You’ve most likely heard the term ‘social media influencers’ – those insta-celebrities who spruik various lifestyles/products – but what about the more subtle influence of an author or a book on a writing project?
Today I’m focusing on the book influences that have helped me on the journey to ‘The Sentinel’s’ publication.
Before I start though, I think it’s important to say that it’s not as simple as linking a book to my writing because every book I’ve read has had an influence on me. Every book I’ve read has helped create in me a love of reading which is so intertwined with the desire to become a writer. In other words, it’s the love of words which helped me become a writer, not a single book.
Having said that though, here are some books which had an influence on me as I wrote ‘The Sentinel’.
I hope you find some gems in this list and I would love to hear some of your book influences.
1. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
When I began thinking through how I was going to write ‘The Sentinel’, I bought Hannah Kent’s book, ‘Burial Rites’ because it is a rendering of 1800s history re-imagined.
It’s the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir who arrives at the Jonsson family home to await her execution for murder. The family have no idea what to do with the murdress in their midst. Gradually, as time passes, and Agnes’ execution day draws near, we learn why Agnes committed the crime she did as the local assistant priest befriends Agnes. A heartbreaking story of how little choice individuals have, particularly women of the remote Icelandic villages in the early part of 19th Century.
What I learnt from Hannah Kent’s writing is the power of the first person narrative to embed the story in a reader’s heart. Writing at times from Agnes’ viewpoint, Kent relays to us the desperation and resignation of this woman at the mercy of events outside her control. I wanted the same sense of immediacy to inhabit my character-driven tale and so chose to write in the first person as well.
2. The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie
The Erratics is a formidable tale of neglect, selfishness and mental health stretching from Australia to Canada and back again. Faveau-Harvie’s memoir reaches into the far corners of a person’s motivations and what she finds there is often dark and disturbing.
The reason I chose this gripping tale as one of my book’s influences is the question at the heart of the story; what makes someone act the way they do? Using a question to drive the narrative helped me understand how I could structure my novel around a single framing question. One of the early ideas I had when I was thinking through ‘The Sentinel’s’ story arc was the mystery around Isabella’s disappearance which then led into this central question: What happened to Isabella and why?
3. The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki.
A timeless classic of between-the-wars Osaka which tells the story of the four Makioka sisters, three of whom retain much of old Japan about them. This is one of those tales, similar to ‘Cranford’ by Elizabeth Gaskell and ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ by Betty Smith where ‘not much happens’ but also, where everything happens. It is life lived in minutia which is also life lived universally.
I wanted my novel to reflect similar universal themes – people who live small lives within the context of a grand, gothic landscape where survival is dependent on strangers but the lived experience is the reality of small daily interactions. Tanizaki’s novel gives voice to the ‘mundane’ but in doing so, speaks to all our lives.
4. The Wild Places, Robert MacFarlane
There is something magical about wild places. The fact that Robert Macfarlane can find places that are still wild in the overcrowded countryside of England is magical in itself. The other piece of magic I gained from reading this book is the recognition of the majesty and beauty of these wild places and how much we, as humans, need them. There is something elemental in situating ourselves in nature and this book neatly reminds us of how much humans need nature, just as much as she needs us.
As a forever lover of nature – like many it’s where I recharge and refresh – this book reminded me of the joy and the necessity of taking time to inhabit the ‘Wild Places’. My novel is set in a ‘Wild Place’ and the landscape is a trope and a ‘character’ to be explored, as much as the interior landscapes of the people thrust together on this rocky shore.
5. The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Live by Andy Miller.
I loved this book so much.
Andy Miller gifts us with his personal journey through 50 great books whilst struggling with his own demons. What this journey gave him (and us, the readers), is insight into some of the most compelling and influential books of all time. I picked up some gems from his reading list, as well as being transported through the internal journey of Andy Miller and his recognition of what is important in life – a fundamental lesson for everyone.
The book’s influence on my writing comes from the joy Miller finds in reading (and the solace), as well as introducing me to a whole list of [further] influential books such as ‘The Master and Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov (voted by some as the best book ever), ‘The Sea, The Sea’ by Iris Murdoch, and ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys. The joy of reading, as Miller points out, never really ends.
I would love to hear your book influences.
Please feel free to comment below:-)
Happy reading & writing,
Until next time,