Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Books I've Loved - The Outsiders

I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing career, how it started and my influences.  And I can’t think about that without referencing the book that started it all for me.

I first read The Outsiders when I was 12.  I remember finishing it the first time, sitting there, stunned and reeling from what I’d just read and thinking ‘I’ll never be able to read another book again.’

Obviously, I have read other books since then.  I’ve been moved by other books. I’ve been influenced by other books.  But I’ve never again finished a book and felt the same way as I felt when I finished that one.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that book changed my life.  The Outsiders changed my life.

I always felt like an outsider growing up.  Because of my dad’s job, we moved to a new country every couple of years, so I was always the new kid in school, the one with a funny accent, the wrong clothes, the wrong age for the class.  Even when we came “home” I felt like an outsider because my references and experiences were so different from those of the kids who’d grown up there.  So I embraced my outsider status and revelled in being different, wearing it on the outside so there was no mistaking it.

And I started writing.

The Outsiders is the book that made me want to be a writer.  The book that made me believe I could be a writer.  And as a writer, it’s a book I go back to whenever I want to remind myself how I need my books to make a reader feel.  Because I want to write things that make my readers feel the way I felt the first time I read it.

I still have the first copy of The Outsiders I ever bought.  It’s a movie tie-in with Coppola’s film and the illustrated cover – now long gone – showed the characters looking very like the actors that portrayed them in the film.  It’s faded and discoloured now, the back cover and last couple of pages torn.  It’s a well-read book, one of only a few I’ve owned that I can honestly say I’ve read to rags.

I used to sleep with that book under my pillow.

In fact, I slept with all S E Hinton’s books under my pillow, arranged in the order I liked them most – The Outsiders, Tex, Rumble Fish, That Was Then This is Now. I think that lasted about a year.

Interestingly, while I still love The Outsiders, as an adult I’ve come to appreciate Tex more and would almost argue that I like it more than The Outsiders.  It’s more subtle, which makes sense when you remember that Susie wrote The Outsiders when she was 15.  My writing is more subtle than it was when I was 15 too. At least I hope it is!

It’s also less obviously influenced by The Outsiders.

My early writing was basically S E Hinton fan fiction, if that term had existed.  My characters sounded and felt like her characters and I often didn’t even bother to change their names from Johnny or Steve.  I don’t think I ever wrote a character called Ponyboy, but they often sounded a lot like Ponyboy.  I also wrote a lot of boy characters.  Boys and brothers. 

I still write boy characters.  And brothers.  Always brothers.  I think I’ve only ever written one book where my protagonist only has a sister – An Unstill Life.  My other characters all have brothers, one or more. My protagonists’ brothers are often my favourite characters in the finished book too.  I love Finn in Stumped almost as much as I love Ozzy.  He’s such a complicated and layered character, even as seen through Ozzy’s eyes. And in Guide Us (the one I'm currently querying) Jason - Juliet's twin -  is a  character I enjoyed writing very much in that he's both a heo and a villain in Juliet and Iris's story.

I cannot stress how much of an influence The Outsiders has had on me as both a writer and as a human.  The book and the Coppola film (which I have probably seen at least 20 40 times ) have been constants in my life since 1985.  And I know I’m not alone.  Generations of kids have read and loved those characters in the same way I did, seeing themselves and their feelings reflected from the page. 

I can only dream that I’ll write something that will have the longevity and enduring popularity that The Outsiders has had.  Something that reaches in to touch the hearts and souls of readers because it so perfectly captures exactly how they feel in that specific moment.

A writer can dream, right?





1 comment:

  1. I've heard of that book but not actually read it. I'm sure you'll have that kind of impact on someone someday, even if you never know it.