In which the author lists influences on her writing, rather than writing under the influence, whatever you may think of the result!
It all started a terrifyingly long time ago, when kids wore cords, computer games were massive burping things in the arcade and bikes were engines of bravado and destruction on which fearless young acrobats rode without bothering about such things as helmets. Helmets? For people riding bikes? Why? Because I’m doing a wheelie while standing on the pedals? Pfft, that’s not dangerous. You should see me doing a wheelie while standing on the pedals and executing a 108 degree turn holding the handlebars with only my knees.
In those golden years, young tearaways might opt to spend their quieter hours watching Little House On The Prairie, mesmerized by the gap between Melissa Gilbert’s teeth, or else read a book. We had no television: therefore I read, Melissa-less. I read, and read. I read fantastical history and historical fantasy, fairy tales and science fiction. And the books I read during those years trickled down deep, collecting sediment in my soul. These are the books I am now made of. They form the bedrock structure of me. I sometimes forget they are there, and unconsciously reproduce them in my own work. Surprise! There’s nothing new under the sun. And certainly, the best of these books are worthy of imitating, almost blindly. Shall I list the saints? Here they are, icons of my childhood:
Mary Stewart, whose Arthurian saga told from the point of view of Merlin was set in a historically accurate 5th century Britain, rather than a medieval pastiche. The books are called The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and the Last Enchantment. There are others in the series, but those were the ones I read. They are still among the best retellings of that story I have come across.
Rosemary Sutcliff gave us another set of wonderful Arthurian tales. She also wrote Song for a Dark Queen, now apparently out of print, about Queen Boudicca. (Or Boadicea, as I would have called her.) Enter the tragic red-haired heroine!
Mary Renault, who wrote The King must Die, was probably the greatest influence on my current work. She was also one that I had entirely forgotten about until a couple of years ago – when I realized I was writing yet another version of the Theseus legend. Her retelling of that story as a ‘bildungsroman,’ a coming-of-age tale, anchored in historical fact and immensely believable, simply engraved itself in me as a template… I remember having the sense, when I discovered ancient Greece through her eyes, that “this was how it was.” Mary Renault did not lie.
Ursula K. Le Guin may be my chief saint, and certainly at the age of nine I had set her up in a wall alcove, with a candle. This was a woman who produced imaginary worlds so vivid I immediately recognized those island landscapes of Earthsea, populated by goats and wizards. I was home. (Perhaps it helped that I grew up on the island of Cyprus, which contains a surfeit of goats, though sadly no wizards.) She conjured up alien customs and fantastical beliefs with conviction, as if she had just returned from an anthropological survey with a sack-full of notes. And she did not judge the people she described. They were just there, the good and the bad, the wise and the ugly, and it was her job to introduce them, and tell their stories.
They all had that in common, these storytelling saints and demiurges. They did not pronounce judgment on their creations. I was left with the responsibility of making up my own mind – that, perhaps, was their greatest gift to me…
Mary Victoria’s first book Tymon’s Flight isn’t out until next year but it will be well worth waiting for – it’s set in a tree! You can read more about it at Mary’s LiveJournal.