My earliest writing memory dates from my very first
day at school. I was given an exercise book and wrote my name in the
appropriate space on the cover without being told to. For that simple act, I
was promoted a year and spent the rest of my primary school career being the
youngest in the class. In order to write, I must have been able to read, but
the first book I actually remember was
Then I moved on to Birkenhead School and discovered Arthur Ransomeís Swallows and Amazons in the library there. I have been an avid Ransomite ever since. Indeed, like many claim (including Ellen MacArthur), reading Ransome inspired me to get on the water and sail boats for myself. I have all his books, fiction and non-fiction, as well as Hugh Broganís excellent biography and other Ransome-related works.
Throughout my schooldays I wrote what I now know to be short stories and received appraisals from my teachers ranging from Ďthis is sillyí to Ďbrilliant, but writing not fit for a pig sty.í Iím not sure whether the latter referred to my text or my handwriting. I also read stuff like Dennis Wheatley and Dornford Yates (yeah, so what?) then university (although I majored in history and geography) made me rediscover writers Iíd refused to appreciate before: Shakespeare, Dickens, the BrontŽs, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy. I began to enjoy poetry Ė Shakespeare and Hardy, Swinburne, and modern(ish) poets like Philip Larkin and Laurie Lee.
Iím not a fantasy fan but like many of my generation I was enthralled by Tolkienís The Lord of the Rings. My tastes now are pretty catholic. Some novels I admire are: Anthony Powell A Dance to the Music of Time (I have all 12 volumes); Milan Kundera The Unbearable Lightness of Being; A.S. Byatt Possession; Georges Perec Life: a Userís Manual. In a lighter vein, I like anything by P.G. Wodehouse or E.F. Benson.
I used to feel cheated by short stories but then I read those of A.E. Coppard and H.E. Bates and realised what Iíd been missing. Now Iím hooked, I devour shorts as if they were chocolate bars. I still admire Coppard and Bates but Iíve discovered so many more literary heroes: Raymond Carver (a super-hero), William Trevor (a close second), John Cheever, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, and so many others. Writers such as these seem like gods but I console myself by supposing that their early works were no better than mine. Maybe.