It’s World Book Day! (And less than two weeks until the release of Merry Arlan: Finding The Heir) and my theme for March might be meetings but today I am in the wake of a couple of funky offline weeks (it’s a whole thing, I can’t get into it) so I don’t have a short story this week, but I do have, since it’s world book day, some of the books that have shaped me as an author.
Let’s start with Childrens/Middle Grade
Can dead teen Meg save her soul by helping a near-death senior finish his wish list?
Meg Finn is accidentally killed by her partner-in-crime during a burglary. Her last-minute act of kindness rescues her from being sent through the tunnel directly to hell. After winding up in limbo instead, the girl’s spirit returns to earth in the hope of eventually going through “the Pearlies.”
To make the heavenly cut, Meg goes to the aid of the elderly Lowrie McCall 68, a depressed down-and-out bloke who has four wishes on his list before he dies. But demon Beelzebub wants her soul, too, and he’s sent a “Soul Man” — a vicious dog-boy who murdered her — to retrieve it.
I’ve talked before about my childhood (family) obsession with Artemis Fowl (and do not doubt, it is on this list too) but The Wish List was another one of those fundamental foundational books for me. I even have a signed copy (albeit with my old first name in it, which is… a confusing feeling).
I feel like this book is The Good Place for kids. For me, it was an early piece of the formation of my opinions on redemption and, as always, Colfer’s skills with worldbuilding and the vividness his writing lends itself to.
Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl (series)
Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is a millionaire, a genius—and, above all, a criminal mastermind. But even Artemis doesn’t know what he’s taken on when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit. These aren’t the fairies of bedtime stories—they’re dangerous! Full of unexpected twists and turns, Artemis Fowl is a riveting, magical adventure.
Well, hey, look, here is Artemis Fowl. The worldbuilding, the way Colfer utilises his own Irish heritage to create worlds, people, and plots is truly wonderful and something I try to emulate in my own works (although my BA in classical studies does play a part in my writing too).
Artemis Fowl is one of those excellent for everyone adventures. It follows a hyper-intelligent rich young man in search of family, comfort, and connection. Artemis is one of those characters you either love, or love to hate (until he starts to grow and, therefore, grow on you). As a neurodiverse kid, Artemis’ social difficulties were so easy to identify with. (And, of course, there’s Holly Short. Everybody loves Holly Short).
Eva Ibbotson’s The Star Of Kazan
After twelve-year-old Annika, a foundling living in late nineteenth-century Vienna, inherits a trunk of costume jewelry, a woman claiming to be her aristocratic mother arrives and takes her to live in a strangely decrepit mansion in Germany.
I don’t think I’ve ever got over (or ever will get over) my love for mysterious backstories, and uncovering backstory through equally mysterious circumstances.
Shifting Into Youg Adult
Left on her own when her family dies in a terrible disaster, fifteen-year-old Green is haunted by loss and by the past. Struggling to survive physically and emotionally in a place where nothing seems to grow and ashes are everywhere, Green retreats into the ruined realm of her garden. But in destroying her feelings, she also begins to destroy herself, erasing the girl she’d once been as she inks darkness into her skin. It is only through a series of mysterious encounters that Green can relearn the lessons of love and begin to heal enough to tell her story.
This was one of those books that I read over and over again as a young’un and then completely forgot about until December 2022 when it suddenly popped back into my head and inspired A Little Ash and True Love. The story of your life being displayed on your body like it is in Green Angel has lingered with me and is definitely part of the reason I ended up getting tattoos (sorry, mum, it’s your fault).
Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study
About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She’ll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.
And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly’s Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.
Again, it’s hardly a list of books by me if I doesn’t contain Poison Study. The way that the relationship unfolds between Yelena and Valek was such an inspiration for building romances in my own stories. The crafting of this novel is so beautiful. I don’t care if it’s YA and I don’t write YA (as of March 2023), I will hold all my books (and any other book) up against this one for quality. Every single story point is baked into the narrative in such a way that surprises greet you with all the subtle signs that came before.The characters are so vivid and creative and, I can’t keep gushing or this will never end.
Becky Chambers’ The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet
Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.
My wife got this book recommended to her in 2018(ish) and she enjoyed it. I tried it and got a very small portion of the way in before giving up. Then I tried it in audio format for a very long plane ride and it gripped me. (The end had me in tears).
I’ve liked sci-fi for a long time, but only in TV shows and movies (Star Trek was always a staple in my house). I had never found sci-fi with a character focused story in books before. And now I have a whole sci-fi book series on my to be written list and I’m constantly striving to write more sci-fi short stories every year.
The character dynamics in The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet really are the stand out for the narrative. (And, if it weren’t for this book, I wouldn’t have found Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes, another favourite.) Each character is so vivid, they seem like real people who actually do things off the page, that is no easy task for a writer to manage.
Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.
Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.
I’ve talked about this book before and some of the reasons I like it, but the way it shaped me as a writer was by reminding me that I am, actually, allowed to use my BA in Classical Studies while writing. I almost feel foolish for having needed to be reminded of this, but I’ve never before seen someone utilise their studies to such an extent as in A Mamory Called Empire.
So, there you have it, some of the books that have shaped me as an author. Are there any books you think have had a profound impact upon you?
Maybe it could be my books, Merry Arlan: Breaking The Curse (signed book link) (multi-store link) is out now and you still have time to read it before the sequel Merry Arlan: Finding The Heir (signed book link) (multi-store link) comes out on 14th March (we’re actually doing a read with me over on Instagram right now where I pick out my favourite parts and share behind the scenes facts about it).
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and I’ll see you all next week for another Short Story.
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