Adventures in Writing – what influences us…

This is an interesting word, isn’t it? Could be used for just about every single facet of the human psyche.
Needless to say, I’m going to concentrate on the influences on writing.
I remember at school a teacher telling me the best way to learn how to write was to read. I still believe this is true. Stephen King, in his book ‘On Writing’ details how he writes every morning, and in the afternoon he reads. A pretty powerful recommendation then. He didn’t clarify what he read, but does that actually matter?
As writers I believe we tend to read in a slightly different way to the average reader. Of course, there is the sheer entertainment value of reading, but I find myself more and more being critical – in a constructive way for the most part. I analyse sentence structure, paragraph and chapter beginnings, characterisation, descriptions, etc, etc. I do this in a far deeper way than I ever did before I seriously took up writing. It is now meaningful and relevant to me.
I read widely; as well as non-fiction for research I read thrillers, historical fiction, police procedurals, spy fiction, and ALL of Cormac McCarthy!
To mirror this I write in a number of genres. Essentially, I write as the mood takes me. For young adults, I’ve written a number of paranormal mysteries, and for adult fiction I’ve written mainly thrillers, but I am leaning more and more towards historical fiction, set in the dark ages/early medieval period. I have a whole host of stories already ear-marked, ranging from my latest book – VARANGIAN, which is published on the 25th September – to other planned projects, such as the mysterious death of William Rufus, and the curious life and dreams of Henry I.
When I began Varangian, I had no real goal in mind. I simply knew I had to write the story. But as my research grew, so did my desire to write further episodes in his remarkable life.
And then came ‘Game of Thrones’.
This epic fantasy work is the work of George R.R. Martin, an American author who really looks the part. One look at him and you know he writes epic fantasy. The sort of guy you might meet around a table playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons, or Runequest. His books are brilliant. And he is the master of mixing both show and tell. You know how we are always told to ‘show’…well, he doesn’t, not always. He uses masses of adverbs too, and we’re told not to use those. I’m often curious as to who comes up with these rules, but I’m so pleased to see Martin not so much ignoring them as manipulating them, to make his writing so much more lively and gripping. So it won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that when I began writing the prequel to Varangian, his influences were there, perhaps not consciously, but certainly in my desire to develop a far more breath-taking and sweeping narrative. We’re told to ‘cut, cut, cut’…Well, I’ve never understood that either. I believe readers want to read the details, to get the scenes clear in their minds. So I’ve taken after Martin, expanded my narrative, and hopefully created further volumes which are more substantial and far more evocative of the period. I like to think of Varangian as being pretty good, a true story of a Viking adventurer thrown into the deadly intrigues of the Byzantine empire, but it is a story embroidered with plenty of fiction. My subsequent tales will be epics of the imagination…well, I hope they are.
varangian and burnt
I’m a great fan of the late Elmore Leonard, and Robert B Parker and I love the way both writers draw you in to the story, painting vivid pictures with space, meticulously chosen words. It was whilst discovering both of these giants of the crime genre that I began to plan out my Paul Chaise thrillers, and attempted to create real page-turners that readers would find hard to put down.
These are the influences which have, over the years, helped me find my own ‘voice’. Inspiration, which is closely akin, is another thing entirely and I shall talk about that another time. But many things inspire us to write, and not all of them are to do with reading. However, these influences of mine have guided and helped me over the years and still do.
Two very different genres, and different influences. I do not copy, and I never try to model myself on any writer, but I can hear their voices in my head, and I often stop and read back over what I’ve written and ask, ‘Would Martin be proud, would Leonard have done it like that…’ I owe them, and a mass of other writers, a huge debt. I continue to read as I write. I devour books, and so should any budding author. We cannot live in isolation, believing every sentence we create is the best there ever was, because we only have to open Thomas Hardy to discover that the best has already been done. Emulate, and respect. Study and learn. But read.

My latest book Varangian will be published by Rebel-E on 25th September. Visit my website for the latest news.
Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading!


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