Tag Archives: Don Quixote

Writing Fiction: Influences

I’ve been fishing around in various books and films for clues about how to write or structure my novel: Catch-22, Three Kings. Sometimes modern novels will announce their influence (Bridget Jones/Pride and Prejudice, On Beauty/Howard’s End). But what about those original classics? What were their influences?

Pride and Prejudice: There’s an excellent article about the books that influenced Jane Austen at http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/0/21122727 Novelists included Frances Burney and Maria Edgeworth. The final paragraph of Burney’s novel Cecilia mentions the phrase Pride and Prejudice three times:

‘”The whole of this unfortunate business,” said Dr. Lyster, “has been the result of PRIDE and PREJUDICE. … Yet this, however, remember: if to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you owe your miseries, so wonderfully is good and evil balanced, that to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you will also owe their termination…“‘

Don Quixote: the novel that influenced Pickwick Papers, Madam Bovary and many more, spends a lot of the time discussing its own influences. In particular, Amadis de Gaula, and Orlando Furioso, and Tirant lo Blanch, which is described in the novel as ‘the best book in the world.’

Pamela. When I studied Joseph Andrews for A level, there was frequent mention of the influence of Samuel Richardson’s novel of letters Pamela, as if it were the sole point of origin. But there was a long history of such novels before Richardson. The first truly epistolary novel, the Spanish Prison of Love (Cárcel de amor) by Diego de San Pedro was written around 1485. And subsequent successes included: Letters of a Portuguese Nun (Lettres portugaises) (1669) generally attributed to Gabriel-Joseph de La Vergne, comte de Guilleragues and Aphra Behn’s Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister, which appeared in three volumes in 1684, 1685, and 1687.

Lord of the Rings and Narnia Novels. Fathers of the modern fantasy novel had their own influences. The use of Nordic, Celtic and Christian myths are pretty obvious, but less well known is the influence of nineteenth century fantasy writer, George MacDonald. CS Lewis said, ‘”Picking up a copy of Phantastes one day at a train-station bookstall, I began to read. A few hours later,” said Lewis, “I knew that I had crossed a great frontier.” And if you want a flavour of it, this is the first paragraph:

I awoke one morning with the usual complexity of mind which accompanies the return of consciousness. As I lay and looked through the eastern window of my room, a faint streak of peach colour, dividing a cloud that just rose above the low swell of the horizon, announced the approach of the sun. As my thoughts, which a deep and apparently dreamless sleep had dissolved, began again to assume crystalline forms, the strange events of the foregoing night presented themselves anew to my wondering consciousness.

The quote at the start of Phantastes is from the poet Jean M Snyder, and it’s hard not to see the influence of it on CS Lewis:

‘In sooth my good masters, this is no door. Yet it is a little window that looketh upon a great world.’

Casino Royale. Bond. James Bond. He who created Bourne and the rest. But Ian Fleming had his own mentors.

James Bond is the culmination of an important but much-maligned tradition in English literature. As a boy, Fleming devoured the Bulldog Drummond tales of Lieutenant Colonel Herman Cyril McNeile (aka “Sapper”) and the Richard Hannay stories of John Buchan. His genius was to repackage these antiquated adventures to fit the fashion of postwar Britain … In Bond, he created a Bulldog Drummond for the jet age.
William Cook in New Statesman

. Wikipedia lists several influences for George Orwell in writing his book, including The Managerial Revolution (1940) by James Burnham predicting perpetual war between three superstates, and Iron Heel (1908) by Jack London, predicting a fascist future.



Game: Page Counting

There was a point early on in reading the new Stephen King novel when I looked at the bottom of the Kindle and realised I was 9% in.  I was a bit concerned.  It seemed to be going too fast, I began to wish that it was longer.  The experience didn’t last for the whole novel but I rattled through all 500 pages in two weeks, which is pretty good for me.  Compare this to the six months it took me to read Don Quixote, counting pages every step of the way.  I can’t be the only person who does this: working out how long it’s going to take me to read another 50 pages, or to get to 35%.  Obviously it’s a sign of not being totally absorbed.  The joy is finding a book where the opposite happens.

So what are the books?  I’m going to nominate Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon.  Which I couldn’t wait to get back to every time.  And remember, this isn’t your favourite book, it’s the one where the pages sped past.  Any nominations?

Character: the X-but-Y game

With the limited number of words available in a synopsis characters often get reduced to a three word contraction X-but-Y. Some of mine have included, ‘ballsy but vulnerable’, ‘polite but determined’, ‘kind but neurotic’. Don Quixote might be ‘intelligent but mad’; Hamlet’s father, ‘angry but dead’; and if David Cameron were a fictional character, ‘be-suited but pink’.
Have a go.