Resources for Writers – #1

A long, long time ago (heavens, it seems an age!), I wrote a post about the difficulties of historical accuracy facing writers.

Really? So kind of you – it’s here: HERE

Gosh, people are so kind.

Anyway, I have a number of books which I find invaluable when I am writing, so just to mention a few:

I have a first edition of Chambers’ Encyclopaedia; two volumes, published 1848, which I got for a song many years ago. Of course, anyone who has ever heard me sing will know that cannot be literally true – the only thing I might get for a song would be a heavy fine or a spell in prison. Or a slap. But enough of that.

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Referring back to my post on historical accuracy, I argued that even contemporary accounts of history are suspect – possibly even more so than many later ones – but as a snapshot of the world as it was seen by a group of British writers in 1848, my Chambers’ Encyclopaedia is invaluable. It gives me their view of other nations and religions, their understanding of science and commerce, and many other topics. A story set in 1848 or thereabouts, would use much of that information.

And 1848 in Europe was known as the year of revolutions – a good setting for a story or ten.

Equally, I set a long short story in 1920’s England, and many of the travel books of the time (I have a guide book to Dartmoor published in 1920) carry adverts for food, drink, hotels, buses, etc, which give a lot of the detail I needed.

Finally, Lonely Planet. My current novel, for which I still don’t have a title – don’t judge me – is set mainly in the India of 1988-ish. The 1986 edition of West Asia on a Shoestring while not being a great deal of use to the traveller of 2017, is incredibly useful to me when writing my book. I can easily get a sense of the price of everything that my English traveller of the story will encounter, and also a sense of what is available – where buses or trains might run, what sort of facilities are to be found in small hill towns, and many other things.

Obviously, our old chum Google is always at hand to help us out with our queries, but resources such as these are not only more accurate, they save us having to sift through many sites that may provide inaccurate information.

And God help the writer that uses that.

Jim’s Newbie

Some further nuggets from my special guest, Mr Webster! Over to you, Jim…

photo of Jim Oct 2015

‘Did I ever tell you about Chik, who used to sell spiced eggs from a stall on
Tithetakers Lane?

‘Chik was by heart a gambling man and he was fond of a wager. One of his
favourites was that you couldn’t eat four of his spiced eggs, one after the
other. If you accepted the challenge he would take your money for four eggs
and then lay them out on his counter, already shelled. Very few people ever
managed it. Some of this was that, to be frank, it is comparatively easy to
have too much spiced egg. But also because Chik would ensure that the third
egg was one to which he’d added extra spice. When you bit into it you could
feel your lips burning and by the time you’d finished it you were breathing
with difficulty.

‘The only person I ever saw defeat Chik was Flobbard Wangil. He did not bite
into the eggs but due to an almost obscene flexibility, managed to swallow
them whole. Still I shudder to think what the after effects were when his
digestive tract started to attack the four eggs.

‘Now you might ask how Chik made any money from his wager. Admittedly he was
paid for any number of eggs that nobody would eat, but that hardly amounts
to a grand sum. The real money was made by Chik’s lady wife who had the
stall next to him and sold an over-priced and somewhat thin ale in large
tankards. It’s amazing how much beer you had to drink to cleanse your mouth
after the third egg.

‘Or there was Esnard, sometimes called Esnard corpse-salesman. As you know,
there are lots of temples scattered around Port Naain. Some once stood in
their own grounds, but now have been swallowed up by the expanding streets,
and many are now little more than shrines visited only occasionally by a
celebrant.

‘Yet many of these shrines had crypts and other burial places. This is where
Esnard came in. You might ask why unchancy folk from the darker parts of
Partaan wanted corpses. You might indeed wonder at their willingness to part
with good silver for old bones. Not Esnard. When the call came for somebody
who was willing to work to satisfy this demand, Esnard was not found
wanting. When he discovered another lost shrine, he would visit it nightly
to pour oil on hinges and into locks. He was willing to do this for weeks if
need be, until finally he managed to get the door to open. Then he would
enter and work his silent way through the shrine like nothing so much as a
particularly methodical ghost.

‘In a back room of his house on Queercoats Lane he had his merchandise laid
out for discerning purchasers. Whole cadavers here, next to them skulls
lacking bodies; then on another series of tables, piles of mixed bones,
heaps of grave loam, and even a heap of leaden sphincter clasps.
Obviously his trade wasn’t widely popular and there were various groups
within the city who disapproved. Ghouls were apparently a problem, as were
officials from the municipality attempting to levy a business rate. Finally
Esnard was forced to slay a particularly unrelenting ghoul and found to his
evident pleasure that nailing the ghoul’s head to his front door not merely
kept other ghouls away but also deterred the forces of petty bureaucracy.
It may be that you might not realise that Tallis Steelyard has just produced
his second book of stories and anecdotes. This is book, ‘Tallis Steelyard, a
harsh winter, and other stories,’ is available from the first of June.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071LH1THB

‘Were Tallis less busy he’d doubtless remember to thank me, Jim Webster, for
the efforts I make on his behalf. But you know what it is with someone like
Tallis who is constantly in demand. So I just get on with writing his stuff
down for him and from time to time making collections of his wit, wisdom and
jumbled musings available for a grateful public.

‘Tallis does have a blog, it is apparently de rigueur now for all writers. It
is available at

https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/

‘Riding in on his coattails I’ll merely mention that my own books can be seen
at Jim Webster’s Amazon page.’

An Author Page, a Relaunch, and, well, Other Things.

…what’s not to like?

Um, I meant that as a rhetorical question, and I’m rather hoping I won’t get any answers to that!

But, as promised a few weeks back, I have got around to creating my Author Page on Facebook. You can find it here and if you are on Facebook, please feel free to nip over and follow it.

I was going to put up a screenshot of the page, but I really can’t work out how to do it and almost lost the will to live trying.

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Totally irrelevant picture of wild boar hoof prints in Portugal instead

The point of creating an Author Page is so that I can separate out my writing and blogging posts from my personal ones on Facebook. I shall still send posts from this blog to both accounts, but the Author Page will also get a number of updates on my writing progress and other posts that my personal one won’t.

I will probably put up an album of my paintings.

It is even possible that Bob might be persuaded to make a guest appearance, just so long as he can find his way there.

The relaunch? I have put together extracts from a few of the very kind reviews I have received for my novel Making Friends with the Crocodile, which is available on Amazon by clicking on the picture below. Since I have taken the rather huge liberty of writing the novel in the first person, as an Indian woman, I am especially delighted with some very complimentary reviews which have come from Indian women.

The extracts read:

‘Mick Canning depicts quiet lives of ordinary desperation, in an Indian context. Although the “million mutinies” of which Naipaul writes have rescued India from famine and penury, it now needs a million more to deliver it from social, sexual and religious prejudices like those which bedevil the life of the narrator and her family.

Canning is an acute observer of nature as well as human nature, and his prose flows.’

 

‘This beautifully written story, set in a village in Bihar, draws you in from its first page. We see the household through the eyes of Siddiqa, wife of Maajid, mother of two school-age girls and her son Tariq, who is married to Naira. We are drawn into the rivalry between Siddiqa and Naira, in a society where the men are the only wage earners and the women’s lives must, by tradition, revolve around their wishes. Small incidents pile up, one after another, as the underlying harmony of the household is fractured by the resentment and self-loathing of Naira. The family is Moslem, the village is a mix of Moslem and Hindu, and one incident threatens the uneasy cohabitation of the two communities. The police, seen as a hostile force in the village, get involved with an unpredictable outcome to the novel.’

 

‘In his debut novel Mick Canning weaves a brilliant story of the tragic life of a young bride in rural India – a story that is synonymous with many women, who continue to suffer oppression and victimization at the hands of men.

The characters are depicted with obvious respect for a culture that is both beautiful and at times shocking. By the novels finale, though tragic, we are left with a very thought provoking and memorable story.’
‘In an understated tone, the story presents the lives of people in an average Indian village in Bihar, and highlights the conditions that not only dissuade a woman from reporting an assault but also subjugate her further by holding her responsible for it.

Mick has delved into the mind of a middle- aged woman living in rural Bihar and has beautifully sketched the love – hate relationship she shares with her daughter in law. The book gives a lot of perspective on the mind-set and predispositions that prevail in the rural north Indian society (which apply, at large to many other parts as well).

Siddiqa, the protagonist character gets as real as she can be. The manner in which, the author connects the social issue with the system and institutions is very authentic and shows his deep understanding of the culture and milieu.
Go for it, if you like to read serious stuff that deals with real thought provoking issues.’

 And how is the writing going? I’m so glad you asked. I’m working hard on the new novel, and occasionally putting in some time on the older one that just seems to keep changing its mind on what it wants to be. *sigh* It’s like living with teenagers.

I’ll put up a proper update on all that soon.

The Admirable Jim Webster Presents…

I am delighted to host a guest post from Jim Webster today, since he…well, perhaps I’ll let him explain.

photo of Jim Oct 2015

Hi everybody, Mick kindly allowed me to drop in as part of a ‘blog tour.’
Given that Mick discovered my writing at Tallis Steelyard’s blog, I thought
I’d let Tallis, poet and raconteur from the city of Port Naain, tell you why
I’m here. Over to you Tallis.

I assume you are aware of the situation. You are summoned to the office of
some petty functionary and on arriving you find you are expected to join the
queue.
Or you need to visit a physician or tooth puller and arrive to discover that
even the city’s most glamorous courtesans cannot hope to find themselves as
sort after as the practitioners of these professions.
To be trapped in a queue is one thing, but in all these places where one has
to wait in line, they employ one whose task is to act as guardian of the
queue. These people are the ones who, with attitudes of supreme disinterest,
ignore the fact that you have an appointment for a certain hour and merely
gesture to the back of the line. So there you sit, secure in the knowledge
that to the minor functionary in charge, your time is of no value. They sit
there, blithely apathetic to the fact that there are people you need to see,
places you have to go, work that has to be done.
So what to do? How do I, Tallis Steelyard, cope?
It is an interesting question. I have tried using the time profitably.
Unfortunately the troll lurking behind the reception desk took umbrage at me
spreading my papers across her desk and borrowing her ink to make a fine
copy of some of my poems. I felt this was extremely petty of her. After all,
not only had she not paid for the ink herself, but I could not see why she
could not merely glare contemptuously at us from a different chair. There
was nothing that she was doing which demanded her sole unrestricted access
to the desk.
On the other hand, one of my finest hours came when I was faced with a room
full of dour and miserable people for whom time appeared to have stopped,
leaving us trapped in some grim limbo from which there was no escape. I
recalled a comic tale that had amused me when I heard it and decided to tell
it. I stood up, faced my audience, and started to recount it to the best of
my ability. I gave a fine performance. Any of my patrons would have
considered that Tallis was pulling his weight to get their party going with
a swing. I was especially pleased when one man at the head of the queue
voluntarily gave up his place to another, so that he could catch the ending.
The monster in charge of us was most put out. She tutted audibly, she even
tried to interrupt with the words, “Really Master Steelyard.” To my delight
she was shushed into silence by a young woman nursing a baby.
But normally, in all candour, I just take a good book with me. I take my
place without protest, make myself comfortable and start to read. Between
ourselves I feel that bursting into spontaneous laughter as you read is well
worth doing. It cuts your tormentor to the quick, forcing them to admit to
themselves that they are no longer in charge. They can no longer deny you
life’s pleasures.
To be really successful, you have to adopt the correct mental attitude. It
is rare that one has a legitimate reason for sitting and reading during the
working day. Far too often you are left feeling that you are indulging
yourself in a guilty pleasure. But in a queue you can indulge to your hearts
desire.
So remember, when you take your seat, wear that expression which tells the
world that you are not some put-upon victim, trapped against your will. This
is not an imposition, it is a window of liberty to be seized and enjoyed to
the full.
Trusting you all keep well.
Tallis

Ah well, Jim here. That went as well as can be expected I suppose.
Basically, what Tallis was supposed to tell you but somehow forgot was that
I have just published the sixth in the Port Naain Intelligencer collection.
(They’re a collection because you can read them in any order.) This one is
called ‘Keeping body and soul together,’ These novellas chronicle the antics
of Benor the Cartographer when he was staying in Port Naain. They do feature
Tallis, just not perhaps as much as he’d like.

Cover Keeping Body and Soul together

Rescuing random strangers on a whim may be the good deed for the day, but
will Benor survive the blood feud he has unwittingly become part of. More
importantly can he buy back the victim’s soul?

And me? I’m married with a wife and three daughters, dabbling in farming,
writing and journalism. I lead a quiet life in the north of England.
My blog is at

https://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/

The blog of Tallis Steelyard can be seen at

https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/

I am on Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/jim.webster.10297

And there is even a facebook page for the books!

https://www.facebook.com/Land-of-the-Three-Seas-426394067386022/

If the few kind words Tallis did write have stirred your compassion and you
feel the urge to support a starving artist, (me not him) then a quick look
at Amazon will let you see what I’ve written

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/

There is a lot of it, all reasonably priced.

Oh yes, and the book,
It’s at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XRKQBLQ/

The Indian edition of my book is published!

Well, it’s taken me long enough, as I’m sure everyone will agree, but I have finally managed to publish Making Friends with the Crocodile as a Print on demand paperback in India! Hurrah!

It is published by Pothi, and is available on their site, here, and on Amazon.in and Flipkart.

pothi-advertising

It is still available as a Kindle e-book from Amazon, and is also available as an e-book from Kobo, worldwide, for those who do not favour Kindle.

I have been told plenty of times that I need to be more proactive promoting the book, but I’m not terribly good at that. However, this is me having another pathetic stab at it:

Buy it now! It’s great! Please…pretty please…

Oh well, I’m working on it.

Should you be kind enough to buy it, or, indeed, if you have already done so, please consider leaving a review. Reviews encourage others to buy the book, and, on Amazon, once a book has garnered a certain number, then Amazon list it a little more prominently – which is a tremendous help to the author!

And I have been lucky enough to garner some very complimentary and generous reviews, so far. A few excerpts:

‘This beautifully written story, set in a village in Bihar, draws you in from its first page.’

‘Making Friends with the Crocodile is a very fine book. And it takes us into the harsh reality of the life of women in rural India, much more effectively than any official report.’

‘The characters are depicted with obvious respect for a culture that is both beautiful and at times shocking. By the novels finale, though tragic, we are left with a very thought provoking and memorable story.’

‘This is a novel with depth and real emotional involvement. Told simply and with an honesty that defies disbelief at events and attitudes, it packs some serious punches. It’s a story that will live with me for a long time, and one that has materially altered my opinions about certain cultural norms. Researched in real depth and related in language that fits the narrator so well, it’s a very good read.’

‘Mick has delved into the mind of a middle- aged woman living in rural Bihar and has beautifully sketched the love – hate relationship she shares with her daughter in law. The book gives a lot of perspective on the mind-set and predispositions that prevail in the rural north Indian society (which apply, at large to many other parts as well).’

The blurb: ‘Siddiqa was only just into her teens when she was forced to leave her home to live with her new husband and his family in another village. The years have passed, and now Siddiqa has three children of her own. Her grown up son has brought his new wife, Naira, to live with them, so Siddiqa is no longer the lowliest in the household, for she has a daughter-in-law.

Life in rural India is particularly harsh for women. This novel explores themes of female oppression and tradition and asks whether the next generation will find life any easier.

I suppose that at least when I publish my next book, I should have a much better idea of how to go about it.

The Assassin’s Garden

My mood is strongly affected by the environment, and this will naturally influence my writing.

Although it is obviously not necessary to recreate exactly the conditions of the story I might be writing, it certainly helps if the mood of where I am matches that of the environment I am writing about.

During the years I lived in a desert environment, for example, I never once wrote a story about whaling in Antarctic waters.

Today is grey, cold, basically miserable. To sit and work on my India novel is, quite frankly, impossible. Instead I have been re-working some of ‘The Assassin’s Garden

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The Assassin’s Garden‘ is the working title of the novel I have been writing for almost 5 years, now, and which got overtaken when I had the inspiration for ‘Making Friends with the Crocodile‘, and couldn’t be much more different. It is a complex tale, with a timeline that begins in Medieval Persia, passing through Mogul India to Victorian England, back to Victorian India, and then England again. It is (obviously!) a historical story, which also has strong elements of detective story and Gothic horror/fantasy.

I don’t really know which genre it truly fits into. Perhaps it needs a new one.

Proto-historic-goth-punk, perhaps.

As it stands, it is well over 100,000 words long, and may well end up being split into two or even three separate books.

Perhaps it is time that I finally completed it.

In other news (switch to picture of newsreader staring earnestly into camera, serious look on face, effect ruined only by line of kittens dancing a can-can in the background), I’m finding it quite difficult to sort out my Print On Demand edition of ‘Making Friends with the Crocodile’, and have now decided to switch printing companies (oh what fun).

I know I’m not the only writer who just enjoys writing the stories, but hates all of the publishing and publicity sides of the business – I am just not a businessman in any sense of the word; I dislike doing it and find it difficult. It also goes completely against my nature to go around saying ‘My book is fantastic, you must buy it now!’

Unfortunately, if there is a button I can press on the computer after I have finished writing the book, labelled ‘format, publish, promote and sell’ I’ve not noticed it yet.

I have some news!

I have some news.

I’m sure some of you (especially the writers) will remember that I reported here a week or two back the disturbing news that fictitious characters now have the legal right to sue their creators for defamation of character, or any other hurt (real or perceived) caused through those said creators’ thoughtless and heartless actions.

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In case you want to have a look, the link is below.

https://mickcanning.co/2016/10/22/sue-me-and-ill-have-you-killed/

Well, news reaches me this morning of a new grouping of characters, namely sidekicks in detective stories, who have come together under the name of Sidekicks Of Detectives (or ‘Sods’) to challenge their positions as The Most Stupid Person In A Detective Story.

Initially, the group was to have been organised by Captain Hastings, sidekick to the famous Poirot, but after some heated discussion it was agreed that, actually, he couldn’t organise his way out of his own front door without help, and the task was then delegated to Doctor Watson, who arranged a meeting at a coffee shop, one of a well-known chain, in Central London. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention either which branch it was, or the time of the meeting, and so there has only been limited progress on that front, so far.

But, further cases have already come to court.

A number of characters from ‘Three men in a boat’, by Jerome K Jerome, Bertie Wooster and others created by P G Wodehouse, and various characters from books by Spike Milligan began a collective case, but were laughed out of court.

Dan Brown is being sued by every single character he invented.

And there is some confusion in America, where Donald Trump has apparently filed a case against himself on the grounds that he has irreversibly blackened his own character.

I’m told he is confident of winning the case, since the stories he has spread about himself are scarcely believable, and that it is generally held that he must be a fictitious character, since the majority of observers and commentators say they ‘can’t believe this guy is for real!’

The trouble is, all this is symptomatic of our legislative culture. It was the retrospective case brought by Big Ears and Mr Plod against the estate of Enid Blyton that, I think, I found most distressing. By all accounts, they cooked it up over an evening of heavy drinking, after being taunted by the Tubby Bear family, and it is strongly suspected (although it cannot be proved) that much of the impetus came from a third character – possibly one of the Fluffy Cats, since they are known to be bad through and through (it’s okay, I can say that. It was proved in a recent court case of character assassination that the Fluffy Cats brought, and lost, against the estate).

But Big Ears and Mr Plod did win their case, and now not only is it a legal requirement that in future they both be referred to as intelligent, but Big Ears must henceforth be renamed as ‘Graham’. And his ears are officially ‘of normal dimensions’. Or else.

Which brings me to my own characters.

I have decided that I am not going to be dictated to, or browbeaten by, some miserable little…hang on, there’s someone at the door. I’d better just get that. Hello? What? A writ? about what? Oh…

I’m sorry, I have to stop there.

Wow, What a Book #3, #4, #whatever

Well, Saturday already. Seems only yesterday it was Friday *sigh* I suppose I’d better get on with it.

I don’t think I’ll do ten of these after all, because I rather run the risk of listing books just because I like them, rather than because they have had a real and measurable influence on me. So today I present the final three.

1. Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson.

Image result for silent spring

I read this book when I was in my mid twenties, and it really did open my eyes to what we as a species were doing to the planet. Up until that point, I had not really understood the impact that we were having on the environment. Shocked, I became interested in learning more, and then even more shocked as I learned what food and drink manufacturers put in their products for us to consume. At that time, one of them was the nasty compound dropped by the Americans on Vietnam during the Vietnamese War; a defoliant that was known to be carcinogenic.

It was used as orange food colouring.

I got hold of a list of all the ‘E’ numbers that were permitted additives, and which the industry certainly didn’t want us to know about. Certain ones were very nasty indeed. It was at this point that I became very keen on reading the labels on food and drink packaging.

I became involved with various pressure groups, such as Greenpeace.

That book changed my life.

2. The Razor’s Edge by W Somerset Maugham.

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In some ways, this could lay claim to be the book that has had the greatest influence on my adult life, but in a different way to Silent Spring.

I’d always tried to be a reasonably decent human being, but reading this made me rethink the way that I wanted my life to be. It is the story of a man who returns from the first world war and begins to question his place in society. He finds the trappings of modern western life, and its values, empty and meaningless – its focus on making money, selfishness and greed. He then searches for something meaningful in his own life, through education, religion and travel, and explores his relationships to others.

The message in this book immediately resonated with me; that there is much more to life than the pursuit of money, essential though some of it it might be to my survival. Other people mattered. Helping others was important. What is called the spiritual life, whether or not you believe in a god or not, was an important part of us all.

5. The War of the Worlds by H G Wells.

hgg

Are you serious? you ask. How could this book be an influence on your life? One of the first science fiction books, and admirable for that, but an influence?

Well, it is easily told, and the answer will probably surprise you. This book provided the initial impetus for me to become a vegetarian.

Yes, a vegetarian. There is a passage in the book where the narrator recoils with disgust as the Martians take the blood from still-living humans for their nutrition, but then comments that it was probably the same reaction as an intelligent rabbit would feel observing our own eating habits. That made me consider whether it was necessary for me to eat meat, and I came to the conclusion that no, it was not.

Wow, What a book #2

To continue with the 10 books that have most influenced my life.

My second choice is The Lord of the Rings, by J R R Tolkien.

Image result for the lord of the rings book cover

I suspect that very few readers are unaware of the story of The Lord of the Rings, having either read the book, seen the film, or both. And at this point, it might be a good idea to just make it clear that I am talking about the book here, and not the Peter Jackson films, or even the ill-fated attempt at animating the entire book in 1978, an attempt that got as far as the first book, and was, to be honest, rather dreadful. Let me content myself by just saying it was a bit ‘Disney’. I’m not that mad on the Peter Jackson films either, to be honest, but back to the book.

So, I’m not going into any great detail about the story, but, in a nutshell, it involves a quest to destroy a ring that gives great power to the wearer, but inevitably corrupts and destroys them. It’s maker, Sauron, is attempting to find it, and the free peoples of the world must not only keep it from him, for if he recovers it it he will then have power to enslave the entire world, but also take it to the fiery mountain, Mount Doom, where it had been forged, to cast it into the flames and destroy it.

Mount Doom is, inconveniently, inside Sauron’s heavily fortified and guarded kingdom.

Elves, dwarves, men, wizards, hobbits, orcs…you all know it, don’t you?

As readers, we are all different. Some of us like a plot that gallops along so fast that we can barely keep up, with writing that limits itself to the action and no more than the minimum descriptions necessary.

Others, like me, enjoy the scenery and the atmosphere of the described world almost as much as the plot itself – join the Slow Book Movement now! Just send a completed application form to…sorry, wrong place. Where was I? Oh yes, most readers like a mixture of the two, of course.

But as one of these Slow Readers, there is a massive amount in this book that appeals to me. When I read descriptions of the hobbits setting off to walk through woods and fields as the sun comes up through early autumn mists, I might have been reading a description of a morning when I had done just that whilst wild camping in the countryside in my part of England. I have always loved walking on footpaths and through fields and woods, and disliked roads and towns.

The countryside Tolkien described around the Shire – the home of the hobbits – might have been my countryside. there were chalk downs and woods and streams, even one or two names (for example Michel Delving) that could have been local.

There were other woodlands in the book, and if they were described as magical, then that was little more than I naturally felt about woodlands anyway. Aren’t they all magical?

And, on top of all that, there were mountains. Today, I love mountains! But I had never seen one at this point, and suddenly I wanted to go and climb one. There were inns and beer, adventure and song, friendship and dangers. What was not to like?

The whole book is really made up of three books, and the first book, which has always been my favourite, is the one which is mainly set in this land that I could almost identify. This was not the first fantasy book that I had read, but it was, and still is, the one whose descriptions have the greatest power to draw me in. It is the one that, to me, seems the most real.

All of this, with the themes of courage and friendship, self sacrifice and loyalty, and the message that good will eventually triumph over evil, come together in a mixture that is in just the right proportions to appeal to me.

But how has it actually influenced me?

For a start, when I began to write, everything that I wrote seemed to be influenced by that book. This was not actually a good thing, because other than The Lord of the Rings, I don’t really enjoy fantasy! But I wrote that way for a long while.

Today, though, what remains is the descriptive writing. I wonder whether I might otherwise have been a very different reader and writer, since before I read LOTR, I read mainly detective stories and adventure novels.

And I explored a lot of the Middle English literature that influenced Tolkien, from Beowulf to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I suppose not too many people do today.

I visited mountains because of that book.

And a measure of how strong this appeal was (and remains) is that I have probably read the book about twenty times. The last but one time, though, was around twenty years ago. When I decided to re-read it last year, I did wonder whether I would be disappointed. I strongly suspected that I might have ‘grown out of it’.

I needn’t have worried.

I enjoyed it just as much as I ever had; I noticed one or two details I had either forgotten or never really noticed in the first place, and I found myself drawn in every bit as strongly as I had been before.

I loved it.

Wow, What a Book! #1

I thought that I would pick out what might be the 10 books that have most influenced my life. Well, I say 10 books, but I may tire of this long before I reach 10, so let’s just see what happens.

You see, these are not really reviews, although it is necessary to give some idea of the plot of each book, it is more about how they have influenced me, and I may decide after a while that I’m just giving away too much about myself.

Or that I’m just going over and over the same ground.

Okay, then. Let’s get on with it. The rules:

Firstly, I must have read the book more than 5 years ago. I know this is an arbitrary figure, but any book that I have read recently is likely to be clearer in my mind, and so appear a little more important to me than it really is. It needs time to settle.

Secondly, I need to be able to demonstrate to myself exactly how it is that the book has influenced me. Just to say ‘it was important to me’ will not be enough. That would be little better than just saying ‘I like it’. Perfectly valid, but hardly the stuff of a blog post. This is another reason to impose the 5 year rule – there must have been enough time elapsed to see the influence.

So I’ll start today with Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse.

Image result for steppenwolf Hesse

Sometimes, you get the feeling that some people have just been born into the wrong century. Not that they would prefer dressing in cravats or crinolines, although they might anyway, or that they have a hankering after a little piracy or bubonic plague, but rather you can see that they don’t fit in with the pace of modern life, or much like the ethos of the times.

There must be quite a few people like that, which must partly explain the immense popularity of Steppenwolf both when it was released, and then especially in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

It was the second book by Hesse that I had read, after cutting my teeth on ‘The Journey to the East’ as a teenager, and I was a little unprepared for its message.

Whereas ‘The Journey to the East’ felt like a bit of drug-induced fantasy, although a very clever and readable one, without any obvious message beyond ‘free yourself from the conventions of society, man’, Steppenwolf clearly had a more serious message to convey.

It begins with the protagonist, Harry, contemplating taking his own life, because he sees himself as a serious writer both at odds with the world that he lives in (Germany, post WWI), whose values, especially the bourgeois ones, he despises, but also with his inner alter ego, the very opposite of the sophisticated artist that he sees himself, which he calls the Steppenwolf – or the wolf of the steppes. He hates and fears this alter ego, who he feels he cannot control, and who sneers at everything that Harry holds dear.

It is whilst Harry is contemplating suicide, that he comes across a booklet entitled ‘Treatise on the Steppenwolf’ and as he reads it, he discovers that it is about himself. the booklet talks about Harry and his alter ego, but also explains that there are many, many more of these other sides to his character.

Through the rest of the book, Harry learns how to reconcile these many sides of himself and, more importantly, how he can manage to live in this world that up until then, he sees no value in.

When I read the part of the book that consisted of the treatise on the various different natures that made up the protagonist of the novel, it was the first indication to me that we really do have these different sides to our characters; sides that do not need to be in conflict with each other, but can coexist quite peaceably. As a typical young man, I knew that there were parts of me that yearned for safety, parts that simply wanted to rebel. Parts that enjoyed home life and parts that wanted nothing more than to wander the world with my possessions in a rucksack. There was the aesthete and there was the lover. The artist and the fighter.

Until then, the rebel in me had sneered at the home lover, and the artist seemed to be in perpetual conflict with the fighter. I had felt embarrassed by parts of my character and, just as did the hero of Steppenwolf, rather tried to repress them.

What this book did was to show me that it was natural to feel like that, and that the secret was to accept all of these sides of me, and allow them to all have their moments of dominance, and their moments of passivity. They did not need to be in conflict.

It completely changed my outlook on life.