Hello! Followers with long, empty days will be glad my lap top is still going strong.
I thought (yyyeeouch!) it’d be nice for me to share something a bit different today – some of the writers I admire. I’m an old-fashioned sort of chap, I think but I like to think I admire writers from a range of genres. This list comes in two parts, so let’s start with a writer you’ve probably never heard of;
Joe Michael Straczynski
In the 1990’s, this man did something unique in American television history. He brought the epic nature of a sprawling five-book saga onto the screen and told a complete, planned out story over five years. The show was Babylon 5 and, for my money, one of the very best written television shows ever. Of Babylon 5’s 140-something episodes, he wrote over 100 himself. He had the determination and the vision, to sell a science fiction saga to the ever cost-conscious and demanding American TV networks and tell the story he’d conceived over five years, without getting cancelled before he could finish. Nationalism, totalitarianism, racism, out-dated prejudice, capitalism, forgiveness, capital punishment, the corruptibility of the media, all of these and more are explored through interesting, well-realised characters. If you’re not a fan of science fiction, you may have to work at getting past the alien make-up and strange hair dos but it’s worth the effort. Intricately plotted, devilishly well-told and thought-provoking, Babylon 5 stands as Joe Michael Straczynski’s finest and most enduring piece of work.
Outside of Babylon 5 and discussion over it’s apparent re-boot, Straczynski is a very quiet presence on social media but when we hear from him, he always, always has something interesting to say. Whenever he provides the foreword or introduction to somebody else’s book, I always enjoying reading it because he has such a fascinating, curious and tactile mind.
If there’s a genre or style, Dahl dabbled in it and usually created pure gold. Has any writer of the 20th century been as solidly prodigious as Roald Dahl? The man who wrote The Hitcher also wrote The Twits. ‘Nuff said.
Nigel Kneale’s greatest claim to fame is the Quatermass serials. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about then you have my permission to close this blog now and fire up You Tube to enjoy some classy, atmospheric ghost stories-come sci-fi thrillers.
It ‘s Kneale’s ability to invert, or better still, tip upside-down the trappings of a classic ghost story and mould it into something unexpected and brilliant. One of his television plays (now sadly lost), The Road was about people in a seventeenth century village getting horrific visions of things moving at them and strange noises that seemed to drift through the trees. The ending revealed the site of the village two hundred years later – a motorway. The villagers were seeing ghostly images – from the future! He also wrote the very-nearly prophetic Year of the Sex Olympics and the scarily sublime thriller The Stone Tape (both available on DVD). He was a class act, even if he did hate Doctor Who (the big weirdo!). His books can be quite difficult to track down but often they’re taught, intense affairs – small on sprawling description, big on immersible intrigue.
Modern purveyor of pulp fiction. I don’t admire his stories, or his prodigious output but his ability to mingle fact with his own fiction. I’ve given it a go, in my own style, in a story I called the Scrying Stone. Mixing and blending the real and the made-up is good fun and gives you an excellent springboard for imagination but the research and the fact-checking is time consuming, and strangely addictive. That Brown manages it with such panache and regularity is impressive. Nothing he’s written since the Da Vinci Code has fired up the imagination of fellow authors quite so much and it remains his greatest critical success however his style and ability to put fact, fiction and obscure fact into a literary blend of his own is certainly a skill I admire.
The tales from the famous Yorkshire vet are steeped in timeless characters and locations. Heart warming accounts of a man in love with animals and the countryside, set against the backdrop of a world gone by. The stories, just like the way they’re told is timeless and beguiling.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Not just the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Conan-Doyle was a humanitarian with a social conscience. He famously became intensely jealous of the popularity of Holmes, the fictional character. So envious was he, he killed off the world’s most famous consulting detective in a fit of literary pique only to revive him years later. He was an intelligent, accomplished man who just happened to put some very beautiful, very poignant words into the mouth of his most famous creation.
Otherwise known as the wrestler ‘Mankind’, ‘Cactus Jack’ or Dude Love, Mick Foley is a very strange mix of professional wrestler and best-selling author. His style is open and conversational, his prose is playful and knowing, understated, but occasionally over-blown in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. His first autobiography (yes most world leaders and Olympians get by with just one autobiography but they don’t go off on entertaining 20-page tangents like Mr. Foley), is probably the most entertaining. Read it and you will find yourself hunting out Tietem Brown and Foley’s Christmas books. Yes, he’s a great big burly wrestler and he writes children’s Christmas books. Truly.
His stories were quite varied and Day of the Triffids ranks as one of my all-time favourites but the thing I admire most about him was his deft choice of words and his economic use of them. Every word is there for a reason. You won’t find much that’s superfluous in a John Wyndham story, you won’t come across much filler content. It’s all plot and character, character and plot.
No list of favourite writers is complete without the man who gave us the Time Machine, War of the Worlds and Island of Dr. Moreau. A fantastic imagination that writers everywhere continue to ape to this day. If you’re gonna steal…
Who? David Nobbs is one of those writers that did so many books, plays, adaptations, TV and radio that I’d use up a hell of a lot of space listing his credentials. His most famous creation was the rat-race escaping bundle of middle-class neurosis Reginald Perrin. The books and all the TV iterations are very funny. A naturally funny writer, he could also create moments of huge dramatic gravitas in the same sweep of his well-used pen.
We studied Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience in school and his words still hold a certain special magic for me. Blake was probably manic depressive, his songs of Innocence and Experience displaying an almost schizophrenic personality such is his characteristic ability see beauty, nobility and savagery, sometimes all at once, then described using the simplest, most agile words available. An artist.
Modest and self-effacing, the real Agatha Christie never set out to be an author but the way she captures the spirit of her characters within just a few lines is imperceptibly well done. Her output was quite incredible. Her ability to build a mystery and keep upping the ante, all the way up to those oft-repeated big reveal moments is slight, deft and quite simply a master-class of storytelling.
Frankly, the man who takes the credit for creating Star Trek was an interminable would-be Hollywood hack. So why’s he made my list? Because when he wrote his scripts for Star Trek and defined all that the franchise would become, he started off with an absolutely revolutionary idea, in science-fiction terms. He saw the future, our future, as an ultimately peaceful place where the human race had moved beyond war, profit and hang-ups over our race, gender and religion. Famously, he stopped short of putting homosexual characters on screen, however his future vision has never, ever been replicated. Every iteration of the future, before or since Star Trek, has been dismal, in one way or another. Either we haven’t changed much as a species and merely taken all of our Earth-bound issues out into space, or we’re forced to fight for the survival of our species. Only Roddenberry saw Earth in the future as paradise, a neurosis-free utopia.
Of course, it’s been well documented that telling dramatic stories using friction-less characters in the sci-fi equivalent of the garden of Eden, is a pretty monumental task. He created an in-built limitation that some writers just couldn’t work within, but any writer who in 1960’s America dared to say to a television executive whose grandfather might just have fought in the American civil war, that black woman needs to be in the same shot as the ship’s Captain. Or, who said to the exec whose uncle could’ve died at Pearl Harbor, that Japanese dude is going front and center of all bridge scenes, right next to the Russian guy, deserves to be remembered for pushing hard to accomplish an enduring vision. To anyone who, like myself, dreams of being a well-paid writer, Roddenberry’s accomplishments are the ultimate. Whether you like or dislike the man, or Star Trek for that matter, there is no denying that this would-be Hollywood hack challenged convention and inspired under-represented minorities to realise their worth. That representational revolt continues to this day, not just on television and in movies but out in the real world. The future Roddenberry saw wasn’t just one in which technology had evolved, but so too had society’s attitudes. It’s a future, a fictional future, we seek to emulate. A writer who fired-up people enough to change the very society on which he built his fictional future. That’s why he makes the list.
That’ll do for now. There are some glaring omissions here but I’m well aware the amount of time you’ll spend reading my drivel is finite, so I will share another list of writers I admire some other time.
Tomorrow we’ll take another trip to Matchway High and meet the owner of an incredibly bushy beard.
Copyright Martin Gregory