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“Which books have most inspired you?” is quite a difficult question to answer, especially as any question about books inevitably makes me want to prove to people that I’m an emotionally deep and complex intellectual.
So, when asked, my first thoughts – I’m ashamed to admit – were not what books have most inspired me, but more – what books would look most impressive to cite as an influence on a website about literature?
I looked at the question and then looked at my book shelf and briefly considered writing about how I became a frontman of a band due to my love of poetry more than my love of music. I planned to list all the poets that have inspired me: John Cooper Clarke, John Hegley, Billy Childish and I even thought about throwing in John Donne (who I love) right at the end, claiming him as my biggest influence (this is in no way true, I just thought it would be a funny assertion to make).
Even with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek, claiming I’d been entirely inspired by poets seemed a bit much, I couldn’t bring myself to write it down. I also realised that it wasn’t strictly true either, there is a much bigger influence on me than those poets and that influence is, unfortunately, not going to make me look very intellectual at all.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn my real name isn’t Eddie Argos. Eddie Argos was originally a character invented by my younger brother to cheer my Dad up on long train journeys over the course of a year when he’d lost his driving licence. My brother’s Eddie Argos was a ROCKSTAR who got so over excited he would slide across the stage on his knees, miss the microphone entirely and never get to sing. I was sixteen at the time and had just started being in bands myself. Hearing my brother tell these stories I thought Eddie Argos was the greatest name for a singer I’d ever heard and I decided to take it for my own. From that day forward I became Eddie Argos.
I had to make a few minor adjustments to his creation of course, I wouldn’t have become the INCREDIBLY SUCCESSFUL singer I am today if I was forever sliding across stages on my knees not quite managing to sing into a microphone.
When David Bowie created his alter ego Ziggy Stardust he made him a bisexual alien rock superstar messiah figure. When I created this new Eddie Argos I envisioned him as a grown-up version of William Brown from the Just William stories.
William Brown is an always well intentioned, but also quite mischievous, schoolboy created by Richmal Crompton. The first book (Just William) was released in 1922 and Richmal Crompton carried on writing them until she died in 1970. If you haven’t read them you really should, and I’m honestly not saying this next thing in an attempt to sound like an intellectual, or to compensate for recommending what are essentially children’s stories – but, in my opinion, Just William stands shoulder to shoulder with the writings of any other respected humourist on my book shelf. At times it even gives Saki a run for his money when it comes to creating uproarious laughter from me.
I first discovered the William books one summer at my grandparents’ house. I was 12 years old and read the three or four collections they had over and over again. I ended up reading them every summer I was there and eventually added to the collection with my own purchases from the local charity shops. The William stories are always set in the decade that they were written in, so if Richmal wrote the book in 1968 the story was set in 1968; however, William never ages, he is 11 in 1922 and still 11 in the last book published in 1970. While, when read as a whole, this gives a fascinating insight into how family and village life changed over the course of the 48 years Richmal was writing the books, once you feel you’ve taken William on as a friend it gets a little frustrating. I would have loved to been able to read stories about William as a teenager or as a grown up. I used to spend my summers at my grandparents’ day dreaming, and writing my own stories about who he’d become.
So when I was creating myself as Eddie Argos, I think these half-thought-out William stories from my youth drifted back into my mind. William was brave, especially when there was a pretty girl involved, indignant about always being right, even when he was wrong – sometimes especially when he was wrong – charismatic, daring, always on the lookout for a fun new adventure and most of all a massive show off, often getting into trouble to try and impress his peers. William would most definitely have become the front man of a band and was certainly the lead singer I wanted to be.
I should point out here that it was William’s exuberant misbehaviour that inspired me, not his writing skills – although whoever is sub-editing this may disagree.
So, it turns out, the answer to “which books have most inspired you?” is the William Brown series of books by Richmal Crompton. I’ve based my entire personality on what that funny little 11 year old may have become had he been allowed to grow up.
Because I know there are only 39 books in the series, and I want there to be a ‘new’ one for me to read for as long as possible, I’ve held off buying all of them on eBay and still only buy them when I see them in charity shops or second hand book shops. I’m always on the lookout for William and The Pop Singer (released 1965), as deep down inside, even though I know it couldn’t possibly be true, I’m hoping he ends up writing a song called ‘Formed A Band’.