I’m very excited to welcome to my blog Jeff Gardiner – an author, editor and a teacher – talking about the books that ignited his imagination, sharpened his pencil and set him on a journey into writing.
I’ve always been an avid reader – reading with a torch under the bedcovers, making me tired the next day at school. The two biggest influences on me as a youngster were quite different: Enid Blyton and Superman comics.
The first books that really changed me were both series by Enid Blyton – The Magic Faraway Tree, The Adventures of the Wishing Chair. Wonderful feats of imagination that allowed the heroes to travel just about anywhere and have the most incredible adventures. Meanwhile my uncle passed on his DC comics about the Man of Steel and I particularly relished the comics about the Legion of Superheroes (of which Superman was an occasional member). I also recall loving the comics about the eccentric Metal Men who could turn into liquid forms of gold, mercury and so on.
But it was Enid Blyton for me, and whilst I loved the Famous Five my real favourites were the Five Find-Outers and Dog (the first in the series is called The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage). I recall summer holidays visiting my grandparents and begging to be taken to the second-hand bookshop to seek out Enid Blyton treasures. Then there were the darker books with titles such as Island of Adventure, Castle of Adventure. I always wanted to possess the power to attract animals and birds to me, like Philip and Jack in those tales.
This led me on to the wonderful novels of Willard Price – Amazon Adventure, Volcano Adventure, Whale Adventure – following teen zoologists Hal and Roger as they travel the world, collecting exotic animals for their father’s zoo.
I do remember crying when I finished reading The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham because I never wanted to leave that incredible world inhabited by Ratty, Mole and Toad. I was transported into a world so magical and wonderful, including that awe-inspiring chapter called ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ when they encounter the god Pan. I loved Narnia and Wonderland as a kid but nothing could touch the River, Wild Wood and Toad Hall.
My older brother threw out some books and the covers caught my eye. They were by an author called Michael Moorcock and the titles and cover art had me under a spell. The Mad God’s Amulet, Phoenix in Obsidian, The Time Dweller. I then devoured all the Elric, Jerry Cornelius and eternal champion books of his interconnected multiverse. My favourite Moorcock book is the standalone, Gloriana. Michael Moorcock’s hero is Mervyn Peake whose Gormenghast trilogy, beginning with Titus Groan, contains some of the most wonderful language and humour you’ll ever read.
Fortunately my English teacher chose for us to study Aldous Huxley’s dystopian masterpiece Brave New World in my A Level Literature class, and I’m eternally grateful to him. It’s possibly the greatest book of ideas, philosophy and politics ever written. Funny, frightening and poignant. Everyone should read it. The other philosophical author I discovered at university was Herman Hesse whose novels Siddhartha and Narcissus and Goldmund changed my perspective on life.
I’m always aware that so many of my favourite authors are male, but two female writers that have affected me greatly are Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood. I recommend anything by these two. My favourite short story writers are both men though: Lord Dunsany and Algernon Blackwood
In my later life I have found it harder to find the same amount of time to read; mostly because of family-life and work. However, the two stand-out novelists for me are the sadly late Graham Joyce (The Tooth Fairy, Smoking Poppy) and Haruki Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore). Both of these writers set their narratives in the modern world but neither are frightened to explore mystical, fantastical or even surreal events and experiences, in the style of magic realism.
It’s likely that all this reading has influenced my own writing. I have written short stories that contain horror, magic realism, humour and romance. My latest novel, Pica, has elements of Enid Blyton, Kenneth Graham, Graham Joyce and Herman Hesse. It’s probably hard to see these influences directly – I’ve tried to be original, of course – but I know they’re there.
After leaving university I was a school teacher for twenty years attempting to instil my love of reading in others. I still go into schools as a visiting author hoping to help young people to see that reading is vital for the imagination and to develop personal experience and understanding of the world and universe around us. I have my own children who I continue to encourage to read (not easy). I struggle to find time to read as much as I used to, but I know it’s important. That’s really why I write: in the hope that someone will read my books and feel inspired, provoked and truly alive.
PICA by Jeff Gardiner
Pica explores a world of ancient magic, when people and nature shared secret powers.
Luke hates nature, preferring the excitement of computer games to dull walks in the countryside, but his view of the world around him drastically begins to change when enigmatic loner, Guy, for whom Luke is reluctantly made to feel responsible, shows him some of the secrets that the very planet itself appears to be hiding from modern society.
Set in a very recognisable world of school and the realities of family-life, Luke tumbles into a fascinating world of magic and fantasy where transformations and shifting identities become an escape from the world. Luke gets caught up in an inescapable path that affects his very existence, as the view of the world around him drastically begins to change.
Jeff Gardiner is the author of four novels (Pica, Igboland, Myopia and Treading On Dreams), a collection of short stories, and a work of non-fiction. Many of his short stories have appeared in anthologies, magazines and websites.
Pica is the first in the Gaia trilogy – a fantasy of transformation and ancient magic, which Michael Moorcock described as “An engrossing and original story, beautifully told. Wonderful!”
“Reading is a form of escapism, and in Gardiner’s fiction, we escape to places we’d never imagine journeying to.” (A.J. Kirby, ‘The New Short Review’)