Over the next few weeks and months, I plan to write a series of publicity plumes about my forthcoming book, The Arduous Case of the Lost Princess, A Hercules Potato Adventure. In this last month before the book bursts onto the market, I am going to take a few plumes to reflect a bit on its literary influences. Indeed, where could I begin better, than to look back at those who I regard as my greatest professors in the school where I learn to write? To begin with then, I set before you my philosophy of novel writing.
In my pursuit to write worthwhile literature, I stumble along in the footsteps of the giants who came before me. I know full well that I shall never get as far down the path as they got, yet I steadfastly believe their path is my best path. In climbing in and out of the enormous impressions their footfalls left behind, I shall go a farther and better distance than I could ever hope to go on a path of my own forging.
To keep things tidy, I put forward this list of the ten most important books and writers to influence me during four years of writing The Arduous Case of the Lost Princess. Some I have been reading from childhood, others I came to only recently. Were I to extend the list to twenty, Charlotte Brontë, Evelyn Waugh, Kenneth Grahame, Daphne du Maurier, Josephine Tey, and Barbara Pym would most certainly appear. All of these writers taught me something about storytelling, and the spirit of each exists in some intangible way in what I struggled to write.
(For purposes of being succinct, I treat the Chronicles of Narnia as a single book, of many volumes.)
1. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
2. Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen
3. The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester
4. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis
5. Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis
6. The Inimitable Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse
7. Five Little Pigs, by Agatha Christie
8. The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien
9. Tess of the D'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy
10. Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell
In plumes to follow, I will go into greater depth about this list’s impact on my writing style, structure and artistry, such as it is. In this plume, I begin with the name in the brightest lights at number one. Dear Reader, it will come as no surprise that Middlemarch possesses pride of place in my heart as a most outstanding work of literature. George Eliot wrote with a profound insight into human motivations, foibles and longings, and her pen created characters that have no equal for dimension, depth and visibility. With Middlemarch, she also proved herself the master of threading multiple narratives through a single needle. Her work has the ability to shock the soul yet sooth the heart. I will go on learning from George Eliot for the rest of my life.
There are some rather unfortunate readers out there who received very early drafts of the Arduous Case of the Lost Princess. To these readers I can only offer my most sincere apologies. I was searching out general opinion and hoping to find feedback about what the story lacked and where I needed to take it. Over the course of four years, the manuscript became unrecognisable against these earlier and very dreadful drafts, and it is vastly improved for being so long in reaching the presses. Indeed, I shudder at the weaknesses of the story when first it came to exist on page. I wrote some of the most appalling sentences that I have ever seen written down. Still, one must begin somewhere, and when one begins badly, one has so much more space to go on with getting better.
Consider that in 1797, a publisher rejected Jane Austen’s manuscript entitled First Impressions. She went on to spend the next sixteen years developing it and improving it. In 1813, she found a publisher who brought it to the presses under the title, Pride & Prejudice. Perhaps I am premature after all, in rushing my manuscript to market after only four years of development. The point in all of it is, that patience and perseverance are as important to a writer as creativity and talent. Even if it took all those sixteen years just to improve the book's title, they would have been years well spent. Naturally, though, so much more came out of Austen's years of labour with her pen. In Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, she created two of the most interesting and dynamic characters to ever fall in love with each other on page, and that is before one even has a chance to comment on the strength of the book’s supporting characters. To borrow the opinion of a dear friend of mine, "It is a perfect book, and no one can ever write a better love story."
The Arduous Case of the Lost Princess, A Hercules Potato Adventure will never belong on a shelf amidst Eliot's and Austen's works. On the floor, far beneath that shelf, perhaps. From there, may it see what is above it, and be content in what it is for having been influenced in even a small way by the master writers who tower above it.