One of the most aggravating things about sucking up to a publisher or literary agent has to be answering those annoying questions which are asked in advance of them even looking at your work. Actually obtaining a traditional contract with a publisher is about as easy as getting the Catholic church to hand over one of its ordained paedophiles to face justice, and these questionaires are yet another barrier to that; another excuse to say 'No.'.
Of all the questions that are asked, one steps out of the crowd and slaps me about the face - which, let's face it, is a rather antisocial attitude to take. It's this (and I'm paraphrasing): "Which well known author do you most aspire to emulate?". I find this a very strange thing to ask. What's the point? Wouldn't it be better to read my work and then make up your own mind about whether or not it falls into a category shared by a famous writer? What does it matter if I believe that I am something of a Hemingway (I seriously hope not), an Orwell (even worse), a Stephen King (wishful thinking) or a James Herriot (yes please!). It's irrelevant - READ THE WORK and treat it on its merits.
Having said that (well, ranted that), I admit it: I do have a literary hero; someone who models a style that I admire enormously, someone who appears to write in the real world and about the real world; someone who says it like it really is (sometimes scarily like it is inside my head), and someone - one of very, very few - who can make me laugh out loud while I'm reading his books.
Bill Bryson, through his work has convinced me that he is one of my top ten list of people to meet and chat with over a coffee (or more enjoyably, over a very unhealthy and deeply satisfying meal). Even better: be a genuine friend...His work entrances me with its richness its humour and its reliable warmth. BB has successfully captured the formula for making close friends through his books, and so, while knowing statistically absolutely nothing about his daily life, I somehow feel like I know him - a very tricky illusion to pull off.
I don't try to write like Bill - I simply couldn't. He's far too skilled a wordsmith for me to emulate, and anyway, I must write with my own voice. How Bill Bryson inspires me is thus: as I write, I remember the effect that his work has upon me, and I try to create a written environment which may - just may - have a similar effect upon my reader. What I aspire to is not to copy him, but to achieve something that he achieves for me, the reader.
One day I hope I make it, but for now I'll settle for the uphill struggle and try to refine my craft.