In celebration of the release of two new novels from the wonderful women from the Writers Ask Writers group (Natasha Lester, Sara Foster, _Amanda Curtin, Annabel Smith, Dawn Barker and Emma Chapman) we will all be blogging today on our youthful writing inspirations. Natasha Lester’s new novel A Kiss for Mr. Fitzgerald and Sara Foster’s new novel All That is Lost Between Us feature young, feisty female protagonists determined to make their mark on the world. We’ve all been asked to think back to our teenage years and discuss the book that inspired us to become the writers we are – I’ve taken that brief and directed it down a little winding back road so I can talk about the writer who inspired me, and how I got to discover him. It’s easy for me to think back with great affection to those books I cherished as a very young child. The three books I most loved from that time were E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Eva Ibbotson’s The Great Ghost Rescue, and Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. A few years later came Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence. By the time I was twelve or thirteen I began to read adult novels, but I don’t mean Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters. We lived in a working class suburb awash with The Women’s Weekly and chunky airport novels. The nearest first hand bookshop (a nice Angus & Robertson) was two suburbs away; so my brother and I made do with the school library, the public library and a book exchange in our main street. We haunted that book exchange like 50’s teenagers at a pool hall. We read too much my mother said, and that was probably true. My brother had become a comic collector and he treated them like they were rare and precious artefacts; I read whatever the book exchange could offer but I never got the knack of exchanging the books – I hoarded them. At some point I picked up The Eagle has Landed by Jack Higgins which led me to pick up Alistair MacLean, who was readily available at the library and at the book exchange. I read HMS Ulysses and then everything else up to Golden Gate. MacLean, in turn, led me to Graham Greene and it is Greene who I consider to be the most influential writer of my young life.
Greene divides his books into novels and “entertainments” but this distinction has never existed for me. The men in Greene’s novels tend to merge into a single character in my imagination - a not old, not young Englishman walking in the rain, the faint odour of failure, cigarettes and alcohol about him – a man going towards something he knows he will regret, or a man leaving some awful, exquisitely painful situation behind him. I don’t really remember the exotic locations or the political intrigues in great detail; it is the sheer believability of his flawed characters that has always remained with me – an unhappy band of compromised men in a compromised world. I don’t think I understood at the time that much of the existential angst at work in Greene’s novels came from his Catholicism, nevertheless his struggle still resonated with me as a young, geeky, agnostic teenager. And much more importantly, Greene (I understand now) was the first great prose stylist I ever read. Needless to say that when we did visit that far away Angus & Robertson, I would more often than not buy lovely new Penguin editions of Greene to add to my motley home library. I still read him today, and regard The End of the Affair as one of my favourite novels.