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Writing: Which Book Made You The Writer That You Are Today?

Writing: Which Book Made You the Writer that You Are Today?

Debbie Young holding a copy of Hugh Howey's Wool

“All hail Hugh Howey!” Debbie Young introducing a university MA writing group to great role models in self-publishing

With how to write and how to self-publish books in abundance, and more being published every day, we invited ALLi members to designate which books had most shaped their writing and turned them into the indie author they are today. When we opened the conversation on the ALLi Facebook forum (for members only), it soon became clear that many authors had been inspired by books that had no overt coaching intentions. Here's a brief cross-section of some of the nominated books.

Books about Writing and Publishing

Personally, I was most influenced by a book that I bought years before the invention of ebooks and self-publishing in its modern form – The Art of Writing Made Simple by Geoffrey Ashe – a bargain at 60p, secondhand from my university bookshop, and responsible for the emergence of my inner critic and self-editor, full of classic advice such as “murder your darlings”.

  • Lucienne Boyce was the first of several authors to cite the classic The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, “a book which I turn to over and over again especially after a knock or disappointment when I need encouragement to continue pursuing the creative path”.
  • Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande was Pauline Baird Jones' choice, because “It's a wonderful book about the process of *becoming* a writer, how you tap into the creative well and find your own writer voice.” I know that both Orna Ross and I have well-thumbed editions of that on our writing shelves too!)
  • After reading The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, given to her by a friend, Hannah Parry says how to structure became clear.
  • Linda Gillard named Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo. “A single paragraph (about feeling erased) sent me over to the pc to start work on my first novel, in a sort of stunned trance.”
  • Of Solutions for Writers by Sol Stein, Helen Kara says “It opened my eyes to the similarities between writing fiction and non-fiction, and has been a huge influence on my writing ever since.” Sol Stein was nominated by quite a few respondents in our straw poll, as was Stephen King's classic On Writing – “what a real writer does”, says Dave Sivers.

I'd expected most of their suggestions to be non-fiction books about writing and self-publishing, but many cited works of fiction, both for adults and for children.

Adult Fiction

  • Linda Hall's reason for nominating a collection of Stephen King's short stories is one of empowerment: “He wrote a short piece after each story about the idea and how he wrote it. It was the first time I'd considered authors being normal people.”
  • Dan Holloway reports that “Immortality by Milan Kundera  taught me what novels can be, and what they don't have to be, and the extent to which an emotional core that's strong enough can act as a massive gravitational unifying pull on an almost infinite number of disparate elements”.
  • Rohan Quine's vote is for Maldoror by Lautréamont:  “When I first encountered it in a bookshop, a sense of magic seeped across the inches of space between the page and my eyes, like a subtle heat hitting my face, with a sense of grandeur and hidden echoes, as if I were first becoming aware of that huge unseen cavern just the other side of the air beside us, which we spend our everyday lives pretending isn’t there!”
  • Andrew Lowe describes London Fields by Martin Amis as “my favourite book by my writerly equivalent of a teenage rock-star crush. It woke me up to the power of blending poetic style with story substance.”
  • John Lynch's reasons for choosing Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights made me smile: “I read it when I was 13 and I could see how the reader's emotions were manipulated and I thought, “I want to do that”. That's probably also why I became a salesman.”
  • For Calum Kerr, reading Iain Banks' The Crow Road was literally life-changing: “I was doing a Chemistry degree when I read that. It made me want to read more widely and write more, so I quit my degree and changed to English.”
  • Helena Halme designated Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, because “Lessing taught me how to write an engaging story about strong and independent female characters”.
  • Kimberly Golden Malmgren chose The Color of Love by Sandra Kitt. “It was the first IR romance I'd ever read, and it was refreshing to read a story about an interracial couple that didn't fall into the usual “we love each other but we cannot be together due to the color of or skin” trope.”
  • For Alison Morton, the turning point was Robert Harris's Fatherland, which made her realise: “Oh, so you *can* alter history and have a thriller running through it!”
  •  Of The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer, Christine Claire MacKenzie says “I read it when I was fifteen and knew immediately I wanted to make readers and laugh and cry.”
  • Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh had this effect on Andy Rivers: “The penny finally dropped after reading it that they were letting lads from sink estates have pens as well. ;)”
  • For Yen Ooi, “I'm The King Of The Castle by Susan Hill made me realise that a powerful story does not need to be complicated or pretentious.”
  • Mari Howard chose The Translator by Lela Aboulela, saying “I expect nobody else has heard of it/or her! Her writing is so understated, & gentle, yet goes deeper and more revealingly into relationships than anything I've ever read which is more explicit, emotional, or generally ‘western'. She is Sudanese, Muslim, and a great observer of people. I became challenged to write about deep feelings, and deep attractions, without sex scenes and all that we accept as normal in any book which includes a romance!”

Children's Fiction

  • Rasana Atreya was the first to cite Johanna Spyrri's Heidi, and Laxmi Hariharan DC Comics for providing “a fantastical world that I wanted to be part of”. Her reasons were echoed by Michele Cooke for choosing the Harry Potter books, and Turkish writer Atulya Kerry Bingham for Enid Blyton's The Faraway Tree.
  • What better escape than Alice in Wonderland, which Pelham McMahon remembers having read to her in 1945 by her aunt to stop her crying during a bombing raid!
  • On the other hand, not liking a children's book was the trigger for Caroline Batten, who chose the Sweet Valley High books by Francine Pascal, “because at the ripe old age of nine, I thought I could do better.
  • Liza Perrat's choice is William Golding's Lord of the Flies. “I got caught reading it at horseriding camp and sent home in punishment. Decided writing sounded more fun than horseriding.”
  • Catriona Troth cited the more general influence of characters within a range of children's books: “I think my desire to be a writer came from identifying with characters like Jo in Little Women and Titty in Swallows and Amazons who aspired to write.”

Other Non-Fiction

  • Joanna Penn, who has since written many non-fiction books herself, chose The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. “It pretty much changed my life in general – “decide where you want to be and what you want to achieve,” and take 100% responsibility for where you are in life and start acting the way you should to get where you want to be… “
  • Orna Ross's choice is Of Woman Born by the great poet and essayist Adrienne Rich. “What a wake up, like a bucket of cold water flung into a sleepy face!”

But let's give the last word to Ian Sutherland, who nominates Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine Series of Adventures for children for the following reason:

“The young me wrote him a letter and he wrote back, in wonderful fountain pen ink scrawl! I still have the letter today and his sage advice to my question about how to become a writer was “to read widely and talk to my English teacher”. (You can see his letter in a post I wrote about it here: http://ianhsutherland.com/…/the-indie-authors-second…/)” 

Which of us indie authors might be named in times to come as the inspiration for future generations of writers? We'll have to wait and see!

Please feel free to add your own nominations via the comments box.

Great list of #books that inspire #authors compiled by @DebbieYoungBN #amreading Click To Tweet



This Post Has 10 Comments
  1. One of my favorites is “the Story” by David Baubolene. I’ve read parts of it three or four times – when ever I feel stuck.

  2. I have to give a shout out to Randy “The Snowflake Guy” Ingermanson and his website http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/ for inspiring me to write. His monthly newsletter is a hidden gem of wisdom. I was so caught up in his insights that I went back to his first posts in 2005 and read every single episode. He gave me a crash course in the indie writing industry. I highly recommend following him!

  3. I think I have been influenced as much by great books as by ordinary/rubbish ones. It is very motivating to realise there are books out there which could be better. Room for improvement provides a gap. (And great books can sometimes be a little daunting, although certainly provide invaluable lessons).
    When it comes to inspiration for being an Indie author and marketing, I find Joanna Penn particularly motivating.

  4. Like Ann Swinfen, I too swam “in a vast sea of inspirations.” The first time I did anything about it, though, was in grade school. Back then, I just couldn’t get enough of the Nancy Drew books. I remember I had to use an immense amount of self-control not to gulp one down the same day I got it. So I wrote my own girl detective book, Threase Todd and the Mystery in Blue. Hand-printed on lined, five-hole paper, It was my first attempt at writing fiction. Now, decades later, I’m about to self-publish my second fiction book, which is the first of a four-book series. Sometimes the Muse takes a while!

  5. For books on the craft of writing, I recommend The Creative Writing Coursebook, ed. Julia Bell and Paul Magrs. It covers every aspect of writing from start to finish and in 2001, it acknowledged self publishing as a force for the future. I found it useful in writing my novel and recommend it to my creative writing students because it has something for everyone, from the fledgling writer to those ready to be published.

  6. My amazon title: RC and RUBY Screenplay is adapted from the novel, Atlantic City Nazi, into a feature-length film script with treatment in Ch 1. The book that made writing a screenplay possible for me is entitled: STORY by Robert McKee. This book also affected my writing of other works.

  7. Some years before computers were invented, I read “Telling Lies For Fun And Profit,” by Lawrence Block, a very nuts and bolts guide to writing novels. It is similar to but much better than Stephen King’s book. It has all of Block’s usual virtues, such as wit, concision, etc. After reading it I realized that I think like a writer. A bit later I ran across two essays that sealed the conviction. “Politics and the English Language,” by George Orwell and “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses,” by Mark Twain. Both these essays take examples of bad prose, explain why it is bad and then correct it. In these essays I saw how great writers really do take every word seriously, how they hate, no despise, the almost-but-not-quite-right word, how every unnecessary word causes them real pain. These works changed my life. I knew that I was in the same tribe as Block, Orwell and Twain. Not on their level, of course, but I understood that their fight was my fight, for good writing instead of pretty writing, for truth instead of propaganda, for meaning instead of style.
    To name works of fiction that have inspired me would make a long list but I couldn’t forget the stories of Chekhov, the plays of Ibsen and “Things Fall Apart,” by Chinua Achebe.

  8. I’m surprised no one mentioned Rosemary Sutcliff amongst the children’s writers. I’m sure she had an influence on the many authors choosing to write about the Romans these days. Interestingly, I own all but one of the books on writing cited above, and agree that they are all excellent. Having wanted to write since I was a very small child, I can’t pinpoint a single influence. I am swimming in a vast sea of inspirations!

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