I don’t remember the exact moment I decided I wanted to become a writer. But I do remember the book. As I turned the last page and the back cover over I sat in breathless wonder at the world I had just lost myself in. I can still see the cover now, bright orange contrasted against the grey-green of a large toad in the centre. It was ‘The World According To Garp’ by John Irving.
More than just a great novel, though it is unquestionably that, this is a story of such depth and richness that it lives with you long after you’ve read the final word. It centres on the life and times of T.S. Garp, son of a World War Two veteran and fierce progressive feminist activist Jenny Fields. As we follow Garp through his life we get our first glimpse of what are to become recurring themes of Irving novels, wrestling, bears, writing, New England and his struggle to understand the world around him through many in turns hilarious, exciting and confusing sexual experiences with older women. ‘Garp’ is the epitome of the great American novel. Spanning the hero’s whole life it gives a voice to a frustrated generation. The characters are so deep, so rich, that it feels as if they have a life of their own beyond the page. Another Irving trope is that the part of the story we see in the novel is merely a snapshot in time. The story goes on outside the confines of the book covers. It is a novel for anyone who has ever chased a dream and been afraid in case they actually caught it, all the while trying to avoid being dragged down by life’s undertow.
I have read a great deal of wonderful books but what set Garp apart for me was the weirdness of the characters. This was the first novel I had read that made me think there might be a place on people’s bookshelves for the kind of thing I wanted to write. Of course, before reading Garp I didn’t know what I wanted to write, but I will be forever grateful to John Irving for a book that touched me more than any other before or since.
If you have a story about how you got into writing that you would like to share, feel free to send it to us. We will publish as many as we can.