Concluding my series on inspiration and influences for my novels, here’s a look at the stories that informed my most successful and “personal” book to date, Children of the Folded Valley.
A coming of age memoir set against a “light” science fiction backdrop, Children of the Folded Valley is about a man recalling his childhood and adolescence amid an unusual religious cult. The novel draws on some elements of personal experience, but here are seven key texts that were also influential.
The Remains of the Day (Kazou Ishiguro) – Children of the Folded Valley has a similar flashback structure to Ishiguro’s masterpiece, with the protagonist also taking a journey from Oxfordshire to the West Country during his reminiscences. Obviously The Remains of the Day has very different subject matter, but the melancholy theme of wasted lives is definitely an undercurrent in my own novel.
Never Let Me Go (Kazou Ishiguro) – Ishiguro again, and actually a novel I am less keen on because for me dystopian narratives really need to culminate in an act of rebellion (successfully or otherwise). Although brilliantly written, this one is determined to be “realistic”, with the characters resigned to their fate, at the expense of dramatic satisfaction. However, it remains a key influence for this reason: I love the way the science fiction element remains very much in the background, unrevealed until it absolutely has to be, and even then very obliquely.
The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) – As with Never Let Me Go, the science fiction elements are kept cleverly in the background (hence my term “light” science fiction), because they are less important than the bone-chilling themes of religious dystopia. The hideous treatment of women in this appalling future was also influential to a certain degree, though to be honest I must sadly admit I didn’t have to look too far into my own experience of real life religious organisations to find inspiration on that front.
1984 (George Orwell) – Well, obviously. I mean, anyone writing a dystopian novel has to acknowledge the granddaddy of them all. Orwell’s scathing, brilliant condemnation of totalitarianism is a clear influence, even though his novel focusses more on political dictatorship and mine on religious dictatorship. Like Shakespeare and Dickens, Orwell despised “the mob” (in this case, a political mob manipulated by the state). In my novel, the brainwashed “mob”, followers of cult leader Benjamin Smiley, are equally insidious at times, even though they too are victims. The “bleeding” scene in Children of the Folded Valley is also influenced a little by “Room 101”.
The Wizard of Oz (L Frank Baum) – The wizard being revealed as a fraud is an important moment in the novel (and in the film), although the effect is largely comical. In Children of the Folded Valley, when Smiley is revealed for what he is, the effect is devastating. However, there remains a touch of the Wizard of Oz in his character, despite Smiley’s malevolence.
Great Expectations (Charles Dickens) – Just as 1984 is the ultimate dystopian novel, Great Expectations is the ultimate coming of age story and I borrowed from it extensively. There are definitely elements of Estella and Pip in the relationship between James and Miranda, though again I know the backgrounds are very different. It’s also worth giving an honourable mention to The Kite Runner here, as there were tonal elements that were an inspiration, particularly in the novel’s latter stages.
Lost (TV series) – Yes, I know this ultimately led to an exasperating and disappointing finale, but along the way the story of “the Others” proved very influential, in the way they operated much like a cult. Benjamin Smiley is not deliberately named after Ben Linus, but it is an amusing coincidence.
You can download or buy print copies of Children of the Folded Valley from Amazon here.