The Top Ten Books that have Inspired me (as a Reader and a Writer), Part 1
One of my Swansea poetry friends, Natalie Ann Holborow, posted a list of the top 10 books that have inspired her, and I thought I might do the same ... so here they are :) I am going to split this list across two blog posts though. Here is part 1, focussing on the books that inspired me to write earliest in my life. Next week I'll list the books that have inspired me as an active writer :)
The Lord of the Isles by Sir Walter Scott
This may have been the very first book I bought for myself, if you don't count the primary school book club where I collected tokens and could, when I'd collected enough, exchange them for books like the Tim and Tobias series by Sheila K. McCullagh. I was in the top juniors class and was helping set out items for a school jumble sale ... and I spotted an intriguing little book. It can only have been 2 inches tall by 1 inch wide, and it had a red tartan cover. It was The Lord of the Isles by Sir Walter Scott. My teacher was busy organising the sale so I meekly sidled up and asked the price ... I can remember her seeming flummoxed by me asking such a question before the sale was even on ... but she named her price: 2 pence! #Bargain
The Lord of the Isles is a rhymed, romantic, narrative-poem by Sir Walter Scott, written in 1815.
The story begins during the time when Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick has been hunted out of Scotland into exile by the English and their allies. Bruce returns over sea from the Island of Rachrin: but is forced to land close to hostile forces at Artonish Castle on the seacoast of Argylshire. Seeking refuge from tempestuous seas, Bruce begs shelter from Ronald, Lord of the Isles: inadvertently on the day of his marriage feast to the beautiful Edith of Lorn.
(from the Wikipedia article, The Lord of the Isles)
My desire to own that book, if truth be known, was because it looked, to me, like a spell book! I imagined the spells written inside to be full of potency.
In 2001 I spent a week in Oban, Scotland, where I took the ferry over to the isle of Mull, one of the locations featured in The Lord of the Isles -- a pilgrimage, if you will. It poured with rain the whole week and I still have and wear the waterproof coat I bought there!
AUTUMN departs- but still his mantle's fold
Rests on the groves of noble Somerville,
Beneath a shroud of russet dropp'd with gold
Tweed and his tributaries mingle still;
Hoarser the wind, and deeper sounds the rill,
Yet lingering notes of sylvan music swell,
The deep-toned cushat, and the redbreast shrill;
And yet some tints of summer splendour tell
When the broad sun sinks down on Ettrick's western fell.
Autumn departs- from Gala's fields' no more
Come rural sounds our kindred banks to cheer;
Blent with the stream, and gale that wafts it o'er,
No more the distant reaper's mirth we hear.
The last blithe shout hath died upon our ear,
And harvest-home hath hush'd the clanging wain,
On the waste hill no forms of life appear,
Save where, sad laggard of the autumnal train,
Some age-struck wanderer gleans few ears of scatter'd grain.
(the first two stanzas of Canto I of Lord of the Isles by sir Walter Scott)
The Little Grey Men by Denys Watkins Pitchford
Denys Watkins Pitchford, who wrote under the pen-name B. B. captivated me in my final year of junior school and first years of high school. His stories of countryside life were so vivid and that sense of place is something I try to bring out in my writing now, thirty-five years after reading books like The Little Grey Men, Wild Lone: The Story of a Pytchley Fox and Manka, the Sky Gypsy: The Story of a Wild Goose. I have fond memories of tracking those books down in Harrogate Children's Library room, down the stairs from the main adult library. When The Daily Telegraph featured his former round house in a weekend magazine issue section about houses for sale, I might have bought it and moved in if I could have afforded it!
Just three months before he died in 1990, the much-loved countryside and children’s author Denys Watkins-Pitchford MBE, or “BB” as he is better known, laid down his pen, having finished his final book. He had written it in an old exercise book with barely a correction. It is astonishing to think that an 83-year-old man, by this time blind in one eye and on twice-weekly dialysis, could have mentally transported himself back to the marshes, gullies and creeks of his hunting years one last time.
(extract from an article by Mark Seddon, Confessions of a lost voice in a lost world, The Daily Telegraph)
The Waste Land and Other Poems by T. S. Eliot
My English A-level was combined Language and Literature. I had a different teacher for each, and each had their own collection of classrooms. There is no denying that studying Thomas Hardy's poetry from a language perspective was a huge influence in starting me writing my own poems, but a heavily-annotated copy of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land and Other Poems -- not much larger than a pamphlet -- was, and remains, a definite influence on my writing. I suspect that if it'd not been heavily annotated then it wouldn't have fired my imagination. Learning how a poet could hide so many meanings beneath the words was fascinating. We weren't studying Eliot at all, I found the book at the back of a cupboard, but I took the book home and devoured it!
Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell
I'd studied Animal Farm for GCSE and loved it (Moses the raven was my favourite character by far, thanks to a study guide that explained that Moses was the berdification of religion) and I read 1984 in my own time, but Keep the Aspidistra Flying was, I felt as a nineteen-year-old chemistry degree student, the book I wished I'd written.
Blue Shoes by Matthew Sweeney
This small collection of poems also became a favourite in my final years of high school. My parents, having seen how enthused with poetry I'd become during the course of my A-Levels, gave it to me as a Christmas present; they'd bought a signed copy from a bookshop in Harrogate. I loved the amount of detail that Matthew managed to shoehorn into his poems.
What colour is your telephone?
Is it blue, like mine –
blue in a blue-painted room
where the sun, at dawn,
comes down the stairs
from the roof-garden?
(the opening lines of The Colour of Telephones by Matthew Sweeney, from Blue Shoes))
I also bought Matthew's equally-slim collection, Cacti, in the same Secker & Warburg edition. I got to see Matthew reading his poetry at the UK Year of Literature in 1995 thanks to Swansea being the host city. After the event I approached him to ask if he'd sign my copy of Cacti, and I also showed him my pre-signed copy of Blue Shoes. He signed Blue Shoes for a second time, with the comment, ‘Your first book!’ As I readied to walk away he asked me if I wrote poetry ... and I admitted I did -- the first time I'd told anybody other than my family and one or two university friends. He encouraged me to keep on writing it and, to this day, I still am :)
#Poetry #Novels #Inspiration #Influences