Writers are readers too. In this post I’m going to share my development as a reader. Some of you will relate to the books that were pivotal enough for me to remember. Others will have had an entirely different literary experience.
At the age of six or seven I read my first proper book with chapters. It was called Double Trouble for Rupert. My brother got it from Scholastic’s Lucky Book Club. I can honestly remember understanding at the time that I had just been given the key to a door, and that I could open it whenever I liked.
I read the Hardy Boys detective novels, Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven, and Archie comics. My far-seeing parents gave me a boxed set of Angus and Robertson Australian classics. We were living in Canada by the time I was eleven, and I missed my country. Ion Idriess, Henry Lawson, Steele Rudd, Miles Franklin, Lennie Lower and Tom Collins, took me home.
By the age of thirteen I was reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond series. I loved Alistair Maclean’s Ice Station Zebra. Desmond Bagley. Dick Francis. Hammond Innes. In between thrillers I still delved into my stack of Commando war comics, or snuck back to Richie Rich, Donald Duck and MAD magazine.
At fifteen or so I read When the Lion Feeds and worked my way through all of Wilbur Smith’s African adventures. I still think he is the most vivid writer of popular fiction on the planet, though his early books were far better than some of his later ones.
In my early twenties the university crowd turned me on to the literature of the day. Peter Carey’s Illywacker was mind-blowingly original, and showed me my country with entirely new eyes. It had paragraphs I needed to read over and over just to savour the way the words sounded. I discovered F Scott Fitzgerald. I felt like I lived a hundred lives in Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia.
At the age of twenty-seven I was living on a remote cattle station in the Territory. I read The Shining, alone in my caravan with a shotgun on my lap, while the curlews screamed, down towards the river. One night, over at Florina Station homestead, drinking beer with the ringers, I found Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove on a shelf of well-thumbed paperbacks and asked if I could borrow it. Another vivid writer, the best dialog I’d ever read, and such characters! The Wild West came to life in my mind.
A few years later, Peter Watt showed me that Australian History could be written into colourful novels just like McMurtry had done with the Wild West. I read Jon Cleary, Thomas Keneally. I struggled with other books that I was told I should read. Colleen McCullough showed me that deep research could go hand in hand with great fiction. Tom Clancy impressed me with his polish and knowledge of militaria.
I started writing seriously not long after that, but did I stop reading?
Never! The books on the shelf next to my desk are by Sebastian Faulks, John Steinbeck, James Clavell, James Michener, Stephen King, Ken Follett, Bryce Courtenay, Kevin Powers, Neville Shute, Gary Jennings, Leon Uris, Kurt Vonnegut, and contemporary Aussie authors like Steve Worland, Tony Park, Stephen Horne, Rachael Johns, Majok Tulba, Favel Parrett, Karly Lane, Kylie Ladd, Nicole Alexander, Margareta Osborn, Felicity Young, Helene Young, Tony Cavanaugh and many more. The picture attached to this post is my bedside table, and it has a different pile of books again, about half of which I’ve finished reading and been too lazy to put back on the shelf.
The books you read say a lot about who you are. So if I’m over at your house and I head straight to the bookcase … I’m just curious, okay?