When Rob asked me to do a guest post about my favourite author, I knew who I was going to write about before I had even replied. There are absolutely hundreds (quite literally) of writers I adore, and a few select authors who influenced me hugely. But there is only one author that is my all-time favourite, and also the biggest influence on my writing.
Surprisingly, considering I write quite a contemporary genre, you would expect it to be a contemporary author. But it isn’t; it’s Charles Dickens.
When I was about nine years old, somebody bought me a copy of ‘A Christmas Carol’. At nine years old, no matter how much you love reading, a ‘Classic’ is unlikely to get you excited. So it sat on my shelves for a long time. But then one rainy day, after realising I had read everything else there, I picked it up. I remember the cover was just a plain yellow cover with a small illustration on the front. And then I began reading.
I couldn’t put it down. Four hours later, I looked up and saw that late afternoon had turned into evening, and I was hooked. It was unlike any other book I had read up to that point. There was something so realistic and…honest about the story. It was a storyline with everything I loved at that time; ghosts, mystery, and fast pace. But it had something else beyond it, almost as though Dickens was trying to whisper another message through the pages. After that, I devoured anything written by him.
As an adult, my favourite book of his has to be Great Expectations. While other people have their favourites, I think this is possibly the best book he ever wrote. The first time I ever read it, I think I just sat and thought about it in silence for an hour…and then read it again. The characters were from every walk of life, and so real and intense, I felt I knew them. I don’t think I’ve read many authors since, who match Charles Dickens’ brutal honesty for picking out the many flaws in his characters. He doesn’t make ‘good’ or ‘bad’ characters, but simply makes them as they are in life. When you meet someone for the first time, you may have a good or bad feeling about them, but you won’t be sure until that first argument, or that first shared joke. Dickens’ characters are the same.
The other thing I loved about Charles Dickens’ books, is that they are not really of his time. In a sense. Pick up any other book of that era, and while you may love it, they can be full of flowery words and over-detailing. His books do not read like this; they could have been written by a contemporary author of the last century. They are direct and unafraid to say what he actually saw; showing humankind for what it was. They are books that will transcend time because they relate to things that even now are a problem in our society.
Add to all of this that he was simply a talented wordsmith. I grew up soaking the vivid descriptions of his books into my brain, remembering how to let the reader small, and touch, and taste, while leaving them to work out everything in between. Take for example, this passage from the first chapter of Great Expectations;
“…Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dikes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.
“Hold your noise!” cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!”
A fearful man, all in coarse gray, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared, and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin…”
I could see that marsh as I read it out, and the image of the limping man with an iron chain clamped around his leg has never left me. The grey and darkness of the setting so beautifully described made me shiver as though the cold wind had just blown through my bedroom. I’ve always been more drawn to classical literature since then, the beauty of a truly vivid scene description almost poetic.
To me, he summed up everything that I want to be as a writer. He was someone who had a very hard life as a child, but came through it, and used those same experiences to paint his books. The phoenix rising from the ashes, as it were. His writing held a little of his soul, creating characters with honesty and satire, and descriptions that filled out the room in front of you. Charles Dickens wrote books that will remembered for their social commentary, their comedy, their horror, and their twisting storylines. And for me personally, he is also the reason I decided to become a true writer, as I grew into an adult.
I was born in Guisborough, North Yorkshire in 1987 and have lived in various places around Britain, including Newcastle and Glasgow.
My writing is inspired by various writers, including the vivid characters of Charles Dickens, the imagination of Stephen King, and the gothic imagery of Anne Rice.
My love of horror began at an early age, when I was only three or four. I could read proficiently at the age of three, and devoured fairy-stories, but I always had a bent towards the darker stories, such as the Brother’s Grimm’s tales…Red Riding Hood was always a firm favourite, although I always felt sorry for the wolf, despite him having tried to eat everyone!