I wonder if everyone has Lost Books? I suspect most writers, at least, do; and I suspect they're not the only ones.
By Lost Books, I mean books which are out-of-print; books on which you can no longer lay your hands, but for which you retain a remembered fondness, and which perhaps at some level have had an effect on you or your writing. I'd like to share a couple of mine with you:
Borrobil, by William Croft Dickinson. Anyone remember this one? It's a magical fantasy about two children who find themselves transported to a Britain of the mythical past, where the narrative takes in dragons, faery creatures, viking raiders, mermen... I loved it, and the last sentence has just popped unbidden into my head after all these years: Borrobil! They knew - and they would never forget!
I don't think I'll ever forget, either; yet the book is now unavailable. It had a Wikipedia entry for a couple of days but that was deleted, apparently on the grounds of the book's lack of significance. For me, though, it was hugely significant - and probably a major influence on my latest book, Bansi O'Hara and the Bloodline Prophecy. Like Borrobil's Donald and Jean, my heroine finds herself in another world; like them, she gets there via a ring of standing stones; like them, she meets creatures from faery legend. My story is very different from Dickinson's, I hasten to add, but the influences are clearly there.
My second Lost Book is The Gadfly, by... er... I can't remember. I'd love to know, if anyone can tell me. I'm pretty sure it was published by Puffin, if that helps. It's the story of a young Greek boy who enters the circle of influence of the philosopher Socrates and witnesses the events leading up to his trial and execution (or, at least, State-commanded suicide). I can't recall so much about this book, but one thing that stuck with me was the reason that Socrates was condemned to death: his 'blasphemous' assertion that if there were gods, they would be better than those of Greek legend, who behaved like overgrown children with wonderful powers.
When the idea for my first book, Zeus on the Loose, was slowly awakening in my head, it was the memory of this assertion that suddenly brought it all together. Greek gods are like big kids! That became the conceit on which the book hinged. Without The Gadfly there would be no Zeus on the Loose.
I find this somehow comforting. Maybe in twenty years' time my books will all be out of print. Maybe in forty years no-one will even remember them. But perhaps some child who is now reading one of my books will grow up to write books of their own; and perhaps one day they'll write a book that in some way owes part of its existence to one of mine. And maybe that book will become the ancestor of another; and that one of another. Perhaps some day there will be a great and enduring classic of literature that would never have been written if not for one of my books - and that will perhaps therefore owe its life not just to my book, but to Borrobil or The Gadfly, too.