Does reading damage your writing?

Finally, my new Writing Magazine has arrived

Finally, my new Writing Magazine has arrived

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:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

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.

But …

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.

Sound advice?

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?

Wednesday Word Tangle

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The sun is sitting low in the sky, the last rays of daylight turning the clouds every shade of bruise. The air begins to cool, the last warmth radiating from the ground in waves. The birds are roosting, relinquishing their flight paths to bat wings and feathery moth antennae.

I walk the familiar route, the daily trudge from the bland expanse of work to the cramped comforts of home. My feet know the way, my brain engaged on what to cook for dinner, on whether I’ve paid the gas bill, on the book I’ve just started but can’t quite get into.

I’m so distracted, I almost trip over his foot. I might have missed him entirely, if I’d just looked across the park at the ducks’ fuss and quack, if I’d been watching that battered sunset instead of my own shoes. If only.

But I do see him and I know in that moment that he isn’t homeless, he isn’t sleeping off a day of cheap cider drinking. Maybe it’s his stillness, the quiet that shrouds his body.

I should  run, step away, reach for my phone and leave the rest to others. But I can’t. Something forces me on, something makes me lift back the tendrils of dog rose, ignoring the snatch of the thorns, showering their petals like pink snow.

And he’s lying there and I can’t look away…

Imagine you’re in the park with me, holding my hand, staring down at the poor dead man, feeling the chill of the coming evening creep up your neck.

Now you’re in the moment, think of the word CREPUSCULAR. Quite a word. What’s it make you think of? Let’s dissect.

Crep: Well, it could be those lovely thin pancakes the French are so keen on. Or, if you’re like me, it could make you think of a slang term for the few ounces of waste the loo flushes away. Okay, so we start with ‘crap’.

Pus: I know I’m using the ‘P’ twice, but it’s how I hear the word, so stick with me. I don’t really need to describe this further- horrible, smelly, rotting foulness.

Cular: Not really a word, of course, but it’s the end of ‘muscular’, so could relate to muscles, right?

Okay, so we have- Poo, Pus, and Muscles. Hmm, lovely.

So, let’s relate back to our opening. Does ‘crepuscular’ describe the poor, unfortunate, rotting corpse, covered in unmentionables, his muscles wasting, contracting from lack of blood supply?

NO. Look around you at the sunset, at those shades of purple and orange fading into blue. Crepuscular means ‘twilight’* or something that resembles it.

So today’s word is CREPUSCULAR because it manages to sound absolutely revolting whilst describing something beautiful. 


*P.S. Do you reckon Stephenie Meyers’ book series would’ve captured the hearts of vampire-o-philes across the globe if they’d been called ‘Crepuscular’ instead?