Question asked by Graham Kibble-White of TV Cream.
Life Is it possible to have a favourite writer who doesn't influence your own writing? Given how many authors have their own definitive style yet enjoy the work of others, sometimes in entirely different genres, then it must be. But perhaps, "influence" doesn't just mean in terms of style but on a more fundamental level, in relation to structure or world view. In attempting to list which writers have influenced me, I've come to the conclusion that the distinction isn't as clear, that I don't have a particularly distinctive style anyway.
Some of that has to do with never really receiving formal training, if such a thing exists. At school, GCSE English Language consisted of endless assignments, fiction, but sometimes essays, each of which would be returned with red pen comments like “this needs more work” or “your argument is unclear” but I was too busy thinking about teenage things to really ask the relevant teacher what that meant. Then there wasn't an option for that subject in A-Level, just literature and after struggling through Beckett, Woolf and Chaucer for two years, I failed the course.
Which means that my ability to write, assuming I have an ability to write, has been entirely informal, that the people who've "influenced" me, have most likely taught me how to structure such things as paragraphs and sentences, but through the same process had led to the picking up of many bad habits, like sentences which seem to carry on endlessly, with comma, after comma, until they fill nearly the whole paragraph. But not to mention the seeming need to make those paragraphs have the same number of lines. That one's mine.
My primary source I’m unashamed to say is The Guardian and the writers thereof. I’ve been reading The Guardian since the mid-nineties and when I was scratching around attempting to work out how “proper” writing should sound and be, I decided The Guardian style was the thing to mimic even to the point of reading their style guide. That was certainly the case when I began writing this blog and probably still is even if my largely monosyllabic vocabulary isn’t always up to the task.
If you’re interested in specific writers on the paper, it’s who you might the expect, the Brookers, Hydes and Freemans even if I’m too embarrassed to be quite that acerbic. I was a big fan of Anna Pickard’s television writing back in the day, and Jon Ronson’s reportage has been instrumental in suggesting how to find the core of what’s happening whilst still illuminating through personal response. Elizabeth Day’s columns and interviews are also particularly fine. Yes, if I've any ambition it's to have something professionally published in that paper.
Except I’m aware that my writing can be too discursive, too unruly for that and I think I can blame Douglas Adams for wanting to break off in the middle of one thing to talk about something else, deciding on what should be the right structure then ignoring it, finding myself in the middle of writing about one thing, when I should be typing away about something else, even ignoring what few rules I have cultivated. If not his actual writing, I certainly have his annoying writer’s block, though no one has yet had to lock me in a hotel room to finish anything because of a missed deadline. I’ve always hit my deadlines. I think.
Elizabeth Wurtzel taught me how to be personal, or at least pointed me in that direction. Mark Kermode writes, but it’s listening to his Radio 5 show that I’ve seen the allure of being unafraid to forthright and dogmatic in my beliefs. David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson and Roger Ebert show how it’s possible to be clever, accessible and yet also structural and I wish I had more of an ability for that. Numerous blogs. Perhaps since all of my writing is blogging right now, I’m mostly influenced by bloggers.
Then there’s Shakespeare. I appreciate it takes a certain particular hubris to specifically suggest Shakespeare as an influence, but if I’ve learnt anything from him, it’s that English isn't static. Grammar, spelling and punctuation should be malleable, manipulatable especially if using the wrong word in the right place has thematic resonance, helps an argument or is just funny. Many are the occasions when I’ve been pulled up on what looks like a grammatical error, a typo or poor spelling which I’ve done on purpose to make a point. Perhaps I’m just not very good at it. Perhaps that's why he's a genius and I'm not.
It would also be remiss of me not to mention (embarass) the person asking this question and some of the other people looking at this very blog post who contributed to the Off The Telly website, which demonstrated how it was possible to write knowledgably and thoughtfully about television and although I’ve said this before, it’s still true, that whole project, however rare I contributed myself, was instrumental in me returning to university for my MA Screen Studies, not least because my portfolio included one of the few pieces I did contribute.
But Graham continues to be an influence on my Doctor Who reviews, as does his colleague at Doctor Who Magazine Gary Gillatt, that being the first section I read each month, always feeling slightly let down when their by-line doesn’t occur. Also the old crowd from Behind The Sofa, Neil, John, Damon, Frank, Sean, Dave and everyone else, all the reasons I tried to get my review in first on a broadcast night because I knew they’d be on my tail with greater style and honesty in the hopes it’d look like they were copying me rather than the other way around.
This is the kind of piece which doesn’t really have an ending, so I’d be interested to know who you think my writing is influenced by, if I’m deluding myself with some of persons above (Shakespeare) and who you think I should be reading. Any influences become more or less apparent depending on the kinds of writing I’m attempting and no matter how much I try to make everything sound the same, there are still moments when I begin one type of writing in the wrong voice and everything goes catastrophically wrong. I wonder why?