Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to be teamed with new author Stefan Mohamed for the literary festival #YAShot. Since then, I’ve avidly followed Stefan and his creation Stanly, the super-powered teen with the talking beagle.
Now, as Stanly’s journey comes to an end in Stanly’s Ghost, Stefan is here talking about his influences and inspirations.
(May contain spoilers)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The work of Buffy creator Joss Whedon has had a huge impact on me as a writer, teaching me many lessons – even functional expository dialogue can be entertaining, life is pain, you’ve gotta have a hovercraft chase (still trying to work that last one in actually). But I wanted to focus specifically on Ms Summers. I was eleven years old when I first saw the show, and it’s not an understatement to say that it blew my mind. I’d never seen anything with that kind of wit and emotion, that put its characters through the wringer in such a way. Apart from being a major influence writing-wise, the show and its characters were always a source of warmth and comfort throughout my teenage years. And in Buffy herself, I think you have the perfect model for writing a modern hero. Conflicted, complex, noble, flawed and not always likeable (although this annoyingly persistent idea that protagonists need to be likeable should really be killed with fire, along with all cynical four-quadrant thinking), just look at how she has changed between series opener Welcome to the Hellmouth and finale Chosen.
Now that’s a character arc.
I’ll even stand by her speeches in Season Seven.
Yeah, you heard me.
Iain [M] Banks
The late and much-missed Iain Banks is one of my very favourite writers, from the twisted humour of his contemporary real-world thrillers to the huge, outlandish concepts he unleashed in his science fiction. His balance of hilarity and seriously dark darkness, his ethically dubious characters, his delicious turns of phrase (Excession’s definition of an Outside Context Problem is a particularly arch favourite), combined with an unwavering underlying morality, a faith that even alongside humanity’s most violent, cruel excesses, compassion and empathy can flourish… it’s truly a crime against humanity that we don’t have more Banks books to look forward to.
Music has been an integral part of my life since I was a child, a companion that never stops surprising, never stops giving. Amazing, huh? I bet the majority of the human race definitely couldn’t say the same thing.
In writing terms, I have found music to be a powerful tool, whether I’m capturing a specific atmosphere, getting into a certain mindset, or plotting out the rhythms of an action scene. The sequence in the monster realm at the end of Ace of Spiders, for example, did not start coming together until I had listened to Younger Brother’s deeply cosmic The Last Days of Gravity on repeat perhaps more times than was healthy, while film music from composers like John Williams, Mica Levi and Michael Giacchino has also been endlessly inspiring. Plus, I sometimes visualise trailers for the film versions of my books as I walk around listening to the likes of Radiohead (fantasy casting – Peter Capaldi for Freeman, Nick Frost for the voice of Daryl, Emily Berrington for Sharon, me for Stanly I guess, what do you mean I’m too old, no you’re too old).
That’s normal, right?
If you wanted to pinpoint the very first direct influence for Bitter Sixteen, it was actually Richard Kelly’s fabulously weird sci-fi horror mystery comedy romance thing Donnie Darko. I saw the film at the age of fifteen, perhaps the perfect age to be seduced by its charms (Donnie’s sarcastic alienation definitely struck a chord with teenaged me, can’t imagine why), and the very, very first embyronic version of my first book – which didn’t even feature superpowers – was very much a case of me trying to riff on its idiosyncratic tone. Maybe one day I’ll make that version available for public consumption.
Actually, on second thought, maybe not…
In the UK, teachers are currently fleeing their profession at a frankly alarming rate, downtrodden, angry and fed up with the barrage of unfair assessments, unnecessary paperwork and insults hurled at them by the government. Without good teachers, teachers with energy and passion who feel supported and able to go out of their way to help those in their care, what hope is there for young people? I’ve dealt with my fair share of uninspired, sometimes actively unpleasant educators in my time, but I can also say unequivocally that without certain teachers – primary school teacher Mrs Smith and secondary school English teacher Mr Evans, for example – my development as a person and as a writer would have been very different. Their encouragement, support and nurturing of my creative writing, a subject whose importance I’m sure our current philistine overlords could never appreciate (as it doesn’t really fit with generic conveyor-belt thinking), helped make me the person and the creator I am today. I fear for those less fortunate than me who are deprived of such strong, compassionate influences.
As someone who’s a massive fan of Buffy and Donnie Darko, who goes nowhere without music, and also works in the education system, I can wholeheartedly agree with everything Stef has said here, and I can only thank him for sharing them with me, and ultimately, you guys.
Many thanks to Salt publishing for setting up the tour and don’t forget to check out the other posts.