Friday, 21 March 2008

Easter coffee

Well, it is a holiday weekend. I’m sure you all have far more exciting things to do, but for those of you who do venture in for coffee, what can I get you? Would you like a piece of Easter Egg?

In keeping with a relaxing weekend, I want to ask you about the books you read. It is often said that one of the most important things for a writer to do is to read widely. When I recently helped to set up a new book review blog*, our aim was to introduce our readers, and each other, to books of any genre which we have personally enjoyed and to hopefully stimulate conversation on them.

So my question today is: what authors have most influenced your own fiction writing and have there been any individual books which have provided you with a real light bulb moment?

For me one book which really stood out was After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell, which unexpectedly proved to me that modern women’s fiction can be beautifully written and quite complex in structure and technique, yet still be very commercial. I discovered the novel after a period of being rather disillusioned with women’s fiction and having turned my back on it to read crime fiction and thrillers. But Maggie O’Farrell and Anita Shreve, amongst others, have pulled me back and shown me the type of fiction I now aspire to write myself.

How about you?

*PS We always welcome short book reviews for bookersatz. Do email me if you are interested.


liz fenwick said...

Must not think about chocolate yet or will raid the supplies here!

Good question Cathy. I can't say that I have found anyone book as an inspiration.......however I make sure I mix the books up quite a bit as I don't want my voice to become a copy of some one elses...

When I am in full writing flow I fins that I don't read much at all!

Caroline said...

I'll have some chocolate, of course, please.

I am influenced in very many different ways. I think that Jeanette Winterson has perhaps influenced me the most - the wide range of styles and ability to stretch boundaries. I think aspiration, a desire to be respected one day are deep rooted dreams.

Happy Easter to you all.

Helen said...

After You'd Gone also had a profound effect on me. I loved the structure of it and it gave me lots of inspiration.

Just a quick visit this morning. Lots to do before the in laws arrive!

Leatherdykeuk said...

No chocolate for me, thanks.

I didn't realise it until "Steep Approach to Garbadale" but Iain Banks has been my greatest influence. I've read him since the eighties and with this latest I noticed that I write with the same turn of phrase, the same methods of delivering dialogue. There was a scene in it that my partner, had I read it out to her, would have said with absolute conviction was my work.

Otherwise Gaiman and Pratchett have influenced me, Tolkien, Wodehouse and Agatha Christie.

Graeme K Talboys said...

I could give a long list of influences, but the authors I go back to most often are Mike Moorcock, J G Ballard, Samuel Beckett, Joanna Russ, Angela Carter, Virginia Woolf. As for light bulb moments - I used to read New Worlds magazine in the late 60s and early 70s and every issue was like that. Lots of experimental stuff. It didn't always work, but it was great to be allowed to see writers working out their ideas.

Lane said...

Maggie O'Farrell stands out for me too as does A.L Kennedy, Helen Dunmore, Amy Tan and Anne Tyler to name just a few:-)
The books I've most enjoyed though, are ones I could never aspire to but I'm sure their influences become ingrained.
Have a great Easter break everyone. Hope everyone's writing is going well and well done to Cal, A Writer and L-Plate for finishing their rewrites!

L-Plate Author said...

Happy Easter everyone. Mind you, not for me at the moment, busy decorating. Well it is a bank holiday!

I find I learn things as I go along when I read any other writer but I also think that I've learned a lot of bad habits too. We read the 'how to' books and then read a well known author and nearly every rule is broken. I also, being a writer, disect every line as I read, not intentionally, but I then get really mad when an author doesn't 'act' on my idea of where the 'clue' was going. Sad I know but do we all do that?

It takes a lot to lose me now and when I do get a book like that, I relish it (and read it too quickly so it's over too soon!) but when I am drafting I either don't read until I've finished or will read something like Martina Cole, which I know won't influence my style too much.

By the way, don't want to mention anything on my blog just in case, but I've had an agent request a full of book two. Please keep everything crossed for me xxx

ChrisH said...

Oh dear, have got to step up and say I loathed 'After You'd Gone' and ti really put me off Maggie O' Farrell. I 'm a Helen Dumonre fan too, Margaret Attwood, Alison Lurie, Barabar Kingsolver... the book that's influencing me most at the moment is. Liz Fenwick's recommendation 'Writing the Breakout Novel Workshop Book' by Donald Maass - great recommendation, Liz.

liz fenwick said...

LP WTG!!! Fingers more than crossed. Which reminds me I to say that you have won the rewrite catagory. Sorry I have been very distracted of late. Will sort out the prize asap!

Glad you're enjoying the Maass book Chrish!

Clare Sudbery said...

LP, that's great news, well done!

I don't read as much as I should, mainly because I don't often reading in small chunks, but don't often have the time to read in long chunks! It's been particularly bad recently because I was ill for ages and couldn't read any text at all. Haven't picked up a book since then as still have lingering illness and am slightly worried that a whole book would make me ill again. I was given a few audio books though, so haven't been entirely bookless.

Incidentally, off on a tangent, does anyone else find that they can't read when they are nauseous? I never have been able to, I remember I couldn't read in cars as a child cos it exacerbated car sickness.

Also, I have never had one single book make me go Wow or change my life or anything, but I have been influenced by more writers than I can remember, including Jim Dodge, Margaret Attwood, Arundhati Roy, Iain Banks, Yann Martell, Tom Robbins. I went off Iain Banks with Dead Air, which I couldn't finish, it annoyed me so much. I just thought it was really poorly written and really boring, and kept wanting to edit every second sentence. That's something that's happened since I've become a writer, I can tell how good a book is by whether I get lost in it or keep being distracted by wanting to edit it. Re Iain Banks, I was given the audio book of Steep Approach to Garbadale and enojyed that, so maybe I'm back on him again.

I do worry that if I read while I'm writing I might be influenced by others' styles, but it takes me ages to write a book so I just have to take my chances!

SpiralSkies said...

Brilliant news, LP! Woo hoo!!

No choc for me ta. Maybe I could just sniff it?

Good question about the reading... I'm currently devouring Mark Watson's 'A Light Hearted Look at Murder' which is so well written. I usually steer well clear of novels written by comedians but I'm loving his subtle approach - definitely something I'd strive for.

Leigh said...

Would I like some chocolate? Cor, you do ask some daft questions! YES PLEASE!

I read Dickens and Hardy a lot at school, having been set various of their novels for O & A-levels, (and then falling in love with them). They must have had some effect on me, as it was at this time that I started writing 'seriously'.

As for reading, I like any book which carries me through, doesn't hold me up with self-indulgent rambling, or trying-to-be-clever-ness. That doesn't mean I only go for light fiction, but I read to chill out, not to look for deep and meaningful answers to life (though I find them anyway, sometimes).

I've been reading a bit of a mix recently, as I am going through some classics on my 'little' bookcase, but mixed in have been some more modern titles. Thus, ones that I particularly enjoyed, or can remember more than a week later include: Going Postal, Terry Pratchett; The Dynamiters, Robert Louis Stevenson; Brighton Rock, Graham Greene; [Some Snappy One-Word Title], Dick Francis; Digital Fortress, Dan Brown; No Highway, Nevil Shute.

Some brilliantly written, some not, but all Bloody Good Reads, imho.

K.Imaginelli said...

Great prompt, Cathy. I can't wait to review all the posts. (After You'd Gone just moved to the top of my TBR pile).

The following books inspired me: Anna Quindlan's One True Thing, CUnningham's Beautiful Bodies, Fiona Walker's French Relations & Kiss Chase (Love her heros and all the sexual tension), Anita Shreve, Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children (wonderful use of detail), Susan Minot's Evening (writing non-cheesy, sensual, viceral love scenes), and Hemingway's Sun Also Rises (dialogue).

sheepish said...

Hi everyone just popped in to say that I am just about to surface from the big move. I am still not quite able to focus on anything requiring more than two words strung together, but I shall be updating my blog in the next day or two then I shall start doing the rounds to try and catch up with everyone. Hope you have all been creative and have a good holiday weekend.
Shall look forward to getting back in the swing very soon.

Kate.Kingsley said...

The Easter Bunny hasn’t been to our house yet, so I will gladly help myself to some of your kindly proffered egg. Ta muchly (why does Easter Egg chocolate taste nicer than non-ovine chocolate??)

This is a great topic. I read lots & lots, always have done, and I’m a firm believer that writers MUST read. A writer who doesn’t read is like a chef who doesn’t eat. How else do you gain and understanding of flavour, texture, technique? Yet lots of people who claim to want to write don’t read that much ~ on my OU writing course I regularly asked fellow tutor group members what they were reading, and what they were taking from that into their own writing, and the only person who ever responded was the actual tutor! (or, maybe they were all reading, but just didn’t want to speak to me. Hhhhmm….). I think I’ve probably been influenced by every writer I’ve ever read ~ especially the (few) bad ones! It’s quite enlightening to think “oh no, that doesn’t work, and here’s why…”

However my “eureka” moment came from watching The Sopranos ~ I realised that you don’t have to dot every I, cross every T, or fill in each and every last bit of backstory. Sometimes the chronological gap between episodes can be months, but events in the interim period are simply alluded to, just allowed to be part of the narrative without a huge lot of exposition. Christopher’s wedding, Meadow and Finn splitting up ~ they occur off screen, and they’re not directly referenced, but they colour the characters actions and therefore the viewer can continue to knit the narrative around the missing bits without too much confusion. And seeing as I used to write in every last details, down to someone walking across the room and turning a door handle, the fact that you could trust the reader/viewer to grasp what was happening even if you hadn’t told them, that was a big breakthrough for me.

Gosh, what a long post. Maybe I’d better head to the fridge and see if the Easter Bunny has blessed us yet (i.e. just heard husband returning from shops).

Happy Easter, everyone!

Fiona said...

Beneath the Skin by Nikki French, was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me. I love all of their work but this book is a favourite.

LP - I'll keep everything crossed for you.

Debs said...

Happy Easter and thanks for the chocolate. Always welcome.

Best of luck LP, will hold thumbs (and cross fingers).

I can't think of any lightbulb moment right now. I did find Stephen King's On Writing most helpful.

A. Writer said...

Wow! LP I've got everything crossed for you!

Authors that have influenced me are Sophie Kinsella, Jill Mansell, Katie Fforde and Jane Green.

No lightbulb moment that I can think of but Kinsella's Can You Keep A Secret? got me into reading (in a big way) and for that I'll always be thankful as if I hadn't read so much I wouldn't be writing now.

Happy Easter everyone!

P.S. Any news on the meet? I have to know for work etc.

wordtryst said...

Easter eggs welcome. Anything chocolate, to be honest, regardless of shape. Thanks!

It would be hard to single out a few authors who have influenced my writing, but many of them have informed my thinking, world view and love of the language - which in turn inform my writing, I think.

If pressed to name names I'd mention:
Gerald Durrell
Richard Bach
Arundathi Roy
Michael Ondaatje
Marilyn French
Erica Jong
Rachel Carson
Yann Martel
Farley Mowat
DH Lawrence......... and countless others.

I too had several eureka moments while reading Stephen King's On Writing.

l-plate author, super congrats on the full!

Barrie said...

Actually, I'd love some jelly beans! Yum.

A few (out of many!) influences: Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Carol Shields, Elinor Lipman, Anita Shreve, Chris Voegler, Deb Dixon. Hmmm....and all the names on the comment above me!

L-Plate Author said...

Thanks for all your wishes of good luck guys. Had a rejection through the post this morning (did they even have time to look at it, my tearful self tells me bitterly!) and even though someone else is looking at my work, it still stung. It said that they aren't confident they could find a publisher for my work - would rather have had not taking on authors right now.

Liz, I've already had my prize. It was to 'meet' such inspiring people who got me to the end of that rewrite and gave me the confidence to post my work out. And now, maybe, to get the chance to meet some of them in person, I can't ask for more!

JJ said...

Hi all, sorry I've been a bit ... distracted.

LP, sorry to hear of the rejection, but any interest is STILL fab; don't lose heart.

Oh so many books, so little time.

I used to have favourite authors when I was younger, but not any more. I read widely because of book club and I spot things you guys talk about and are reading. If I see an interview here about someone that sounds interesting, I'll order their book. After meeting Julia Bell at Skyros I ordered both of hers. I read books that win prizes if they also sound interesting. I pick up on themes and subjects that sound similar to mine and read them.

Currently I'm failing to read Bleak House for Book Club ... I just don't want to read it right now. *Sigh*

Flowerpot said...

Elizabeth Berg does it for me and Helen Dunmore, Jane Gardam.

Cal said...

OOops. I'm a bit late to this! I'm inspired by:

Enid Blyton
Roald Dahl
DH Lawrence
Edward Albee
Margaret Atwood
Maggie O'Farrell
Hanif Kureishi
Roddy Doyle
Lisa Jewell
Mike Gayle
Nick Hornby
Oscar Wilde
And lots and lots of films

A bit of a mixed bag there!

Lightbulb moment? Not that I can think of. But now I know more about the craft of writing I'm more aware when I read of the devices and structures other writers use (unless it's a completely amazing book in which case I lose myself in the book and all thought of 'studying' it goes out of the window!)

Cathy said...

Thanks for all your great replies. I've been fascinated to see how many of my own favourites have been mentioned by others!

Anonymous said...

I sometimes get moments of self-doubt about the quality of my own writing. What I do have though, is loads of ideas and stories. If I want to rebuild my confidence I read something where great story-telling overshadows any writing quality issues. For this I read Dean Koontz.

A light bulb moment for me was the amazing universe created by Peter F Hamilton in his Pandora's Star / Judas Unchained novels. The plots are extremely intricate and there are hundreds of characters. This is the kind of complexity that I aspire to.

Helen Shearer said...

Hi. I did come to coffee last week and I wrote an absolutely scintillating comment but I've just realised that it didn't post. Since it is dangerously close to this week's coffee break, I'll skip it and wait for the next topic and this time I will make sure it posts:)