rosiphelee: (Miffed horse)
[personal profile] rosiphelee
Imagine, for a moment, that it is 1993. Our scene is the centre of Reading, a large town in the Thames Valley. The town centre has been partially pedestrianised, but redevelopment has not yet started in earnest. The shops along the central road, Broad Street, are all chain shops - shoes, clothes, two branches of Boots the Chemist, a WHSmith. Just off Broad Street, things are tattier, awaiting the start of work on the new shopping centre which finally opened in 1999. It is mid-afternoon, not yet three, and the first wave of school children are making their way back to the bus stops and the station. This first wave is all female, from the local grammar school which has a compressed timetable and so finishes early. They're trailing into town, some straight along the road to head up to the station, others peeling off to take a shortcut over the canal and up the sidestreets towards their bus stops. They stop at shops along the way to buy sweets and magazines. A few of the older girls are digging cigarettes out of their bags, planning to hang around and wait for the boys' school to finish.

In amongst this crowd are two very earnest twelve year girls. Their rucksacks are stuffed with books and homework, heavy enough that they have both shoulder straps on, rather than carrying them casually over one shoulder. One of these girls is very neat, the other scruffy, but both have skirts which fall down past their knees (a terrible fashion faux pas - normal girls asked their mums to take their hems up as many inches as they could get away with).



These two are me and my friend Ellie (she was the neat one). We weren't close friends, but we were the only two in our form who caught the 65 bus, so we travelled home together most days. On this particular evening, Ellie had to go into WHSmiths to pick up a book order for her mum. I was in no rush, so agreed to go with her.

Once in the shop, she trotted off to get the book, and I waited for her by the Crime section, browsing my way through the Agatha Christies and testing myself to see if I could remember who the murderer was in each one. After a while I got bored and wandered around to see what was on the other side of the bookshelf.

Now, to understand what happened next, it helps to know that none of the older members of my family read fantasy and science fiction. I'd grown up devouring books by Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper and Tamora Pierce. My dad had copies of the Lord of the Rings, which I'd read when I was seven, but I knew they were old books, and the others were just for kids. I had absolutely no idea that the genre of fantasy existed.

Walking unwittingly into the Science Fiction and Fantasy department of Smiths changed my life. In front of me were three wall-high shelves of books, with bright and glorious covers. Everywhere I looked there were dragons and wizards and rearing horses and fierce barbarians and vast, spectacular landscapes. My knees gave out - I don't even remember sitting down, but I remember sitting there on the floor, just gazing up at shelves that seemed to go on forever. I may have cried; I can't remember. I definitely struggled for breath.

I don't know how long I sat there and stared, but eventually it dawned on me that these were books that I could pick up, and look at, and even, if I could find the money, buy. And then I could read them, all of the these books that were just waiting there for me. Shaking, I reached out and picked up the first book that caught my eye, one that was at my eye-level where I was sitting by the bottom of the first bookshelf. By the time I'd read the blurb, I wanted that book, wanted it so much that it knocked the breath out of me. (And then I realised that it was dark outside, and Ellie was gone, and I had missed so many buses that my mother probably thought I was dead in a ditch somewhere, but that's a digression).

That book is sitting on the desk beside me as I write. It's gone soft with age and rereading. The corners are all folded in. Its spine is creased, and coming detached. Its cover feels loose in my hand when I pick it up. It's been lugged around in ugly schoolbags, in the bottom of my student backpacks, in smart handbags on commuter trains. It's been to Oxford, Cambridge, London, all over the south east. I can still remember little bits of it off by heart, especially from the opening pages.

That book is The Diamond Throne. In case anyone reading this doesn't know, the man who wrote it died this week.

I loved Eddings' books as a teenager. I remember going into the bookshop every night on the way home to check if The Shining Ones was out in paperback yet. I remember spending an RE lesson desperately whispering spoilers for The Hidden City to my poor best friend, who was waiting for me to finish it and lend it to her, until she and our teacher both begged me to be quiet. I bought The Rivan Codex in hardback on the release date and considered it money well-spent. I've read The Losers, High Hunt and Regina's Song (though I found them all either dull or contrived - some plot elements don't translate well to other genres). As a young adult, I found his writing more frustrating, particularly his female characters, but I still kept my copies, and I still reread them. Last year, I sat down and reread The Belgariad again, and just enjoyed the sheer craftmanship of it.

As a writer, I was hugely influenced by Eddings, particularly by The Elenium, which I vastly preferred. The Belgariad is great fun, especially for an Arthurian geek, but Sparhawk's world was real to me in a way Garion's never was. Here was this messy, dirty complicated world, with murky politics and dreadful weather and heroes who were weary and occasionally bad-tempered and more prone to bantering than long-winded speeches, but still heroes for all that. I can't quite remember how I first reacted to the opening of the books, with this tired man riding in the rain, musing on his past, but by the time I reached the third book, the road to Cimmura was one of my favourite places. That mixture of realism, melancholy and wry humour had a huge influence on my writing. In a way, whenever Tiger watches the mist gather over Atlantis, or Geldorath struggles with hiraeth or the rain starts falling on the Ardent Tamarisk, they're on the road to Cimmura in the rain.

There's more I could say, but I have reports to write, and a battered, much loved set of books to start rereading.

Rest in Peace, David Eddings
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rosiphelee

February 2012

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