Getting to knoooow you…Getting to know aaaaall abooooou-
Enough of that.
So given that this is a new blog, I think it’s a cracking good idea that I reveal just a few tidbits about me to get you, the reader – yes, you – interested. Maybe we’ll find some common ground, or maybe we’ll discover that we have absolutely NOTHING in common. But, none the less, you shall know a little bit more about me. And that’s a good thing.
ME, me, meee.
A little idea I had was to include a few books that “made me”, as in, books that inspired me growing up. Would you like that? Yes?
Well then, if you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin.
I discovered what an “author” was when I was about four, I think – around the same time I realised what books were, and that there were lots of them and that I could live thousands of different exciting lives all whilst sitting still. By the time I was about 6, I think, I had decided that the author life was for me. Before then, I’d just thought that books came down from space and that authors were people who sat on different moons and sort of showered them down from the galaxy – not real, living, normal people like me.
For a start, how on earth did they get all those bazillions of words down into a book? Why was their handwriting so neat? What happens if you made a spelling mistake?
Of course, I didn’t realise that publishing was a business which required a team of people to write, edit, polish – not to mention all the ghastly slush pile processes, the agents, the rejections and the acceptances.
So it was with this in mind that, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, I attempted to “write” my own “book”. I’m sure I attempted it a few times by folding bits of paper, but that didn’t work – the paper unfolded, got stained and, anyway, I could only fit about three words on it. No, it was after I fell in love with my first “favourite author” that I got hold of a red, hardback notebook with lines and margins and started my own novel in biro.
It was a Jacqueline Wilson rip-off. Yes, you’ve guessed it. My first favourite author was Jacqueline Wilson, and this – I think – was my favourite book:
The Illustrated Mum.
Jacqueline Wilson was probably my first introduction to realistic children’s writing – stories about highly imaginative, colourful kids who are living dramatic, gritty, honest and shocking lives.
And they were lives we, the kids, could relate to.
Sometimes it was because we recognised the characters – such as the illustrated mum herself, who is fun, and fantastic, and vibrant, but suffers with Bipolar Disorder (or manic depression) and can be every bit as awful as she was brilliant. Poor Dolphin is caught between loving her mum so much it hurt and recognising, as she gets older, that her mum is not well. Her mum isn’t reliable. Worst of all, her big sister, Star, is growing too old to put up with it anymore; for her, the magic is wearing off, and the sisters are growing apart.
Sometimes it’s because we recognise the kids – like Dolphin, who still loves somebody blindly and fiercely, even when it hurts. Or like Star, who isn’t such a baby anymore, and can’t help seeing the darkness in the people she loves.
That’s deep stuff for a kids book.
I think it was at this point that I realised I wanted to write about deep, meaningful subjects; about young people dealing with real-world issues. Though I did dabble in the odd bit of fantasy – like Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice, for example – I escaped into worlds that felt familiar. Not necessarily in terms of subject – JW’s stories often revolve around the foster care system and council housing, which I never directly experienced, though my friends did. But in terms of emotional impact, I was definitely there with them.
JW’s work – all of her books, in fact, which I gobbled up fast as you could say NICK SHARRATT (every kid recognises those cartoon characters a mile off) spoke to me on that intimate level, and every character became a new best friend who was whispering in your ear, telling you their secrets.
So as time went on, I started to read more “Grown up” books alongside my Jacqueline Wilson books – and all the others from the library, of course, which my dad took me to seemingly all the time. In fact if there was one thing my dad would usually agree to buying me, it was a book. It was our most prominent bonding experience, that.
After reading the Sugar Secrets series:
I started to become more open to books about teens, and sex, and smoking, and drinking and the like. Of course, still being a whipper-snapper, I wasn’t actually *doing* any of these things, and so it made it all the more exciting to read about.
Being a bit shy, grungey and anti-social (black nail polish was to become black hair, black boots, black everything later on!) there was something really alluring about friendship books, where break-ups were the end of the world and every summer was full of drama, snogging and mystery. They were brilliant novella-length books that, much like JW, could be gobbled up one after the other like Smarties.
Delicious, delicious Smarties.
So then, after a tip-off from a pal of mine, I became even MORE open to outlandish books full of drama, sex and scandal, and I discovered…
Flowers in the Attic.
V C Andrews, to this day, is one of my favourite authors. I recently finished the first two books of the Casteel series and loved them every little bit as much as I loved this. Although dear, talented Virginia Andrews died before she could write any more, the franchise has branched out to include hundreds of ghost-written novels of the same ingredients – the gothic mystery, drama and tension that we all came to love.
But of course, none of them could hold a candle to the originals.
Flowers in the Attic was the first guilty-pleasure book I ever read, and I was 12. Seeing my undying passion for these books, my mum rushed out and scooped up the rest of the series from a charity shop – something she still does for me today!- and I gobbled them up, yes, like Smarties.
Flowers was the first gothic romance I’d ever read, and it was filled with hate-filled lust, misery, torment – you name it. Cathy and Chris Dollanganger were my saints and I loved them, even when their dark brother/sister relationship turned a little weird while they were locked up in that attic loft with their little siblings, Corie and Carrie.
Yep, this is the one you’ve heard about – the incest story.
V C had these wickedly amazing talent for developing characters to the point where their confused, weird, erotic relationship had a twisted sense to it. After all, they were just children locked in an attic, and as those children grew into adults, they became dependant only on each other. They created a surrogate family for themselves in the lofty attic rooms of Foxworth hall, the gothic mansion where they were trapped by their own wicked mother.
All right, it’s weird, and kind of gross- but that’s the beauty of FICTION!
Every dress, every hair style, every meager meal they were fed under lock and key – all were described so beautifully that even the paper flowers which decorated the attic became a vast and looming garden. Every Ballet step by Cathy was a gorgeous, moonlit performance. Everything was dark, and troublesome, and undeniably beautiful.
It was also full of sex – with details, too, which my 12 year old mind was just going crazy for. You can imagine.
The swan-shaped bed that features in the later books would forever haunt me – as seen in the film Sunset Blvd, actually – and be a dream of mine to this day. I must have a swan-shaped bed.
Even though Flowers was never considered a gothic romance of the calibre of, let’s say, the Bronté sisters – whom I also love and adore, by the way – it was a novel that took the world by storm. Even when it was released around 30 years ago-ish, thousands and thousands of teenage girls, or almost-teens, like me, were going mad over this novel.
And they still are to this day.
So, though there were arguably many, many books that made me, I think those were my earliest influences that stand out for me. Later, of course, I would read things like The Beach by Alex Garland, and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and many other beautiful, dark and mysterious books.
And they would all fuel one desire within me: to write gritty realism from the point of view of teenagers and young adults.
Naturally, like all authors, published and not – I’m still learning, and still searching for that dark story to tell.
But those are the books that took me there, and will be holding my hand all the way.