When asked the question, which book inspired me to write, I could only initially think of great works of literature which contrived to put me off reading for ever and threaten to turn me down the almost scientific path of linguistics which was my other great love.
At the risk of provoking a deluge of contradictory evidence, I have to admit that, ahem, Jane Austen just doesn’t do it for me. It may have been the way A-level English was taught by this one particular teacher who did, through our eighteen-year-old eyes, have a slightly obsessive passion for Jane Austen’s writing and everything else that went with it. However, I watch the odd period drama now with all its flouncing and pontificating self-doubt, its innocence with just a hint of naughtiness and yes, I appreciate the history but no, I still can’t get excited about a Jane Austen story.
I can picture my teacher back then in 1987 launching into another attempt to light our Austen fuses.
‘What do you hear behind the words? What is Austen doing so cleverly here?’ she’d ask, enthusiasm screaming out of every muscle in her face.
‘I-r-o-n-y?’ we’d offer. There was generally a good chance.
‘Yes! That’s it, so clever isn’t it?’ she’d say, adding, ‘for the times,’ as our cue to nod.
I know her writing is clever. I do appreciate her literary skill and, even back then, wished I could share our teacher’s exuberance for Jane Austen, but I just find the plots and characters too similar within and across the novels (granted I was only forced to read three), differing largely only in clothing or background. Perhaps I might have appreciated one Jane Austen novel in different circumstances, but six?
So, Jane Austen remains squarely in my brain as the author who put me off reading and started a literary drought which lasted into university where I read only compulsory French and German works which doesn’t count. It’s staggering really that reading for pleasure just didn’t enter my psyche during this period, having never been without a piece of fiction in my pocket up until my A-level years.
However, a chance conversation with my first employer changed all that. Astounded that I hadn’t picked up a novel of my own volition since my teens, she bought me a copy of the Power of One by Bryce Courtenay.
‘Read that,’ she said, ‘you’ll be back.’
Spare cash was an enigma to me back then. I was still paying back student debts (no student loans though, little did we know where student funding was headed) so I was extremely touched that somebody I didn’t know particularly well, would spend money on a book for me. It would be churlish not to read it.
Suffice it to say, I did read the whole of The Power of One. It’s quite lengthy, 629 pages to be precise and around three-quarters of the way through, I scraped together enough pennies and went to my local bookstore to buy the sequel, Tandia, all 900 pages! I had to order it, making a special trip into town a week later to pick up my copy, in its own, perfectly-fitting, crisp, white paper bag.
I’m sure Tandia is part of the reason why I’m still resisting a Kindle. I know it makes sense, particularly having recently flown with a certain cheap airline where half of my meagre luggage allowance was taken up with books. But the excitement of feeling that new novel pressed into my hand by the enthusiast assistant in the book shop, who assured me that the sequel was equally as good as the brilliant Power of One, is a feeling I don’t want to say goodbye to just yet.
In answer to the original question, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is the novel which re-inspired me to become a writer. On and off throughout my childhood I’d imagined penning stories and wrote many a plot line in my head when my family thought I was simply away with the fairies (where, granted, I was, the rest of the time). During my reading drought, I forgot that dream. I pursued a career in Charity PR and Fundraising of which I enjoyed every minute but the writing dream came back once I started reading again. And it just won’t leave me now.