Finding out what makes fellow writers tick is a constant source of fascination. Reading, as writing, is a very solitary process and in its formative years often shares the same innocence, that same lack of conformity and influence.
in this month’s blog – close personal friend and SF author JS Collyer goes completely against what I asked her for and gives a revealing summary of the most important books and authors that shaped her as she grew into word-spitting space creature she is today. (I’m not having a go here, it’s great!)
If you want to learn more about JS Collyer (and by rights you should, she embraces social media with the same enthusiasm that I endure it like an uncomfortable adolescent in a family photograph) her blog is here, her Twitter is here and she also has a Facebook with the highest concentrate of Star Wars memes on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
She also wrote a novel called Zero which has a sequel coming out soon. You can hurl virtual money in exchange for it just here.
Onward…to infinity! (or whatever it is these space-types say)
The Books that Shaped my Life – JS Collyer
I always find it incredibly interesting when writers share the fiction they enjoy as a reader. Translation is one of my favourite aspects of writing fiction: taking that which inspires you or that which you admire and using it to inform your own process. It helps a writer be as engaged to their own work as they are with the fiction they enjoy reading.
Having been a prolific reader all my life, you might think it would be hard for me to narrow down the works that have most impacted on me as both a reader and writer, but far from it. I know very specifically what fiction has left its mark, because it is those books I remember the most and try and consciously emulate in some shape or form whenever I commit words to page.
If we’re going in chronological order, I’d have to say the very first works of fiction that need to be mentioned are the Narnia Chronicles. Whereas, as I’ve grown, I’ve wandered more toward SciFi than fantasy and fairytale, these have to have a mention because they are stories I return to again and again, even know. The magic, the characters and the rich arc of the all the tales continue to stir something childlike in me from a time when I still believed in magic.
However as a teenager, I discovered Star Wars and a life-long-love was born. (This was before the new prequels I’d like to add) I devoured every novel that was released set in this universe. I knew every character, location and aspect of the political structures of the galaxy. Yes, I was a totally obsessive nerd, but that was because for me the universe was so rich and full of a magic of its own I couldn’t help but be drawn in. Though I’ve grown apart from the novels in recent years, I still love the films and am eagerly anticipating the new one. And even with the distance of time, my love of those books is the yard stick by which I now measure my interest in things. I’m always on the lookout for something that grabs me so tight that I can’t get away and just have to find out more, like they did.
The loved the sheer scale of the story, as well as the well-realised settings and intriguing characters. It was also where my love of character-driven fiction was born. I love experiencing a story through a character or characters, driven along by their decisions and motivations. I like to live the story with them and my enjoyment of this way of storytelling has led me to try and write the same way.
There were dozens of these novels – I had several bookshelves of them – and they all influenced me. But if I had to choose one in particular, I think I would choose the New Rebellion by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, simply because it was the one I went back to again and again.
I have, in fact, recently re-bought it to revisit it again, 15 years later.
Next I do feel like I need to drop in the Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles, particular the first one, Interview with the Vampire. In my world that until this point had been dominated by lightsabers and spaceships, it was thrilling to discover this dark and decadent world of velvet, destruction and blood. I was hooked from the beginning. They showed me that I love a bit of darkness in my fiction and desire richness alongside everything else. The first book in particular with its melancholy and introspective narrator Louis de Point du Lac confirmed for me that it’s all about character-driven fiction. Still now, my favourite story is the sort that lets you get into the characters’ heads and knowing the story and settings as they know them.
The last two books I feel have to mention because they too have shaped me as a reader and a writer are both Fantasy series. Yes, I’m a SciFi writer, horror writer on occasion, but I simply have yet to find any SciFi books, or series of books, that inspired me as much as these and made me want to write exactly like them. Star Wars I loved as I say, and started off certain trends in my preferences that I still hold dear, but they were not novels that inspired me with their technical abilities. These series did.
The first series is just two books: Point of Hopes and Point of Dreams by Lisa Barnett & Melissa Scott. The series, sadly, never got any further since Lisa Barnett passed away in 2006. Her writing and life partner, Melissa Scott, did bring out another novella in the series, Point of Knives, very recently. However, I have to say, it wasn’t a patch on the novels she wrote alongside Barnett.
I would go so far as to say these are my favourite books ever. They are not for everyone, mind. They are full-on fantasy: magic metals, gargoyles, spells etc. However, I haven’t before or since encountered the genre used in quite this way or written so well, with such a simple yet effective approach. I think this is why they stuck with me the most: the writers are the best I’ve ever found for use of exposition. They have created the most amazing world in these books, rich in history and magic, but write about every aspect as if it were commonplace, with very little out-and-out explanation. It means to begin with you sometimes have to make a couple of passes to follow what’s going but, but this gives it such a real feel, no matter how far-fetched the object, context or motivation, that the reader is sucked right in to experience it all right alongside the characters.
Plus, the actual stories are basically whodunnits, the main character being what passes for a police detective in that world, and they are one of my favourite types of story when done well.
My list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies by Robin Hobb. Hobb is a wonderful writer. She, like Barnett and Scott, creates a world that has magic and dragons but makes it feel real. The stories are character-driven again (sensing a theme here?) so, even though there are magic powers and mystical beasts crawling through the stories, the primary driving force of the plot is the narrator, FitzChivalry Farseer. We live his tumultuous but adventurous as a bastard son of the royal family alongside him and feel his pain and share his victories. It is all about fate and free will, decisions and love, heartbreak and power. The books are, without a doubt, magical, but with a really generous helping of grit and realism, my ultimately favourite combo.
I have Robin Hobb to thank more than any other author for wanting to become and author myself and for showing me the sort of author I wanted to be. I wanted to take people on a journey like she did with me. She also replied when I wrote to her in Canada (in days before the internet) encouraging me to follow my dream.
Hobb has also just begun releasing a third trilogy in this series too, the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, the first novel of which, Fool’s Assassin is out now and waiting in my book pile for when I am through the half-dozen other novels I am reading at the moment. It pleases me immensely that she is still releasing these novels I love so much and her writing still continues to inspire me.
Narnia birthed my love of stories. Star Wars my love of Scifi. Lisa Barnett, Melissa Scott & Robin Hobb my love of wonderfully written fiction. They are all the reason I am the reader, the writer and probably the person I am today.