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One of the questions writers get asked fairly often is who their literary influences are. I rarely know how to answer that question. Mostly because it’s usually asked about a specific book. I have no idea what writers and books influenced How To Ditch Your Fairy. And the Magic or Madness trilogy was more influence by fantasy books that drove me spare than the ones I loved. The people asking the question tend not to want to hear about negative influences.
I suspect the people best positioned to answer the question are not the writers but the readers. I’m dreadful at spotting my influences.
SPOILER WARNING: The rest of this post is going behind a cut because I discuss literary influences on Liar and I happen to know that some of you are as nutty about spoilers as I am and don’t want to know even the tiniest bit about the book before you read it. Though I think identifying specific literary influences is way more that just a tiny bit spoilery. And one of the ones I’m going to talk about below this cut is MASSIVELY spoilery. (Well, in JustineLand. I have a much broader definition of spoiler than most people, which makes conversations with Sarah Rees Brennan and Diana Peterfreund difficult sometimes as neither seems to understand the concept of the spoiler at all. Bless them!)
You has been warned.
But a friend who’s read a lot of my work just pointed out to me that Patricia Highsmith is clearly a big influence on Liar. Which made me realise that, yes, she is. And so are Walter Mosley and Jim Thompson. All three of them are writers I’ve read obsessively for a good many years. When I set out to write a crime/psychological thriller (in the broadest sense) it’s not unsurprising that my three favourite writers of same would seep into the novel. I’d be hard pressed to tell you how or where their influences are closest to the surface in Liar you’d have to ask my friend.
Another big influence is We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. A novel I have been unable to get out of my head since I first read it a few years ago. The book is both sticky and disturbing and brilliant. As unreliable narrators go, Eva Khatchadourian,1 is one of the most disturbing, though definitely not one of the most unreliable. Some days I think that without realising it I rewrote We Need to Talk About Kevin from the pov of Kevin and the result is Liar.
Or perhaps not.
One of the reasons I’m so uncomfortable with talking about my influences is that these four writers are all brilliant. It’s extraordinarily boastful to mention my work in the same breath as theirs. I feel the need to point out that I’m not comparing Liar to their novels. I’m saying that if I hadn’t read their books I may never have written Liar. I’m saying not that their genius has seeped into it rendering Liar genius. Tragically, it doesn’t work like that. Highsmith, Mosley, Thompson, Shriver taught me a vast deal about psychological thrillers, and skads about writing, but what I did with their teachings is my own lookout. Genius is not transmitted through the eyeballs. Pity that.
Do any of you find the literary influence question as tricky as I do?
Posted by Justine at 14:45, 14 June 2009 under How To Ditch Your Fairy, Ideas, Liar, Vainglory, Writing life, Writing process | 7 Comments »
I am the same way. Consciously, I can only see the influence of things that annoyed me in other books that I want to “fix” in my own stories, and I need other people to point out the influence of authors I actually love.
By the way, I just read and loved How To Ditch Your Fairy.
June 14th, 2009 at 4:01 PM
Mary Elizabeth S. Says:
I find *any* influences question tricky, because all of my influences are unconscious. This is because if I become aware that a certain book or author is influencing my story, I shy away from it.
It’s partly a reversal of my early writing habits. For a long, long time I intentionally patterned my writing after various beloved authors or books. Parroting them was my way of learning how to do that funny thing you do when you write. It made it easier to turn the stuff in my head into stuff on paper if I could borrow other writers’ voices and styles to do it with.
But mostly it’s because of my fear of writing a book that sounds like a poorer version of someone else’s. I worry that people will see another book reflected in mine and think I was just copying them, and probably that I did a bad job of it, too.
So, I try to avoid any obvious influences. At least, any that are obvious to me, which is a tenuous assessment at the best of times.
June 14th, 2009 at 4:19 PM
Debby Garfinkle Says:
I loved We Need to Talk About Kevin! Creepy, thought-provoking, and an amazing double trick ending.
I recently read Shriver’s Post-Birthday World, and that was awesome too.
OMG, I didn’t know they were making a movie out of KEVIN.
June 14th, 2009 at 4:48 PM
Sarah Rees Brennan Says:
Oh no, Tilda Swinton will not help me with the AWFUL THING I keep thinking in regards to We Need to Talk About Kevin. Which by the by, I also love like burning.
June 14th, 2009 at 9:43 PM
Karen Mahoney Says:
And talking of LIAR, I couldn’t help thinking of you & your book when walking past a huge billboard of this (http://www.aussiehaircare.co.uk/index.php) on the London Underground today. Really made me smile, especially considering what it’s advertising.
June 15th, 2009 at 9:52 AM
I have several authors whose works I tend to love, but I write based on ideas that come to me personally, through dreams (the fun and dark ones) and personal experiences. Sometimes ideas hit me at the weirdest times, like at a restaurant yesterday.
I guess there is one story which was strictly influenced by a trilogy, but I dreamed part of that too. Mostly my stories are a mixture of all the things I read, see, and experience, and there’s not necessarily one that can be identified.
June 15th, 2009 at 7:58 PM
From the point of view of Kevin? Now I rilly, rilly have to read Liar.
June 18th, 2009 at 8:17 PM
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