Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Influences by Nick Garlick

‘Who are your influences?’ Jimmy Rabbitte demands in The Commitments, when he’s setting up his band in Dublin. And so, for what it’s worth, here are mine when it comes to writing.


The first time I was aware of style, of what a writer could do with words to create a rhythm and an atmosphere and images in my mind, was Laurie Lee. Even though it’s decades since I read Cider with Rosie, I can still remember a description of his uncles – those huge remote men… reeking of leather and horses - and the way the words seemed to sing and dance right out of the pages.


After that it was Raymond Chandler. When I was 18, I read every single one of his books, captivated not just by his private eye plots – which I loved – but by the language, the words evoking character and place, like this moment from The Big Sleep, as Philip Marlowe steps into an orchid house.

The air was thick, wet, steamy and larded with the cloying smell of tropical orchids in bloom. The glass walls and roof were heavily misted and big drops of moisture splashed down on the plants. The light had an unreal colour, like light filtered through an aquarium tank. 


Then there was Harlan Ellison, a fantasy writer with a startling imagination and the ability to throw words around like hand grenades: they’d explode in directions you’d never dreamed existed. 


There are five hundred buildings in the United States whose elevators go deeper than the basement. When you have pressed the basement button and reached bottom, you must press the basement button twice more. The elevator doors will close and you will hear the sound of special relays being thrown, and the elevator will descend. Into the caverns.

That’s from one of the fragments in From A to Z in the Chocolate Alphabet (in Strange Wine) and while the language is more restrained than was often the case with Ellison, it’s a good example of his unsettling imagination. Here’s the thing though: As much as I loved his books when I was in my 20s, I find a lot of his work hard going now. The style overwhelms the content to the point where I think, All right. I get it. Could we please just go on with the story? 


I have other favourites these days – Joe Lansdale and Alan Bennett, Shirley Jackson and Robert Aickman, Louis Sachar and Frank Cottrell Boyce and Bill Bryson - but the three I’ve written about above were the three whose work made me realise what magic you could weave with words and started me thinking:

I’d like to do that too!


Susan Price said...

Great post, Nick! -- I think the first writer who amazed me with their words was Rudyard Kipling. He's unfashionable now, but the language of the Just-So Stories is incantatory. I've read them aloud and you have to chant them. 'The great, grey, green, greasy Limpopo, all set about with fever trees...'
And I loved 'The Cat Who Walked by Himself.' (Still do.) It begins,'Hear and attend and LISTEN; for this befell and behappened and became and WAS, O my Best Beloved, when the Tame animals were wild...' (My capitals added.)
And yes, like you, I wanted to do that!

Nick Garlick said...

Lovely examples! My father read the stories to us when we were little and we loved them. You make me want to find a copy and read them all over again.

Nick Green said...

Fascinating range of influences, Nick - I think many readers of children's authors would be surprised at the inspirations behind their books (expecting just other children's fiction).

@Susan - my grandmother used to read me those stories aloud. I must have been no more than five or six, yet 'Hear and attend and LISTEN; for this befell and behappened and became and WAS, O my Best Beloved, when the Tame animals were wild...' entered my mind with no trouble at all, and I demanded the story many times. I still hear it in her voice. (But you'd NEVER get a children's book published now with that kind of florid prose.)

Nick Garlick said...

Thank you, Nick. You've given me - inadvertently, I think - the topic for my next SASSIE blog; the children's writers who've been an influence on me.