Sunday, October 18, 2009

Book giveaway: Claire's choices

This week's book give-away- the draw closes on Friday 23rd October at 12pm EST. To enter, leave a comment on this post or any of our posts this week.

I thought long and hard about what book I wanted to give away as a welcome to our blog. I debated whether to choose a book that stunned me with brilliant language; an Australian literary classic; or a book that inspired and haunted me. And in the end I decided I just couldn't pick between them, so I figured I'd leave that up to you. This week, I'll offer a choice of one of three books as the prize, and you get to pick which one you want if you win.

All three books are set in World War I, and each of the three books represent three different perspectives on the war: English, Australian and German. I didn't pick any of them because they were war genre or literary fiction. Each one came to mind when I was thinking about books that have had a profound impact on my writing, and I shall elaborate on why to help you decide which one YOU will pick if your name comes out of the hat this Friday. The books are:

REGENERATION, by Pat Barker
FLY AWAY PETER, by David Malouf
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, by Erich Maria Remarque

First up: Pat Barker's REGENERATION.

The first in a trilogy that includes THE EYE IN THE DOOR and Booker Prize winner THE GHOST ROAD, REGENERATION is based on the real-life experiences of First World War British army officers being treated for shell-shock. The novel features fictionalised versions of real people, including poets Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, and asks what is madness? The soldiers who crumble under the horrific conditions of the battlefield, or the society that keeps patching them up and sending them back to the front?

The book is dryly humourous and beautifully written with an absolute economy of language and a richness of character. The characters are vivid and real, and above all else their madness is understandable. Logical, even. This book made me wonder how any survivor of war could truly come home when the world was, for them, a different place.

Next: FLY AWAY PETER, by Australian author David Malouf.

I confess that I first read this short novella as a school assignment when I was 15, but it really changed my writing life. For the first time I stopped thinking about how the First World War impacted on other countries, and started thinking about what happened in Australia. This might sound a little crazy for someone whose relatives served in both World Wars, but honestly I didn't think too much about *them* or their experiences until after I'd read FLY AWAY PETER. And then I felt I understood a great deal more about those relatives and how they must have felt.

As well as that deeper understanding, this book showed me what it was to use words as a love letter to the Australian landscape.

The novella tells the story of three people whose lives intersect before the war begins, and examines the impact of the conflict on each of them. It's full of rich and evocative language, and captures the essence of the Queensland wilderness beautifully for the first half of the story. The story is equally stunning in the second half when it follows two of the characters to the trenches of France.

Lastly, a book that will never leave me: ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT

The book was written by former WWI German soldier Erich Maria Remarque based on his experiences in the war, and portrays a group of teenagers from the same school class who sign up to serve in the trenches.

Seen through the eyes of one of the boys, the short novel is a dizzying ride through shooting, shelling, and every imaginable horror of the war. Almost worse than the fighting, however, is the separation the soldiers feel from their old lives when they have a chance to visit home on leave.

This story changed my reading (and writing) life. I felt so deeply for all the characters that it showed me a whole new realm of possibility for the emotional impact of a story. To put it simply, I want to be able to write a story that stays with readers the way this story has stayed with me. And one of the most interesting things about this book is that you'd never even know the characters were German if you weren't told. They're just boys.

So, there you have my three choices. Leave a comment to be in the draw, and if you feel like it, tell me- what books have influenced your writing?

10 comments:

  1. Tough choices! I'll pass on the English one, to be fair, since most of my wartime-related reading to date has been about England and Canada. I'm afraid I'll have to pass on the Australian one too, even though reading that collection of 20th Century Australian Short Stories has certainly deepened my interest in Aussie writing. But if I won, I'd chose ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, by Erich Maria Remarque, because, would you believe it, I still haven't read it! And there's no time like the present :-)

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  2. All three books sound wonderful. I am chagrined and sad I cannot enter. (g)

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  3. Your question - what books have influenced your writing - has really been teasing at me this morning. I'm a voracious reader and always have been, so in a wider sense, my writing has been influenced by millions of books, good and bad. But at the bottom of it all, the two books that have probably most influenced my writing are the King James Bible (aka The Authorised Version) and the Church of England 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Not, I hasten to add, in any particularly religious sense. I grew up steeped in the language of these books - I went to church on Sunday from a time before I could speak, let alone read and write. The language of the KJV was meant to make the Bible accessible in English to the common people for the first time. It's one of the few things done by a committee that's actually any good, and it's because of the incredible attention to the language that went into it. It's rich with images and extraordinary words. But more than that - both the KJV and the Book of Common Prayer were written to be spoken. The KJV was meant to be thundered from lecterns and pulpits in fire and brimstone preaching. It was meant to be whispered softly in solace and comfort. The Book of Common Prayer was meant to be spoken aloud as well as sung - words and prayers to be spoken in massed groups, backwards and forwards in verse and response between minister and congregation. I've spent a whole life steeped in the language, in the sound of words carefully chosen and put together, and I realise it profoundly influences my writing - in word choices, and the way I listen to what I write - everything is written to be spoken.

    The other book that I'm conscious of having a significant impact on my writing is Diana Gabaldon's "A Breath of Snow and Ashes". Reading it, immersed in and engrossed by the minutiae of the Fraser's everyday life, it dawned on me that the biography of Great-great grandma that I was researching needed to be written as a novel - that it could be, and would be, far more interesting to explore the things I don't know but could find out - the minutiae of everyday life - than just to put down the bare facts. That has changed the course of my writing life for the last few years.

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  4. Deniz- if you haven't read any of those three then you MUST read All Quiet on the Western Front first. But knowing how you love British writing, you should also track down Regeneration one day- you won't regret it.

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  5. Helen- I'm completely intrigued by your answer. I'm not a particularly religious person, so I haven't had much more than a cursory childhood exposure to the Bible. But I understand exactly what you mean about words that are put together carefully and deliberately.

    I'm glad those two books have inspired you- from what I've seen it's certainly been a worthwhile journey, because Sarah and William are coming to life beautifully.

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  6. Claire,

    I did hesitate before posting, because I didn't want to come across as some kind of religious nutter. I'm not actually particularly religious these days either, but the language stays with me, along with a care about how words SOUND when they're put together.

    Anyway, you asked the question! I hope other people also contribute responses about books which have inspired their writing - maybe someone else has something that's equally far out in left field!

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  7. Obviously there's a set list of books that Aussie kids have to do during high school - I did Fly Away Peter in year 12! *g*

    What books have influenced my writing? I don't know that I could really point to a specific book or couple of books. I don't remember a time before when I decided that I wanted to be an author when I grew up. All the books I've read and adored (far far far far FAR too many to list) have had an impact on me, and made me determined to be among their number someday *s*

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  8. Claire (and all):

    Helen's thoughtful post about how the KJV Bible has influenced her writing reminded me of what I often feel influences my own writing—but not in such a favorable light! You know how what we read seeps into our subconscious and sneaks out into our writing, even if we're not aware of it?

    Well…I read (proofread and edit) stuff like THIS every working day, over and over and over again: "Subject to subsection (1), the superintendent of public instruction shall develop and submit to the state board a consolidation plan to consolidate a school district with 1 or more contiguous school districts or an annexation plan to annex a school district to a contiguous school district if the superintendent of public instruction determines that either of the following applies:" Blah, blah, blah.

    I have the awful and confusing cadence of the Michigan Compiled Laws droning away in my head for eight hours a day, five days a week. LOL. How can that not influence my writing in a horrible way? Egads.

    Carrie

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  9. Fabulous book selections, all, Claire. I've seen the movie version of All's Quiet on the Western Front a few times, and would love to read the novel by Remarque.

    Every book I read influences my writing. Perhaps I appreciate the writing style, am fascinated by the cadence of the language, love the imaginative story or the brilliant characterizations. Or perhaps it's a book so bad I hope never to emulate the writing.

    I am a lifelong reader. The first books I can recall reading are Black Beauty at age 7, and Taylor Caldwell's Dear and Glorious Physician at age 9. I recall that one because it was my Mom's book, borrowed without her permission. I hid it under my bed (I read in bed at night, under covers with a flashlight).How was I to know she hadn't finished it??

    After that, I read everything Caldwell wrote. And James Michener, and James Clavell, and Colleen McCollough. Lately, Sarah Dunant for her wonderful period stories, Geraldine Brooks for her powerful prose, Jack Whyte for his imaginative retelling of myth, and Diana Gabaldon for her sheer storytelling ability.

    Donna

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