We all have writers who we adore – or, at least, I hope we all do. There are some people, I’m reliably informed, who don’t like writer. I can’t quite get my head round that to be honest, but each to their own; I personally don’t like TV all that much, and some people will think I’m mad as a result. It takes all sorts.
I’ve made a list of 10 of my most favourite authors. This list isn’t comprehensive, of course, but it’s a pretty good guide on my own thoughts as to what makes a good writer.
Terry Pratchett. Any list of favourite authors must start with Sir Terry, surely?¬†Surely?¬†We all have an author that introduces us to our favourite genre, and Terry was my introduction. His Discworld series was intelligent, witty, well-paced, under-stated and¬†funny. My god, his work is good.
He did write non-Discworld material, but his main oeuvre was this series on the world of the Disc, which was carried through space on four elephants, who stood on the back of a giant turtle. Fantasy doesn’t have to make sense to us, of course; we’re not the ones who have to live on the world.
There were 41 Discworld novels in total; his 2011 novel Snuff was, at the time of its release, the third fastest selling hardback novel since records began (it sold 55,000 copies in the first three days). Oh yes, and he sold in excess of 85 million books worldwide in 37 languages.
He died in 2015 after a long battle with a variant of Alzheimer’s disease, and I don’t mind admitting to be devastated. He called his disease “the embuggerance” and refuse to be cowed by the encroaching darkness; with a mind like his, who can blame him? He received an OBE in 1998, the Carnegie Medal in 20001, a knighthood in 2009 and the¬†World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2010.
We are a poorer place without Terry’s wit and intelligence enriching our vocabulary and consciousness. I admire and worship his writing beyond words, and I miss him.
China Mieville is¬†an English fantasy author, comic writer and academic, and has been active since the late 1990s. He’s often been heard describing his work as “weird fiction”, and in fact belongs to a loose group of writers called the “New Weird”. He’s active in left-wing politics and¬†published his PhD thesis on Marxism and international law as a book.
More than that, however; Mieville said in an interview¬†that¬†he plans to write a novel in every genre. So far, he’s covered¬†classic American Western (Iron Council) to sea-quest (The Scar) to detective noir (The City & the City). His works are achingly brilliant; I’m a particular fan of Unlundun (his book for teenagers), Perdido Street Station and City & the City; he’s a prolific writer, but these are my particular favourites. The characters are¬†real, and the world he creates come alive as their own characters in the books.
Eric Blair is better known as George Orwell. He was a novelist, essayist, journalist and critic, whose writing style was marked by really lucid prose, promotion of social justice, opposition to totalitarianism, and outspoken support of democratic socialism.
He¬†wrote everything from¬†literary criticism¬†and¬†poetry, through to fiction and polemical journalism. He’s best known for his dystopian novel 1984¬†and the allegorical novella Animal Farm, and they’re the two I particularly enjoy reading again and again.¬†The Times ranked him second on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”, and his work still influences popular and political culture even now (despite dying in 1950); the term Orwellian, describing¬†totalitarian or authoritarian¬†social issues,has entered the language together with many of his creations, including¬†cold war, Big Brother,Thought Police, Room 101, memory hole, doublethink, and thoughtcrime.
I jealously guard my love of Orwell, as I’m sure so many others do as well; I find something new with every reading of his brilliant works, and his passion for freedom and storytelling really shines through in the words he has crafted.
Jasper Fforde is a very silly writer, and I mean that as a very high compliment to him. His Thursday Next series, set in an alternate 1985, is bizarrely intelligent, funny and wacky. His books are well-known for their literary allusions and word-play, as well as their tightly-scripted plots and taking very obvious pleasure in silly whilst conveying some very serious themes.¬†None of his books has a chapter 13, except in the table of contents where there is a title of the chapter and a page number. In many of the books the page number is, in fact, the page right before the first page of chapter 14. However, in some the page number is just a page somewhere in chapter 12.
Seriously, read his books; they’re fabulous.
Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Do I honestly need to say any more? The Guide was originally created in 1978 as a BBC radio comedy before being developed into a “trilogy of five books” (yes, you read that right) that sold 15 million copies in his lifetime alone; it’s generated¬†a television series, several stage plays, comics, a computer game, and in 2005 a feature film. I’m also a fan of his Dirk Gently detective books and, of course, he’s a god for being a writer and script editor on Doctor Who.
Adams died of a heart attack on 11 May 2001, aged just 49. Seriously, what sort of age is that for anyone to die in modern times, especially someone of that level of genius and humour. He’s just another example of a fantasy writer who made social commentary in his books alongside just making us laugh. A brilliant talent.
Phillip Pullman‘s Dark Materials trilogy are particularly powerful pieces of fiction; the first book in the series, Northern Lights, won¬†the 1995 Carnegie Medal and, for the 70th anniversary of the Medal, it was named one of the top ten winning works by a panel, composing the ballot for a public election of the all-time favourite. Northern Lights won the public vote from that shortlist and was thus named the all-time “Carnegie of Carnegies” on 21 June 2007.
Another reason why I think Pullman is fabulous is because he led a campaign¬†against the introduction of age bands on the covers of children‚Äôs books, saying: “It’s based on a one-dimensional view of growth, which regards growing older as moving along a line like a monkey climbing a stick: now you’re seven, so you read these books; and now you’re nine so you read these.” He also supports the¬†Let Books Be Books campaign to stop children‚Äôs books being labelled as ‚Äėfor girls‚Äô or ‚Äėfor boys‚Äô. Good man; those stances make me like him even more.
Stephen King. As a horror writer, I’ve not read all of his works; however, he is incredibly talented. His non-fiction title “On Writing” is exquisite in itself, and gives brilliant advice to writers about how to focus on what really matters in your life when writing.
11.22.63 is an example of pure quality writing that needs intensive research – and how that intensive research makes the resulting book an absolutely beauty. The book is about¬†a time traveler who attempts to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on November 22, 1963. The novel was published on November 8, 2011¬†and quickly became a number-one bestseller. It stayed on¬†The New York Times Best Seller list for 16 weeks, and¬†won both the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Mystery / Thriller and the 2012 International Thriller Writers Award for Best Novel.
King and longtime researcher Russ Dorr prepared for the novel by reading many historical documents and newspaper archives from the period, looking at clothing and appliance ads, sports scores, and television listings. They traveled to Dallas, where they visited Oswald’s apartment building (now a private residence), found the home of Gen. Edwin Walker (a target of an assassination attempt by Oswald), and had a private tour of the Sixth Floor Museum in the Texas School Book Depository.¬†King studied various conspiracy theories, ultimately coming to the conclusion that Oswald acted alone.King met with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, an assistant to Lyndon B. Johnson and the author of books about several presidents, and used some of her ideas of worst-case political scenarios that might occur in the absence of Kennedy’s assassination.
That’s why I admire King; his dedication to minutiae is phenomenal, and what made the book so beautiful.
Bill Bryson is a native American now living permanently in the UK – so permanently, in fact, that he’s take British citizenship – and has written books on travel, the English language and science. His ability to sculpt his joy and anger at the world in a unique, pithy style has attracted legions of followers, me included, and he is a true polyglot; a student of humanity, if you will.
I love all of his books; there’s not a single one that I hate.¬†In 2004, Bryson won the prestigious Aventis Prize for best general science book with A Short History of Nearly Everything.¬†This 500-page popular science work explores not only the histories and current statuses of the sciences, but also reveals their humble and often humorous beginnings.¬†In 2005, the book won the EU Descartes Prize for science communication. He’s incredibly talented and clever, and I hate him … err, I mean admire him for that immensely.
David Moody is, officially, a Clever Man. He’s also Incredibly Talented and a Jammy Sod. He originally released a book called Autumn (which I confess to not having read as yet) by self-publishing it, and then giving it away for free. He racked up more than half a million downloads over a period of time, and Autumn spawned a couple of sequals as well. But it was the Hater series, quickly snapped up by a publisher, that really¬†set him apart as a well-known horror writer.
The Hater series is powerfully striking; it allows the reader an insight into how ordinary, everyday people would react to the riots that preceded a complete breakdown of social order. The characters are average in their lives, and are incredibly well-written as a result; you really believe their stories, and feel their despondency – and their savagery. I could read it again and again. In fact, I think I’ll do just that after I’ve finished my current series of books; the Thursday Next books, as it happens.
It would be remiss of me to not mention two non-fiction writers that I particularly admire; if I did miss them out, then there would only be eight authors in this list and I could quite rightly be accused of a misleading title.
Christopher Hitchens died in December and, quite frankly, he is to this day a huge loss to the world of intellectual thought, words and creativity. He was an author, religious and literary critic, and journalist and, whilst born in Britain, became an American citizen in 2007.
He contributed to New Statesman, The Nation, The Atlantic, London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Slate, andVanity Fair. Hitchens was the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of over 30 books, including five collections of essays, on a range of subjects, including politics, literature, and religion. A staple of talk shows and lecture circuits, his confrontational style of debate made him both a lauded and controversial figure.¬†Hitchens criticised such public figures as Mother Teresa; Bill Clinton; Henry Kissinger; Diana, Princess of Wales; and Pope Benedict XVI. Oh, and god. His book God is Not Great really opened my eyes to the effective arguments of atheism and the moderate, laudable response to religious apologists who excuse so much cruelty in the name of their gods.
Hitch was an immense figure in the world of letters, and I miss his mind terribly.
Richard Dawkins is the last writer on my list. Interesting, he’s also the only one who didn’t set out to be a writer originally; he’s an evolutionary biologist by training, and his work in that field is phenomenal. I certainly don’t pretend to understand evolutionary biology in anything other than the general sense (Charlies Darwin’s excellent-reasoned arguments), and that understanding has been increased by Richard Dawkins’ brilliantly clear explanations as to how humanity has grown to be here, and how we developed religion to help fill in the gaps.
He is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design, and has published so many well-known and accessible books; The Selfish Gene, the Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion, amongst so many others. I love reading his work, as he is passionate, dedicated and intelligent, with the ability to community complex ideas in a clear way.
So there you have it; 10 writers that I adore, and some of the reasons why. I love being challenged, made to think and encouraged to laugh whilst also contemplating serious ideas. There are so many other writers I could mention if I had time and space – Roald Dahl, J K Rowling, A C Grayling and so many more – but this article would then be endless, and I’d rather be reading their books rather just be writing about them.
What about your favourite books? Who writes the best? Let me know your thoughts.