Rufus Purdy has joined me today and I am happy to welcome him to Novel Kicks.
Rufus is the founder of the Write Here… writing school, which offers high-quality, affordable creative writing courses in cities throughout the UK. Here, he shares the five books that have shaped his life.
Over to you, Rufus…
Finn Family Moomintroll – Tove Jansson
I suppose my parents must have introduced me to the Moomins – but by the time I was seven, I was reading Finnish author Tove Jansson’s tales of these hippo-like trolls and their dark and unsettling adventures all by myself.
What gripped me then was a cast of brilliantly drawn characters, from the resourceful yet self-conscious Moomintroll to the boy-tramp Snufkin, who drifts in and out of the stories with the seasons, and the beautiful language Jansson uses to evoke Moomin Valley – for which read rural Scandinavia. But, for me as a child, what set the Moomins apart was the unapologetic strangeness that runs throughout all the stories, and just how fine is the line between happiness and sadness.
In Finn Family Moomintroll, the first novel in the series, a genuinely scary, creeping sense of menace is offset by the closeness of the Moomin family unit and a reassuring feeling that nothing can go too badly wrong so long as family and friends stick together.
Utterly unlike any other children’s books I’d read at that time, the Moomin novels (first published in the 1940s) will never date – as they’ll always exist outside everyone’s experience.
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes at seven years old by a 1982 BBC adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and within one episode I was hooked on its potent mix of mystery and the supernatural.
Of course, when I read the book a couple of years later, I found there was no room for anything but the application of pure reason in Holmes’s world and I was amazed by how all the spookiness of the previous 200 or so pages was convincingly explained away by the end.
So this short novel hooked me on the idea that no matter how otherworldly a set-up, an author can always come up with a rational explanation. I was spoilt. It’s a trope often copied by other writers (and in most episodes of Scooby Doo), but rarely matched.
I remain a huge fan of ghost stories, but have accepted the joy of reading them usually comes from the creepy atmosphere the author creates as they build towards an inevitably disappointing conclusion.
And though I’ve spent my life eagerly pouncing on any book that promises similar ingredients to The Hound of the Baskervilles, I’ve yet to read anything as perfect – and as fun.
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
Emily Brontë’s novel fitted the 17-year-old me every bit as well as the yak-hair jacket and indie-band T-shirts I spent my late teenage years in. It was our A-Level English set text, so my friends and I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading it (and listening to the Kate Bush song), but the novel became far more than just a passage to a good grade.
We grew up in Sheffield on the edge of Pennines, and drank our first cider-cans looking out onto the moors of the Peak District, so Wuthering Heights seemed to be written for us. It was, after all, about people in floaty dresses or long coats falling passionately in love and being driven to acts of violence, all while striding through heather with brooding looks on their faces. And in our most pretentious moments – and at this time there were many – we imagined ourselves as Heathcliff or Cathy as we smoked Silk Cuts perched on drystone walls and stared out gloomily at misty moors.
Wuthering Heights affirmed our Northern-ness and told us that, in the adult world, it was OK to have extremes of emotion so strong you might hang someone’s pet spaniel. Something that, as teenagers, we identified with all too well.
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
I first read Trainspotting in 1994, when I’d just begun an English Literature degree, and it absolutely blew me away. Irvine Welsh’s collection of interlinked short stories was the absolute antithesis of all the ‘proper’ and slightly worthy novels I’d been reading for my A-Levels and on my university course.
It wasn’t so much the subject matter that interested me – though the chaotic lives of Edinburgh junkies made for more interesting reading than the marital hopes of stiff Victorians – but the author’s use of language.
I loved the way Welsh gave distinct voices to each of his memorable characters, and how the reader had to immerse themselves in a broad Scottish dialect to access the story. It seemed so authentic and so thrillingly raw, and I’ve loved novels that give voice to the many wonderful regional dialects we have in this country ever since.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – JK Rowling
These two children’s novels aren’t ones that shaped my own childhood (though I did love them both when I first read them), but they stand out as books that have shaped my children’s positive relationship to fiction – and my role as someone who’s encouraged that. I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my daughter when she was six – the first ‘chapter book’ I tried on her – and she was hooked immediately.
Like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which we read not long afterwards, the ideas that zing off the page are perfect pieces of child fantasy. Who wouldn’t want to lick fruit-flavoured wallpaper or choose a magic wand from Diagon Alley? But in each novel, a simple dramatic technique is used to stunning effect. Impoverished Charlie Bucket doesn’t find his golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in his first hard-won chocolate bar – it actually comes in the fourth.
Roald Dahl shamelessly plays with our sense of expectation, building us up and letting us down, so that by the time the ticket is found, my daughter was actually squealing with excitement and running off to tell her mum the news.
Ditto with the ending of the first Harry Potter novel. JK Rowling uses a twist – something we jaded readers of crime fiction and psychological thrillers are all too used to. But, when Martha first found all her expectations had been turned on their head and that, yes actually, she could see the clues had been there all along, the look on her face was one I’ll never forget.
Rufus began his career dressed as a giant banana (complete with yellow tights), handing flyers to tourists outside Covent Garden tube station. Desperate for a job that would give him some dignity, he went into publishing and – after a spell working on financial directories – he landed the position of Junior Sub-editor at Harper’s Bazaar, where he honed his editorial skills polishing up celebrities’ barely literate copy. A spell at Condé Nast Traveller reawakened a love of seeing the world and, after an enjoyable spell as a sub-editor-for-hire, he became Associate Editor at Psychologies, where he combined the Chief Sub’s role with that of Travel Editor. This led to him being offered the job of editor at boutique-hotel experts Mr & Mrs Smith, where – until his first child was born in June 2009 – he spent his days, writing, editing, commissioning and blogging, while unsuccessfully trying to convince his team that he was far too busy and important to make them cups of tea. As editor of Family Traveller magazine, he was shortlisted for Launch of the Year at the 2014 BSME Awards.
Rufus is the author of London By Bus, a guide to exploring the capital via its existing bus routes. He is also deeply unpopular in Reading.
Write Here… is dedicated to finding talented new authors outside London. It runs affordable, 12-week creative writing courses taught by published authors in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.