scary stuff. Over the next ten years - I still suffer mental illness - I used writing as a form of incentive to get up, recover, and try to achieve a form of normalcy. At first I was lucky if I wrote a sentence a day, but I progressed, and in 2018 I published my first novel, 'Nightjar'. Two more major pieces followed and I'm still going...

Writing, Quite literally, Saved me.

Before I get onto these influential books though, I think it would be wrong not to mention that in the Threads game, I chose no reads from around the age of 25 to 45 (whilst ill, from 45-50 I couldn't read). Twenty years without an influential read. I was reading between the ages of 25 and 45, a lot, but I think with the juggling of music - I played in original bands as my main creative endeavour - work, and family, the works I chose were all easy reading. Historical fiction for the most part. Nothing I would class as life-altering, just simple entertainment in the midst of a busy life. Kind of sad really. But lets gallop on from that...



So what were these five books and how did they influence the crazed and grumpy old man that is me?


The first book I've chosen is 'Rebecca' by Daphne Du Maurier, though in truth it should probably be the author herself rather than the book. You see as a recluse who didn't read anymore, I started being brave and visiting a local library, taking out short stories in an effort to get my brain to be able to read again - I could write, but not read.

I know. How does that work? But that's how it was. Crazy knows no bounds.

Well in this phase of reading I picked up Du Maurier and ended up moving on to her novels - expanding the stamina of my mind. I loved her writing. It was childlike and beautiful in places, haunted, crazed, real, not real, and some themes explored were really ambitious for her time - I'm thinking of 'House on the Strand' and 'Rule Britannia' as novels, though many of her short stories are also quite out there. But I chose Rebecca because of the words - artistic and flowery, as my own writing can sometimes be, whilst always carrying a threat of darkness. I think - even though I'd already written Nightjar - her work reinforced in me that it's okay to play with words, paint pictures, and do the art that pleases you. If it works, it works.


The second book I chose was 'Of Mice and Men' by Jeff Steinbeck. Following on from Du Maurier, I began to explore classic literature in the library. There was a section - sort of - it was a postcard turny thing with a couple of dozen dog-eared pieces. Anyway I read 'Of Mice and Men' and loved it. I could smell the dust. Feel the heat. And in terms of influencing me, it again showed that a good piece of writing - of the art - in being memorable, thoughtful, and thought-provoking, doesn't have to be long. It was perhaps the length of this and 'The Poisoning Angel' by Jean Teule, the third book I've chosen, that gave me the confidence to write and publish 'Life of Maggot'. A novella, I guess, that takes on a short, strange, hymnal-type format as it explores dark themes through simple words and childlike eyes at times.


So that's books two and three.

And the last two I've chosen are really recent reads (indeed, I'm still reading one) because...

World-building; What an art.

And so I choose 'The Silmarillion' by JRR Tolkien (my favourite author) for its expansive world-building, it being a universe and beyond, and 'Circe' by Madeline Miller for the perfection and beauty she has achieved that is a more insular building of a world. I'll try to explain what I mean.


I tried reading the Silmarillion after I read Lord of the Rings. I was all of 14 and expected much of the same as in Lord of the Rings, not the foundational work of mythos that is the Silmarillion. I didn't get it. I think I was too young, too impatient, and I gave up. I didn't fully understand what he was trying to do. I've written another blog post about it that you can read here.


Then I read it again a couple of years ago (in my 50s) and now, as an author, was blown away by the complexity, the detail, and thought that had gone into the history, myth, races, landscape, language, and darkness of an imaginary world and universe; one that even then only explored as far as the mountains of the Ered Luin and the history of the Silmarils. It's incredible. Huge. Immense. Complex. Inter-related. Now, as I write a fantasy of my own, I'm even more in awe of the scale of thought and imagination that must have gone on in Tolkien's mind.


Does it influence my writing?

Yes, today I think it does.


I keep it in mind whilst writing about an imaginary world, ticking off history and cycles, landscape, fauna and flora, that need to be consistent, rounded off, connected, and real to the reader. Am I trying to emulate Tolkien. No. That would be stupid. My world is but a postage stamp in the making.


This brings us to the last book of influence upon me. In contrast to Tolkien, I've chosen the more insular world-building present in 'Circe' by Madeline Miller. As an author, Miller's world-building is more akin to my own style, where world is often defined by the visible horizons of a character. What is beyond, in terms of miles, time, landscape, and more, is only ever loosely hinted at, sketched and presented with more shadow than light; something that could be, might be, explored in more detail later - though this is never a promise. In Circe, I believe Miller has done this to perfection. An eternity on an island with one immortal, that does not feel closed in for lack of exploration. Always there is hinted at knowledge, ever incomplete as to what lies beyond or in the detail, and I love it.


She brings to life the smell of the island, the dirt beneath nails, salt-encrusted rocks, the outlines of wolves and lions, yet there is always so much more. Only Circe (and you) aren't to know the detail of the so-much-more. Madeline Miller perfects this style of writing, I feel, ands it pains me to hear that long-COVID has so negatively impacted her output. Although her work doesn't influence my writing - I already build my worlds this way - I think I could read her work forever, just because of the perfection it is.


So there you have it. In four parts, the books I chose as influential to me on Threads. From a young child through to a grumpy old man, 20 reads (or so) that have left their mark on me and, in the odd case, actually influenced my writing - even if I didn't know it until, well...

Now.

Interesting self-reflection. Why not do it yourself. Have a sit and a think about the books that influenced you, and - if you're an author - do they influence your writing? Maybe they do - unknowingly or not. Give it some thought. You might be surprised. And keep reading. Always keep reading. It's the best thing ever.


 

If there's a topic you'd like me to consider in a blog, a book you think I really need to read and review, or a TV Series you think I'd enjoy (and you'd like me to include it in my blog) drop me a line and let me know.



Finally.

If you do buy my books.

Thank you.

And let me know what you think.

Get in touch on Threads.

I'm always there; a writer, you see...


 

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