Monday, 25 November 2013

The Book That Changed My Life

This is something I invariably talk about during my school visits, but it's something I've never bunged here. So now I am.

One book changed my life: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner.

I was on a family holiday. It was in a caravan. I've no doubt that it was raining. After all, we were in a caravan, and those blasted creations seem to have a knack of attracting bad weather (as well as not entirely in shape pensioners in pink flannelette jogging outfits, dog owners who think EVERYONE wants their dog to lick them, gangs of topless kids on bikes, and the acrid smell of sausages burned on a disposable bbq).

So, I was bored. There wasn't exactly much to do, bar eating a biscuit, playing scrabble, or listening to my parents drink EVEN MORE TEA THAN YESTERDAY (and very loudly, too), while shuffling through yet another leaflet about either a castle (a few bricks and an overpriced guidebook), an old house (rich people allow the poor people to gaze at their life of wealth and opulence), a zoo (donkey and a bird bath), or a poor attempt at family entertainment (a few farm fields filled with a couple of goats, a roundabout, a display of 'olde worlde farminge implents, and a coffee shop).

At last, the day's entertainment was decided. We would go and... (wait for it...) VISIT A VILLAGE! Yes! A VILLAGE! I was confused. We lived in a village. So why the hell had we come on holiday to go and visit one? In the rain? Back home, I could just open my bedroom window and behold! A VILLAGE! Anyway, kagools pulled on, off we were swept into the rain to look at old buildings, cobbled streets, and to then gaze in wonder at the displays in bakery windows.

We happened to pass a gift shop. The kind that sells everything from swords to hankies to taxidermy, toilet rolls, tins of beans and snow globes. It also had a few book carousels outside. The kind filled with books limp and pathetic courtesy of the elements. Books that look sad and depressed and close to just jumping off into the puddles below to end it all.

Anyway, one book grabbed my attention. Not just because the cover ROCKED (see below), but because the title was utterly mesmerising. What's not to love about "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen"? It's magnificent! So I grabbed it, bought it, and devoured it.

It's a brilliant read. Short, beautiful, dark, menacing, magical. But one section nailed it for me. The heroes are being chased through a cave. The cave gets pretty tight. And finally they end up not at a dead end, but a sump. This is where the cave is submerged. They've no idea how much of the cave is underwater. Could be a few metres. Could be a few miles. But they've no choice - they have to risk drowning to avoid capture.


Even more so for me, because I had actually drowned a few years before, and was completely terrified of water. (True story. I didn't learn to swim till I was 28.)

It was that scene (which is little more than a couple of sides of a page) that did it. Those words haunted me. That book chased me through every moment of my life, pestering me, tapping its spindly fingers against my head. It knew I wanted to do the same, use words to haunt people, tell stories, scare, encourage, frighten, excite...

So now that's what I try to do. I'm no way saying I'm Alan Garner (who's a veritable genius). But I am a writer. With books and everything. And it was his words in that book all those years ago that set me on this path. And to me, that's just astonishing.

Thanks Alan - I owe you a lot.

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