Ian Irvine is an expert in marine pollution who has developed some of Australia's national guidelines for the protection of the oceanic environment. He has 14 published novels to date, mainly epic fantasy, but also children's fantasy, and has also published a trilogy of eco-thrillers - The Last Albatross, Terminator Gene and The Life Lottery - dealing with the consequences of global climate change. Ian writes, below, about his relationship to books.
Ian Irvine on books that have been important to him
How can I single out one book that has been important to me? It's not possible - all books matter to me and reading has been the great adventure of my life. I can't ever remember not reading, and did it so obsessively from such a young age that Mum reckoned I'd read the toilet paper if there was nothing else around. It wasn't just stories; even when I was little I wanted to know everything about everything - and I still do.
Mum taught me to read, I think when I was three or four, and Dad read us classic adventure stories - Masterman Ready, The Swiss Family Robinson and the like - until, as he puts it, we kids started to correct his pronunciation. I'm sure those early tales began my lifelong love of action adventures set in far-off realms.
When I was a child, in the 1950s, we had a 10-volume set of Newnes Pictorial Knowledge and I read it from cover to cover, especially the Greek myths and legends - more thrilling tales - but also art and music, science and engineering, and the natural world. Those loves have never left me, either. Newnes was part encyclopaedia, part an early version of the Dangerous Book for Boys, and part British social engineering even in the furthest corners of the Empire, though, looking at Volume 9 now, I doubt that I spent much time on the article 'A Guide to Good Manners for Boys and Girls'. I also note that the Associate Editor was Enid Blyton; how on Earth did she find the time?
My appetite for books was voracious, and undiscerning: kid's books one minute, astronomy or the mathematics of code-breaking the next. One Christmas holidays during my early teens, I'm only slightly ashamed to confess, I stumbled upon a cardboard box full of Mills & Boons a maiden aunt had given Mum. I read the lot, a good 60 of them, one after another, before I finally burned out.
In the 1960s, science became my other passion. We didn't have much money for buying books, but while I was at high school I read every science fiction novel our local library held. None particularly stands out in my mind today, but they all took me to other worlds. Oddly, though, I read virtually no fantasy - I hadn't heard of Narnia, or The Hobbit, until university.
Because I was an indolent lad and lacking in self-discipline, most of the classics we studied in high school passed by leaving little trace, save for Emma and King Lear in my final year, when, having found myself with a rather high fence to leap, I studied with such desperate intensity that those stories are still carved deep into my psyche 40 years later.
And then, as I was finishing my BSc, someone gave me a list of books to read and it included The Lord of the Rings, Dune, and Stranger in a Strange Land. If any book could be said to have changed the direction of my life it was The Lord of the Rings. I read it in two 15-hour gulps, thought it was the greatest adventure of all time, and immediately started looking for other comparable epic novels. It didn't take long to read what was available at that time, 1972, and it led me back to the Greek myths (though I have to say I much prefer the Aeneid to either the Iliad or the Odyssey - the written form of storytelling rather than the oral), the other mythologies, and back to fantasy.
There still wasn't much around, for the fantasy boom hadn't yet begun. After everything available had been consumed, what was a desperate reader to do but start planning the monumental epic fantasy he planned to write one day?
A decade after that I finally began my writing career, and another decade later finally saw the epic in print. Unfortunately, as my career swung away from science back to writing, I discovered one of the professional writer's greatest curses - an inability to turn off the internal editor while reading novels in the genre I write in.
For that reason I don't read a lot of fantasy any more, but it leaves room for all the more books in other genres. And especially in science - Matt Ridley's Genome, Jared Diamond's Collapse and Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe being the most memorable of recent years. Books and science, science and books - my life seems to undulate from one to the other.
So many books to read, so much to discover, so little time.