StoriesI started writing novels in my mid teens. The first was your standard issue big fantasy epic trilogy - the chosen ones sent to find magic thingamabobbies to defeat shadowybigbad. This was a story which I kept changing and rewriting, until the shadowybigbad had become a navy-eyed mad boy, a different main character had taken over the plot, and book three abruptly diverged into alternate worlds and spaceships and ornate moons and it was not very standard issue at all.
Still, I like meeting things in stories that I don't expect.
Certain tropes do pop up repeatedly in my stories. The morality of mages, the bond between a ruler and their land, and people displaced from their own time. And I really like to turn this world's social expectations on their side, construct societies which on the surface aren't so very different, but then do things just a little differently. What, after all, would this world be like, if magic was a real thing? Not business as usual, surely.
Romance almost always creeps in, though I like that to be going on along with the plot, rather than being the primary focus. And I'm as interested in how a couple adapts to being together as the obstacles to them getting together in the first place. I dislike drama which involves misunderstandings or one of the characters tediously denying how they feel. An absolute turnoff is if the romance involves a normally intelligent female getting herself into some sort of mess while her male counterpart keeps an indulgent eye on her and eventually untangles her. I like romances which are partnerships, not babysitting.
CharactersI have a preference for stories featuring smart, sensible people who bring some measure of logic as well as heart to the problems they face. And I write an inordinate amount of stoics.
I don't think I can pick any of them out as favourites.
ProcessI am not an outliner. I have difficulty imagining ever writing any kind of story which kept to one - or knowing enough of my story to be able to write the outline in the first place. My stories evolve organically, often from a scene entirely without context, sometimes from a simple concept. I have gone back and taken out the original concept of the story, and I have gone back and added a villain in, when the original candidate refused to play that game.
If a new idea creeps into my head while I'm busy with another novel, I'll jot down notes, perhaps even write the first couple of chapters, and then go back to the original novel. Or not.
Writing is fun for me. And writing is work. I love when it flows, when it floods out, when I finally reach That Scene, the one I've been anticipating since I first thought of it back around chapter three. I love even more moments of beauty and terror which I weren't expecting at all, but which confronted me around a corner.
I like those characters who creep out of the background and try to take over the story, but I'm less than impressed when they mess everything up in the process.
And I just like the stories. I shamelessly re-read my own stories, even the early, badly written ones. Writing is fun.
Diana Wynne Jones
Neil Gaiman's poem about the dedication of Hexwood encompasses something of my own delight with Diana Wynne Jones novels. These are stories which make magic tangible. My favourite changes semi-frequently - I am very fond of all the Chrestomanci novels, and of Howl and Sophie. And many of the early stand-alones, like "Eight Days of Luke" and "Dogsbody". And I like to read the "Tough Guide to Fantasyland" to spot which ones I've used!
There is something in Robin McKinley's stories which no-one else ever seems to achieve. A languid, honeyed beauty, with very practical bones. "Beauty" will probably always be my favourite, but "The Blue Sword" rivals it - I so very much like Harry's voice. And I'm in awe of "Sunshine" - such a fascinating world - and can only hope she revisits it.
It's the tales of Dido which most draws me to Joan Aiken - such a horrible, ugly, brave and tremendous world. I suppose it could be called Dickensian, but with more heroes and more heart. I am still building my Joan Aiken collection, and love the range and magical impossibilities.
There is something completely unique about Andre Norton's voice in many of her early novels - those of the "Beast Master" and "Catseye" era - which reads so alien and so right to me. "Catseye" is probably the book I've read the most, and I will fall deeply into the mind of the outcast and downtrodden but never defeated. I've never found another author like her, and she owns a shelf all her own in my bookcases.
Such fully-realised worlds. I think "Point of Hopes" and "Point of Dreams" are my favourites, but I'm just as impressed by Melissa Scott's science fiction.
Lois McMaster Bujold
Characters you care about, worlds which surprise you - what's not to like?
Ruth Manning Sanders
Ruth Manning Sanders' collections of fairytales, with Robin Jacques' brilliant illustrations, were some of my favourite teen reads. They were kept in the non-fiction section of my local library, a piece of immense stupidity which meant that I had little competition checking them out.
Heyer's stories sparkle, and elevate, entertain and frustrate. I have re-read most of her novels several times, and love many of them. She has an incredible range, turning certain staples of romance on their head, creating characters that capture your heart and make you care.
A few times, though, she creates wonderful women and then undercuts them. Smart, self-willed women who behave like idiots and need to rescued. I no longer re-read those books.
My favourites are "Frederica", "Devil's Cub", and "A Blunt Instrument", which is one of her mysteries and gloriously upturns every expectation.
Roderick Alleyn is not nearly so well known as he should be. One of the classic detectives, ascetic, a quiet gentleman. His relationship with Troy is one of my favourites.
I'll re-read these end to end every few years. I love watching the world change around the stories, and I can but admire the range of stories. I am by no means a mystery writer, but Golden Age mysteries are practically comfort reads to me.
A more modern mystery writer, and a brilliant one. Again - in two different series - we follow the life of the 'detective', as well as unravelling the current mystery. Margaret Maron just makes everything so interesting!
Josephine Tey's "The Daughter of Time" is one of the books which changed the way I looked at the world. Its premise sounds anything but interesting - an injured detective in hospital, researching history. What is revealed says so much about how accepted history is constructed, and I recommend it to anyone who comes my way. Tey's other novels are also excellent - "Miss Pym Disposes" never fails to amuse, and make me sorrow, and those two things together show the calibre of her writing.