The Books That Changed My Life (part one)

I have some news. No, unfortunately I haven’t found an agent yet (although hopefully soon!); I’ve decided to start a second blog. I’ve spent the last few weeks setting it up, so feel free to have a look and let me know what you think.

It’s called Modern Classics and came about when I decided to move the book reviews from my blog; they don’t really go with the rest of my content, so the new blog collects them all in one place. I still plan to talk about books on this blog as well; I just haven’t had much to post about recently and I think separating the content will help both blogs in the end.

So to celebrate I thought I’d do a couple of posts about some of the books that have changed my life. This first part looks at the books that changed me as I grew up; the second part will be the books that have shaped my ideas about philosophy and life. I’ll post the second part in a couple of days so it won’t be too long to wait. I wonder how many you’ve read? ;)

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
I first read Anne Frank’s diary in high school and it’s stayed with me ever since. It’s one of the most haunting accounts of the Holocaust I’ve experienced and what still strikes me about it is how mature a writer Anne was; she made you feel like you were in the warehouse with her, and her family felt like your family… that’s why her loss feels so devastating to anyone who’s read it.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
I had all of the Narnia books as a child but Wardrobe was my favourite; I must have read it at least 50 times. It was one of the first books that brought my imagination to life, of Narnia and other worlds… in many ways it was the first book that made me want to write. It made me dream and that’s something I’d love to do for someone else one day.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
The Velveteen Rabbit was my favourite book as a child; one of my teachers recommended it to me and I still remember the feelings of sadness and loss that ran throughout the story… it was beautiful and unlike anything I had read, the perfect fairy tale. I still have my original copy; I plan to pass it on one day.

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
I read Shelley’s novel as a teenager and admire it even more now. As a work of science fiction it’s virtually flawless and still one of the most unsettling novels I’ve read. Its examination of the ethics of creating life has influenced me many times in my own writing. I always found the monster rather pitiful… with the developments in genetic engineering, it’s still very important today.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Holmes series has been a favourite since high school; I enjoy the novels but it’s the stories I like best. They’re so well crafted (particularly The Adventure of the Speckled Band) and rarely feature superfluous details; I learnt a lot about structuring short fiction from Doyle. The character of London from the 1890s has always stayed with me as well; like looking through a window at another world.

The Children of Men by PD James
I’ve read a few of PD James’s books but The Children of Men is unlike anything James has written; a dystopian novel centring on mass infertility… yet it has the depth and characterisation of any of her works. The detail in James’s world is unsettling, but in Julian there’s a sense of hope as well… it’s easily one of the most thought-provoking novels I’ve read, and the kind of novel I’d love to write.

Blood Music by Greg Bear
I read Blood Music when I was fourteen and since then have read all of Bear’s novels. It’s one of those few novels that deals with science in a realistic and accessible way, using human development as a vehicle to examine the nature of consciousness and life. It was one of the first SF novels I read and had a big impact on me; the final scenes as the last humans transcend is breathtaking.

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
Stewart’s novel was published in 1949 and is one of the most haunting novels I’ve read. It follows what happens after the fall of society, what knowledge survives as life tries to go on; it’s really a lament for humanity, a warning against excess. It’s just as relevant today as when it was first published.

On Writing by Stephen King
On Writing is Stephen King’s memoir and guide to the craft. King covers everything about the process; from brainstorming and developing ideas, to plotting and characterisation, to finding an agent and accepting rejection. For writers it’s a priceless resource; I’ve learnt more about writing (and editing) from this one book than from any other I’ve read.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Road is one of the most difficult novels I have read but it’s also one of the most important novels of the last 30 years. McCarthy’s prose is so stark, so beautiful, it touches your heart; the characterisations so poignant that they come to life even though you don’t know their names. I challenge anyone to read The Road and be the same; it’s devastating… one of the few works of fiction that makes you look at the world in a different way.

Sleepless in Sydney

This is just a quick post to let my blog friends know that I’m still here and I’m sorry I haven’t been around your blogs much lately. I’ve been flat out this past week and haven’t had as much free time as I’d planned. I’m looking forward to catching up with your blogs tomorrow. :)

I’ve got back into my writing again, which is the main reason I’ve been busy. I haven’t written much for the last couple of months and I hate it when I’m not writing; I feel restless and start turning things over in my mind, and it’s not a good state. A writer needs to read and write regularly to keep the flow, and I just feel better when I’m writing every day.

I had been trying to do a final rewrite of Shards, but I’m still not that happy with it and I decided I’m going to put that aside until the New Year. So I’ve been planning a new story instead which I hope to have finished by Christmas, or the end of January if I take my time.

It’s called Sleepless. Basically it’s about a man who wakes up from a coma after eight years and how he adapts to his new life. As he undergoes rehabilitation, he finds he has a son who is 7 and it’s their relationship that’s the main part of the story. It’s also a love story; he remembers his relationship with the boy’s mother and it’s told in flashbacks, and it’s a sad love story – we know how it ends before it begins.

It’s more what I used to write a few years ago, and it’s that idea of waking up in a new world I find interesting. What would it be like to suddenly find yourself in a world so different to the one you knew? To know nothing about iPods and YouTube and the War on Terror? To have not seen 9/11, Bali or London? What would we think of our world? I think that’s very interesting territory.

It’s still an early draft and there’s more to it than that, but it’s nice getting back into the flow again, seeing words on the page. It’s more what I want to be writing and that makes a big difference. The flip side is it hasn’t left me much time for blogging (and commenting) this week, but it’s always like that at the beginning. I’ll make up for it over the next couple of days (promise!).

Right now it’s 3.40 AM and I’m sleepless in Sydney, still writing away. But it’s a nice kind of sleeplessness; I know I’m getting somewhere at last and that’s the best feeling a writer can have. Like dreaming in the void.