All writers start out as readers – and all reading then becomes research, in a way. Every book has something to offer – a word you like, a scene that strikes you, a clunky plot you vow to avoid – while certain books stand out as different, important - even life-changing. ‘Read like a butterfly, write like a bee’ said Philip Pullman – meaning, basically, that we steal the things we love, and that’s how writing works.
Looking back over the last few years – long before Not Yet Dark or Eren were written or even published – certain books have been signposts for me, changing my path, pointing me on a new course. They’ve marked the way to where I am now as a writer, opening my mind and teaching me more than any classroom lesson ever could. They’re my core texts, I guess – the ones that will always mean something special (and from which I will always shamelessly steal. Sorry.)
I don’t remember how I ended up with this book – I think the cover just looked nice, so I bought it – but I can’t imagine being a writer without David Almond’s stunning, toned-down prose. Skellig’s a fairly simple story, but the way Almond writes took me by surprise. The chapters were so short! The words were just laid bare! Could you do that? Were you allowed? I’d never known the rules could be broken so easily. Suddenly a whole world opened up – and, at the back of my mind, a story started to grow …
The Wind Singer
William Nicholson’s Wind on Fire trilogy was the first series I loved and followed as they came out. I waited for the third book to be published because I had to know what happened – and it felt like the first series that was mine, and not something I’d been told about by a friend. I still like to think it’s an undiscovered gem, though the book’s multiple awards probably mean that’s not true.
Clockwork, or All Wound Up
This book is small – it’s a short story, really – but it’s also a clever way of looking at how stories work and what they mean to people. Do stories work like clockwork, ticking away once you’ve let go? The ending took me by surprise and I loved the feeling of being tricked by the writer’s cleverness. Could I ever do that? One day, maybe.
I wasn’t a huge reader as a kid and the idea of reading ‘classics’ was a chore. Then, Frankenstein came along, and I thought it’d be easy since I already knew the story well enough (I did not). The beauty of the writing was one thing, but the way it made you think about things without laying them out too obviously was an eye opener. Stories could say so much! It led me to others books I’d ignored before then – Wuthering Heights, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and on and on and on.
Of course. I’m a child of the 90s, after all. More than the craziness around the books’ popularity, though, I think the sheer magic, the imagination, the friendships, the world, all showed us what books could do. I remember clearly realising that these books had been written by someone, that you could do that as a job, that people would buy books if they were good enough. Right, I thought. I’ll do that. How hard can it be? Let’s do it.
Simon’s new book: Not Yet Dark, is out now. Order your copy today:
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Posted on Monday, November 20th 2017