Someone recently asked me where my stories come from. I immediately replied with “from my misspent childhood.”. No one laughed. I quickly thought about coming up with a real answer and didn’t think simply saying “my imagination” would cut it. I thought about all the things that have inspired me and affected the direction my work has taken.
I’ve always been a dreamer. At school I was that child who spent more time staring out the window than at a text book, and I still spend a lot of time staring out of windows (some real, some metaphorical). I watched films and TV shows, I read books (mostly fantasy and sci-fi), I played games (computer games, board/tabletop games), I ran around the forest with my friends pretending sticks were swords. It’s all pretty standard as far as childhoods go, I guess.
When I was 13 or 14 I read a book series called The Artefacts of Power by Maggie Furey. I was blown away by the scope of the story, the depth of the characters, and the majesty of the world. It inspired me to give this whole writing crack a go. What I created back then was truly awful and I thank the Gods (which ever will listen) that they are lost for all time.
I spent a fair few of my teenage years dreaming about a world of vampires, werewolves, demons, and angels. A lot of this was probably down to my watching of Buffy and its spin off Angel. I’d like to stop right here and say a big “Thank you” to Joss Whedon for teaching me that dialogue can be a lot of fun.
Eventually my dreams moved on again as I gravitated back towards a more traditional fantasy setting. Dungeons & Dragons was a big inspiration to me. I played it both with dice and bestiaries, and on the computer. For a long time I dreamed of a world bathed in magic and mythical creatures with plots that held the fate of a hundred worlds in the balance.
Then I found Robin Hobb and devoured the Farseer, Liveship Traders, and Tawny Man trilogies back to back. There was one Christmas where my family barely saw me because they kept distracting me from Fitz’s adventures. What Hobb’s books taught me was that fantasy could be on a much more personal level. I couldn’t help but get inside of Fitz’s head and feel what he felt. From that moment on I knew my stories would be about the characters. The fate of the world might hang in the balance but I would write about how the pressure of trying to save it was affecting the inhabitants.
I got into World of Warcraft while studying Zoology at university. I find it hard to express just how much that game influenced me. Never have I been so absorbed into a world. Much of my time spent with it was grindingout experience or gold, but I also found myself intrigued by the lore. The conflict between races and nations, the idea behind the Emerald Dream, the scheming of the Dragons. I’ve long since left World of Warcraft behind but it definitely left its mark.
Just after finishing university I discovered the GrrM Reaper. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is a true behemoth. I feel I learned two very important messages from Westeros. One was that twists could be truly shocking, and the other was that fantasy didn’t have to be about the magic. Also, do not engage in food porn while creating literature. Too many pies can make books fat as well.
By now First Earth was taking shape in my head. I had a grand conflict in mind that would span a number of smaller stories as pieces were put into play by both sides. The Ties that Bind had yet to appear but a number of the characters were floating around in my head just waiting for a story of their own.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Chris Wooding’s Tales of the Ketty Jay series. With fun dialogue, a gallery of rogues, and “blink and you’ll miss it” pacing there are few (if any) series I have enjoyed reading quite so much, and those are elements I hope to emulate in my own work.
This isn’t a complete list of course. I couldn’t provide a complete list even if I spent the next year trying to remember every thing that has influenced and inspired me (especially as the list is constantly growing). I watch something on TV and it sets my imagination on fire, ideas spinning out of nowhere to change the worlds in which I write. I read a book and some of the concepts presented within its pages make me wonder at the ingenuity of the author and inspire elements of my own work. I hear dialogue so witty and real that I wonder why none of my characters say similar things. Inspiration comes from everywhere and it’s impossible not to be influenced by the things we watch/read/see/do/love/fear.
So I tried telling all of this to the person who originally asked me this question and it’s fair to say he looked a little bemused at my passionate outburst. After a moment of nodding along to the insanity clearly spilling out of my mouth, he finished fixing the boiler, asked for my autograph on the work order, and promptly drove away.