To celebrate World Book Day on 5 March members of CHINDI, the local independent authors group, held an online discussion about the books that had influenced their writing. “The group has grown to over 20 members now,” says co-founder Christopher Joyce, “and between us we have written and published in a wide range of genres. So it was fascinating to hear about the different influences on each writer.”
Prize-winning novelist Jane Cable chose Audrey Niffenegger’s book ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’. “It represented a breakthrough for me,” she says, “because it showed that if you were a good enough storyteller you could take your readers seamlessly from the real world to the fantastic.” Jeremy Good, also pointed to a book that shares its context and genre with his own writing, ‘Zoo Station’ by David Downing. “I was enthralled by this thriller,” he says, “with its pervasive backdrop of the rise of Nazism. This was the book I wanted to write myself, and I devoured and dissected it to learn how the writer had so successfully described each scene and created such strong underlying suspense.”
Amongst the children’s writers in the group Becky Edwards was very clear about the inspiration she found in ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de Sainte-Exupery. “What I love about it,” she says, “is the beautiful simplicity of the story. It celebrates the innocence of childhood while evoking a sense of longing, sadness and loneliness. I can remember thinking If I could inspire just a fraction of these emotions in a reader, I would feel that I had accomplished something in life.” Children’s writer Christopher Joyce vividly remembers reading ‘Z for Zachariah’ by Robert O’Brien to a class of 12 year olds back in the ‘80s, and the impact the book had on him and his pupils. “It’s one of the best openings I’ve ever read,” he says, “and I still have the book as a prized possession.”
For some CHINDI members it’s the classics that have been most inspiring. Biographer Jill King counts ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, as the sources of her love of reading and writing. “The classics show how great story telling and brilliant characterisation can stand the test of time,” she says. Michael Parker agrees. “I loved all the children’s classics such as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Enid Bryton,” he says, “and then as a teenager I was taken into the dangerous world of violent crime by Mickey Spillane, and fell in love with Mike Hammer’s gorgeous secretary: the untouchable Velder.”
Fantasy writer John O’Halloran was influenced by the work of Lebanese writer Kahlil Gibran, and thriller writer Helen Christmas chose ‘Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follet, which she describes as “an emotionally moving story with great characters.” For Julian Kirkman-Page inspiration came from the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian, and Alex Wallis chose ‘1984’ for its influence on language and social thinking.
The lively CHINDI debate demonstrated the passion its members have for books and for writing. “The power of books,” is amazing says Christopher, “and as authors we all aspire to inspire others through our writing.”