Monday, 19 December 2011

Books that have influenced my writing

I find myself time and time again reflecting on the books that have influenced the themes, characters and world building that I put in my writing. I'll list three of the most recent ones, these are also recommendations as well as a hint as to the style and content of my writing.

1. Blood Meridian

A book unlike any other I have read. It takes the idea of a typical western and guts it alive exposing the bloody and depraved reality that was the Wild West. McCarthy's lyrical and verbose writing generates a fantastical aura over the Glanton gang and their ceaseless indulgence in the base aspects of Man. His style greatly influences my own. There is an extremely high level of violence that is not for everyone and may distract those not sufficiently desensitized from appreciating the many profound themes explored in this book. In fact violence is itself a strong theme and the general effect of McCarthy's writing is to progressively numb you to the increasing appalling acts that are done with wanton discretion. It explores the warlike nature of Man, fatalism and nihilism, Man's inherent need to dominate in the world and evil.
One of the most extraordinary abilities of McCarthy is transforming a character into something transcendent and thematic, most notably seen in Judge Holden, who many after reading liken him to the Devil and has bordering supernatural qualities. We also see this in No Country For Old Men where Anton Chigurh can be perceived as Fate or Death or even Luck. It is this character development and blurring between the real and the fantastical that I strive to attain in my writing.
I strongly recommend this book to readers of dark fiction who appreciate descriptive writing, have a taste for philosophy (as there are a few diatribes that may leave some weary) and are most certainly not squeamish. A defining classic.

2. Hagakure

The classic treatise that explores the way of the Samurai. It is a collection of sayings, short stories, advice and tactics collected over the years by Yamamoto Tsunetomo. The Way of the Samurai is built on the acceptance of death and the lack of fear that transforms a katana from a potential weapon to an unbeatable, cutting terror. Then there is the undying loyalty to one's master, such that if one''s master were to die the retainer would consequently commit suicide or Junshi or Tsuifuku without fail. It is strongly fatalist and almost morbid. But what is more subtle is the statement throughout the text that there is liberation beyond any other in accepting death and moving with no care, as if one were already dead and it is this acceptance that makes one truly live in the moment and not focused on the future whether tomorrow, next month or five years from now. The Way of the Samurai is all about the immediate, the here and now (and we see this in Buddhism and Yogic practices, which also influence my writing). There are also rather inspiring quotes that make one strive to be stronger and more skillful, for example:

"Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today. This is never-ending."

I have always been fascinated by the Samurai and their code, despite it's inherent violence and almost obsessive divulgence on death and the act of dying. Some of my favourite films or Anime involve some aspect of that culture (Seven Samurai, Shogun Assassin, Zatoichi, Rurouni Kenshin) and I love their craftsmanship and artisan approach to smithing, the katana has to be arguably the strongest and most graceful sword ever created. All these qualities I've mentioned are pervasive in every part of Drawn Breath, from the continual training and growing more skillful, to crafting swords (or blades in that world), to appreciation and acceptance of death, to loyalty, to becoming god-like in battle. The Somatres-an (which you will read about in my book) is an amalgam of several martial cultures but most notably the Samurai. I recommend this book to anyone interested in Japanese culture, has a taste for history and is not afraid to embrace a completely alien and sometimes archaic approach to life. The book on Samurai.

3. Dune

As the front cover says, the supreme classic of science fiction. An epic exploration of a desert world known as Arrakis, the peoples that inhabit it known as the Fremen, the mysterious and much sought after spice called Melange and of course the sand worms. It is a masterfully spun web of politics, religion, socio-economic mechanics, ecology, war, humanity and science, with a graceful pace that allows you to fully absorb the world that was so vivid in Herbert's mind. It is maverick in its approach to science fiction as it does not focus on technological advancements or physics, rather it looks at biology most notably in genetics and human advancement and of course the ecology of Arrakis and the sand dunes, despite it's lack of light sabres and X-wing fighters, it is amazing stuff. Although my work is more fantasy than science fiction there are many aspects of Dune as well as the style of Frank Herbert that thread themselves through my novels.
I have always ruminated on human advancement or evolution and some of my earliest ideas for films or novels were evolved humans or specially adapted humans. The quality of adaptation to the various realms in nature we see that has always enthralled me (Frozen Planet anyone?) and it is deeply placed in Drawn Breath and presents itself many times. In Dune the human advancement is the Kwisatz Haderach, a super human if you will, a culmination of generations of selective breeding who has absolute prescience and has complete control of all his senses and can in a sense control threads of events in time. Although I do not go that far in my book there is a focus on senses beyond the five innate (not ESP!) that enhance a human's ability to be a better soldier or Somatres-an. It was reading the first four of the Dune Series that made the idea of Sera (no explanation, as to what that is here...) come to full fruition.
Melange and the effects of mind altering substances is also a strong theme in Dune as well as the effect of its availability on the interplanetary economy. Although I do not explore metaphysical possibilities with drugs, drug use and the effects of drugs on the global economy of Hhaam is explored in depth throughout my book. I feel that it is a vital aspect of humanity that should be explored if looking at any alternative society or our own. Another book that influenced me and is one of my all-time favourites, which I may talk about in another post is Brave New World, the consumer, master-drug Soma has some influence on the substances that pervade the world I created as well as the various societies' reaction to them. I also explore the problem of legality/decriminalisation in Amelack Somatres although it is not central to the overall story it is a subtle tone that blends with the overall aesthetic of the book.
Although it is not fully divulged until The God Emperor, becoming a God among men has also been something that I am captivated by. Having the masses revere a  being just like them and then cloaking them in legend and conjecture such that millenia later they are seen as gods is one of the most implacable but ever present behaviours of humanity. But what is explored in the God Emperor and Dune, is the thoughts and philosophy of a man who has become as close to a God as possible. The philosophical exploration and monologues are in depth and enthralling although sometimes confusing and Herbert can get tied up and over-excited in his thoughts. These ideas as well as the ability to shape others' destinies is something that is central to the entire Drawn Breath novel. What is also looked at is the idea of power and what it truly means to hold it; can that grasp truly be maintained? This is also explored in Drawn Breath.
There are several other themes that glint in my writing here and there but those were the main ones. If you are a science fiction fan and have not read this then you must be a sandworm, burrowed under three kilometres of sand, because you simply have to read this essential work, even if just to say you have. It is worth reading the next three also, especially Dune Messiah and the God Emperor. I'm on Chapterhouse Dune but I've had a bit of a break from the Arrakis/Rakis world. I recommend this for readers who are not afraid of italics, who enjoy jumping from different POV, who love exploring the cold, hard and real complexities of new worlds and not just flowery descriptions of scenery and are looking for a fresh approach to science fiction. Essential reading.

So those are three out of many other books that have influenced my work. I will make a post on several films that have influenced my work as well as anime. Note these are all recommendations and reviews in part. So if you're loved ones haven't put your presents under the tree (or post-modern purple and yellow contraption barely resembling a tree) then hint at them possibly getting Blood Meridian or Hagakure or Dune, all three I definitely think should be read by any mature, open minded reader.

If however you are one of those fortunate few who have read one, two or all three of these books and love them then I salute you and recommend checking out my own books to see if they interest you. Once again Drawn Breath is composed of five parts (totally complete, edited and formatted) and the first two parts are up on Smashwords (for free) and Amazon. It costs on Amazon because I am still waiting for Amazon to price match with Apple, B & N, Diesel and Kobo. The blurbs and book descriptions are in my blog archives as well as the links which I will provide below.

Drawn Breath (Part I - Wrought Iron) [Smashwords and free!]:

Drawn Breath (Part I - Wrought Iron) [Amazon $0.99]

Drawn Breath (Part II - Amelack Somatres) [Smashwords and free!]

Drawn Breath (Part II - Amelack Somatres) [Amazon $0.99]

If you happen to like my writing and if you find the time and are sufficiently moved please like their pages on both Amazon and Smashwords, or even write a brief review!



  1. Enjoyable post. I liked the way you demonstrated how the themes to these novels influenced your books – it should attract a lot of fans of this genre. I’m also a Cormac McCarthy fan – I talk about The Road in some of my posts. I read Dune recently and enjoyed it, even though I don’t usually read Sci-Fi, although I like watching Sci-Fi movies. I’ll have to use my notes from the reading to do a review of Dune when I get some time.

  2. Bro you should totally check out R. Scott Bakker. He is my favorite author and he has said multiple times that he draws inspiration from Cormac and Dune... Kinda weird you would mention both of them together just like Bakker! His series is called "The Prince of Nothing". Glad to be following btw!

  3. Cheers for the recommendation I'm checking out his books on Amazon now. I'm a fan of stories that have rich histories and cultures and are not just cardboard characters pasted on several generic scenes, so this looks to be right up my street. Thanks for reading!