Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tuesdays With Phineas Redux

'Xena' Stories--My Literary Influences

Apart from the visual input of the ‘Xena, Warrior Princess’ TV series, the actual literary influences of my writing stretch back some considerable way. I don’t want to sound condescending at all, but as a boy I enjoyed the short stories of Rudyard Kipling. Primarily those contained in ‘Puck of Pook’s Hill’ and ‘Rewards and Fairies’. These included historical material about several periods in English history, including that of the Romans. Then, as a young teenager, I bought a copy of the complete short stories of H G Wells. Whatever is said about him as a man and his numerous love affairs, he could certainly write a fine SF or Fantasy story. I was particularly impressed by stories like ‘In the Avu Observatory’, ‘The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes’, and ‘The New Accelerator’. The first a tale of a strange monster in Borneo; the second a curious condition whereby a man is bodily in a laboratory, but sees with his eyes landscapes on the other side of the world; the third a comedic story of a scientist who discovers a means of living at several times the normal speed of the rest of humanity, and the problems this causes him.

I may say here that I developed an interest in buying various volumes of short stories, and also what are called ‘omnibus’ volumes, at that period of my literary interests. They were remarkably cheap; they brought a large number of an author’s works together in one volume; and they saved me searching bookshops for their individual incarnations; especially as many of the authors I liked dated from the late 19th century or the first couple of decades of the 20th century. A year or so later I bought another complete set of short stories, this time by the author Saki, Hector Hugh Munro. His short stories were highly comic, yet imbued with an underlying cruelty which fascinated me. Stories such as ‘Sredni Vashtar’, ‘Reginald on Besetting Sins’, ‘The Reticence of Lady Anne’, ‘The Music on the Hill’, ‘The Open Window’, and ‘The Schartz-Metterklume Method’, all intrigued and delighted me.

At this time I was rolling through my teenage years, this being the 1960’s (Yes, I was there, and I can remember them!). I was, of course, infatuated with the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In those years the publisher John Murray printed his works in several omnibus volumes. They were well-produced in hardback on good paper, but only cost £1.50p, about $2, each. For around £9, or about $12, you could buy 6 volumes comprising almost everything he had ever written. All the Sherlock Holmes stories; all the Brigadier Gerard stories; all the Professor Challenger stories; and all the many short stories. They all had a great impact and influence on the way I now write ‘Xena’ stories.

But all is not yet over, because I very rapidly discovered O Henry sometime in my late teens. What can I say about him? The King of the short story. No-one else has ever written like him, nor will again. I think ‘Cabbages and Kings’ is his undoubted masterpiece. But also such stories as ‘The Gift of the Magi’, ‘The Last Leaf’, and ‘The Passing of Black Eagle’, all astonished me with their sharp focus on people’s motivations and ways of encountering life, and triumphing over its difficulties.

Returning to British influences, when I was in my early twenties I came across ‘Sapper’, or Herman Cyril McNeile to give his true name. He was the famous author of stories starring ‘Bulldog Drummond’. There has been a great deal said over the years, in literary criticism circles, about this character’s perceived fascist nature and brutal methods of dealing with people he did not like. But I must say, from my reading of the stories of Drummond and indeed the other short stories of ‘Sapper’, they seem simply good loud raucous, somewhat silly, adventures. They didn’t go in for delicacy; if there was a shut door Drummond would kick it in; if there was a villain in the offing Drummond would invariably heave half a brick at him; if there was a need for careful forethought and planning Drummond would collect his gang, smash wholesale through all opposition, and beat the living daylights out of the bad guys. Sterling stuff!

I also discovered, much to my surprise, that there were other detectives than Sherlock Holmes. In my dust-strewn expeditions through the dirtier and less frequented aisles of second-hand bookshops I found books, untouched for decades, containing magnificent feats of deduction by such persons as ‘Dr. Thorndyke’, by R Austin Freeman; stories about ‘Mr. Fortune’, by H C Bailey; ‘Lady Molly of Scotland Yard’ by Baroness Orczy, the same who produced the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ books and also ‘The Old Man in the Corner’, more deductive tales. Then there were the lesser, but still thoroughly interesting, amateur detectives such as short stories about ‘Peter Jackson’, by Gilbert Frankau; or those short tales featuring ‘Joe Quinney’, by Horace Annesley Vachell (yes, he was a Harrow and Sandhurst man). Also Rafael Sabatini, the King of the swashbucklers (author of ‘Scaramouche’, and highly delightful stories about the semi-pirate ‘Captain Blood’).

Then, on a more serious note, there were the stories of Henry James, Edith Wharton, Katherine Mansfield, and Sarah Orne Jewett. All writing in a manner which captivated my imagination. I must also, of course, admit to reading with avid enjoyment the stories of Mark Twain and Bret Harte.

These authors may explain my method of writing ‘Xena’ stories. I tend more to the visual, than the inner psychology of the characters, when I write. Incident and action, over penetrating mental insights, tend to be the mainstays of my stories. I like to present two persona’s, and follow them through a series of exploits without very much changing their view of the world they live in, or tampering with their general moral code. Perhaps I’m just not intellectual enough for that? Though I must say that for me reading Henry James is one of the joys of life.

These are only a few of the literary influences which have soaked into my soul over the last decades. Various other 19th century, and earlier and later, authors have intrigued, delighted, amused, or kept me rapt to the last page. And, yes, I have read around half of Anthony Trollope’s works, including most of the epic door-stoppers; a magnificent writer far better than Dickens, in my biased view.

So, these are some of the authors who have influenced the way I write ‘Xena’ stories. If there are any faults (as there must be) in my stories, then they are all my own. But if there are any good qualities to be seen in them, then these are attributable wholly to those who influenced me in my salad days.

~Phineas Redux~

Story Recommendationm:
The Long Trip By Phineas Redux
Summary:— This is an Uberfic set in Great Britain in 1943. Zena Mathews and Gabrielle Parker, both pilots and members of SOE—Special Operations Executive, find themselves transporting a Colonel Warden from the North Atlantic to Southern England.

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