When I was a child, I read everything I could get my hands on, but certain things have influenced me more than others. These influences show up in my writing.
I am a Catholic, and from an early age, I read the stories and texts that belong to my religion. Catholicism is old, and some of the world's finest poets have contributed to its literature. The grandeur and delicacy of these spiritual texts have had a profound effect on my writing, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I include as an example a few phrases taken from the prayer called the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, which is a list of the names that we give to Christ's mother: Mirror of justice, Cause of our joy, Mystical rose, Tower of ivory, House of gold, Gate of heaven, Morning star. I couldn't have read such beautiful phrases regularly for years without their having some influence on me!
One of my earliest memories is my mother reading me the story of Perseus, and as a child, I knew many of the Greek myths by heart. I also enjoyed the Norse myths, and I read collections of tales from many cultures of the world. My English professor mother taught about folktales, nursery rhymes, and myths in her classes, and we discussed their meanings and literary devices. She also introduced me to poetry and had many collections of poems in her library. The classics I borrowed from her library, from Beowulf to Pride and Prejudice, have influenced me in ways I can't begin to describe.
In the third grade, I came across an abridged version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Little Princess. Normally, I am not in favor of abridgments, but I was grieving at the time over the loss of a close friend, and this book meant the world to me. In the fifth grade, I read Lloyd Alexander's enchanting Prydain series. I lived in Prydain for months after that, and I brought all my friends along with me. This series led me to explore British folklore and legend. The "other" people living under the lake and under the hill, the stealing of mortal women, and the magical circle in The Hollow Kingdom all come from British folklore. I read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings around fourth or fifth grade, having previously read The Hobbit. I so loved the songs in these books that I typed them all out on my mother's typewriter and memorized every line.
In college, I studied Russian literature. Matching the grim fate of that country as it went through its various trials, the literature was tragic but honest—it portrayed the dignity that humans were capable of under the most crushing of circumstances. Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich still has an honored place in my library, and it has become my older daughter's favorite book.
In graduate school, I took all the courses to become a children's librarian and rediscovered my love of young adult fiction. We studied the work of Le Guin, Cormier, Potok, and other giants of the field. Since those days, I have continued to read children's literature for enjoyment, accompanying my daughters' own literary exploration.
My younger daughter shares my love of poetry and is probably the only person on the planet with a picture of Rupert Brooke on her bedside table. Just as I once did, she goes about the house declaiming lines from Shakespeare, with the disconcerting difference that she has learned them in German: "So fühle ich Lieb' und fühle keine Liebe mehr!" My older daughter has no patience with such romantic nonsense. She prefers thrilling tales of adventure, such as Rawicz's The Long Walk. Through their tastes and interests, these lively young women strongly influence both the style and the substance of my writing.
Clare tours London with fellow author Oscar Wilde.
One of my mother's treasures is an old Masterpiece Theatre production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. It isn't available on VHS or DVD, so when we go home for a visit, we gather around and watch her battered copy.