I've been challenged by my friend and all round good egg Mark West to join in the Lovely Blog Hop to talk about some of the things that have shaped my life and my writing. The blog was started by romance writer Sue Moorcroft, and I particularly like the fact that via Mark she’s forced a whole load of horror writers to participate in something ‘lovely’. We’ll never live this one down…
At the end of this post, you’ll find links to some blogs and writers I like. The writers have all agreed to participate in and continue this Lovely Blog Hop.
I’m not sure I trust ‘first memories’ as objective statements of fact; I suspect that what your subconscious choses to remember as your ‘first memory’ may say quite a lot about your personality. So with that in mind…
I remember a recurring dream I had when I was very young which I’ve never really got to the bottom of. I was in a garden; to one side was a brick wall and to the other climbing plants on a frame. Everything was hyper-real, the plants vividly green, the bricks bright orange in the sun. I walked forward and the wall and the plants seemed to close in on me, forming a corridor. It got narrower and narrower, so that I could feel the rough brick scratch against my face and smell the sap of the plants… (can you really feel and smell in dreams, or is this something my subconscious has added later?)
As I pressed forward through the corridor of plant and brick and the view suddenly opened up in front of me, and I could see the ocean. There was something about the enormity of the ocean in front of me after the confined space of the garden that seemed terrifying.
It was here where I’d wake up.
I can’t really remember not enjoying books and reading. Books about dinosaurs were an early passion (see below) and I also remember as a child reading Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and a science fiction series about a space warrior who had every bone in his body replaced with metal. I remember being slightly older and reading Agatha Christie books from my Grandma’s bookshelves–this obsession ended abruptly when I got to the end of Dead Man’s Folly and I realised the final pages, including the one which said who the murderer was, were missing. My wife bought me a copy twenty years later so I could finally find out.
I had a lot of time to read as a teenager because my group of mates at that point all lived in the next village along, and so to arrange to see them involved some planning and effort. So at weekends and during the holidays I had a lot of time on my own to read (and later to write–see below). Which sounds sad and lonely but it wasn’t for a kid like me. My Dad had bookshelves crammed full of paperbacks so I was never short of something to read, and it was during these days that I discovered writers like Mervyn Peak, Asimov, Stephen King, Stoker, Mary Shelly… anything I could get my hands on really. It’s an odd thought, but I sometimes wonder if that simple fact that my friends all lived in the next village along had as much impact on my becoming a writer as anything else.
I was constantly in the local library as a kid, especially in the summer holidays. Like many children I had a period when I was obsessed with dinosaurs and I was just leaving this obsession behind when I found a dinosaur book in the library that somehow I’d never seen before. When I took it to the desk it turned out it was an actual scientific book on palaeontology that had had been misfiled in the children’s section. I was so crestfallen that they said if my parents approved they’d give me an adult library card so I could take it out.
So from the age of twelve I had an adult library card. I was so proud. And as I moved into my teens, I found this offered other pleasures than merely dinosaur books…
As a student I always liked university libraries too (both that of my own university and the Bodelian Library), and the sense that they contained books about everything: toxicology, Peruvian harp music, dead languages, map making, Narnia, recipes, dinosaurs (obviously), nuclear war, magic swords… Like Borges’ infinite library, hidden in plan sight if we just know how to navigate the dusty aisles of books.
What’s Your Passion?
Books. My family. Books. My friends. Books. A fine curry. Books. Indian Pale Ales. Books. The Headington Shark. Books. The music of Bob Dylan. Books. Twin Peaks. Books.
I secretly still like dinosaurs very much too.
I’ve always enjoyed learning–not necessarily learning stuff by rote, but learning new concepts and ideas. I studied Literature and Economics at university, and since then I’ve gone through phases of reading books about linguistics, game theory, cosmology, chess, the environment…
And writing, of course, is a kind of learning. Which leads nicely into:
The first thing I can remember writing seriously was a piece of creative writing when I was in the final year of my GCSEs; I wrote a horror story after having recently discovered Stephen King. I can’t remember the plot of that first story, but I remember it had a sex scene in (and at sixteen I wasn’t following the ‘write what you know’ rule here…) because King’s books did. But I didn’t dare show it to my English teacher with that scene, so I wrote another story. This one I remember a bit more, although I wish I didn’t: a man had a transplant operation of some kind, which somehow caused the personality of whoever the organ had come from to inhabit his body. Don’t laugh, we all have to start somewhere.
After GCSEs were over it was the summer holidays. As I said above, I had a lot of time to myself during school holidays. So somewhat bored one day I looked again at the first story I’d written and spotted a way to ‘improve’ it by rewriting it. So I did.
And I’ve never really stopped since then, although there have been pauses. I studied Literature at university and I wrote a lot of different things as a student–some horror, but also realistic and experimental stories, some god-awful poetry, a kind of wannabe Martin Amis novel in the form of a self-help book. It took me awhile–by which I mean years–to understand that, whatever small talent I have for writing is more narrowly focussed than my reading tastes. But that’s fine. It was all useful, I think–all the failures, the dead-ends, the botch jobs–in learning how to be a writer. I recently recycled one line from that horrendously bad novel–one single line from 70k words that has always stuck with me–when I found its proper home seventeen years later in The Quarantined City, a serial that I’m writing for Spectral Press. The two pieces couldn’t be more different both in terms of genre and, hopefully, quality but as that sentence proves, they’re both me
The writers I have nominated, for their sins, to continue this blog hop are: