Welcome back to another post in the Monday Inspirations series, where guest bloggers write about the books and authors that have inspired them. Today’s post is by Geoff Le Pard. You can check out OTHER Monday Inspirations posts here.
Digging back into my memory for books and authors that have inspired me, I have to be honest and admit I hated reading as a child. I learnt because that’s what you had to do, not because I wanted to. I’m not sure I was especially slow but I’d do anything to avoid reading. That was, as near as dammit, a crime in my family. My brother, a bare 15 months older was into Austen and Bronte and Conan-Dolye and Wells, especially Wells by the time he was seven or so. He set a benchmark and I missed it (I think I was the normal one, looking back, but at the time that’s not what I felt). Inside, away from the moaning I wanted to like reading, I wanted what everyone else had. The epiphany came when I found Tintin by Hergé.
Comics weren’t considered real reading at home but these fantastically beautiful graphic books just about passed muster. They had complex stories, they had compelling characters, lots of humour and drama and they had, indeed still have, the most expressive, wide ranging and eclectic swearing in any work of literature. And they weren’t Dad’s or Mum’s or my brother’s but mine. I don’t know exactly how old I was when I came across The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure in the Herne Bay library – probably eight or so – but I loved them the evil crooks, the Bird Brothers, the eccentric Captain Haddock and his brave ancestor, the ‘collector’ of wallets, the hapless detectives Thomson and Thompson, the batty inventor Professor Calculus and, of course, Tintin and Snowy, his loyal, corruptible dog. Oh how I loved them. I lay on the floor and disappeared into another world. I’d discovered that most important fifth dimension – the imagination. I had the key.
I could claim that that is where my reading started and everything followed neatly from there but that wouldn’t be true. Sure I read a variety of authors, at school and after. For a time, under the dippy influence of the girlfriend, who became my wife, I tried to expand my range to cover poetry, especially the poems of Roger McGough and classic of literature, starting I seem to recall with Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog by Joyce. I was fascinated and pulled into this new world. In short order I had covered Hermann Hesse and Gunther Grass, Saul Bellow and Saint-Exupéry, Hardy and Camus. Harper and Laurie Lee. I love those two Lees, the rhythms, the pictures painted with words, the resonant messages. For a few years I read widely and began to understand the joy of literature.
But something slipped and I regressed. Work played its part. As a commercial lawyer my job was to read and create complex, comprehensive contracts. They ran to hundreds of pages and in all honesty, after a day at the coal face I wanted nothing more to do with words on a page.
Such reading as I did was trashy. Detective stories and thrillers mostly. Some biographies. Literature as an anaesthetic in truth. It was one Christmas that my wife wondered if I might not like to try something different. ‘Make it you New Year’s resolution,’ she said. ‘One classic for every two of your choice.’
School had put me off anything older than the 1920s; I didn’t enjoy fighting the language, the detailed descriptions. I wanted plot and progress above all else, not nuanced storytelling. I don’t know who suggested trying The Warden by Anthony Trollope. My mother? My brother? Whoever it was I owe them a debt of gratitude. Here, in a small volume was a modern novel written over 150 years ago. The people, the politics they are all recognisable today. And in Septimus Harding we have one of the glorious creations of English literature.
Since then I’ve read Dickens and Austen and the many Brontës, but no one from that era approaches Trollope in my book. Is it a coincidence that, following this second awakening, I went on the creative writing course that has led to where I am today? Writing my own books? Perhaps but I tend to think that some seed was sown the day I opened the cover on the Barchester Chronicles.