Guest Post: Inspirations by Steve Catto

Apart from sitting with my mother from an early age looking at picture books and reading words like Cat and Dog, my first recollection of reading properly would be the Rupert Bear annuals. I was always fascinated by the way that the ordinary could be made extraordinary but yet still believable. A common theme was for Rupert to meet one of his friends, and then some magical or mystical adventure would develop, and of course, it always turned out right in the end.

I also remember the early Enid Byton collection of books very clearly, such as the Famous Five and especially The Enchanted Wood series. For those too young to remember, the Enchanted Wood was the home of what we would now describe as an ‘entity’ called The Magic Faraway Tree. The three main children were Jo, Bessie and Fanny. And before you say anything, yes, I’ve heard all the jokes – at that point in time we lived in a world where names like Dick and Fanny weren’t funny. They would climb the tree to discover a different land in the clouds at the top every day. They had many fantasy adventures there and had to get back to the hole before the land moved on. When I was young I found all these tales both fascinating and scary. I don’t believe that the Rupert Bear books have acquired quite the same notoriety and fame as the Enid Blyton ones, perhaps because they were, and still are, derived from a newspaper comic strip and therefore don’t have one associated author in the way that books do, but in my opinion they are every bit as good.
Then things changed.

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture…

In 1963, at the age of seven, the world wanted to take us to The Outer Limits. People still say that they were frightened by the stories. I just found them fascinating, they told me of things I could never have imagined. Some of them I believed could be true, some of them were just stories, and even at that age, I knew they were just actors walking about in front of a camera. It wasn’t the things I saw and heard that interested me, it was the way they made me feel.

I also vividly recall sitting on the sofa in front of a flickering black and white screen one evening to watch the first episode of a new series called Doctor Who entitled ‘The Unearthly Child’. With eyes glued to the picture, which was really more a sort of dark grey and light grey rather than black and white, I was enthralled by this mysterious schoolgirl called Susan, who lived with her grandfather at 76 Totter’s Lane in London. On visiting the address her teachers discover that there is nothing there except a scrapyard… and a police telephone box. That is how a mystery begins.

In my teens I moved on to science fiction in the form of short stories by authors such as Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein and H. G. Wells. Their stories seemed to captivate me. Tales by other equally famous authors like Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke were, perhaps, more predictive of future events, but I always found the plots to be somewhat contrived.

Sadly, for me, not many of these early stories have stood the test of time. The stories somehow lack the descriptive visualisation of surroundings and emotions that authors put into modern works. Story writing has evolved from the simplicity of the early writers because the expectations of readers have changed and become more sophisticated.

The reality is there are not many new ideas in fiction and fantasy, and the old plots have been worked and re-worked. Modern writers have developed them in new and unexpected ways, but it is rare to find a plot or idea that doesn’t have its original roots in something from the past. You just have to be old enough to remember them.

I have grown up with imagery, with storytelling, with mystery, where the things I saw and read gave me ideas, and where I had to imagine them for myself. So that’s where my ideas come from, not from the Outer Limits, but from the inner mind.

…We now return control of your television set to you. Until next week, at the same time.

From Sara: And don’t forget to check out Steve’s book, Snowflakes is available now! You can check it out here.