Writers probably get thoroughly fed up with responding to that old question about who their main influences are, but I have to admit, I rarely get fed up of reading their answers. The better interviewees make a point of explaining exactly how those influences worked. Otherwise, I think there’s a default assumption (or maybe it’s just me) that Writer A reads Writers B, C, D and E and becomes something that’s an amalgam of all four.
The death of Ray Bradbury this week, at the age of 91, set me thinking about this, and other things. When I was a kid, I think around 9 or 10, I read a story of Bradbury’s in the Reader's Digest. I was a pretty voracious reader anyway, but it was the first time I’d come across Bradbury, so had no preconceptions about his status as a science-fiction writer (he considered himself a fantasy writer, incidentally, but both terms tend to get used rather sniffily by literary critics*).
All I can remember of the story now is that it was set in an American small town, and centred on a boy’s longing for a new pair of sneakers that he sees in a shop window. Perhaps that was all there was to the plot. That’s not really important. What is significant is that I distinctly remember realising that it was the first time I’d read something and enjoyed it for no other reason than the way it was written. The writing was what made it pleasurable, not the narrative or anything else, and to prove that to myself I read it again and again over a few weeks.
I didn’t go away and read libraries full of Bradbury. I came back to him much later, after university, I think, and read The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles, and what I’d consider his masterpiece, October Country, and I loved them, but I don’t think I’ve ever had the urge to write anything along remotely similar lines. Where Bradbury did influence me, probably more than any other writer, was in making me want to write. Anything. Everything. Every day, if at all possible. So, thanks Ray. Every time I re-read those books I mentioned, I still get that same feeling.
* It'll be interesting to see how Bradbury is re-evaluated in the next few years, because despite the fantasy/sci-fi settings of much of his work, his real subjects, of course, were the USA, and the 20th Century. It's a constant source of irritation to me that so-called 'genre' fiction is so often sidelined, or treated as somehow less serious than 'literary fiction. If ever a writer shattered that myth, it was Bradbury.