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Writers Are Readers Too, by Greg Barron

Writers are readers too. In this post I’m going to share my development as a reader. Some of you will relate to the books that were pivotal enough for me to remember. Others will have had an entirely different literary experience.

At the age of six or seven I read my first proper book with chapters. It was called Double Trouble for Rupert. My brother got it from Scholastic’s Lucky Book Club. I can honestly remember understanding at the time that I had just been given the key to a door and that I could open it whenever I liked.

I read the Hardy Boys detective novels, Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven novels and Archie comics. My far-seeing parents gave me a boxed set of Angus and Robertson Australian classics. We were living in Canada by the time I was eleven and I missed my country. Ion Idriess, Henry Lawson, Steele Rudd, Miles Franklin, Lennie Lower and Tom Collins took me home.

By the age of thirteen I was reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond series. I loved Alistair Maclean’s Ice Station Zebra. Desmond Bagley. Dick Francis. Hammond Innes. In between thrillers I still delved into my stack of Commando war comics or snuck back to Richie Rich, Donald Duck and MAD magazine.

At fifteen or so I read When the Lion Feeds and worked my way through all of Wilbur Smith’s African adventures. I still think he is the most vivid writer of popular fiction on the planet, though his early books were far better than some of his later ones.

In my early twenties the university crowd turned me on to the literature of the day. Peter Carey’s Illywacker was mind-blowingly original, and showed me my country with entirely new eyes. It had paragraphs I needed to read over and over just to savour the way the words sounded. I discovered F Scott Fitzgerald. I felt like I lived a hundred lives in Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia.

At the age of twenty-seven I was living on a remote cattle station in the Territory. I read The Shining, alone in my caravan with a shotgun on my lap, while the curlews screamed, down towards the river. One night, over at Florina Station homestead, drinking beer with the ringers, I found Larry McMurtry’s  Lonesome Dove on a shelf of well-thumbed paperbacks and asked if I could borrow it. Another vivid writer, the best dialog I’d ever read, and such characters! The Wild West came to life in my mind.

A few years later, Peter Watt showed me that Australian history could be brought to life in colourful novels just like McMurtry had done with the Wild West. I read Jon Cleary and Thomas Keneally. I struggled with other books that I was told I should read. Colleen McCullough showed me that deep research could go hand in hand with great fiction. Tom Clancy impressed me with his polish and knowledge of militaria.

I started writing seriously not long after that, but did I stop reading?

Never! The books on the shelf next to my desk are by Sebastian Faulks, John Steinbeck, James Clavell, James Michener, Stephen King, Ken Follett, Bryce Courtenay, Kevin Powers, Neville Shute, Gary Jennings, Leon Uris, , Kurt Vonnegut, and contemporary Aussie authors like Steve Worland, Tony Park, Stephen Horne, Rachael Johns, Majok Tulba, Favel Parrett, Karly Lane, Kylie Ladd, Nicole Alexander, Margareta Osborn, Felicity Young, Helene Young, Tony Cavanaugh and many more. There is also lots of non fiction. My Commando comic days have developed into a consuming interest in world events, terrorism and the future of Western society.

Beside a stack of Guardian Weekly newspapers you’ll find Andy McNab’s Bravo Two Zero, the Pathfinders, Chickenhawk, Jeremy Keenan’s The Dark Sahara. books on Somalia, Iraq and Syria, next to books on fundamentalist terrorist groups, religion in general and others predicting future trends in these areas.

The books you read say a lot about who you are. So if I’m over at your house and I head straight to the bookcase… I’m just curious, okay?


Greg Barron’s author website:

Greg Barron’s Bio Page


Rotten Gods     Ice Station ZebraHalf Moon BaySilent PredatorThe Indigo SkyWhen the Lion FeedsLast Summer

Writing Novels in Australia

16 Comments Post a comment
  1. Marlish Glorie #

    Terrific Blog/Article! Many thanks.

    Marlish Glorie

    June 7, 2013
  2. Hi Greg, it’s not often I see someone saying they read and liked The Lonesome Dove. I read it and adored it too and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, because it wasn’t what I usually read. Still have the copy. Brilliant stuff. Dick Francis – tick. Illywhacker also blew my mind at a similar age. Stephen King, yes to all his early stuff, novels and shorter works. Also read a few Clavells and Mitcheners too. Did you read any Ludlums?

    June 7, 2013
    • Hi Jenny. We obviously have similar taste. Lonesome Dove is an absolute feast. Do you ever get that shivery feeling when you realise you’re reading a great book?

      June 10, 2013
    • Oh and yes, I read all the early Ludlums. I particularly remember The Osterman Weekend.

      June 10, 2013
  3. kerriepaterson #

    I’ve been through various phases in my reading as an adult. Sci-fi (Asimov, Clarke, Hogan) with some fantasy thrown in esp if it was Arthurian in nature, action/thriller (Jack Higgins, Ludlum, Grisham etc), historical (McCullough, Christian Jacq) plus the usual Di Morrissey, Bryce Courtenay etc. Throughout it all I’ve always loved romance and that seems to take up the majority of my bookshelf now – with the keepers from my older eras.

    Plus I still have my beloved collection of Trixie Belden and Famous Five books 🙂

    June 9, 2013
    • I never read much fantasy, apart from LOTR but you’ve jogged my memory with some of the others. I did read some Asimov, but I like Vonnegut better. Not much straight romance but I do like it to be part of a story.

      June 10, 2013
  4. Greg, our book shelves when we were growing up were almost identical! And Kerrie, my mum is still the custodian of our Five Find Outers and Dog books along with a full set of Trixie Belden!! Oh how our childhood reads shape the writer in later life 🙂

    June 10, 2013
    • I reckon it shows Helene, in the kind of books you and I like to write!

      June 10, 2013
      • Indeed it does, Greg! Action all the way 🙂

        June 10, 2013
  5. I never read much fantasy, apart from LOTR but you’ve jogged my memory with some of the others. I did read some Asimov, but I like Vonnegut better. Not much straight romance but I do like it to be part of a story.

    June 10, 2013
  6. Wow, reading that post makes me wish I could rewind life. I missed the joy of reading as a child (which is so obvious in your very passionate post). I was a late bloomer!

    June 10, 2013
    • At least you saw the light later on, Jenn. Some people never do. 🙂

      June 13, 2013
  7. Thanks for the list! You are quite welcome to peruse my shelves. Actually you can see what I’m reading on goodreads.
    Very restless at the moment. Reading The Other Typist. Just started Sublimation Point by Jason Schneiderman and also want to get back to A Life’s Music by Andre Makine. Will shortly be heading to Paris! Well in my reading anyway!

    June 12, 2013
    • Thanks for the reply, Debbie. Readers are kindred souls. I checked out your Goodreads page and sent through a friend request on there too. You are reading a lot of authors I’ve never heard of so maybe I need to vheck some of them out!

      June 13, 2013

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