As a Child
I began reading at a very early age - certainly before the age of 4.  I read everything avidly - even the labels on jars of jam and packets of breakfast cereal - and I've been told that our family GP had to endure my reading of pages of Treasure Island whenever he visited (and I'd have been pre-school then).

I remember enjoying works such as the Jennings and Darbishire series (Anthony Buckeridge) when I was around 11, and before that I'd read many of the Beatrix Potter novels.

Before that, however, I had been exposed to Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies, and for some reason that had a deep subliminal impact on me (which, of course, was its intent).

Mrs Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By struck me as having a philosophy with which I could identify - but it wasn't until I was much, much older that I realised I had unconsciously adopted her name as a moral and social tenet for much of my life.

Around the ages 13 - 14 I became entranced with science fiction, yet I couldn't really give you the names of any of the works I enjoyed or their authors - I just enjoyed the material and didn't commit names and titles to memory.

Around the age of 16 and my 'A' level course in English Literature, I had a stack of reading to get through (I asked for suggestions for reading material in the Summer holiday before the Sixth Form years began, and the English master gave me a pile of books large enough to hide behind).

(I was also studying French and German to 'A' level, so there were works by Molière, Racine, Brecht, Gotthelf, Zuckmayer, Sartre, Camus, Balzac and Voltaire to get through as well - to name just a few.)

The list included Dickens (just about every story he wrote!), Shakespeare (Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Henry V, Othello, Richard III, various others), Donne (an anthology of his work), Eliot (probably the Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch), Chaucer (Canterbury Tales - but I don't recall which tales!), Jonson (The Alchemist, Volpone), Dryden (another anthology of poems), Brontë (Emily) (Wuthering Heights), Austen (Emma, Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility) and a host of others that I can't even bring to mind after all this time.

I damaged my eyesight because I read so much, wearing glasses that I thought were for reading when in fact they were for distance work <oops>.

In among my collection of classics at the time was a couple of oddities, for only one of which can I recall the title: Oriental Spotlight.  There was a passage I remember about a style of singing, describing it as "an attempt to retrieve that portion of the bathwater that one has inadvertently swallowed".  I don't think the author was impressed with Egypt.

For a while I wondered if the book had really existed, but I found it through Yahoo! just recently so I'm not going bananas.

As a Young Adult
After a surfeit of the classics (which really only lasted two years but it felt like a lifetime) I dove into pulp fiction and some science fiction.

At one point I had a guitar case (about twice the length of an ordinary suitcase) full with around 300 paperbacks) - we didn't have space for a library bookcase in the house, so I kept my 'library' in that.

It was not unusual over a weekend for me to pick up a new book and begin reading - and not put it down until I had finished, which often meant reading through the night.  Sometimes I would do that with books that I had read several times already...

Among the authors I remember are Alastair Maclean (every book he wrote), Hammond Innes (ditto, I think), Desmond Bagley (ditto), Robert Ludlum (ditto), Frederick Forsyth (Day of the Jackal), John Le Carré (Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy), Michael Crichton (The Andromeda Strain), Arthur C. Clarke (Rendezvous with Rama, 2061: Odyssey Three), Paul Gallico (Too Many Ghosts), Tom Sharpe (just about everything he wrote), and there were a few nonfiction books (such as The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved, by Larry Kusche).

I also enjoyed the late Spike Milligan's books (Puckoon, A Book of Bits or a Bit of a Book, The Little Potboiler, and others) - but then I'm a fan of the Goons - and his style of writing has had some appreciable influence on me.

So too have the collected writings of the Monty Python crew - much of my silliest early writing has stemmed from a combination of styles of The Goons and Monty Python.

In Middle Age
I latched on to the late Douglas Adams very late in the day, but fell hook, line and sinker for all five books in the Hitchhiker 'Trilogy'.  I haven't yet read Terry Pratchett, although I'm led to believe that he writes in a similar vein.

If ever I could point to another writer and say they had a MAJOR influence on me, it would be Douglas Adams.  His influence provided me with a winning entry in a recent competition: HitchHiker's Guide To The Recipes (So Long And Thanks For All The Pancakes) won first prize in the first Write Thinking competition, which was organised by Michael Knowles, Technical Writer and Publisher.

A recent acquisition has been Travels With Samantha, by Philip Greenspun (with whom I've exchanged email, and he's an interesting guy.  I'd be surprised if there is a writer alive who ISN'T interesting!).

The book is a sad yet fascinating - if somewhat sketchy - description of his trip into Alaska after the tragic death of a long time companion - his dog, George.  Having bonded closely with animals all my life, I can relate strongly to aspects of the story.

Following on with an animals thread, the very latest acquisition was a gift of Pets and their Celebrities from the author himself, Chris Ameruoso, a fellow dweller in the apartment complex that currently substitutes for home.

Otherwise, apart from the occasional reference manual I've read very little in the last year (two books, tops), which may give some idea of the lack of idle time available to me, even when I'm in between contracts!

Most recently I've enjoyed reading some of the current - and past - entries in the TooWrite Short Story Competitions.  Regardless of writing style there are some fascinating stories there, all under 1500 words in length (which is a nice bite-size for reading when you have literally only a few minutes to spare).

The fact that at least five of my own creations are in there somewhere doesn't influence my opinion one jot :)

Last updated: June 2, 2002

Peter Brooks

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