This post has been sitting in my ‘Drafts’ folder for about a year – I started on it, and simply forgot it was there. I’m sure you’ve seen this meme a fair bit, but here are my twenty-five influential writers anyway. These are not necessarily twenty-five writers who influenced the world; they are writers who are dear to my heart, and who have shaped my ideas and understanding over the years. I have grown not only to treasure their works, but also to be inspired – and challenged – by their lives.
1) The Bronte sisters
Charlotte, in particular. I was about nine or ten the first time I read Jane Eyre, and as is probably the case with thousands of other girls, Jane had a huge influence on me. She impressed me so much as a little girl; I was always amazed at how unfazed she was in front of Mr Rochester. I would have been so tongue-tied in front of him, sardonic thing that he is. Later down the road, I came to love Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey too. What I find most admirable about the Bronte sisters is that they persevered – despite the odds (three governnesses in quietYorkshire, what are the chances?) their novels – and names – have survived the test of time, and discrimination. It’s a shame that Emily and Anne were so overlooked in their time, and continue to receive more or less the same treatment today (though, of course, no one today would dare suggest that Charlotte penned Wuthering Heights)
2) Gao Xingjian
It was through my recent experience with Soul Mountain that I realised how rigid my thoughts were. The elusiveness and ambiguity of Gao’s prose allowed me – for a while anyway – to untangle myself from the constraints of my own mind. Sometimes it’s such a relief to allow yourself to be led down unknown paths by the writer.
3) William Shakespeare
What I love about Shakespeare is the powerfully evocative quality of his plays. I think I love Hamlet, The Tempest and Much Ado About Nothing most of all. A Midsummer Night’s Dream follows close behind.
4) George Orwell
One of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. Always playful, always thought-provoking, always a pleasure to read. Still haven’t finished that volume of his essays though. Will get around to it someday.
5) Vladimir Nabokov
Beautiful, haunting prose. Need to read Nabokov that isn’t Lolita.
6) Virginia Woolf
She entered my world quite unexpectedly, but I immediately sensed that there was something refreshing and timeless about her work. After reading my first Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, I became aware of the powerful rhythm of words and language. These days, though, I prefer Woolf’s diaries and letters to her novels. I find myself more fascinated by her life and the struggles she went through in order to produce works such as The Waves and To the Lighthouse.
7) Anne Frank
Apart from penning an incredibly poignant account of her teenage years in Nazi-occupied Europe, Anne Frank had a large influence on my diary-keeping habits. I’ve fallen out of the habit now, but many of my childhood hours were spent filling notebook after notebook after notebook.
8) Roald Dahl
A truly wonderful storyteller. To be honest, I never quite ‘outgrew’ Dahl – I still own a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I love to re-read it. I suppose I should mention Quentin Blake here too, because Dahl’s stories wouldn’t be complete without those quirky illustrations of his. I only wish I had a copy of Matilda.
9) Jane Austen
To call her a feminist is a bit – okay, very – far-fetched, but she’s an admirable figure anyway.
How many valuable pieces of poetry and fiction have been penned byAnon, or Anonymous? Sometimes it’s easier to value writing when the author’s identity remains a mystery. In this way, our perceptions aren’t skewed by contextual knowledge, or by any sort of partiality.
11) Beatrix Potter
I’m actually not a fan of Peter Rabbit, but I loved the film Miss Potter.
12) Arundhati Roy
Roy’s writing is overly stylized – at times unbearably so – but there’s something so vivacious about The God of Small Things that I can’t help but love it. It’s such a beautifully crafted book.
14) William Blake
I’m drawn more to his artworks than his poetry, but this man fascinates me.
15) Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is far from one of my favourite books and yet I can’t help but admire her passion and unbridled talent. She was only nineteen years old when she penned the book, and though it’s an unpolished work, it’s still a powerful piece of literature. And beautiful too, in hindsight.
16) Victor Hugo
Les Miserables – need I say more?
17) T S Eliot
Much like Woolf, Eliot provided a fresh element to his medium – i.e. poetry. I read his gritty Prufrock and Portrait of a Lady and Rhapsody on a Windy Night at a time when I was thoroughly sick of nightingales and cherry boughs, and found his poems so refreshing.
18) J R R Tolkien
Master of worldbuilding. And he’s the man who thought up hobbits. I went through a brief fantasy stage – though I suppose I should say Tolkien stage, because I only ever read Tolkien – and his works fascinated me to no end.
19) Alfred Tennyson
I know Tennyson is a poet, not a painter, but I can’t help but associate him with the Pre-Raphaelites and their ethereal depictions of Arthurian legend. My favourites of his are The Lady of Shallot and The Mermaid.
20) The Brothers’ Grimm
The Grimm brothers’ archetypal folk tales are such magical, beautiful, amorphous things. I loved them as a child, and I love them still (though for different reasons altogether). Their tales have been the inspiration behind many favourites – Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, in particular. Her stories are just wonderful.
21) Oscar Wilde
Poisonous, sinister, bursting with ideas.
22) C S Lewis
Prim and proper prose, with quintessentially British characters called Lucy and Edmund and Susan and Peter is my sort of thing. Plus, he was a wonderful theologian.
23) Alexandre Dumas
Like Hugo, Dumas has the gift of encompassing an entire world in his novels. Lengthy though they may be, there is not a single word or chapter I would remove from his works, because they are such a delight to read.
24) J K Rowling
By now, I think everyone knows how much I love Harry Potter. It’s the writing too, but mostly I love the world she creates. It’s so wonderfully insane. To me it doesn’t matter that she ‘borrows’ elements of other fantasy writers’ work perhaps a little more than is appropriate; she never outright plagiarised, and a book doesn’t necessarily have to be shockingly original to be shockingly good.
25) Dr Seuss
No one does rhyme and bizarre creatures like Seuss, except perhaps Roald Dahl. Star-Bellied Sneetches, the Grinch, Green Eggs and Ham, Cat in the Hat … Such a mastermind.