The Books That Made Me

First things first, I’m over the moon that Booka Bookshop have chosen Perilous Times to be their Book of the Month! I’m a Shropshire Lad myself – I lived in Ratlinghope for most of my teenage years, between the Stiperstones and the Long Mynd, a landscape steeped in Shropshire folklore.

It was probably inevitable that I’d grow up to be a fantasy author. I remember walking over Adstone Hill and imagining dragons swooping over the Cardingmill Valley, when I was very young. My parents live in the shadow of the Wrekin now, which has its own wonderful myths about giants and Shrewsbury cobblers. I didn’t get over to Oswestry very often when I was younger, but I’m sure the staff at Booka Bookshop know that Oswestry is traditionally the birthplace of Guinevere, from Arthurian legend! In the original Welsh mythology, her father Leodagrance is called Ogyrvan or Gogyrfan, and Oswestry is still called Caer Ogyrfan in Welsh. In my Arthurian fiction I’ve decided to place my version of Camelot on Moelydd Hill, just south of Oswestry, on the Offa’s Dyke trail – I thought ‘Caer Moelydd’ sounded like a reasonably plausible etymology for Camelot!

But that’s enough about hills and legends. This is supposed to be about books!

One of my earliest memories is of learning the word ‘alliance’ when I was three or four years old, when my dad was reading to me from one of the Reverend Awdry’s railway books. Which shows the importance of reading bedtime stories to your kids! As I grew up I got into Star Trek in a big way and devoured pretty much every Star Trek paperback ever written. But the biggest influence on my writing was the late great Sir Terry Pratchett. I don’t actually own many Discworld books, because I borrowed them all from the school library when I was in sixth form and read through them all one-by-one! But they were a hugely formative influence on me as a reader, as a writer, and as a human being. They taught me that writing could be funny whilst still grappling with serious issues, a world of whimsy and humour shot through with moments of emotional pathos and stark political commentary. I tried to write Perilous Times in a Pratchettarian style, and it’s up to Booka Bookshop’s customers to decide whether or not I’ve succeeded!

I was still trying to find my feet as a writer until I read Hilary Mantel – reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies made me into an author. I write mostly in the present tense, because of Mantel. Other historical fiction seems to treat the past as colourful set dressing, whereas Mantel’s work seems to offer a keyhole through which one can genuinely peep through into the past, with all of its complexities and three-dimensionality. I can’t think of many authors who’ve achieved the same level of historical verisimilitude (except perhaps for Patrick O’Brian – his Aubrey/Maturin seafaring books take up a considerable amount of sea room, on my bookshelves!)

I wouldn’t like to think that I’m a finished product, as a reader or as a writer, so I’m always looking out for new books to learn from. I’d love to know what the Booka Bookshop team (and all of your customers) have been reading recently!

  • Thomas D Lee