My Life That Books Built by Tom Huddleston
I was addicted to books when I was young. A lot of it was down to my parents, who were both big readers themselves. But my biggest influence was undoubtedly my older sister Sarah, to whom ‘The Waking World’ is dedicated. She loved fantasy and historical stories, authors like Susan Cooper, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, Nicholas Fisk, John Christopher and many, many others, all of whom fed directly into my own writing. Here are five (actually six) books that made a major impression on me when I was young.
The Sword in the Stone
I have to start here. TH White’s book was not only one of my favourites when I was a boy, it was also the biggest single inspiration on ‘The Waking World’. This book is funny, it’s exciting, it’s unpredictable, and it’s so beautifully written. The characters are just amazing, from the heroic, ever questioning Arthur to the wise but kindly Merlin, from the bratty but essentially decent Kay to the hilarious, bantering older knights Ector and Pellinore. The images just explode in your head – the scene where Arthur first attempts to take the sword from the stone, and the whole living world around him bows low to listen, might be my favourite passage in literature, it’s just so gripping and strange and mystical.
The Lord of the Rings
This was the other big influence on ‘The Waking World’, as it has been on every fantasy book written in the past 50 years. I read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ for the first time when I was about 13, and I didn’t leave the house for a whole weekend. I was completely swallowed by it. I know people who think it’s too long, too detailed, too grand. I think they’re mad. Everything in this book feels lived-in, you know the history of every race and every sword and every rock. That adds so much to the story – compare it to something like the Narnia books where, when the kids need weapons, Santa Claus just magically appears and hands them over. I want the worlds I read about to feel real, I want to imagine I could walk about in them, even if they’re populated by dragons and orcs and talking trees.
A world that feels even more solid and ancient than ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Mervyn Peake was a poet and a painter as well as a writer, and I always loved the idea that you didn’t need to be pinned down to one artform – I write books, but I also play in a band and write about films. We’re very lucky nowadays, we have access to all these different ways of expressing ourselves. The Gormenghast trilogy – of which this is the first book – is a huge work of imagination, set in a vast rambling castle populated by the most twisted, vivid characters imaginable. Peake’s prose can be quite dense, but once you get into the rhythm of it the books are completely addictive. When I was a boy, we even named our family cat Fuchsia after the tragic teenage heroine.
Swallows and Amazons
This is a ridiculous story which I still feel embarrassed to recall, but when I got my first typewriter for my tenth birthday (yes, I’m so old that we couldn’t afford computers in those days), I began copying out the whole of my favourite book, ‘Swallows and Amazons’. For some reason, I thought that was how books were written – it hadn’t even occurred to me to write something of my own. I got about three pages in before my mother sat me down and explained that what I was doing a) would take forever and b) was completely pointless. So I started working on my own stories instead. But still, this is a favourite book: I was born in the Lake District, and the way Arthur Ransome describes that landscape makes it feel like a place of adventure and mystery. I still feel that way whenever I go back to visit.
The Mouse and his Child & Riddley Walker
I’ll finish with two books by Russell Hoban. ‘The Mouse and his Child’ is a story for young children about a pair of clockwork mice who are thrown on the scrapheap and end up having all kinds of wild adventures. It sounds like quite a cute, cosy idea for a story, but this is one of the most terrifying and intense and thrilling books I’ve ever read, I still get a little shudder when I think of it. The world Hoban builds is really creepy and overwhelming for the poor, helpless mice. ‘Riddley Walker’ is very different, but it was a huge influence on ‘The Waking World’. It’s set in England after a nuclear war, where the people have reverted to a kind of brutal, medieval society. That idea of a post-apocalyptic future world where little glimmers of the past still shine through fed directly into my own writing.
Huge thanks to Tom for taking the time to write this for us. The Waking World is published by David Fickling Books and is due to be released on 3rd October.