I think many writers spend some time forging their own writing identity: the what it is they want to write, and how they wish to present it to others. For many a young writer there is a phase of aping the things they love, and it can be a very conscious process. It certainly was with me – my early stories are a testament to the books I loved at the time. My influences were very clear in those tales, though they do have the odd slice of originality here and there! However, I think that I, like many young writers, had to regurgitate some of my author heroes onto the page in order to move on and be free of them.
What things did I shamelessly reproduce in slightly different skins? In no particular order – a dragon with abilities eerily similar to those that exist on Pern, but with crystal skulls borrowed from a comic strip I read. The skulls had memories etched into them like a vinyl record, the memories activated by exposure to dragonfire. That was my slice of semi-originality, but now I think about it could also owe something to Rogue Trooper. 2000AD is a huge influence I have yet to discuss.
Shape-changers appeared because I loved the ones in the Riddle-Master series, but wanted them to be better (by my teenage self’s lights), because in my youth I thought the shape-changers should have won, and didn’t really understand why they hadn’t. Perhaps I should go back and read that series again and see how time has altered my perception of the events in those books – I blogged earlier this year about how that happened when re-reading the Wheel of Time in my forties versus my twenties, and it was quite revelatory.
I threw a necromancer into book two because they’re cool, there was one in The Hobbit and though I’d read The Lord of the Rings multiple times by then, I’m not sure I’d made the connection between Sauron and the Necromancer yet. Sometimes, often in the case of layered literature, you can read all the words and not catch all the meanings, especially when young and determined just to say you’d finished the ‘big’ book and feel all grown up. I also thought that Kalarr and the necromancers in The Horse Lord got short changed and wanted to give them a more prominent role, but as a reincarnated good guy, of course!
And who wouldn’t want to have a Balrog in their book? So I had my misunderstood-in-search-of-redemption-for-earlier-accidental-evils necromancer unintentionally raise him from the dead, as you do. (I was pantsing for all I was worth at this stage, and so had to give my demon lord a vampire arch enemy, in addition to hating the shape-changers, because they were antagonists in my books too, and the Balrog had to be on what was obviously ‘my’ side in the story!) The whole series was to be five books long because The Belgariad, (my series of the 80s, constantly re-read), was five books long. As was the Amber series. I am a bit amazed I did not have Corwin just appear in my books, being suave. Maybe that would have happened in book three.
I named a magical artifact after a Dio album, (itself probably named after something else entirely) added in a scene based on the cover of one of my favourite board games, and generally just fulfilled my every toe-curling teenage wish in the form of fiction. Corwin did appear in a Fighting Fantasy game book I created, along with a Tunnels and Trolls play by numbers solo dungeon I designed. Both came complete with a laborious hand written reference randomisation process. Budding cryptographer, I was not. All are still with me, lined yellowed paper in old ring-binders.
The Thief and The Demon does not wear its influences as boldly on its sleeve as those early efforts. Rather than trying in some way to continue the stories of others in my own words, I’m telling my own story, one that grew organically over years and through many filters of experience. But those strong fantasy echoes from my childhood onwards have inspired ideas to build on, or kick against: reworking situations and dynamics into my own imaginative lexicon, not simply rehashing someone else’s narrative. Or at least that’s what I hope has happened! I think that is how you honour your influences without being their slave: you find ways to make their impact upon you your own, and transform it into something new. I hope I’ve done that, but it may well be that one day I look back on The Thief and The Demon much like I currently view my teenage efforts: as something necessary to finding my way to the best expression of my ideas in fantasy form. I’ll get back to you on that in ten years!