PATRICK O’BRIAN: AN INSPIRATION TO MANY

We all have favorite authors. As I have mentioned before on this blog, mine is Patrick O’Brian. Many readers became fans of nautical fiction because of reading O’Brian, whereas my introduction to O’Brian came after my introduction to the genre many years ago. I did not read Master and Commander until after seeing and thoroughly enjoying the movie of the same name. Shortly after seeing the movie, I picked up the book and then went on to read the entire series of books (20) about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. (The given names of these characters particularly tickled me because at that time I had written The Prodigal, in which two of my characters are also named Jack and Stephen.)

When I was a child, I was a voracious reader. I had my favorite series: the Black Stallion series and the Circle of Light series, to name two. Yet as an adult, I found myself reader less and writing more, mainly because I could not find an author with characters that really engaged me; to fill that void, I created my own characters. Not until I started reading O’Brian did I find an author whose characters not only interested me, but whose prose enthralled me. O’Brian reminds me in many ways of Charles Dickens: writing that can, at times, seem obtuse, but upon closer reflection is complex and beautiful. He throws around adjectives and adverbs in a way that I love but is more often frowned upon by modern-day critics. Visit any writers’ websites and you will be lectured about staying away from descriptive writing like the plague. Yet readers whom I speak with more often than not say that they love descriptive writing and miss it when it’s not there in novels.

O’Brian inspired my own writing to be more descriptive, to always look for a different way to say things. And he’s given me a wider vocabulary. I love authors who teach me new words. That love was enabled by the built-in dictionary in my Kindle. With the tap of a finger, I can immediately learn the definition of a new word and highlight it for my own use later in my own writing. I once had a critique partner who chastised me for using words that she didn’t know, and she insisted writing should be understandable for high school level readers. To me, that is doing a disservice to young minds. They should be challenged by what they read. They should aspire to know what the writer knows, including a wide vocabulary.

As an adult, I have never found a novel that so engaged me that I read it more than once. I recently spent some time away from O’Brian while reading other historical fiction writers, and while I liked most of those books well enough, there aren’t any that I would want to read twice, let alone multiple times, like I do with O’Brian. And I find that when I am away from O’Brian, my own writing style suffers.

What, at its core, attracts me time and time again to his books? The prose, sure, but even more are the characters. Not just the main characters, but the minor ones as well, like Killick and Bonden. And then there’s the humor. A very intelligent, quick-witted humor, like Jack’s incessant knack for murdering a well-known saying or quip. So when aspiring writers wonder which is more important–plot or character–I say character. (Granted, having both is ideal.) Without a love of O’Brian’s well-developed characters, I would not have such a strong desire to read those novels again and again.

I am almost done with my second read-through of O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series. During this second voyage, Norton released the series in e-book format (my preferred way to purchase/read books). So, one by one, I’m purchasing the e-books (obviously I already own the series in paperback) and reading them. It’s wonderful to now have my favorite author’s books all at my fingertips whenever I want to revisit them.

So if you haven’t read O’Brian, I urge you to shove off and give way for one of the best series of books around. The first book might seem a bit daunting to those who are uninitiated in the era of Age of Sail, but stick with it because the writing and characters will draw you in and have you downloading the second book, then the third, etc. in no time.

 

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