• Jon Mackley

10 books that inspired me

I was recently asked to list 10 books that have inspired me. It wasn't an easy choice to make, and I think my list keeps changing everytime I look at it. I managed to leave out many of my favourite authors, books and even whole genres simply because there's too much out there. Lord of the Rings should probably be on everyone's list, and likewise there is much inspiration to be found in the Bible, the Talmud and the Koran. And other books from my childhood like Carrie's War by Nina Bawden, Mr God, This is Anna by Fynn. Perhaps the most important book, of course, is Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and more recently The Long Walk to Freedom. But I composed a list of books that inspired me, and also that stayed with me.

1. Twigwidge by John Emlyn Edwards. The story of the spirit of the Chestnut Tree who shares the festivals of the season with two children. I didn't read much until the age of 6, but Twigwidge, whose adventures were broadcast on the BBC Radio "schools" programme called "Time and Tune" in 1976, inspired me. My parents bought me the book which cost £2.95 in hardback - this is at a time that a paperback was around 15p, so to buy a book 20x the price was a big deal. This was my security blanket. I remember seeing a terrifying Public Service file on television when I was about six or seven. Seeing me utterly distressed, Mum suggested that I went to my bedroom to read Twigwidge. and it did the trick. I'm sure I've done this again at certain low points in my life. If I were to save one book from my burninghouse, this would be it.

2. The Whispering Knights by Penelope Lively. Three children perform the spell from Macbeth and summon Morgana La Faye to 20th century England. The Whispering Knights is a stone circle in the book (and, I discovered recently, actual stones among the Rollright Stones on the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border). I loved so many of Penelope LIvely's books as a child and this was one of those that inspired by love of English folklore.

3. Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. My first boss gave me this as a birthday present with the instruction "Read, Enjoy and Learn". I was probably 19. The first time I read it, I saw the fascinating story of Templars and Rosicrucians and enjoyed it on that level. I've ready it twice since then, once when doing my undergraduate degree and once when I'd finished my PhD. I now think I'm getting somewhere with it (it is about the Death of the Author, isn't it?)

4. Gawain and the Green Knight. In my opinion, one of the most important texts in the English language. Together with Pearl, it plays with the English language: fantastic imagery and symbolism and undoubtedly can be read on so many levels.

5. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I read this book on my honeymoon and I think I cried unashamedly for the last 50 pages. Every word earns its place. Something that seems so innocuous turns out to be critically important later. It’s one of those books that made me consider giving up writing because I don’t think I’ll ever have this much talent.

6. Mystical Paths by Susan Howatch. In fact most of the first six novels of the Starbridge series, but in this book, the 25 year old protagonist dealing with a personal crisis was closer to me than many of the other characters she's drawn. Howatch draws perfect characters, giving them both public and private personas. She also aligns the story with theological theory, so her books have a habit of "shouting" at me. This one shoute the loudest.

7. Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine. Again, I really liked all of the early Barbara Erskine books (say, the first five), but the later books haven't had the same. Erskine's books are generally based around a present day (female) protagonist who awakes, or becomes in tune, with a character from the past. The events of the past and the present interweave with the threat of the past echoing in the present day. The historical material is meticulously researched and realistic.

8. At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft's complete works were published in a paperback for around 1984 and I read them one after the other, as well as the Lovecraftian works by later writers, including August Derleth and then compilations by modern writers including Ramsey Campbell and Stephen King. A master of the macabre and language and possibly the influence for my next book ...

9. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This is a twist ona traditional tale with a message that the journey is more important than the finding of the treasure, because you already had what you were looking for, and you just needed the wisdom to find it. The journey itself is the philosophy.

10. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I read this as a child, and obviously didn't get the observations on human nature. More recently I read it in French, and drew much more out of it.

In addition, I would have liked to have added a non-existent poetry book that brings together some of the poems by Byron, Robert Frost, Thomas Hardy, Edgar Allen Poe etc, simply for being able to put into words the feelings that I never could.

Thousands of other books have inspired me. These are the ones that I thought of today!



© 2020 Jon Mackley