As far as I am concerned one of the more facile questions authors – or artists of any kind – get asked is ‘who’s your influence?’
It’s as if nobody can do anything original. There’s an automatic assumption that a creative artist – like a writer – has to be ‘influenced’ by the style or approach of a leader in their field – that they have to follow, not create or think laterally.
To the extent that styles often follow trend, I think it’s always going to be possible to trace links between different authors’ work. But the question of ‘influence’ begs the obvious question – if writers are only capable of following others’ lead, where do the original ideas come from?
The reality, of course, is that there are authors who don’t let others influence them – who march to the beat of their own drum. I can’t help thinking that the best writers are those who go out and create something entirely new.
Sometimes they create stuff that’s too bizarre for words. Or just weird, like Kafka’s flirtation with gaps instead of commas. But amidst all that is an originality that you just can’t get if you let people ‘influence’ you. Out of that comes such things as Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, an experiment in free-flow thought that absolutely worked. Or Hemingway, whose stylistic influence was pure art deco.
So where do these authors get their ideas? Their influences?
Part of it, I think, comes from cross-pollenation, often in unlikely ways. Take Claude Debussy – possibly the greatest French composer that ever lived. His influence, quite explicitly, was the Impressionist art movement.
If Monet could evoke an emotion through colour, he wondered, could a composer evoke a sense of colour through music? Bizarre idea –but he had a go. And through this, Debussy captured the feel of late nineteenth century Parisian bohemianism, just as the artists did. He influenced a whole school of composers – I’m thinking of Erik Satie’s ‘Gymnopedie’, especially, a piece filled with morning-after ennui.
That works for writing too. If you think of influence in this abstract and indirect way then it becomes more then just follow-my-leader. One of my ‘influences’ in this sense, as a writer, has always been Frank Zappa. What gives, you say? He was a composer. That’s right. The appeal is what he was doing musically – which was all to do with collisions of rhythm, collisions of tonalities. Almost dada, in a way. How does that flow into writing? In many ways. Collisions create the tension that draws readers on. And that is the essence of writing.
Do you have an ‘influencer’ like this? What inspires you, as a writer?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014
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