Sunday, September 19, 2010

Influences on writing

Written primarily as a response to a Facebook note by my friend Jayaprakash, this is where I talk about some of the writers that have inspired my own meager works. I also give little descriptions of the aspects of their style that I tried to take from:

  • R. K. Narayan - Clean honest prose, not trying to bamboozle with ornate language, quick sketching of characters - description of little moments that define their personalities, and the ability to underscore dramatic scenes with measured prose. I also took ideas here as to how to depict Indian characters speaking in English that seems natural to their background. My favorite Narayan books in this regard are Mr. Sampath (The Printer of Malgudi), Swami and Friends and The Painter of Signs.
  • Vilas Sarang & Malayatoor Ramakrishnan - Indian horror yeah! These guys are brilliant in themselves and a tremendous if also intimidating look at non-stereotypic bizarre stories. Malayatoor's story Mridula Prabhu and Vilas Sarang's Bajrang,The Great Indian Bustard are but two of their several benchmark stories that I hold my work against to gauge the bizarreness quotient. In both cases, clean prose that pays service to describing the story than drawing attention to itself.
  • H.G. Wells - I love how he amplified the horror of a situation by writing from a distant, even slightly amused perspective, and I try to take from that. My favorite examples - Pollock and The Porroh Man, Empire of The Ants.
  • Amitav Ghosh - I loved the character interactions in The Shadow Lines and the sense of wistfulness he generates. Amitav Ghosh when he is in form can bring alive a place or event in history through his characters. The protagonist's attraction for his cousin Ila and the scene where she realizes it has been one of my benchmarks when I think of unfulfilled desire. The Calcutta Chromosome of course was something else, altogether. I riffed the Phulboni episode to come up with my own little old-style ghost story with a train.
  • H.P. Lovecraft - Little else I have read has compared with the level of cosmic horror HPL brought about in some of his works. Dreams in The Witch-House, which I recall having read when alone in a bachelor flat while nursing a fever, quite possibly was the inspiration for some of my attempts at writing about an overarching unexplained horror. What I also find interesting is that reading HP's stories you can see him struggling as a writer to reiterate the atmosphere of awe & dread. It is in a way reassuring to know that even the writers you admire had to overcome big mental blocks to express the ideas in their head.
  • George Orwell - No, not 1984 or Animal Farm, but Coming Up For Air and Keep The Aspidistra Flying. Orwell's biggest attraction for me has been the intensely perceptive and honest way he looks at his protagonists, even when he tells a story from their point-of-view. I hope to attain a similar if vastly less ambitious end. And depression over a lost idyllic past is something I have shared with Coming up...'s protagonist.
  • Thomas Ligotti - I haven't read any significant amount of Kafka, preferring instead to get my dose of "strangeness/absurdity as horrror" from Ligotti's prose. There is less plot here than in Lovecraft's stories but Ligotti is immaculate in developing an atmosphere of dust, brooding and dread, and a definite benchmark if you're interested in literate horror. Friends that have read a story of mine called A Life in Another Dream will possibly see the Ligotti influence there.
  • Ray Bradbury - I am in complete awe of how Bradbury with apparent ease strings words together in a manner that in itself captures an ephemeral beauty that so many writers (including yours truly) tie themselves into knots over. He has even abused that ability to peddle frankly unworthy tales but in its best moments produces an unparalleled emotional rush. But Bradbury is also a problem because virtuosity like that can cripple the anxious amateur; ask me.
  • Stephen King - Not so much for his horror fiction, but the conversational, even tongue-in-cheek manner he can "talk/ lecture" to the audience. Danse Macabre is a great example of the tone of a King lecture, and it probably rests somewhere in the back of my mind when I write pieces like...well, this one.
There are other authors whose style I'd like to muster inspiration from. I want to write an action sequence like China Mieville, a detective piece like Arthur Conan Doyle and so on. Alright, I'm done here.


  1. Regarding Amitav Ghosh - where should I start off? The Shadow Lines?

  2. Yeah, Shadow Lines is a great place to start. Then The Calcutta Chromosome. His first novel Circle of Reason is damn good until halfways through and then drags.


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