If you had to name one single book that inspired you to be a writer, what would that be?
I can’t choose just one. It didn’t happen that way for me. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t either listening to, or reading, stories, and my love for them grew as the years passed. Here’s a selection of influential books.
Age 5: Little John Little was both written and illustrated by Charlotte Steiner, and my copy (yes, this is the one I read as a little girl) is still with me all these decades later. I adored this book, both the words and the pictures. Now that I live on five acres with lots of critters I still absolutely believe families of squirrels live just like this inside the trees I can see, with a dinner of specially prepared acorn dishes being served around a tiny table covered with a checked tablecloth, and an oil lamp in the four-paned window glowing yellow in the darkness. At this age I was delighted to have the pictures to bring the words to life, but that need passed very quickly, with words being able to conjure their own visions in my mind’s eye, showing me the power of words alone.
Age 7: With chapter-heading illustrations, Paddington Bear by Michael Bond allowed me to gradually move away from needing to have words interpreted for me, and made me reassess my attitude toward marmalade, amongst other things. He also allowed me to understand it was alright to be plucky, curious and prepared to try new things. I cannot imagine what possessed me to underline things in this book – it horrifies me! I am someone who can’t even mark a book with a pencil, and here I seem to have run amok with a Biro. Ack!
Age 10: This is a new edition of a favorite Agatha Christie – it’s signed by Hallie Ephron telling me it’s her favorite Christie too, so I suppose I’m in good company. And my mum was thrilled when I first read it. My love of and for Christie’s work started when I was about ten, and has never left me. It was her work that first made me wonder if I could write crime fiction.
Age 13: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien was part of a book prize I won when I was thirteen (the other books I chose were The Lord of the Rings and A History of Witchcraft – to be fair to my parents they didn’t panic, they realized I was going through a period when I was interested in many various mythologies and reading about them voraciously). I treasure it still, even though it’s almost falling apart. When I was about fourteen I took all my school notes in Tolkien’s elven runes. Out-geek that!
Age 14: The A C Bradley book on Shakespearean Tragedy was already a classic back in 1926, which is when this book was printed. I “acquired it” (see my previous post revealing my nefarious plans to snap up desired tomes from my school library) in 1974. It’s been with me ever since and I still enjoy re-reading it. The second lecture in it, on the construction of Shakespeare’s tragedies, is still as valid as it was when it was written, and still gives food for thought for any author.
Age 15: Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, amongst other of his works, showed me that Welsh people were allowed to write. To create. To play with language in a uniquely Welsh way. The title of this post is the opening line from the play, and upon first reading it I was hooked by the fifth line. Who wouldn’t be won over by character names like Mrs. Dai Bread One and Mrs. Dai Bread Two, Captain Cat, Polly Garter and Gossamer Beynon, let alone the thought of the Reverend Eli Jenkins delivering a “greenleaved sermon”. Both Shakespeare and Thomas allowed me to understand that language is a living, breathing, evolving thing, and words can be placed together in surprising ways to create an emotional response that goes beyond the literal.
Age 16: Ibsen’s plays taught me how language can be used as a weapon – a weapon to skewer society, even as he skewers his characters. A weapon that can win supporters for a character even as they are being assassinated. A weapon that can force the reader/audience to reconsider the solidity of the foundation of their understanding of morality and societal norms even as they see their own lives' dilemmas played out on the page and stage before them. He also was the first playwright whose work I read, other than Shakespeare and Thomas, that I then saw on the stage – always a powerful experience. I’ve read more recent translations of his work and, despite the fact they flow more easily from a twenty-first century tongue than this version, written in 1950, I cleave to this one, with all its mid-twentieth century vocabulary. The truth of his work, its timeless quality, always translates well.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of what inspired me to write, something that had become my dream by the time I turned sweet sixteen; indeed, it might be more of a list of what made me wonder if there was even any point trying! But these works certainly provided some lights along the path. I hope you find my list illuminating.
Cathy Ace is the author of the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #7 THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE will be published in April) and the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #1 THE CASE OF THE DOTTY DOWAGER was released in paperback on March 1st, book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER was published on February 1st). You can find out more about Cathy and her work here: http://cathyace.com/