Saturday, 12 October 2013

My Literary Autobiography

My earliest memory of reading comes from the Garfield comic strips that were on the back page of my Dad's newspapers when I was a child. Not only did I used to look forward to coming home from school to read these short 3-box panels, but I also used to cut them out and paste them into my own scrapbook.

After Garfield, I moved on to regularly collecting the weekly Transformers Comics. Although, if I am honest, I did not so much read these as just want to own them as an extension of my favourite childhood toy. This in turn led me into collecting the Transformers - Find Your Fate series of books. These were printed back in the day when 'interactive' had nothing to do with digital content. They were written in the first person-present tense and at the end of each page, the reader gets to choose what happens next by picking from 3 options (by page number). I do not think that I ever survived right through to the one successful ending, but this was not for want of trying!

The next and final step of my childhood literary journey came from reading Asterix comics by Goscinny and Uderzo. This may seem like a literary step backwards from the choose your own adventure books, but thanks to a plethora of complex and sometimes funny (Cacophonix) French sounding names, it was not always easy going. Every night I would spend my reading hour after bedtime with my head buried deep into one of Asterix and Obelix's adventures.

There were other tomes from my childhood, but none made as much of an impression on me as those listed above. I then had a barren few years lost in the world of Sega where my reading lapsed considerably. Unless required to do so at school, I never really read at all. That is until I turned fifteen and a friend introduced me to Terry Pratchett's Discworld series of novels. The same friend also introduced me to the wonders of alcohol at around the same time and both had a profound effect on my outlook. My mother kept grounding me for the drinking and my English teacher kept marking me down for the surreal tone that my Pratchett influenced writing was taking on (I recall a story that digressed into a brief section written from the point of view of an irate stick). Between that final year at school and starting university, I was never without a Discworld novel to guide me through any moments of spare time (when not too hung over).

Discworld was a peak for me, as after that, once more, my reading lapsed. Doing an English Degree seemed to sap the pleasure out of reading. Sure, I enjoyed many of the books that I studied, particularly anything from the Gothic and American Fiction modules (Maybe it is personal taste, but I find Twain has aged far, far better than Dickens). Favourites from this period were Catch-22The Monk and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to name just three. Other highlights were being introduced to the works of Paul AusterToni MorrisonVladamir Nabokov and of course, William Shakespeare. The downside was that reading had become an academic pursuit and no longer something that I did for pleasure.

After leaving University, I slumped into a dead-end office job and forgot about a lot of my prior passions. It was only when I bought a one way ticket to Australia that I began to read again. Every hostel had a book exchange and I always took full advantage. I usually played it safe and went for authors that I had heard of. I worked my way through the bulk of Stephen King's catalogue this way. The author that had the biggest influence on me however, I would find by complete accident. I have never been a fan of courtroom dramas and so had stayed away from John Grisham novels. Only when presented with no other choice was I willing to give Grisham a go and it turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have made. Twenty odd books later and barely a courtroom scene between them, I can honestly say that Grisham is my favourite  author.

The list is now getting nearer the present and recently I have tried to be more eclectic in my reading approach (I have also run out of Grisham) so I am now more likely to grab a book I had never heard of by a writer that I am not familiar with and give it a go. This list is a lot more eclectic and there are too many names to mention, so I will simply say that I have developed a taste for the humorous and the slightly offbeat. I will also eat up any speculative science books, the best of which (and most accessible) are by Marcus Chown.

I suppose the only thing now missing is my favourite book. The answer to that is simple as it is by the most outspoken member of my favourite band; the Beatles.

In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works is an anthology of John Lennon's short stories and poetry. It is very off-kilter, extremely politically incorrect and a remarkable insight into the mind of a very troubled and often misunderstood genius. It is not a book that would appeal to anybody (possibly only die hard Lennon fans), but that does not matter. Nobody else has to like my favourite, only me.

Two books that are not on the above list, but are very much favourites of mine are my own two published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are now available in paperback and as ebooks at Amazon and selected online retailers.

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