[Here’s an addendum to the Mind Meld about Books That Have Had a Profound Effect on Readers and Writers, coming from Paul Kearney.]
Books have the power to make us laugh, cry, and everything in between, and there are those books (you know what I’m talking about) that can actually change the way we think and influence us in very powerful ways, even changing the course of our lives. I asked our panel this question:
Here’s what Paul had to say…
For me, it was a book I read at age fourteen. I was heavily into fantasy at that age; Tolkien and Donaldson were my gods, and I didn’t much go in for anything that didn’t have an elf or a spaceship in it. Then I picked up Sword at Sunset out of the school Library. Written by a little old disabled Englishwoman called Rosemary Sutcliff in the fifties, it is a retelling of the Arthurian myth, but it is told in a way that is historically plausible. So Arthur, or Artos as he is here, is a Romano-British warleader trying to save what is left of Britain from the incoming hordes of heathen Saxons, Angles and Jutes. He leads a band of three hundred heavy cavalry, and fights campaigns the length of Britain and Scotland.
Ultimately, his cause is hopeless, and he knows it, but he goes on fighting until the final betrayal at Camlann, when he and his followers are destroyed in one last, epic battle.
The book is beautifully written – the tang of heather honey, the smell of woodsmoke and the reek of horse-sweat are indelibly imprinted on every page. The battles are superbly realised, and the elegiac quality to the entire work is heartbreaking. We see Artos as a flawed, heroic and complex man, and his friendship with Bedwyr – the man who takes his Queen from him – is heartbreaking.
It is, quite simply, one of the best historical novels ever written, and it still brings tears to my eyes every time I reread it. At that age, it spoke to me profoundly about how one could invest characters with deep, resonant emotions while still having the bright chaos of battle and campaigning armies – all in one story. The book, for me, is perfect. There are paragraphs within it which can be read aloud for the sheer beauty of the language. That to me is what writing is all about, and if I could create something half as good in my own career I would be well content.