I never decided to become a writer, nor would I describe it as a calling. It was more like a discovery, something solid glimpsed as the churning seabed settled in adolescence.
[Prosecutor glances at jury, rolling his eyes.]
But to answer the question directly, I think we should actually ask: who put this idea in my head? And I think the answer is that they got me when I was very young and impressionable. Age 12, when I was an avid reader of science fiction, and the pulps of the day - Analog, Amazing Stories, F&SF. And anthologies. So the very first influences would have been the giants of golden age sci-fi. The Kornblums, the Liebers, the Pohls, as well as more obvious suspects like Asimov and Clarke.
Soon after my tastes expanded, and the knowledge that I wanted to write solidified. The next batch of influences, then, are like those sf authors: it’s not so much that they influenced how or what I wanted to write, but that they shaped the desire to write in the first place. Now I mean Graham Greene, Dostoevsky. And most of the Russians actually, Gogol, Gorki, Chekhov.
By the time I actually started to write - sometime in my mid-teens - I was fascinated by J.G. Ballard, and I wrote incomprehensible slabs of inert profundity in an attempt to copy him. Yes, copy. So maybe he’s the man you’re after.
[Prosecutor gestures the defendant to keep going.]
Well. After that, in my twenties, comes the deluge. Mavis Gallant had so much precision and such insight - I’ll never match her, but I will always try. William Gibson - the first 100 pages of Neuromancer have some of the most crackling yet poetic prose ever written, and he inspired hundreds of abandoned pages of crackling yet poetic near-future prose in search of a plot. Alice Munro’s stories did amazing things with structure. Ian McEwan. Ok. Now we’re really rolling…
[Prosecutor turns towards jury, wincing, and mouths ‘I’m sorry.’]
Cormac McCarthy was very dangerous. Almost fatal. I spent a year or two rewriting Blood Meridian as a gnostic epic set in medieval Greenland. On the other hand, Cryptonomicon by Neil Stevenson: that’s the kind of book I’m going to write soon. And more recently I’ve learned a lot from the popular thriller author Daniel Silva. Don’t roll your eyes. He’s an immaculate writer, for one thing, and is masterful at creating motivated action. And somewhat in the same vein are a couple of authors who almost take us back to the beginning, to Graham Greene - Martin Cruz Smith and Gerald Seymour. You’ll see their influence creeping in as my career develops.
And of course [inaudible] and [inaudible].
[Prosecutor, suddenly alert, holds up his hand to halt the defendant. He approaches the jury box and gently shakes those members who have fallen asleep. He gives them a moment to stretch and orient themselves; disappointment and resignation register on a few faces as they see where they are.]
Prosecutor: Please repeat the last two names.
Defense attorney: Objection!
Defendant: Must I?
Defendant: Very well. Kingsley Amis and Evelyn Waugh.