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A flood of dark memories

July 18, 2010

A return to the wonderful prompts this week, courtesy of The Publicity Hound.

What one event in your childhood had the greatest effect on your writing career?

In my mind’s eye I see myself at the dining-room table in the house I grew up in, a large bookshelf behind me, groaning under the weight of multitudinous hardback volumes in a dazzling array of sizes and colours.

This is the formative event in my childhood, the one that indelibly influenced my writing future. As with so many significant events from my childhood, it is not a true memory but a representative one, a composite of different times, places and events that have coalesced into a cohesive whole for my benefit, because it is heavy with meaning and comfort for me.

These books are the cause and the effect of my writing. They were there before I was born, and have been part of my life forever. I was allowed to touch them, open them, read them and this had a profound influence upon me.

Whatever I may have been forbidden when growing up, whether it was going somewhere, or seeing something, the one thing that was never forbidden to me was knowledge. If a book was in the house, then I was freely allowed to read it, if I so desired.

And read I did, and a cascade of dark and delicious thoughts filled my suggestible mind. I spent many happy hours with Poe, entombing people and guilt behind walls or under floorboards. I fled the Carpathian mountains with Jonathan Harker, the dread hand of Count Dracula never far from my shoulders. Baron Frankenstein guided me through the creation of his new Prometheus, and from there I read about the original Prometheus, and then to an anatomy textbook to see what parts were needed for a monster.

I grew up in a Catholic household, but one that was not so strict as to deny the mysterious side of that religion, and others. And so stories of the Turin Shroud, stigmata, incorruptible saints, angels and demons and apparitions thrilled me, leading on to deeper mysteries; ghosts, monsters, myths and legends, unexplained historical events.

History itself was a rich mine of interest; kings, queens and empires, but also the history of crime. I was six when I first saw the autopsy photos of the unfortunate victims of Jack the Ripper, in a book that collected together profiles of the most infamous criminals in history, from regicides to infanticides, swindlers and outlaws, robbers and murderers.

And so I write. And when I write I am drawn to the light and the dark; of human nature, of good and evil forces. The “other” infests my fictional worlds, whether you choose a rational explanation or one that comes from beyond our plane of existence.

What influenced you?

Next time I visit my parents, I’m going to have to see if some of these books are still there, and whether they would part with them…
  1. July 18, 2010 8:53 am

    Reading your description of the bookshelf I immediately flashed back to the one in our dining room–and what I remember most of it is the set of World Book Encyclopedias. (Complete with an annual “yearbook” update — what a quaint vestige of a different age!) I won’t say I read every last word, A to Z, but I sure did read a lot. And as the world opened up to me in those entries about zebras and Morocco and the Empire State Building, I started to write about it.

    Your question also made me think of a writing contest I won in third grade–we had to write about the adventures of some grasshopper, I think. Still proud of that one!


  2. adampb permalink
    July 18, 2010 7:12 pm

    My earliest memories are of reading The Famous Five and The Secret Seven, as well as a plethora of war novels and fantasy novels during high school. My first big achievement was reading Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings when I was 12.
    Since then, the reading has waned and the writing was put to one side until now; too many winters have passed, but must not regret. Must take the future head on.

  3. July 19, 2010 9:46 am

    I have to say that my biggest inspiration has always been Stephen King. My mother had most of his books growing up, and I was reading them from elementary school on. Of course I was drawn to the fact that he is a masterful storyteller, but another thing that fascinated me about his characters was that they have always been, for the most part, regular people like you and me thrown into extraordinary circumstances.

    King was the first author that showed me the real power of regional dialect and magic realism. One of my greatest ambitions as a writer is to come up with a mythology for the South that is as inspirational to others as King’s supernatural version of Maine was for me growing up.

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