Once upon a time, a very long time ago now (not last Friday, as A.A. Milne once wrote)… my parents read to me as a child. I think that’s a tremendously important thing, one of the most important things a parent can do. Because, as a result, from time immemorial, I have always loved to read. And later on, as a parent myself, I made sure I read to my own children. It was part of the nightly bedtime ritual after dinner, and even as they grew older, it remained a treasured part of the day for all concerned. And it was a sad day when that parenting time came to an inevitable conclusion, I can tell you.
As I began reading on my own, I grew up with the Tom Swift books --- loved all the gadgetry and incredible inventions, even back then, and was blissfully unaware of how formulaic they were. But I think it’s as famed psychiatrist B.F. Skinner said: “We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.” And my parents, God bless them, did that. I was also raised on a lot of the classics in children’s literature.
After I learned to read for myself --- and I can still vividly recall the day in grade one when I went dashing home, yelling to my mother that I could read, waving my first grade primer in one hand --- I read quite a lot of science fiction from the masters: Arthur C. Clarke was my first go-to author, probably because 2001: A Space Odyssey had just appeared in film and book versions. I saw the film first --- shanghaied my father, who had absolutely zippo interest in science fiction, to drive me up to the only cinema in town that was equipped to show 70 mm film, and we watched it together, which on reflection was a pretty tolerant act on his part. And because the film was, shall we say, a wee bit difficult to comprehend, regardless of whether you were 10 like me or much older, like my dad. I had to read the book to make some sense of it. So I did, and that was it, the fateful moment: I was hooked on the sci-fi bug. Irrevocably. And of course, the original Star Trek had surfaced at mostly the same time. And then, very quickly after that, came the first landing on the moon, which of course we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of this year.
As far as the fantasy genre is concerned, well, somewhere along the way, my mother bought me a copy of The Hobbit. I’m going to say I was 10 or 11 at the time, so right around the same moment I discovered science fiction, and I’m mortified now to say that I couldn’t really get into The Hobbit. Now, looking back five decades later, I’m not really sure why… the reasoning has vanished in the mists of time. So it languished. Then, in the summer when I turned 12, I came across a copy of The Lord of the Rings, the entire trilogy bound into one large volume. And I bought it. Again, I’m not quite sure why, all these years later. I’m embarrassed to say it might well have been something as shallow as that I was attracted by a big book. I took it with me when we went on our family camping holiday that summer, and was instantly, absolutely enthralled. Why? Because it was so different from anything I had read before. It was its own world, with endless vistas, completely formed cultures and languages --- it was real. I couldn’t put it down. Read it all the time. In the car. At the campsite, especially around the fire. Morning, noon, night. All the time, to the annoyance of my parents, who kept pointing out all the scenic wonders we were driving through. But all I cared about was whether the surrounding mountains and forests represented the vistas I was experiencing in Middle Earth. Sure, I return to Middle Earth and the science fiction of my youth from time to time --- still have the 95 cent copies I bought 50 years ago, and certainly still have that big book copy of LOTR, although, like me, it’s a little the worse for wear five decades later.
I would say LOTR was a seminal work for me. It certainly unlocked my fledgling writer’s mind, because, for some reason, it created within me this burning desire to write stuff like that. But not set in Middle Earth, no, no, no. I wanted to create my own world and write about it. The term fanfiction didn’t exist back then, but I’ve never been a fan of fanfiction. (My take on the matter is, yes, I know you obviously really, really like the world you use for your fanfiction. But don’t use someone else’s world… create your own. Draw from your own well. Taking from some other author’s well is at best creatively lazy, at worst creatively bankrupt. And who the hell are you to take an author’s characters and make them do stuff you want them to do? Anyway. Enough with the rant.)
So I wrote. Mostly fantasy, some science fiction. I still have some of those embryonic efforts, lo, these many years later, and every once in a while, I pull them out and smile fondly and indulgently at them. I don’t cringe at them --- although I very well could --- because we all have to start somewhere.
There you have it. From tiny acorns and all that…