‘You Don’t Read Fiction’
At secondary school we used to have library periods and at that time, the one thing I remember above all else was the teacher leading the class telling me ‘I didn’t read fiction’. The session was specifically for reading fiction. I was reading stuff about politics (I can’t believe it now, it’s the farthest thing from my mind) and other non-fictional stuff. If truth be known, I was probably choosing books by their covers, very magpie-like. The teacher in question advised I should read something fictional and suggested The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. From that moment on, I was hooked. I went on to read The Lord of the Rings. I bought the Pauline Baynes cover illustration paperback version and read it many times. I was reading it once a year for several years as a teenager. I still have that copy that is falling apart. I loved that yellow spine and its cover art. This was all a long time before the film trilogy was even thought about.
[I sit and write under a copy of the poster of Bilbo's Last Song, also illustrated by Pauline Baynes]
J R. R. Tolkien
- The Hobbit
- The Lord of the Rings
Reading The Lord of the Rings opened up a whole universe of stuff. I was already a big fan of classic rock and prog and there were images and sounds based heavily upon Tolkien’s world to be found here but there were also new worlds opening up. One such world was the world of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever by Stephen R Donaldson. Donaldson authored a world like Tolkiens but not. It was different. It had similarities which gave the reader a comfort, you could ease into the world but it was a very different imagining. There are some haunting moments in the books and the idea of the land being so achingly pure, without taint has always stayed with me. I remember buying the Paper Tiger book Realms of Fantasy which had a section on THE LAND of Thomas Covenant I loved the images by Mark Harrison but they couldn’t convey truly, the sense of what Donaldson was portraying, for me anyway.
Stephen R Donaldson
- The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever
- The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
- Mordant’s Need
Probably the next thing I read was Neuromancer by William Gibson, quickly followed by Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive. The opening line of Neuromancer – The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel embodied everything about the book. It took cyberpunk mainstream and nothing could ever be the same again. It must have been so cool being in the vanguard of something so new. The opening of a story is so important and I always strive to approach Gibson’s mastery (even if I fall a longways short).
- Count Zero
- Mona Lisa Overdrive
- Burning Chrome
This period, encompassing these three sets of books was the formative period of my desire to write. To write, you have to read (George RR Martin says so, so it’s canonical law) and it was here that the seed was sown. All I can say is that it took a damn long time to germinate!