A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Who are your writing heroes and why?

Writers as heroes? Can we/should we view writers this way? A dictionary definition of a hero goes something along the lines of… someone who is brave, strong, admired for doing something great. We traditionally associate the term with someone who has surmounted huge obstacles, suffered a lot of pain or fought for something. Erm, well, yes, maybe we can view writers as heroic in some respects. Many  authors seem to struggle either with the balance of writing and a second job, with finding time to write, with making the huge decision to pursue writing as a career in the first place, with finding a publisher, with coping with rejection and book deals falling through at the last minute… the list goes on.  Still, our suffering pales into insignificance when you think of the atrocities in countries like Syria and Afghanistan or the recent typhoon in the Philippines. So, can a writer be viewed as a hero? I’m not sure, but I do think that authors create works of greatness that inspire, entertain and enlighten.

So, I shall look at writing heroes in terms of ‘greatness’ – the writer’s ability to use words and to create story in such a way that the reader is moved, engrossed, horrified, captivated, completely and utterly absorbed. Thus, this is a very subjective post because my choice came down to the writers I go back to again and again because something about the way they write and the subjects they deal with touches me in a profound way, and not always in the same way. They are the writers who keep me reading beyond a healthy time of night, who surprise me and who make me think and feel:

Getting the Girl coverMarkus Zusak: Mr Zusak is definitely up there as one of my writing heroes. He’s mostly known for his adult novel, ‘The Book Thief’, but he has also written three wonderful cross-over books – ‘I am the Messenger’, ‘Fighting Ruben Wolfe’ and ‘Getting the Girl’. His rise to the The Pedestal of Greatness, for me, is down to his ability to write characters and situations so steeped in reality that you can almost smell them. He writes with poignancy and insight and without sentimentality, and he writes about stuff that the reader can relate to. I kind of feel when I’ve read his books that I understand a little more, about life, about love, about everything. He’s just had a follow up to ‘Fighting Ruben Wolfe’ and ‘Getting the Girl’ published – ‘The Underdog’  – it’s on my Christmas List. You’d better be reading this, Santa!

J.R.R. Tolkien: I read ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as an adult, and, after I came up for air, I walked down my road scanning the hedges and spying into the shadowy depths, convinced that a hobbit would pop out at any moment. I don’t know of any other writer who has made me believe the fantasy they have created so utterly, and, not only that, but to wish upon all wishes that it were true! So Tolkien’s up there, with Mr Z (I hope you don’t mind me calling you that, Markus).

Peter Carey: Peter Carey is an astonishing writer. I haven’t read all of his books (he’s written quite a few) but I’ve read a lot. If I Tax Inspector coverhad to choose faves, I’d go for ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ and ‘The Tax Inspector’. He is, to me, The King of Quirk, and, as a writer, I find him utterly inspiring. His plots are completely original. His characters are carved so intricately and verge on the bizarre. They are the kinds of people you feel you would never meet and yet exist. What I am saying is, you could be standing behind one of these people in a shop queue and never know how many-layered, complex and eccentric they are. But Mr C (I hope you don’t mind if I call you that, Peter) lays it all bare. I love that! It is brave and great, so I think that makes it heroic too!

Roald Dahl: I doubt a list of this kind would be complete without the master story-teller himself. I have always loved cartoons and comics and, for me, Roald Dahl’s stories are like these, with fewer pictures and more words. His characters are caricatures, and yet, we all know someone a bit like Matilda or The Twits, don’t we? And if we don’t, we don’t care – the story-telling, the invention, the humour and the poignancy are just that GREAT. And the relationships, let’s not forget the relationships because Mr D (I hope you don’t mind me calling you that, Roald) has an admirable insight into these, and these relationships are pivotal to his stories – they are what keep the public reading his books again and again.
The Twits cover

I have others I would put on The Pedestal of Greatness – Sylvia Plath, for instance, Martin Waddell (‘Owl Babies’… say no more), Thomas Hardy – one of the great story tellers, mostly known for his novels, but his short stories are works of art, his poems are delicious, and I’ve huge amounts of admiration for anyone who can cross genres in the way that he did. It has occurred to me now that the above writers are all writers who inspire me, who have written books that I wish I’d written. They are writers that I feel I could never emulate or come close to in skill and talent, but who I feel I can learn a lot from as a writer, as well as enjoying them as a reader. So perhaps ‘to have inspired’ should be another way of defining a hero.

I would love to know who your writing heroes are, so please feel free to indulge yourselves, and me, below.

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.

2 comments on “Who are your writing heroes and why?

  1. kateormand
    November 29, 2013

    Fab post, Abi. Roald Dahl is most definitely on my list!

  2. Abi Burlingham
    November 29, 2013

    It wouldn’t be complete without him, would it, Kate?

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