I’ve read a lot over the years.
I’m not trying to show off, but if libraries ran schemes encouraging adults to read like they do young children, I’d have earned all my certificates by now, I’d have gold stars and ‘I’m a Star Reader’ posters covering my walls. It’s something I’m good at.
My tastes are eclectic. I’ve read Classics – your Austens, your Hardys, your Dickenses, your Swifts. Though I have big, gaping holes in my reading arsenal too.
Okay, you’ve twisted my arm. I confess – I’ve never read Hemingway. Yeah, yeah, I know, I should be drummed out of the Aspiring-Writers Club for that omission, but I’m no masochist. Generally, I read what I want to and Hemingway’s muscular, masculine subject matter has always sent me running for cover behind a pile of plumped up, lacy cushions. He’s all war and fighting and bull runs and hunting, isn’t he? Please correct me if I’m wrong.
The only thing of his I’ve read is the famous six-word story:
Which even I admit is the pinnacle of flash fiction.
So, I may not have read Hemingway, but I’ve read a lot of other stuff. Mainly fiction, but lots of non-fiction too. I went through a few years where I read little but historical autobiographies, from Henry VIII to Oliver Cromwell, from Mary Queen of Scots to Samuel Pepys by way of Dickens himself. (If you want a biography that reads like fiction, may I recommend Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser. In fact, send me the postage and I’ll pop my old copy in the post box for you.)
I’ve read a fair bit of YA in preparation for writing some myself. Some I loved (yes, I too want to be The Hunger Game’s Katniss Everdeen) some not so much (if I ever meet Twilight’s Isabella Swan, I’ll slap her soppy, self-obssessed, twinkly backside for her.)
I read fantasy, historical fiction (of course), a tiny bit of crime, though I confess to being squeamish when it comes to serial killers and extreme, sadistic violence. Firstly, I get truly fed up with the fact that much of the kidnapping/ torturing/ murdering in increasingly inventive ways is performed on females – Woman as eternal victim does none of us any favours. Secondly, there’s enough horror in the world. Turn on the TV and you’ll see worse acts being performed in real life.
A catch up with the news in the Middle East always takes the shine off torture-porn for me.
Just let me clamber down from my high horse. Hang on a minute. There I am, back on terra firma. Now where was I? Ah, yes.
I’m a sucker for magazines. Not the true confessional, ‘Aliens took my hamster for medical experiments and now he’s running my son’s PTA’ kind of mags, but history ones (well, BBC History Magazine) and Writing Magazine, the latter I read cover to cover every month, in hope of finding the magic ingredient that will turn me from Blogger-Babbling-Nonsense-Into-The-Ether to Multi-Million-Selling-Author-With-Lucrative-Film-And-TV-Deals-Under-Negotiation. I’ll let you know when that issue comes out.
Does all this addiction to reading help my writing? To write we must … well, write – we all know that. And there is an argument that to be a good writer you must read your genre – a lot. But is this valid? Doesn’t reading other writers just muddy your own voice, confound and confuse your way of telling a story?
The late, amazingly great Terry Pratchett’s advice was:
If you are going to write, say, fantasy – stop reading fantasy. You’ve already read too much. Read other things; read westerns, read history, read anything that seems interesting, because if you only read fantasy and then you start to write fantasy, all you’re going to do is recycle the same old stuff and move it around a bit.
Are you a writer who reads nothing but your own genre? Does it enrich your writing? Or do you abstain from reading altogether while you write?