Part of the Beacons evening included a discussion on how Literature can change lives and in order to prepare for this I quickly made some notes - and since I don't know what else to do with them I thought I might as well publish them here.
1. All writers must have had their lives changed
by literature. They must have been so
impressed by it at one stage that they want to devote their lives to producing
more of it.
2. Children's fiction
- perhaps the most powerful influence.
The first set of books I
remember loving were Narnian
by C.S. Lewis. I read them until they
Other notable books were the Borrowers
by Andre Norton, which I
would love to say made me more careful about what I threw away, but didn't, Rosemary
Sutcliffe novels particularly Eagle of
, which I guess influenced me because I came to be interested in
history, a Japanese book called Sadako and a Thousand Paper Cranes
Eleanor Coerr about a child suffering from radiation sickness after the bomb in
Hiroshima which really woke me up to the atrocities of war and a general
sympathy with the anti bomb movement, and then a series of books on The Tripods
by John Christopher- one of
the first science fiction books I read. Many more were to follow.
I suppose the Narnia books
were intended to be spiritual ones - but to be honest they didn't have a spiritual effect on
me. However, I am sure that some people are spiritually inspired by books .e.g.
I was reading a non-fiction book called Desperately
by Ziauddin Sardar recently, and in that he said a novel
written by a mystic The Book of
by Abdu Qadir who was a Muslim convert formerly known as Ian
Dallas, drew Sardar to exploring a form of Sufi Islam. So a big inspiration for him.
Of course the ultimate
example of a book changing lives are the Bible
and the Budhhist Sutras
These have all changed countless lives.
In fact changed the world. Are
these literature? I would certainly say
that some of it is.
books can also change lives: Mao's The
Red Book of Guerilla Warfare is still and important item in China and for a time replaced religion. Similarly Karl Marx's Das Capital, or the theory of
various thinkers in Economics e.g. The General Theory of Employment,
Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes have had big influences on people in government and so have changed lives. The same applies to philosophical works. For instance, the works of Aristotle and other Greek philosophers written down by their
students have changed the world - and again, although not novels might be regarded as literature.
The first adult book that I
wrote was inspired by a book - but was not literature Arthur Holmes Principles of Physical Geology
learnt about Continental Drift which inspired my Wegener book.
Scientific books can be
powerful - just as powerful as any others because the ideas are concrete:
Charles Darwin's Origin of Species
must have changed many lives, and he in turn was changed by Thomas Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population
. I have heard that many Nobel Scientists of
the twentieth century were inspired by a book called the Microbe Hunters
de Kruif which described the lives of scientists such as Pasteur. This undoubtedly changed the way their lives
were going and felt inspired to do science.
Some of these are so well written, I think they could be called
literature. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring
is often quoted as the
book that started a lot of people thinking about what we are doing to our
books have inspired my life to a large extent.
Oliver Sachs' books on the brain The
Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat,
and a less well-known book The boy who was raised as a dog
Bruce Perry, as well as various books on memory such as Pieces of Light
by Charles Fernyhough and Why Life Speeds Up as You Get Older
by Duowe Draaisma have all
caused me to change my thinking. And again are literature in their own way...
7. Similarly, anthropological
books like Don't Sleep there are snakes
by Daniel Everett about a missionary
linguist living with a tribe of Amazonian Indians who do not have words for
times further away than a month, or numbers greater than 10 made me question
how I see the world and inspired me.
are also a great source of inspiration. It can be our only key to the past. Reading memoirs and witness accounts of a
time can inspire a desire to investigate and write about them. It again helps to think about things
differently - which makes life interesting.
For example my Hoffmann novel was inspired by history books
as well as literature (in particular Struwwelpeter
- a book of cautionary tales for children from
an early psychiatrist).
If I look at my bookshelves I
would say virtually every book that I have read has inspired me to some
degree. Sometimes it is the beauty of the writing.
by Toni Morrison. God of Small Things
by Anjurati Roy.
10. Often it is the form
e.g The first story in Hotel World
by Ali Smith which was written from the point of view
of a ghost. Or Martin Amis's John Self
- a greedy capitalist. Or The
Incident of the Dog in the Night time
- an autistic child or even Carol Shields' Happenstance
- looking at a story from the husband's and the wife's
point of view - depending on which way up you hold the book. Or Angela Carter's viewpoint which always
seems other-worldly to me. And then there was Ray Bradbury's Science
Fiction. I loved this - he would take an
incredible scenario and make it convincing.
All these encouraged me to be more adventurous with my writing. I went through a phase of reading every
yellow Gollancz book on the shelf in my local library. They were of varying literary value, I
suppose but they made me think - and so, to a small degree they changed my
|Rodge Glass, me, Gregory Norminton and Cathy Bolton at the launch of Beacons: photo by Emma Norminton|
11. Then there is the plot. Sometimes the
story - the twists and turns inspire, shock and amuse. e.g. Joanne Harris's Gentlemen Players and
Gregory's Serious Things - but virtually
every good thriller and crime fiction book that I've come across.
12. Then there is the setting
that inspires. Sometimes so strong is
part of the story: as in Rodge's story We're
all Gonna have the Blues.
extent the setting can be as inspiring as any character. It is something to pitch against. Particularly important in books about the
environment - like McCarthy's Road
. Another example was Jim Crace's Quarantine
: another inspiring
finally, there is character. It is character
that I find most
inspiring in a book. A good strong
character can inhabit my mind for long after I've read it, and I have read so
many I'd find it difficult to name just one, but one of my neighbours has a
child called Rebecca
: a name chosen
just after the mother had just finished a certain book by Daphne Du Maurier she
told me once. It may not have changed
the world, but it certainly changed one person's life.