GREG MCHUGH, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda And The Road To 9/11 by Lawrence Wright

In 2001 (aged 21) I watched America declare war on Afghanistan, principally in pursuit of catching the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks: Osama bin Laden. The US-led Iraq invasion of 2003 seemed to follow almost immediately.

Sadly, what I remember most vividly about this period was not my overwhelming despair at the prospect of Britain being dragged into one futile conflict followed by another but rather how new and interesting it was to watch war on TV.

From the live images of the planes hitting the towers, to the subsequent morbid visual feast of the “shock and awe” campaign through to the grainy footage highlighting the horrific accuracy of US helicopter gunship attacks – war seemed to be something that was now for public visual consumption.

During my early 20s there were two wars involving and killing British servicemen and women and I didn’t really know why we were involved. Of course America had proclaimed that the attack on the World Trade Centre was the principal catalyst for the Afghan war and of course Tony Blair made clear that Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction posed such a threat it made the Iraq war justifiable … but even as a young man I suspected that wasn’t the full story.

Reading The Looming Tower gave me an insight into the huge historical complexities surrounding Western and Middle Eastern governments which in turn offered some explanations for the rise of fundamentalism and hence the 9/11 attacks that played a key role for Western governments in justifying the subsequent wars.

Little did I realise that my new-found interest in trying to understand what led to 9/11 and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars would be a key element in the creation of my own cultural comment on these conflicts – in the form of a camp tank commander. Yup. Believe it or not, this book helped me create my own comedy creation ... Gary: Tank Commander.

JOANNA TROLLOPE, The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

This book has everything – lyrical writing, travel, exoticism, jokes, a love story, real polemic and philosophical thoughtfulness. I don’t wish I’d written it but I am thankful someone has.

Like reading Jane Austen, there is something else to be discovered every time you read it, and it suits every age you are at when you read it.

RONA MUNRO, Silver In My Sporran by Angus MacVicar

Silver In My Sporran is literally a book that made me. It is one of a series of memoirs that the talented and prolific Angus MacVicar wrote towards the end of his life. It recounts the story of a young writer understanding their ambition to be professional while struggling with all the obstacles, internal and external, to that aspiration. It is a memoir of a writing man who wrote, in vivid, elegant, but beautifully accessible prose of the people he knew and loved in rural Argyll.

It’s a memoir that evokes that community as it was between the wars, the landscape that sustained it, the people and places that inspired the author. It’s a memoir that educates aspiring writers in the value of writing as a trade, a craft, a happy duty – to record and reflect the stories of the ordinary folk of Scotland. Not to conjure highfalutin internal indulgences that serve the ego and some artificial idea of “great art”, but to tell the stories of the people who made you. It has always been the benchmark against which I measure the worth of all I do. And almost nothing makes me as proud as the dedication: “To educate (and entertain) Rona Munro and other beginning writers.”

My Uncle Angus, the great writer, who, when I was 14, read my first handwritten, sweetie-stained, tottering, torn heap of a novel, every scribbled page of it, turned to my parents and said: “Well, you’ve got a writer on your hands.” And when he said it he made it true.

GRAEME MACRAE BURNET, Belle by Georges Simenon

It was 1989. The year of Simenon’s death. By chance I came across a second-hand copy of his novel Belle. On the opening page, the protagonist Spencer Ashby is going about his normal routine in his living room, before realising that the curtains are open and his movements are visible to passers-by. From that moment, he will be forced to account to the authorities for his most trivial actions.

I was captivated. I began to devour both Simenon’s Inspector Maigret books and his stand-alone romans durs (luckily he wrote more than 200 novels). What kept me coming back was the attention to the quotidian: the revelation that beneath the surface of ordinary life lurk drama and violence. Then there was the sparse economic prose, the unerring eye for detail, the subtle interplay between past, present and future. But perhaps most of all there is the humanity, Simenon’s insight into characters who might otherwise go unnoticed.

For a writer, Simenon’s work is a manual of good practice; for a reader they are a guide to life.

VAL McDERMID, Murder At The Vicarage by Agatha Christie

When I was wee, I stayed with my grandparents every weekend and much of the school holidays. They were not readers, and the only book in the house – apart from the Bible – was Agatha Christie’s The Murder at the Vicarage.

I always brought my library books with me but I usually ran out of something to read. I must have been about eight or nine when I decided to give Agatha a try. I was captivated. I’d read “mystery” books for kids before – Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton, the Hardy Boys – but those were bloodless affairs with little at stake. In The Murder At The Vicarage, I found creeping undercurrents of jeopardy. But I was also fascinated by the way the different mysteries in the book wove in and out. There was always something happening that compelled me to read on. And when I got to the end, I wanted more.

That book created in me an appetite that had to be fed. Via the library and jumble sales and, later, second-hand bookshops, crime fiction became my constant companion. I read voraciously and widely beyond the genre, of course. But I always have a crime novel on the go.

SALLY MAGNUSSON, The Secret Commonwealth Of Elves, Fauns and Fairies by Robert Kirke

Robert Kirke was a 17th-century Episcopalian minister who wrote winningly about the supernatural beliefs of his Gaelic parishioners. The moment I happened on The Secret Commonwealth, I was entranced by his tolerant delight in the world of faery, so unusual for a churchman of the time.

Kirke’s lively curiosity and spacious imagination were repaid, poor sod, by the growth of a startling legend around his sudden death on Doon Hill, near Aberfoyle, in 1692. As Sir Walter Scott later reported, he is said to have been abducted by the vengeful denizens of faery for violating their privacy and is “dreeing his weird” in faery yet.

Kirke’s essay had a big effect on my writing as I contemplated my second novel. Scottish literature has long used traditions of the supernatural to explore our own very human condition and this story got me fired up to do the same in the book that became The Ninth Child. Wherever he is, I hope the mild-mannered reverend I have so enjoyed making the acquaintance of won’t mind too much what I’ve done with him.

Sally Magnusson will be talking about her new novel, The Ninth Child, at Aye Write on March 22

PAT KANE, Ulysses by James Joyce

As an angry 17-year-old schoolboy, I read Joyce’s A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, glowering under a beach umbrella on a family ltalian holiday. I felt completely answered by it. Ulysses was the next hurdle. It was a high one, and remains so.

Initially it was the book’s experimentalism that attracted me – like Faulkner’s The Sound And The Fury, but on every page! The style felt like it responded to how thoughts and feelings actually arose, linguistically, in my head.

Joyce also expressed the idea that we always access the world through forms of discourse – sometimes elevated and noble, sometimes cheesy and crass, but inescapably so. For Joyce to understand, in the 1910s and 20s, that our experience is often framed by the texts and genres of others, just blew my mind – and still does.

Yet re-reading it in recent months, it’s the historical urgency of the book that now strikes me. Through all the delightful (and sometimes offensive) musings and wanderings of its characters, the sense of an Ireland chafing and bursting under British rule is so overwhelming.

At some level, Ulysses feels like Joyce utterly mastering the masters’ tools – and then smashing them up, laughing. And knowing that freedom is round the corner.

MAGGIE CRAIG, The Flight Of The Heron by DK Broster

I was still at primary school when my Uncle Alex first put a copy of DK Broster’s The Flight Of The Heron into my eager hands. I’ve been a willing hostage of the Jacobites of 1745 ever since and have re-read the book many times over the years. It includes a touching romance but the emotional focus is the deep friendship which grows between enemies, Highland chieftain Ewen Cameron of Ardroy and cynical and embittered Redcoat Captain Keith Wyndham.

Both men grow and change over the course of the story. By the end of the book Ardroy is an older and wiser man and there’s redemption, of a sort, for Wyndham. The dialogue sparkles and the West Highlands and Edinburgh of the time are vividly evoked. Although it’s highly romantic, Broster did not shrink from showing the horrors of the aftermath of the ’45. To my mind, it’s the novel par excellence of the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

What I learned from The Flight Of The Heron was the value and importance of honest storytelling, with well drawn characters, emotional depth and an evocative sense of place. I strive always for these elements in my own writing, both in fiction and non-fiction.

KIRSTIN INNES, The Trick Is To Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway

I don’t think this book gets celebrated anywhere near enough. What Janice Galloway does, in all her work, but most radically in her first, now 30-year-old novel, is what Muriel Spark called “the transfiguration of the commonplace”. She approaches the everyday life of a 27-year old woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown – her part-time job at a seedy bookie’s, the teenagers she teaches at school, her memories, her bulimia, her obsession with cheap, gristly women’s magazines, her grief – and insists that it is a suitable subject for an experimental piece of high literature.

She makes avant-garde art out of a woman arranging biscuits on a plate before her social worker arrives. The Trick Is To Keep Breathing was one of the first books to consider the quotidian stuff of ordinary Scottish women’s lives as worthy of this attention. It influences everything I try and write, I think. It’s also properly, darkly, bitterly funny, which is just as important.

PETER TATCHELL, Gay Liberation Front Manifesto, London 1971

The Gay Liberation Front Manifesto was published in London in 1971, when I was19 and a young GLF activist. What a revelation! At the time, homophobia was the unchallenged norm and most LGBT+ people felt shame. In contrast, the manifesto made the then revolutionary declaration: “Gay is Good!” These three words contradicted the whole of human history, where for millennia gay had been deemed very, very bad.

Although it demanded an end to heterosexist discrimination, equal rights was not the main focus. Equality was a far too limiting agenda. The manifesto saw society as fundamentally unjust and sought to change it; rejecting queer assimilation to the status quo.

Its pioneering critique of the tyranny of traditional male and female gender roles, which it identified as underpinning LGBT+ oppression, predates the current non-binary and gender fluid movement by over four decades.

Arguing that queer liberation involved both social and personal change, it proposed that we could, within the bounds of the existing society, begin to create a new alternative sexual democracy, with sexual freedom and human rights for everyone.

These ideas were revolutionary and mind-blowing. They helped shape my LGBT+ consciousness and my subsequent 50 years of queer activism.

Aye Write was due to take place at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library until March 29 but has now been cancelled due to fears over the coronavirus.