Thursday, June 18, 2009

What, or who has influenced my writing...

I'm being interviewed today. The interviewer has very generously given me a heads up on the questions and there's a couple which have my brain in overdrive:

Who or what has influenced your writing and in what way?

There's someone at the moment saying their father's book influenced JK Rowling's Harry Potter series and they'd like 500 million GBP as a thank you very much. Ms Rowling's representatives state she has never even heard of the book or author she has apparently borrowed from. A few years back I was stunned to see a book written by a writer friend explore the same subject matter I'd explored with a particular character (specific to the main theme) having the same name as the name I'd given my key character in a story I'd written. The most surprising thing was I found out about this book the first time I met this writer and held their book in my hand. I could not have been influenced by her and she could not have been influenced by me. But there we were. Justine Larbalestier has blogged on the topic of influence recently and I felt comforted by her take on the subject and by the responses of her writer friends. Influences can be hard to spot as a writer. I guess that all my favourite books and authors have influenced my writing but I couldn't point to any particular one as having influenced any one story of mine. Maybe the closest I can come is seeing a hint of The Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen in The Were-Nana. I loved their fairy tales growing up and read and re-read them frequently. But there are so many other things in The Were-Nana - my own experience growing up, my european background, all my thoughts on fear, and story-telling and the unknown and monsters like were-wolves and the scarey thought of going from being a child to an old lady without experiencing anything inbetween (I don't know if anyone has picked up on that one yet?). Its all in there, plus some other stuff as well. And because its illustrated you have to add in the illustrator's experience and influences too. Phew. Its amazing what you can stuff in to 32 pages and less than a thousand words eh?

I try to write books like the ones I enjoyed reading as a child, so there's the influence of the book writing heroes I worshipped. And then the people who have loved me and encouraged me along the way. My parents, my siblings, my husband and my children all get a nod (and a hug) here. But then there's the lady who ran the Writing for Children paper at Massey University that I took as part of my BA where I wrote the first short stories I had accepted for publication. Its not any one thing she said or taught but that is where some penny dropped and my writing changed. Then there's the kind words of encouragement that Diana Noonan, then editor of the part 3 and 4 school journals at Learning Media gave me when she took on that first short story. Her comments were life changing but also influenced my style and content just by saying I was doing the right thing. Then there have been comments from all sorts of people like Jo Noble and Joy Cowley that have given me hope at important times and impacted on the way I write. Sometimes there have been unkind comments that have made me more determined to succeed.

But its not only books, authors and people that influence me. Its all the movies I've seen, all the television I've watched, all the news I've read about, the way I was brought up and its probably even the food I eat. Ms Larbalestier suggested influence is something the reader can spot more readily than the writer but the reader has their own set of influences and experiences and there will be times a reader will see something the writer has no knowledge of (maybe case in point for Ms Rowling?). Or maybe the influence is not another book but the event or experience that prompted it. This is what I think happened with the writer friend of mine and me.

Sometimes I'm tempted by the idea of the Bene Gesserit witches in the Dune books by Frank Herbert, where the memories of all their ancestors are absorbed by the new generations of witches. I'm not just a product of my own experience, I'm a product of all the experience thats gone before. And thats too big a bag of influence to try and describe.

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