Thursday, 28 June 2012

Writers that changed me: (1)


Colin Wilson:

I first came across the author/philosopher Colin Wilson when a friend of mine read a passage out loud for a Drama exercise while we were both studying at Rusden. The book was The Space Vampires and I borrowed it from him later that week. That lead me to other Sci Fi books by Wilson like The Philosopher's Stone and The Mind Parasites. Then I discovered his non fiction work and really began to be influenced by him. Works like An Introduction To The New Existentialism and Origins Of The Sexual Impulse really began to help me think through lots of stuff that I was picking up or reading. Then I found this book in a secondhand bookshop. It was a bit tattered but I had read Camus' The Outsider and the fact they carried the same title - The Outsider - and that it was written by Wilson made me curious. I bought Wilson's book and everything changed. This book was written in 1956 a year before I as born yet when I read it as a young man in his twenties I felt it had been written just for me. It was one of those books, one of those profound moments when the writer captures you and changs you.

I became for many years an outsider. I wrote my poetry, plays and stories and I deliberately lived a life of an Outsider. In a way I was already feeling an outsider anyway. I had come from working class origins, from an uneducated, trade orientated family, and a very Catholic one at that, to a young man full of existentialism and the need to self express through poetry an through theatre. It was hard to merge the two selves and sometimes returning home to see my family left me disjointed and almost like I was watching someone else. Then there were times with my friends, with writers, painters or actors, educated people, often from very wealthy backgrounds, well read, well educated, and I'd feel the same disconnect. The Outsider helped me work through that disconnect. Along with my writing, it gave me focus (as did other novels and other writers I shall mention in other articles to come).

Slowly the two sides merged and by twenty-seven or so, I began to feel much more solid - does everyone go through this? Is this what we mean by growing up? Should we in fact say Merging towards?

To this day, though, if I see even just the word 'outsider', I am stirred by memories and by my powerful emotional responses to Colin Wilson's wonderful The Outsider.

Colin Wilson changed my life - in fact I could even say he helped me stay alive because there were dark nights when the wind was howling and the mind was reeling when I considered...but writing helps us through those times, the things we write and the things we read.

Thank you Colin Wilson and thank you to that friend of mine, Michael, who read a passage out from an obscure Sci Fi book that lead me on an incredible journey - and isn't that the way of things.

The Cover of my version

Colin Wilson - interview


  1. Thanks Danny, I've never read any Colin Wilson, now I will consider it. I did read Camus' Outsider when I was a teenager and, like you, I related perfectly to the outsider's condition. I think the book that really "sold" me on literature though was Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment" which I read when I was 16. I had never killed any old ladies but my tortured adolescent's soul did relate to Raskolnikov's inner, outsider's torment. Which has mead me wonder about the extent of the symbiosis between literature and adolescence. Could it be said that if we don't discover litereature in our teenage years we never will? Which in term just made me think of Barry Hines' "Kestrel for a Knave" which I see (on Goodreads) that you also read and gave 5 stars to.

  2. Yes Kestrel and Crime and Punishment were two books I read in 1975 doing V.C.E. I loved them both - Raskolnikov's (?) tortured soul and the harsh life of Billy both blew me away. I was struggling st times during V.C.E. (working in a pub 4 nights a week wasn't helping) but these books allowed me to share my inner world. You're right I think there is a strong link between Literature and adolescence - I wonder if reading Lit. might be the conduit that allows us to change ourselves?