I actually started writing this blog post quite a while ago, but it never got finished because I didn’t find myself as eloquent as I would have liked to be. I’m resurrecting it now because I learned just a few days ago that Nicholas Fisk has died. The news made me sad for a couple of reasons (and no disrespect intended to his family, who have many more–and far more important–reasons to grieve).
The first of those reasons is purely selfish: a reader’s reaction. That hollow, sad feeling that there will be no more books. I’m very well aware that there are, and will be, many more books; but they won’t be books like that. The Nicholas Fisk books are now a finite, fixed number. And that’s a real shame, because there are very few people who can write with the kind of clarity, simplicity, and at the same time incredible depth that Nicholas Fisk managed.
My second reason is even more regretful: it’s a writer’s reaction. There are only about ten authors who have really influenced me in terms of style, content, or characterisation; and Nicholas Fisk is one of those. Quite a few of those influencers have also died in the last few years, without me ever having the chance to meet them, shake them by the hand, and tell them how much I learnt from their writing, and how much I enjoyed their art. I didn’t even get the chance to write to them and tell them that. My fault, of course, but you don’t expect your heroes to die. I regret that I never took the opportunity to write and tell them each how much they’ve meant to me.
Nicholas Fisk’s books are, ostensibly, children’s books. Sci-fi, too, which I very rarely read unless I’m immediately caught by the idea or the characters. The main characters are children, and although the subjects can range from simple to quite complex, the writing is never such as to either condescend or confuse. The adult characters are drawn with the kind of nuance that you don’t notice as a child but very much appreciate as an adult. One and all, the characters are complete, real people. The bad guys are complex, detailed, and sometimes not so much bad as on the other side. The protagonists see them as bad because they’re on the opposite side of the fence. Sometimes that realisation is made by the characters, other times, not.
I can’t now remember which Nicholas Fisk book I first read: it was either A RAG, A BONE, AND A HANK OF HAIR; BACKLASH; or MINDBENDERS. Each of them was a revelation for me, and I hold special memories from each. A RAG, A BONE, AND A HANK OF HAIR appalled and horrified me, and at the same time fascinated me. I was thinking about it for months after I first read it, and I knew it was a book that I would love forever. I don’t want to say too much more, because Spoilers, Sweetie. BACKLASH was amazing in a totally different way: the character I remember most was a mechanical princess who had no idea of pain, or growing up, or humanity. She wanted a little mechanical baby, and I remember one of the characters worrying about that at the end, because the princess was beginning to learn, and he wondered how it would affect her when she realised her ‘baby’ would never grow, or learn, or develop. MINDBENDERS was just weird, and cool, and fascinating. Because, you know, when you’re ten, ants could take over the world.
Like Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones, Nicholas Fisk is one of those people who shaped my writing and my reading at a very important time in my life. He’s one of the reasons I’m an author today: his imagination made mine want to grow wings and fly.