Writers often talk about books that have influenced them as writers. I’m also interested in books that have influenced writers as people, as ultimately this deeply shapes the writers we become.
Probably Herman Hesse is one who springs to mind who has influenced me as a writer; a not oft read book, Narzissus und Goldmund (the original German title), a book that weighs the pros and cons of carnality and asceticism through a thoroughly engaging tale of a young man wandering aimlessly in medieval Europe, having left his scholarly life under the direction of his good friend and monk Narzissus and launched his own way into the world. It is a circular tale, him returning to his friend as an older man and having time to reflect upon his life’s choices. It was the first time for me that a book reflected on matters of spirituality and philosophy while telling a sophisticated, wonderful story. My only other encounter prior to this was Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince, also a circular tale, which was given to me as a six year old and influenced my view of life profoundly; I had however developed the view that such a story must necessarily be told simply, and Herman Hess’ novel showed me otherwise. I was entranced. This book and Herman Hess’ concerns as a novelist sit high in my esteem of where I would like my work to go. I aim to be able to write as beautifully and entertainingly about things that really matter. For me, this is what writing is all about and the goal of all words put to paper, whether they directly achieve it or are just so much development of craft along the way.
Next along, and in a totally different vein, Jean M Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear and the second book, Valley of the Horses shaped me as a teenager and introduced the ideas of self-sufficiency, herbalism, girl power times ten, and sexual initiation as a privilege into my small town world. I modelled myself on the gutsy Ayla for many years. It was an introduction into issues of race (via the story of the overlap of two human species) and perceived superiority, ignorance and genocide, again, through an entertaining and very well-researched story. From these books I became interested in herbs, shamanism, magic and practical survivalism, and naturally gravitated towards environmentalism, permaculture, and the wonder of our beautiful earth. I imagined what the world was like so long ago and it sparked my imagination to enjoy the delights of historical fiction, as well as the educational wonder of non-fiction. The natural world became something to me. These books, probably more than any others, shaped my day to day reality and my political sensibilities.
As a young girl I also read The Diary of Anne Frank; my first taste of the truly awful in the real world and the magnitude of the human spirit in the face of it. This planted the seed for later concerns, an abhorrence of Fascism, prejudice and genocide, and my determination to be a person of integrity who would speak out against the blacker side of humanity’s heart.
These days books have less of a shaping effect on me, more a provocative one. My proclivities are well established. Works that arise from inside me tend to have a post-colonial bent, an anti-brutality stance, and offer more questions for the reader than well-rounded happy answers. I want people to feel and think about their own thinking and feeling when they read something from me.
In my twenties, this desire tended towards didacticism, in my 30s I shut up for a while. These days things are less black and white. I’m interested in finding the complexity in things. Writing is more about opening cans of worms then sorting them into nice piles of shoulds and shouldn’ts.
Life itself, the greatest book of all, has done its work on me. Provoked by the vexations of human complexity and the randomness of the universal soup ladle, Thought has trundled through my inner landscape, collecting and shifting scraps along the way.
Writing is the expression of my experience and my spirit; my thoughts, my soul.