In the second of this series, Sheena Wilkinson shares the writers from the past who influence her work with K. M. Lockwood . . .

Galloping with Jill

Which writers are you influenced by?

It’s one of the most frequent questions I’m asked at readings, and quite a tough one to answer. Rather than one writer influencing my books, it’s truer to say I became a writer because the world of stories – a world contained in the local library on the Cregagh Road – was one I inhabited so intensely that I decided not to leave it.

Last month I came across three stories I wrote as a ten-year-old. It’s very obvious that I was a ten-year-old influenced by Enid Blyton, Ruby Ferguson and the Pullein-Thompsons. What’s not at all obvious is that I was growing up in a Belfast housing estate in the middle of the Troubles. That had not seemed to influence me, except in the sense that my stories of ponies, cliffside rescues and friendly villages were a kind of writing against my own reality. For me, fiction was always more real anyway – or at least more desirable. As an adult, I wrote several novels set in troubled Belfast housing estates – by which stage I no longer lived in one.

At eleven I ventured into historical fiction, a story of four sisters whose father was off fighting a war. ‘Have you been reading Little Women?’ asked my P7 teacher when I showed it to him. ‘Well, yes, but I wasn’t influenced by it,’ I said, affronted. For me then, influence meant simply imitation, which of course was exactly what I was doing, and great fun it was and a great deal it taught me. I just didn’t realise I was doing it – or maybe I knew I was doing it but didn’t expect anyone else to notice.

Today, it’s more nebulous than that, and hopefully more subtle. I’m not aware of being influenced by any writer’s style – after seven published novels I would hope to have developed my own – and yet everything I have read creeps in to my books. Sometimes deliberately. I’m most at home now writing historical fiction, where I have fun letting my characters read some of my own childhood favourites. When Stella, at the start of my 2017 novel Star by Star, arrives alone and unmet in a strange country, she feels ‘like a cross between Joan of Arc and Anne of Green Gables,’ but the way she tilts her chin and marches on, daring anyone to feel sorry for her, is a conscious borrowing from Noel Streatfeild.

When Helen, in 2015’s Name Upon Name, embarks on a long punishing trek, she compares her experience unfavourably to that of the girls in the school stories she (and I!) love: The girls in books were always tramping over the hills for fun, and they never needed the lavatory, though they drank gallons of tea and lemonade. And they always found a smiling cottager selling teas or even ices to weary schoolgirls. There were several wayside cottages here but their doors were shut. Do I hope my modern readers might be interested enough to seek out some old girls’ school stories? Maybe. They present a world of female achievement and rich female community which is as empowering now as a hundred years ago.
I love the interplay between fiction and other fiction, that space where story meets story. I love to know what the characters in books read – it’s often an insight into what their creator likes. In my current WIP (which isn’t out until 2020 and which I can’t say anything about yet except that it’s set in 1921 and will bring together old friends and new) the heroine, like me, lives passionately in a fictional world – the school stories of Angela Brazil and Elsie Oxenham. Like ten-year-old me she longs to make her own environment more like that world, and like me she is frustrated at Belfast’s, and her peers’, unwillingness to change to fit her fantasy.

I was by no means an unhappy child, but I was an aspirational one. Belfast in the seventies was a bit rubbish. I longed to be at Malory Towers or the Chalet School, or solving mysteries with the Find-Outers, or galloping over Neshbury Common with Jill. Part of me was, and part of me – I hope – always will be.
Editor's note: I had to use this image!

 All images courtesy of Sheena Wilkinson

K. M. Lockwood writes, reads and edits in The Garret.  
Once downstairs, she runs a tiny writer-friendly B&B/retreat or wanders off  looking for sea-glass on the Sussex coast.
Twitter: @lockwoodwriter

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