Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fire & Ash

by Ashley Lister

There has only ever been one important book in my life: certainly only one that I’d risk my life to save from the flames.

That comment reminds me of something I once watched a TV priest say. He was discussing material wealth, and its genuine lack of worth. Talking directly to the host he said, ‘If your house was on fire, can you give me the exact financial worth of the first three things you would save?’

Of course the host hesitated and admitted that there was no way of putting a financial worth on his wife, children or pets: apposite proof of the priest’s point. Personally, I'd reached a value £4.73, but that's just me.

And I’m digressing and in danger of sounding serious. As I say, there is only one book I consider important enough to save from the flames. However, reflecting on the subject for this blog, I appreciate there are some other titles that I would have to consider and I’ve included them here, simply because I can.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchet & Neil Gaiman.

This hilarious novel is probably my all time favourite title. Pratchet is renowned for his sense of humour. Gaiman has a dark mirth to his writing. Together they have created a brilliant novel that simply sparkles with wit.

IT by Stephen King.

Stephen King was the first ‘grown-up writer’ I read and his name was certain to appear in this short list. Admittedly, I didn’t know which title to pick. I spent four years at college with a copy of The Stand in my back pocket (I had big back pockets in those days), and I can relate anecdotes about the nerve-wrenching agony of waiting for the individual monthly release of The Green Mile when it came out in chapbook form. However, for its breadth of imagination, and for the richness of the characters involved, I think IT ranks as my number one favourite King title.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

I grew up reading this title. I’ve probably owned a dozen copies of the book having ‘leant’ them to friends who then went on to lose/eat/steal them (please delete as applicable). Adams (now, sadly passed on) couldn’t structure a sentence. However, the wit inside his words showed a perfect blend of humour and imagination.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

Chinese military philosophy that’s as relevant today (in every walk of life) as it was when it was originally written 2,500 years ago.

Any title by Ashley Lister or one of his pseudonyms.

I’ve written maybe thirty novels under pseudonyms, two non-fiction titles under my own name, and many articles and short stories under a variety of different names. If it came to saving something from the flames my ego would not be satisfied unless I made some token gesture at saving my own creations.

Which is where my answer finally comes into play. The one book I would have to save – the one book that would probably be saved ahead of family and most pets, is the current work in progress.

There are plenty of books that have been written. I’ve written several of them myself. But there is no book more important than the one I’m currently working on, even though that title differs from month to month.


  1. Hi, Ashley,

    I actually thought about saving my own books. Because I figured nobody else would...!

    But the current WIP! What a revelation! I hadn't considered it a real book while you're writing it?... but I'd certainly try and grab my laptop (and stuff it into the cat cage with my black beauty) in the case of a real fire.

    And by the way, I also thought "Good Omens" was hilarious as well as incredibly intelligent. I'm embarrassed to say that I've never read anything by Stephen King!

    All the best,

  2. My favorite Stephen King book was Thinner, originally written under the pen name Richard Bachman, but It was cool, too. LOL

    I think you're spot on with your theory. Those other books can be replaced, the current WIP can not. You might remember John Boy Walton lost his first book in a house fire, and it set him back quite a bit. *G*

    Great post Ash.


  3. Lisabet,

    I suppose there could be an interesting argument for the 'when does a book become a book?' question. Most people, I guess, would assume it's on the day it's printed. But for me, I'd say it's the day when that idea first pops into my head and I start plotting, planning and neglecting sleep in favour of writing a story.



  4. Jenna,

    I adored Thinner. And the Dead Zone. And too many others to name here.

    I used to work with a woman who claimed she would never read a Stephen King because they were all disgusting horror stories and she would never watch a film based on a Stephen King story for the same reason. She also went on to tell me that all people who read/watched such things clearly had something missing from their lives.

    I didn't bother asking her how she knew these books were disgusting if she'd never read them. I simply asked her to tell me again how much she'd enjoyed watching Shawshank Redemption...

    Sadly, she never believed me when I told her who wrote the story. And it was one of those arguments where I couldn't find the emotional investment to win it, even though I I was right.



  5. Ash,

    Saving your WIP. Brilliant! Mine's all neatly stashed away in my head. So, can I save another? Pulleeeese!

    As for Stephen King's novels, I've read a few, and couldn't get into others. Cat Cemetery had me eyeing my own cat for weeks. Thinner was amazing. To be able to eat everything and anything and still lose weight, a fat woman's dream there fella. Be damned the consequences. Oh wait, he was gonna die. Ick!

    I digress. Like that's unusual. You know, instead of actually saving a book, I'd be more inclined to save the author, or my hubby. Oh, my comp too, but one can always replace things.

    Going to go get to work on that WIP thingie.


  6. Jude,

    I wish mine was safe inside my head. I think that's probably the least safe place for a WIP.
    The author - good thing to save.
    The family - it depends on whether they've pee'd me off or not.
    Computer - can I still claim on my insurance if I've got it stored somewhere safe?

    Good wishes for the WIP,


  7. Hi Ashley

    Let's see, on your list I've read "It" and "The Stand". I enjoyed both, but "The Stand" is my favorite Stephen King book. I think its King's favorite too. I read the first three Hitchhiker's books, and the Dirk Gently's and "Last Time to See", which is the funniest and saddest book ever written abut ecology by Adams or anybody. I love the way Adams uses language.

    And saving the present work? Sometimes its all I can do to keep from burning it myself, but yes, I would save it. I hadn't thought of it that way before, but you;re definately right.


  8. When does a book become a book? Sort of like asking when does a fetus become a child, isn't it? Both questions leading to very uncomfortable and sometimes violent discussions, I think.

    I agree with saving the WIP. Remember in Little Women, when Amy burned the book Jo was working on? I'd have killed my little sister if she ever did anything like that. Of course, that's why I have offsite back up for my computers. So I don't have to worry about pulling any of my WIPs out of the fire ;)

  9. Garce,

    Keep checking out the book stores for 'So long, and thanks for all the fish,' the fourth of the Hitch-hiker's guies. It's not a disappointment.



  10. Helen,

    The same thing happens in King's Misery, where the derranged antagonist forces the writer to set fire to his book.

    Forget the fact that she breaks both the writer's legs, keeps him imprisoned and abused: it's that book burning that makes her despicable.



  11. Terry Pratchet is awesome.
    As for me... a couple of my favorites are stranger in a strange land by Robert Heinlein, and songmaster by Orson Scott Card.

  12. Inferno,

    I'm not familiar with Orson Scott Card. I'm going to have to check him out of the library today.




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