Throughout school and university, I glutted on things like the Narnia Chronicles, Agatha Christie, the Sharpe novels, the Flashman Papers, the Lord of the Rings, Dostoyevsky and eventually Dickens - more or less in that order - with various other notables along the way: Kim by Kipling, Peter Hopkirk’s books about Central Asian espionage, Bulgakov’s The Master & Margarita and G.K Chesterton.
It’s fair to say that, of these, George MacDonald Fraser – the author of the Flashman papers – stood out. (At least at the time and for a long while afterwards.) The combination of accurate and unusual history with an uproariously engaging anti-hero inspired me to remain an extra year at university to study for an MPhil in History, the main focus of which was the Great Game and the disaster of the First Afghan War (described in masterful detail in the original Flashman.) Although I’ve moved on in terms of material, I still think his is the finest “voice” I have ever read.
More relevant to the Wanderer Chronicles, as an undergraduate I studied a bit of Dark Age archaeology (not a real term of art, but you know what I mean), including Scandinavian archaeology in the 1st millennium. This was the darkest of epochs in Europe, climaxing in the explosion of the Vikings over the face of the earth. Having said that, at the time I was studying it, I found the subject dry as dust. (There’s a Cambridge education for you.) It was only through the unlikely portal of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, discovered quite by accident during my years at law school, that I found myself in a world of astonishing vitality. I now realise that these Old Norse and Germanic tales have served as the source material for a large number of well-known authors, some historical, some fantasy – people like Tolkein, CS Lewis, George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, Giles Kristian and Bernard Cornwell to name a few. And it was this same material that provided the inspiration for my first two novels in the Wanderer Chronicles.
Lately, I’ve been influenced and inspired by authors writing more in the genre in which I’m currently placed. In particular, Giles Kristian – a modern-day skald and, for my money, the master of the Viking genre today; but also Joe Abercrombie, the only author I think comes close to surpassing George MacDonald Fraser’s voice; and of course dear old George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones series (the books much more than the TV show). Perhaps less obviously, Umberto Eco’s books (especially The Name of the Rose and Baudolino) have made a deep impression on me too.