As a lovely comment-leaver on my last post pointed out, my posts tend to skew more towards writing than reading. Thanks, Ella – you’re right, and I meant to try to address that balance and never got round to it (story of my life). So here’s one not so much about writing or reading, but about stories in a wider sense.
People often say a book changed their lives, and I imagine that sometimes they’re exaggerating. How much can a book about, say, weasels, really change your life, after all? For the most part, though, I tend to think that they’re telling the truth. The same book might not change every life, or be life-changing for the same reasons – it might not even be for a reason you’d expect at all! In fact, this is true of many – probably all – forms of media. In this post, I’d like to look at just a couple of the stories that spring to mind as having changed my life, and why they changed it.
First, a book. In common with many
witches and wizards people of my generation, the first one that springs to mind is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (and, by extension, the whole series by JK Rowling). I stumbled across it via Newsround just as Chamber of Secrets was released and the hype was huge. Everyone seemed to be buzzing about that book in a way I’d never really seen – or at least, noticed – before; there were queues out the door of bookshops and people queuing to get the new installment at midnight on release day. When I got Philosopher’s Stone in my hands, it didn’t take long at all for me to become utterly hooked, entranced by a magical world that seemed so close to our own I could reach out and touch it. As time went on, I got to enjoy all the excitement of book launches and long debates over my Hogwarts House (and my friends’, and random people I met, and entirely unrelated characters, and- well, no doubt you’ve been there and done that). And as a child whose home life wasn’t always ideal, the story of a sad, lonely child suddenly finding himself popular and important with just a slight change of scene was something that gave me a lot of hope. It was a key to a world where the forces of darkness could be fought and defeated – “anything’s possible,” in the words of Ginny Weasley, “as long as you’ve got enough nerve”. And an honourable mention, of course, must go to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – the book released for charity – which really opened my eyes to the idea of additional world-building.
Before that, however, there were the Tales of Redwall by Brian Jacques. Martin the Warrior, in particular, was something of a formative influence on me – I still sing the songs embedded in the pages, which I put my own tunes to as I was reading, and nobody will ever mention a late-blooming rose without getting me sobbing over the fate of Urran Voh’s daughter. The Tales of Redwall spread a fantastical map around my young self and invited me to explore – and, of course, to return again and again to that warm and happy sandstone home in the heart of the Mossflower woods. Each book ended in a similar vein to this: “…may the seasons be kind to you and your friends. The door of our Abbey is always open to any travellers roaming the dusty path between the woodlands and the plains.” Who could resist such an open invitation to be utterly transported and live happily in a fictional land?
It’s not just books, of course. A friend and I were reminiscing over the ten-year anniversary of the BBC’s Merlin, or rather the first episode of it. Now, when I say Merlin changed my life, I don’t just mean in terms of opening me up to new ideas, but also to new experiences and new people, including the lovely Julie Bozza. Julie’s important in my life for a million reasons, of course, as a very dear friend, but most relevant to you dear readers is probably the fact that she was the one who introduced me to Manifold Press, my eventual publisher. We actually first met through Merlin – I was a fan, she ran the Merlin Locations website, can I make it any more obvious? – and even if I took nothing else from that show, I’d be very glad to have gained her friendship. Merlin also reminded me of my love for the Arthurian legends, got me involved in major fandom events for the first time, and led to my founding of Fandom Wanderers, a now-defunct webzine I remain very proud of.
The more I think about it, the more stories I can pick out as having been life-changing for me. The film Papadopoulos & Sons showed me how much one person can achieve if they focus their priorities in a certain direction. Buffy the Vampire Slayer taught me that regardless of my skills, superpowers, or lack thereof, I can stand up and make a difference in the world. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries took one of my favourite stories from two centuries ago and showed me how a familiar narrative can be remodelled into something new and wonderful – and how social media can be used to bring a story right into an audience’s real world. Christopher Pike’s Remember Me taught me the value of an unusual perspective.
I suppose, when it comes down to it, the Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who said it best: “we’re all stories, in the end”. Every book we read, every show we watch, every story we absorb becomes a part of who we’ll be from that point on. Of course, some stick out a lot more than others.
So, readers, what are the stories that have changed your lives? Feel free to share them in the comments below – I’m always keen for recommendations.
Talk to you soon!