The urge to write fiction has been with me since I could hold a pencil the right way up, and it stayed that way until one day in 2003, after watching a movie with my son, I remarked how I could have written a better script. He said I should give it a go. After the resulting screenplay was assessed by two agencies, I realised I had a lot to learn about writing drama.
My first (and only) novel, Madam, MBA, was initially a writing exercise.
These are a few of the books that have profoundly affected me one way or another.
The Magus (1965) by John Fowles
This is the first edition. A revised version was published later, but in my opinion was inferior to the first. A film followed starring Michael Caine and Anthony Quinn. I never saw it, as I knew I would be disappointed (though I'm told it wasn't worth seeing anyway). It's difficult to imagine how a two-hour film could capture the essence of the story.
The novel begins in a mundane way, describing the preparations the protaganist, Nicholas Urfe, a young schoolteacher, is making to take up a teaching post on a sparsely populated Greek island. There, he falls under the spell of Maurice Conchis, a rich magician, who plays mind games with him, featuring a young woman, Lily, who beguiles Nicholas, leaving him perpetually confounded. He is profoundly disturbed by Conchis's manipulations. It's no wonder his predecessor at the school took his own life.
It's a rich, complex story that kept me turning pages in the hope of understanding what was going on, only to leave me more perplexed as I progressed. Without doubt, the most affecting novel I've ever read.
East and West (1963) by C Northcote Parkinson
I read this shortly after it was published. To quote from the book's blurb: "The author reviews history from Sumerian days to the present time to show that throughout its course, East and West have alternately been dominant, the periodic decline of one civilization creating a cultural vacuum that was filled by the adjacent rising culture."
It has proved remarkably prescient.
The Secret History (1992) by Donna Tartt
Described as "the thinking person's thriller", this debut novel by Donna Tartt had me enthralled from start to finish.
Young, rich, liberal arts college students under the influence of Professor Julian Morrow form a secret society to re-enact various Greek texts, eventually culminating in a Dionysian bacchanal with tragic consequences.
Next to The Magus, this is the book that most affected me.
The Man Within (1929) by Graham Greene
This is Greene's first novel. A story of intrigue and betrayal that had me spellbound from start to finish.
The Collector (1963) by John Fowles
Fowles first novel. It's a story of obsession by a young man who collects butterflies. He captures a female student, intent on making her fall in love with him. It's a great though disturbing read.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995) by Kate Atkinson
This is the story of Ruby from the moment of conception to her early forties. Along the way she uncovers various family secrets, but what grabbed my attention was her voice, ironic, yet not judgemental. This was a debut novel and Atkinson has gone to be a popular author unafraid to tackle other genres.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
This classic dystopian novel still resonates after all these years.
His Dark Materials trilogy (1995-2000) by Philip Pullman
This trilogy comprises Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. I'm not normally a fan of fantasy, but this trilogy is special. The protagonists are Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, two children who travel through separate realities, on a quest for the source of Dust.
The story is an analogy for repressive religion and how it must be resisted. When I find the opportunity, I shall re-read it, because it is a wonderful read.
Rubaiyat (11th/12th century) by Omar Khayyam
I still have the leather-covered, Edward Fitzgerald version of this poem that I bought 60 years ago. One of the verses was frequently mentioned in PG Wodehouse's Jeeves novels, which is how I became interested in the poem. There was something about its fatalistic tone that attracted my own nihilistic sentiments. I memorised it and was able to quote it at length. Sadly, I've since forgotten almost all of it.