Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys

Yesterday's mumblings about reading Enid Blyton as a child got me thinking about how my early reading has probably - scratch that, definitely - influenced my writing style. I think Famous Five books were probably the first novels I read with recurring characters. In a lot of ways, Famous Five books are classic examples of the problem that bedevils a lot of superhero comics [and soap operas, for that matter]. It's all about the illusion of change. You make the reader [or viewer] care about the characters and want to know what happens next, so that's good. But ultimately everything goes round in a circle. At least in soap operas, characters get older and die [or get killed off or leave] because the actors get older and die. There's no need for that in superhero comics. Batman's been punching the Joker's face for sixty years or so, but you don't see either of them propping up a Zimmer Skimmer. But I digress...

Enid Blyton gave me a love for excitement and adventure [not to mention making being kidnapped and tied up and menaced seem like fun - I wonder how many people acquired a passion for bondage and discipline from too much Enid Blyton in their youth? Not me, I'm pish at pain]. From there I graduated to the Hardy Boys mysteries. Nancy Drew was for girls, obviously, where the Hardy brothers [hell, what were their names? Frank? Chuck? Dick? Something ending in the letter K, I'll wager] were rough and tough teens solving mysteries and having adventures. Alas, I was too old to enjoy the Nancy Drew and Harby Boys mysteries when they got transferred to TV. I always wanted somebody to launch Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys, about a tough lesbian teenage who solves mysteries and has adventures, gamely assisted by two gay brothers. Do you think ITV would go for that? Queer as Folk meets Veronica Mars... no, probably not.

Terrance Dicks' endless series of Doctor Who novelisations was a massive reading experience for me as a nipper. Lots of plot, lots of kinetic energy and momentum [hardly surprising when you're turning 150 minutes of TV into 128 pages of big type], and bugger all in purple prose. That's my writing style all over. Literary fiction is wasted on me, I want the juice. Sod the deathless prose, gimme all your action. So Terrance Dicks is definitely a big influence. You can add Malcolm Hulke to that mix too. He adapted a few of his Doctor Who TV scripts into novels and, unlike Uncle Terrance, he fleshed out his subsidiary characters a little. Not much, just a few paragraphs that gave them a second dimension, that extra touch of humanity. I must have read Malcolm Hulke's Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters a hundred times as a boy and can still recite parts of it from memory, almost. The sections that linger in my memory are the added character moments.

I was a voracious reader as a kid. Hell, I'd try reading anything once, if it fed my serial jones. The school library got a series of trashy novels about young nurses falling in love with hunky doctors and having medical misadventures. Think No Angels, but without the drugs and booze. I ripped through those in about a month. The cosy sci-fi calamities of John Christopher? Check. The ripping mysteries of Agaton Sax> Yep. Anything with the Target Books logo on the front, of course. Thanks to facilities like eBay and, I've slowly been reassembling a little library of boks I read and re-read as a nipper. The Robber Hotzenplotz? Found him again, and the music box he stole that played Nuts in May.

In New Zealand where I grew up, Scholastic Books had this deal where they went round schools offering new books for sale at discount prices. My mum was a teacher, so that may have been an influence too, but so many books I read were thanks to Scholastic. If there's one book I'd like to find again, it was the one about a tearaway teenager who gets caught and sent on some probationary placement where he has adventures and scrapes with danger. It was called something like Smuggler's Cave or Smuggler's Cove. Green cover with a stone carved thing on the front that looked like a lion's head. Must go and have a look for that online.

So, ponder this, readers of Vicious Imagery - what books do you still remember from your childhood? Why did they stick in your memory? And what influence, if any, have they had on your writing style if you're a writer?


Barry said...

I used to be in a band called Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys. Obviously I was Hardy...

Lee said...

Ah, cheerful nostalgia.

Agaton Sax was bloody marvellous, and I also had a massive library of Doctor Who novelisations, with The Daemons being a particular favorite. I used to read novelisations like mad, and I still have a much loved and deeply creased copy of Joan D Vinge's Ladyhawke on my shelf.

One of the books I remember most was by one of your fellow islanders, Maurice Gill. It was Under the Mountain, and scared the crap out of me. I asked the library to get it for me after watching the TV adaptation. Yep, even when I was eight, I was film and telly mad - I used to make my nan buy me Look-In just for the Star Fleet strips, and a love of comics grew from that.

Other collections included the "Adventure" series of both Enid Blyton and Willard Price which always seemed to be available by the armload at local fetes. Loved them.

Thanks for the excuse to wallow, Dave.

deejsaint said...

"Frank" and "Joe", dear.

Reminds me of a tedious story of a telephone engineer coming out my way to fix something in a cable and saying "someone likes Frank Dickson". With me completely perplexed, never having thought that someone might have truncated the non-existent "Franklin W. Dixon" in conversation.

Sorry, am I rambling about fuck-all now...?


Annaliese Bishop said...

I agree with Lee. Maurice Gee's "Under the Mountain" was indeed bloody scary. Ew, creepy Wilberforces!!!

Of course, I also loved Margaret Mahy, Tessa Duder, Alan Duff and others. Kahu the Cautious Kiwi and James the Captain Cook Pig also spring to mind. But my favourite book for many years was "The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch".

Rock on with your literary self, big brother :-), and much love is coming your way from New Zealand!!!