Monday, 21 August 2017

What Author Has Inspired You Most? by Jane Clarke

For me, it’s got to be Gerald Durrell.  As a child, I read all of his books I could get my hands on at the local library, then gradually built up my own collection:


This summer, I’ve treated myself to a Durrell-fest, re-reading them in the order they were written, starting off with The Overloaded Ark which was first published in 1953 (the year before I was born). 
The books are products of their times, so some aspects are shudder-makingly politically incorrect, but overall it struck me that the qualities that I enjoyed and still enjoy in Gerald Durrell’s writing are ones I enjoy in all books, and subconsciously aim for when I’m writing picture book texts:
  • The tone is nice and friendly. However eccentric and/or different people - and animals - are accepted for who they are and portrayed sympathetically and with humour - even if they are members of your family.

My Family and Other Animals 1956
  • They create clear pictures in your mind (even where there are no illustrations). Each person and animal has a distinctive voice, and often a really interesting name, like Eggbert: 

 Egbert illustrated by Ralph Thomson from The Drunken Forest, 1956
  • The stories are bursting with adventure, energy and enthusiasm (and so are the titles).

Three Singles to Adventure, 1961

  • There’s a sense of purpose - the message of conservation is well ahead of its time, and that message is still loud and clear in one of his last books, written with his wife Lee: 

 The Amateur Naturalist, 1982

For me, Gerald Durrell's writing inspires awe and wonder for the natural world and a desire to find out more about every creature.

This summer, for the first time, I read Gerald Durrell: The Authorised Biography by  Douglas Botting (2000). I discovered that, as well as being a charming and articulate champion of wildlife, the man behind the books was a complex and often difficult character. Writing didn’t come easy to him.  


As a child, I often wished I could meet Gerald Durrell. According to the Authorised Biography, he started writing My Family and Other Animals in 1955 when he and his wife were living in an apartment at 70A Holden Road, Woodside Park, London. In 1975, my late husband and I started our life together in an apartment at 72A Holden Road. So we were next door neighbours 20 years apart -  an incredibly tenuous connection, but one that put a big smile on my face!



What author has inspired you most?

Jane's picture books all feature animals in some way, shape or form, and she has lots of fun researching each and every one, even though very little of the research gets used in the texts!




12 comments:

  1. A lovely post, Jane. I've never read any Durrell – I can see I will have to remedy that. And what a pleasing coincidence with the house.

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  2. Great post Jane. I loved his books as a child. Currently by 11YO son worships him, he keeps reading the Amateur Naturalist and wanting to do taxidermy in his bed room. I don't want to crush his dreams but...

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    1. Yep Sally, I'd struggle at the taxidermy, too! My younger son kept stick insects, corn snake and 2 bearded dragons - the latter ate live crickets which escaped and set up a small breeding colony somewhere at the back of the house - it sounded like a rainforest in the evenings. We had to let the bearded dragons lose for a while to catch them.

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    2. Ah we have stick insects! Spike has plans for a whole menagerie. Thankfully my parents have loads of animals, tortoises, corn snake, rheas, so he can get his fill without it being in my garden! Although when i was young i had a 5 foot long iguana that escaped, and so i can imagine what the great Bearded Dragon chase was like.

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  3. I'm a huge fan of My Family and Other Animals - such a wonderful mixture of falling over with laughter funny moments, detailed observation of the natural world, and really lyrical descriptions of the landscape of Corfu.

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    1. Have to confess that when I first read the Durrell books, I skipped over the descriptions - but as an adult, I really appreciate their poetic quality.

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  4. I have never read his books, I'm going to try and find a copy now. :)

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    1. "My Family and Other Animals' is a good place to start.

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  5. I think I need to give these a read too! :)

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  6. How amazing that your lived so near and what an interesting blog post, Jane. I've never read one of his books and I don't think a childhood author inspired me in the same way, but after reading your blog post I rather wish I'd had that influence. Thinking about it, perhaps illustrated fairytales were my inspiration - I've always been partial to a clear structure, magic/fantasy, romance/love, and good overcoming evil!

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