Writing Inspiration

I have been writing since I was in elementary school.

In the fifth grade, a couple of friends and I wrote a kids' book, The Hiccupy Monster, about a pseudo-dino/dragon who had a case of the hiccups and how his friends helped him get rid of them (a shout out to a social-media friend of mine, Maureen Turner, who helped me last week, when I couldn't shake my hiccups). One of my friends drew the pictures while my other friend and I wrote the story.

In grade six, we spent time, each week, working on creative writing. I would write mini-mysteries, adventures, and an ongoing saga called Biff the Bionic Bullfrog. My teacher, Mr. Townsend, encouraged my writing and had me read my creations to the class every week.

While I enjoyed writing, I didn't actually decide that I wanted to be an author until I was in my mid teens, when I began reading the spy stories of Len Deighton. I loved the imagery that Deighton crafted, how his main, nameless hero was real, made mistakes, and led a life far removed from the glamour of James Bond. Sometimes, the agent actually failed his mission.

Len Deighton inspired me to take writing seriously, and when I created Roland Axam, at the age of 19 or 20, I wanted him to be a spy and I tried to mimic the style of Deighton's characters. Roland was gritty and always terrified when things got tense.

In most of my writing, I don't have happy endings. (The same holds true for my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary.)

While Len Deighton was my inspiration to start writing, there's another author who has been my inspiration for about 10 years to continue writing.

Ian, reading with Laura Smith, who was
made a character in his latest novel,
Saints of the Shadow Bible.
Ian Rankin.

Like Deighton, Rankin's protagonist for more than 20 years has been his Edinburgh police detective, John Rebus. Rankin makes his home city come alive: I first read one of his books more than 10 years after I first visited Edinburgh (when I was researching Roland) and Rankin made it seem like I had only been there days before. I love how there is no glamour in his stories: he writes about real life, which is difficult and dirty most of the time.

As I was writing Songsaengnim, I spent much of my time reading about Rebus. When I was pretending to be Roland, as I was trying to make my own character real, I would draw on Rankin to capture the essence of being Scottish. And when I was once, unprepared, asked the name of Roland's sister, I came up with the first name that came to mind: Siobhan. (My Siobhan is nothing like Rankin's character.)

I also credit Ian Rankin with introducing me to single-malt whisky. Reading about Rebus, who loves whisky, I decided to try a brand that came up regularly in Rankin's books: Laphroaig. It was the first single-malt scotch that I actually liked and I always keep it in my liquor cabinet.

The first time I met Ian Rankin, I told him, "if not for John Rebus, I would have never discovered the wonders of Laphroaig." Ian then asked me if I had ever tried Lagavulin: I hadn't. He told me that I should, though I should take it with a drop of water.

We meet again. And discuss whisky.

Two days later, I tried it and was in love. (Though, I prefer it neat, no water.)

This weekend, as Mr. Rankin visited Ottawa, I had the privilege of meeting with him again. Once again, I thanked him for introducing me to whisky; this time, Lagavulin. I was tempted to tell him that he is an inspiration to me and my writing, but somehow I didn't want to. Maybe, the next time he comes to town.

Who is your inspiration?

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