I like Roald Dahl immensely, but I can’t say that he’s been any kind of influence on how I think or write. Reading his autobiographical books made me feel terribly inadequate when I was young, that’s about all. I am still in awe of the matchless self-confidence and chutzpah of the opening paragraph of ‘My Uncle Oswald.’ I know you need matchless self-confidence and chutzpah to put such an opening paragraph before your readers, because when I first read it, I said to myself: ‘Oh, for the love of God!’ and cast the book aside for another eighteen months before reading further.
Philip K. Dick? I don’t think he’s really been much of an influence either. I was surprised, rummaging through boxes on the weekend, just how many of his books I own, but I have always gotten kind of lost in his novels. Stanislaw Lem thought he was the best science fiction writer in English (unless I misremember), and I feel bad contradicting such a great authority, but I still get lost. I like his short stories better. From one of Dick's short stories- actually, from an aside to the reader in a collection of his short stories- I guess I got the habit of using Martin Luther’s phrase ‘Hier steh ich, Ich kann nicht anders.’
Dante? Someone who knows him only through the mediation of Dorothy L. Sayers, and derives most fun from the footnotes and appendices, surely ought not to be allowed to go there. Besides, ought he not to be filed under ‘A’ for Alighieri?
Arthur Conan Doyle? I guess he qualifies as ‘D’. Once more, I can’t think of any way he’s changed me significantly. My public persona isn’t entirely based on Professor Challenger…
I was reading some of his pirate short stories last night. They’re very much plot driven. The plots are ingenious, but on reflection are also generally silly. And the characters in them are ultimately more interesting. Just like the Sherlock Holmes stories. I have always been keen on them, but re-reading some of them recently I found they didn’t hold together as well as I remembered. I guess once you get in the habit of thinking quantitatively, the long chains of probabilities that Mr Holmes relies on become a little too improbable for suspension of disbelief.
So, I can’t settle on anyone for D.