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Inheritance Books: Kieran Larwood's Choices

Posted on 22nd June 2017 by Martha Greengrass
Kieran Larwood, the author of our wonderful Children’s Book of the Month for June The Legend of Podkin One-Ear, heaves open the door to his private library to introduce the texts he’d most want to press into the hands of other writers and readers. His list begins, appropraitely, with one of the most perfectly-realised fantasies of them all.

The lovely people at Waterstones have asked me to write about my ‘inheritance books’– the books that shaped my writing, and those I would like to pass on to other writers.

As a children’s author, I suppose it’s natural that my love of writing and stories came from books I read myself as a child.  In fact, I think the profound and lasting effect that my favourite stories had on me is the main reason I ended up writing for children myself.  I’ve never lost that sense of wonder and magic, and am constantly trying to recreate it for children who read my writing.

There were quite a few books that had a real impact on me as I was growing up, so it’s a challenge to narrow it down, but here goes:

The Books That Made Me

The Hobbit by J.R.R.Tolkien

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The Hobbit is the unforgettable story of Bilbo, a peace-loving hobbit, who embarks on a strange and magical adventure. A timeless classic.
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I’ve said quite a few times what a huge influence this story had on me, but it really was life-changing.  I was quite an early reader, and had steamed through all of the books we had at home and school, when I found a copy on my parents’ bookshelf.  I was instantly intrigued by the cover (Tolkien’s own watercolour of Smaug) and asked if I could read it.  Being only six, my mum gave me a dictionary to help and left me to it.  As soon as a saw the map in the front, I was lost to geekdom forever.  It was the first time I’d realised that books didn’t have to be about the real world, and were, in fact, much more interesting if they weren’t.  After that, I couldn’t get enough fantasy stories and still read them above all else to this day.  (And not just ones with maps in the front).

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams

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The beloved first novel in Tad Williams' classic fantasy series Memory, Sorrow and Sword, set in the fantasy world of Osten Ard. Kitchen-boy Simon is bored, restless and fourteen years old - a dangerous combination. Then he's apprenticed to his castle's resident wizard but forces greater than he could possible imagine are gathering: forces which will change Simon's life - and his world - forever.
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After devouring The Hobbit (not literally) it took me several attempts to get through The Lord Of The Rings, but I did have the perfect introduction to epic fantasy when I stole this book from my brother’s shelf at age 12 or so.  It is the first in the 'Memory, Sorrow and Thorn' series, and is another example of first class world building.  It has a huge scope and deals with quite an array of characters, but it’s structured brilliantly, with each chapter ending on a cliffhanger before the next one whisks you off to a different set of heroes facing yet more epic dilemmas.  I remember reading it late into the night and yawning through the next day at school, and also waiting for the last volume to be released in an almost Harry Potter-like fervour.  It’s definitely been a huge influence on me and how I go about structuring my stories, although I don’t think I could manage such a huge cast with the sublime skill that Tad does.

The Books I'd Pass On

As for books I would like to pass on, there are many writers that I have discovered since growing up that I admire hugely.  I don’t tend to read a lot of children’s fiction myself, mainly because I have a paranoia that I’ll start to be influenced by them and my style will change, or I’ll start writing about samurai meerkats just because that’s what’s ‘in’ at the moment.  But there are some amazing books that I think are invaluable for anyone wanting to write (for children or otherwise). 

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

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The kingdom of the Six Duchies is on the brink of civil war when news breaks that the crown prince has fathered a bastard son and is shamed into abdication. The child's name is Fitz. Fitz is trained as an assassin; and to use the traditional magic of the Farseers. He must survive: for he may be destined to save the kingdom. 'Fantasy as it ought to be written' George R.R. Martin
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I have been an avid fan of Robin Hobb’s books for over twenty years now, and am still in awe at how good they are.  If you haven’t discovered them yet, then I envy you the chance to get stuck in, right from the beginning.  You’ve probably got a good couple of years of solid reading ahead of you, though.

She has written several trilogies, all set in the same world.  Most of them are about Fitzchivalry Farseer and his services to the royal family of the Six Duchies, but there are others about different parts of her world, and they are all connected with an overall story arc about dragons and their return from extinction.  Words can’t really express how vivid her characters are, or how convincing and engaging the fantasy world she has built is.  Just grab a copy and start reading.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

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What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty. One snowy night in Toronto, actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again.'Glorious, unexpected, superbly written; just try putting it down' - The Times
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This isn’t really a fantasy book, but a post-apocalyptic one, mixed with flashbacks to our contemporary world.  I’ve included it because the writing is so beautiful, and the structure of interweaving narratives is perfectly handled.  I love everything about it: characters, descriptions, dialogue.  I’ve read it several times, and if I haven’t written anything for a few months I read it again, just to try and absorb some of the skill and simple effectiveness of the writing.

The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston

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The acclaimed ground-breaking fantasy trilogy in one volume for the first time. Jant, the emperor's drug-addicted messanger, the only man who can fly, tells the story of mankind's savage fight for survival in a uniquely imagined, beautiful fantasy world.

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This definitely isn’t for children, but it’s an example of how refreshing and exciting great fantasy writing can be.  As much as I love the genre, it can sometimes get a bit bogged down by elves, orcs and barbarians in loincloths. This book upends all that with a drug-using, rockstar of a hero called Jant who is one of the immortal Circle that serve the Emperor.  He is doing battle against giant insects that are consuming their world, whilst coping with the politics of being immortal and his addiction to a drug that can literally make you shift realities.  The whole series of books typifies everything I love about fantasy writing: how there is no limit but imagination, and yet even in the midst of an incredible new setting, characters deal with very real issues in relatable ways that are just as intriguing as any story set in the ‘real’ world.

I hope you enjoy my choices.  There will be a test at the end.  Happy reading and writing, everyone!

Kieran Larwood is the author of The Five Realms: The Legend of Podkin One-Ear, Waterstones Children's Book of the Month for June 2017

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Podkin is the son of a warrior chieftain. He knows that one day it will be up to him to lead his warren and guard it in times of danger. But for now, he's quite happy to laze around.Then Podkin's home is brutally attacked, and the young rabbits are forced to flee. Combining something of the grand drama of Richard Adams’ Watership Down and Brian Jacques' Redwall this is classic children's fantasy.
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Image Credit: Eugenio Mazzone/https://www.flickr.com/photos/worldsdirection/

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