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Who are your greatest literary influences?

Have you ever heard the phrase 'great writers are great readers'? If you're passionate about writing, there's an excellent chance that it's because, somewhere along the line, you read something which reached out of the pages, grabbed your soul and squeezed. Today, we're asking the Write Yorkshire Scribble for their personal literary influences.

This is a difficult one. When I started to think about it a few names came to mind immediately. Then I realised the question isn’t who are your favourite writers? or who would you like to pretend your work is inspired by? Sure, I’d love to say that my work is inspired by Steinbeck. Unfortunately, nothing I have scribbled out holds any resemblance to the epic tales of struggle, family, and fortitude that novels like The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden feature.

So, I’ll try to be honest here.

One writer who has inspired me in recent years is Benjamin Myers. I was introduced to his work in 2017 when I read his novel, The Gallows Pole. A bold and dark and beautiful book. I was in awe of how Myer’s could describe the harsh and cold landscape in such rich detail and on the next page write dialectic passages that seemed as though they were spat right out of David Hartley’s mouth. He followed that book with another novel, The Offing. In stark contrast to its predecessor, this book has an incredible warmth buried in its pages. Truth be told, it got me through that first lockdown. I want to do that. I want to write something as affecting as those two books have been for me.

Another writer who I can say for certain has been a great influence and inspiration for me is the poet, Toria Garbutt. I’d not heard of her before I saw her support John Cooper Clarke on a very rainy night in Scarborough. I never knew poetry could be written like that. It’s honest and raw and she performs with rhythm and passion, all in a Yorkshire accent. I met her briefly that night and asked in all my 18-year-old-naivety, how did you find your voice?

That’s all made up, she told me. Just write your truth.

That’s honestly the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever received and I believe that I am a better writer today because of it.

This is a tough one for me because I always feel like people want a list of classics or something super profound. But I just don't have that, I love a Dickens or a Brontë as much as the next person but it just isn't what comes to mind when someone asks what influences me. In fact, I'm hard pressed to list off a specific set of writers who've greatly influenced me. Not because there aren't any, but because there is just an endless list of wonderful writers who, in some way or another, influence my writing. For the purpose of not writing you an entire dissertation, I'll just name a few here though!

For his attention to detail and creation of entire worlds, I have to mention Sir Terry Pratchett. Whenever I am creating a setting I always try to remember how important even the tiniest of details are. There is nothing quite as complex as creating an entirely different world, you can get to know characters like people but places, in my experience, are slippery and far more difficult to pin down and perfect. Pratchett's settings are, in my opinion, flawless and deliciously complex. You can sink right into the story and imagine every street, every building, every detail. This level of immersion is always something I strive to replicate within my own work and I can always find inspiration within Pratchett's work.

One of my most recent influences came in the form of Alix E. Harrow. I recently read her novel The Once and Future Witches and I'm in absolute awe of her characterisation skills. The novel is full to bursting with wonderful, strong and magical women. The kind you want to be and you want every woman you know to be. When reading the blurb of the book, I was expecting a great YA book, but I got far more than I bargained for and, when I reached the final page all I could think was God, I want to write like this. I want to be able to emulate the power that radiates from her characters and the stories they tell. So I imagine she'll influence some, or lots, of my work very, very soon!

The long and short of it is, there are thousands of writers who Influence my work, sometimes with the tiniest detail and sometimes with everything they ever published. We're lucky enough to live in a world where there has been, currently are and will be many great writers. My advice is to make the most of them and let your creativity blossom with their influence.

I find this one a bit difficult to answer, because while there are lots of writers that I admire, I’m not sure I can say how much my writing has been influenced by them. It’s hard for me to look at my own work objectively enough to tell.

I will say, however, that there are writers whose approach to the job influences me, and whose writing life stories can make me get over myself and apply backside to chair and fingertips to keys when I’m going through one of my ‘I can’t possibly…’’ phases.

Shirley Jackson is one of them. Four children, a challenging marriage, mental and physical health problems, and yet she managed to support her family by writing a regular magazine column, brilliant and challenging short stories, groundbreaking novels and two memoirs. Her stories were dark and mysterious, at a time when a woman writing horror was not the done thing, and she managed it all with dry wit and dark humour. What a woman.

Then there’s Stephen King, who wrote Carrie on a manual typewriter, while balancing a child’s desk on his knee on the landing of his rented flat.

Or Anthony Trollope, who sat down and wrote for two hours every morning, before going to his day job as a Postmaster. If he finished a novel with fifteen minutes to go before the two hours were up, he’d simply turn to a fresh page and start the next one.

These hardworking writers didn’t procrastinate. They didn’t whine when ideas weren’t forthcoming, they didn’t insist on perfect conditions and ergonomic standing desks, they didn’t let self-doubt stop them, nor did they question for one minute what they were.

They were writers, so they wrote, and that inspires and influences me every day - as well as providing an oft-needed kick up the bum.

I always feel like a bit of a secret fraud when topics like this crop up. I don't generally have a passionate appreciation for critically acclaimed contemporary literature and there are tonnes of essentials I never got around to reading, like anything by Virginia Woolf or Kerouac (sorry).

I read a lot, and have ever since I was a child, but I know what I like and that's where I dedicate my time. Reading, for me, is all about enjoyment, inspiration and escapism, so if I find a text boring or pretentious I’m likely to decide life is too short and pick up something else. You are what you read and there are so many books and authors that have contributed to shaping the writer I am - in a way, every book I’ve ever consumed has helped to make me who I am, including the ones I didn’t really like! However, here are two writers that have had a significant impact on my work within the last couple of years.

Emmanuel Carrère

Particularly Lives Other Than My Own. Carrère showed me how to reach inside my own life and experiences for stories and story elements - at first nonfiction and then I started to learn how to bring personal truth into my fiction as well. He's had a huge impact on my authorial voice. I might not have chosen to read this book without exterior influence, so I remain profoundly grateful that it was the very first text required for my midlife crisis Masters in creative writing.

Sam Reese

Another recent one is short story nerd Sam Reese and his collection Come the Tide. I learned two important things from Sam, whom I had the privilege of being taught and tutored by:

  1. Short fiction and nonfiction are totally legitimate and valuable forms of prose writing. You don’t have to be writing novel length fiction to be a successful and impactful writer.

  2. It's possible to write beautiful poetic prose, creating detailed environments and characters, and still craft an engaging, pacey narrative - all within a relatively small wordcount.

I could go on - I recently read Supertoys Last All Summer Long and it rocked my world - but I won’t! Instead, I’ll leave you with a final thought: Love books, read widely, allow yourself the privilege of being swept away by the creativity and genius of others.


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Cover image by Annie Spratt via Pixabay


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