If you will indulge me, I'd like to start a semi-regular piece on books that rocked my universe so hard they still influence me with my writing. They won't all be classics, by my or anyone else's standards, but they have all affected me positively as a writer. Here's the first one:
Dr. Who and the Robots of Death by Terrance Dicks
Much like everyone has their favorite James Bond; everyone has a favorite Dr Who (In the UK at least). The show has been around since the 60's, on and off, and had 11 different actors playing the lead character: The Doctor. My favorite was the enigmatic 4th Doctor: Tom Baker, with his floppy hat and mile long scarf, easily the most fun portrayal of the character.
It was a scary show for a young kid at the time, but that was a huge part of its appeal. The BBC and Target books were well aware of that fact and commissioned a whole line of novelizations of the show. If you saw it on TV, you would eventually be able to find the book version in the library.
Now, it may not surprise any of you that I had a library card or two as a youngster. While I lived on a small island called Shetland (where the Ponies come from), located North of mainland Scotland, we didn't exactly live near a library. However, we had a library van which toured the little communities and gave me an opportunity to grab a couple of books to read at my leisure. I lived on Shetland between the ages of seven and ten so my diet of books at the time included silly joke books, comic formats like Tintin or Asterix and then something like a Dr Who novel to actually READ.
The Robots of Death wasn't any kind of literary masterpiece but it was a good, scary, fast read like most of the novelizations. What's important about this book is that while I lived on Shetland I got to meet it's author: Terrance Dicks.
I don't recall too many of the details of that day but it happened at school. Terrance Dicks showed up, signed some autographs and answered some questions. I was a shy kid so I stood in line for an autograph but I didn't ask any questions. He signed a small, cheap bookmark for me and I remember he was left-handed. I just thought it was really cool meeting a guy who had written a bunch of books I enjoyed.
It turned out that not only did he write the novelizations but he'd served for a while as script editor of the actual TV show, but I remember him primarily as a writer of books. Dicks went on to become the most prolific writer of the novelizations, writing more than sixty of them. And I continued to pick them up from libraries and enjoy them. They were short, fast-paced and captured the essence of the TV show without getting too bogged down in back-story or trying to recreate the show in minute detail. The Dr. Who books were my first real foray into science fiction books and when Dicks wrote other stuff I'd try that out too.
Dr. Who and the Robots of Death might not be the best story Dicks wrote but I remember it the best of all his books. I read it more than once and the characters are still etched in my memory. And having met the man who wrote them, I found myself reacting as any nine year old would after meeting someone they admired: energized and inspired.
I can't say I immediately ran out and started writing my own stories but it made me read more. And in a roundabout way lead me in the direction of the ABC of Science Fiction stories: Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke.
Somewhere in my mum's collection of family photos is a small, blue bookmark with an autograph on the back. Still got it after thirty years. Dicks remains, to this day, the only author I've ever met face to face.
Have any books or writers inspired you? Let me know. Comment below.