The Book(s) That Made Me

I recently read a rather excellent collection of essays from a variety of Australia writers, and as was perhaps inevitable I began thinking about the books that made me. I’ve been an avid reader since I learned how, and while I went through periods of aspiring towards Rory Gilmore levels of literacy (a pretentiousness I have semi-relinquished) my love of books never wavered.

the book that made meLike many others I was a lonely child, I struggled to get close to people – and I still do – but I never felt let down by books. Maybe I feel a little let down by them now, but books have never left me, stories have never left me. Instead they’ve become a part of me, seeping into my blood and my bones like oxygen.

There is one book that I believe had an especially defining influence on me but before I get to it I want to talk about some of the books that have remained significant to my own development – as both a person and a writer. Upon reflection, I can definitely say that my earlier influences were almost exclusively fantasy. Though often far-fetched it was the realm of fantasy that helped me find the words and images to ignite my own imagination. It’s fantasy that I’m going to love until I die. Even though I try to read widely between genres, between topics, and even between mediums, fantasy fiction is home.

It was Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest series that instilled in me a love of two things:tumblr_n6jokzHvO31sdo33qo2_r1_400

The first was monsters, from the Knight in the Forbidden Forest (human vices! self-destruction! immortal danger!) to the noble dragons, I have always loved monsters. Now I love them in a slightly more adult way (no questions thanks) but Deltora was the first world where my love of the unknown and the fearful became real. Now that I’m older I can dream of Eldricht horrors, but Deltora is and will always be home.

The second was my love of quest narratives. I wrote a lot of stories when I was young, all of them terrible, most of them plagiarised, and a lot of them featuring women on quests and people on journeys. The quest is easily one of the most basic tools to keep a narrative moving, thanks to it’s clearly defined goal, and though I often try to focus on character-driven narratives my stories almost always involve a journey.

Because every book is a journey? That old chestnut.

My love of quests and magic was continued in a little novel by 14 year old French writer Flavia Bujor. In The Prophecy of the Gems my favourite narrative elements were united – albeit without the kind of monsters that I loved in Deltora. prophecy of the gems.jpgThe three girls at the heart of the story were from vastly different backgrounds, had distinctly different personalities, and much of the story was about their potential.

I also appreciated that the characters were my age. I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up with the current understanding and increase of young adult fiction. I was ten years old when I started reading Harry Potter, I was an enamoured fifteen year old when I read Twilight for the first time, and now that I’m older and more widely read I can see that The Prophecy of the Gems was nothing particularly original.

Now that I’ve reread it I can also see that it’s not particularly good. But it still resonated with me as a child, and it still showed me the kind of world that I wanted to see. It was one of the first books that I bought, and even though rereading it has made me cringe – I will never give it away. If a thirteen year old girl in France could write a book that I loved enough to borrow it from the library once a month then maybe I could write one too.

I wrote the books. But they still weren’t very good.

If I have to choose one book that made me, one book out of all of the books, then the obvious and undeniable choice is Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody. It’s maybe a little obvious in that it is the source of my name (and I mean this literally, I started calling myself Elspeth after I fell in love with this series and I’ve been Elspeth ever since), but it’s also the book that I read because it made me feel less alone. I believe that I was around fourteen when I read it for the first time, and I definitely felt like a misfit. obernewtyn

Now that I’m older I’m able to recognise that a lot of my feelings of alienation were down to the fact that I was fourteen years old, and like any fourteen year old I was stuck in my own head. I still get stuck in my own head, but like the Elspeth of the story I have found my band of ‘misfits’. I have found the people who make up my family, and I have found the people who are as in love with books as I am. Books were my first family, and books have helped me find my family.

My very first copy of Obernewtyn is long gone. I bought it for $1 from my local library, and I read it so much that it was literally falling to pieces. My copy now is significantly more intact, and it’s signed, and marked, but every time I revisit it I’m reminded of who I am and who I want to be. It was while reading Obernewtyn that I decided that what I really wanted to be was a writer. I don’t remember the point of that revelation, I don’t remember what it felt like to have it all fall into place, and in all honesty that might be because I already sort of knew, but I know that every time I read Obernewtyn or any of the books in the series I remember how it feels to know what I want to do and what I want to be.

A misfit, a writer, maybe an empath or maybe just a very emotional person, but even when I’m all of these things: I’m home.