Friday, 14 February 2014

Influence vs inspiration

"Who are your influences?" It was a common enough question when I was in the music biz but I don't remember ever being asked the same question as a writer.

I find that interesting because I didn't ever write much music - I was never that passionate - but I sang in more bands and shows than I can remember and while there was a definite style that I preferred to sing, I can't say I was ever influenced by any particular singer or band - it was all about what the audience would like.

I sang in cover bands for more than 20 years but I don't think that I was ever influenced by the original singers because all I was doing was reproducing music written and performed by others.

These days as a writer, I'm never asked who my influences are and yet I believe I'm more likely to be influenced by other writers because I'm creating something new and fresh.

In creating a piece of written work, something that's never been written before, it's impossible not to have some flavour, some idea that you've received from somewhere else.

I'm not talking about plagiarism - I'll talk about that in another blog - but rather about inspiration.

You can be inspired by someone, and you can be influenced by them. And I don't believe the two are mutually exclusive.  It doesn't mean you're copying their work but we live in a dynamic world. Our senses are constantly bombarded by external influences - it's impossible not to be impacted by them.

And like it or not, these influences do creep into your work.

I've never written science fiction or fantasy. I'm not a big fan of the genre. But a boyfriend, many years ago, who loved the genre suggested I try Anne McCaffrey. Reluctantly, I agreed and although I don't remember which of Ms McCaffrey's books I read, I did enjoy it.

Having said that, I was neither inspired nor influenced in any way.

Now, probably my favourite author of all time - Pamela Belle - has been both an inspiration and influence.

Ms Belle writes historical fiction, her specialty being the 1600s during the English Civil War.

I can honestly say that Ms Belle inspired me to write historical fiction - although my books have been set in the Regency period.

Ms Belle writes in beautiful, well-considered language, and the time she takes to describe and research her genre has inspired me to do likewise. When you enjoy what you're reading you're likely to enjoy writing the same genre, style, etc.

I suppose it's why they say you should read what you write.

Torn, bye the way, has been described as cinematic, one of the greatest compliments I've been paid, and I credit Pamela Belle's attention to detail in influencing me to conduct my own research into English plants, trees and wildlife and their changing behaviour and appearance throughout the seasons of the year.

I believe it lends that bit of authenticity to your work.

Ms Belle has written a series of fantasy novels - The Silver City series. I loved them, as I do all Ms Belle's work, I'm still not inspired to write fantasy and influence stops there. Besides having no desire to work in the genre, I have so many historical fiction novels in my head, clamouring to be written, that I'd need two, may be more lifetimes to get them down.

It's a matter of prioritising.

When it comes to authenticity, another of my favourite writers who is both inspirational and influential is Diana Gabaldon. This lady's Outlander series is not only well written and descriptive, but it has been so well researched that I'm inspired and influenced to do likewise.

I try to research the details of my era thoroughly to ensure that everything is as authentic as possible. I have researched things I didn't even mention in my books just so that I could place myself in the scene and achieve a genuine feel and taste of the time.

I suppose I could say I've been influenced by Hemmingway. Although I'm not inspired by his work, I read For Whom the Bell Tolls and was caused to stop and think about a particularly, I thought, graphic sex scene for the times.
It wasn't that it was graphic in a Triple-X biology lesson sense, but the action was described in basic, non gratuitous language that told me exactly what was happening without telling me exactly what was happening.

It was remarkable. I didn't enjoy the book itself, or the story, but that scene left me thinking. It was a classic show don't tell.

Are there ways that you have been inspired but not influenced? Have you been influenced but not inspired?

Do you think they're the same thing?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

So, until next week, be inspired, be influenced, and be true to yourself!

Happy writing.

PS. Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series is being made into a television show. I'm busting with excitement!

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