Being a bookworm and a writer goes hand-in-hand. Reading improves writing and exposes you to all sorts of wonderful wordplay, language styles and ideas. It makes you more empathetic and widens your vocabulary and, as a self-confessed bookworm myself, I have to say, it’s my favourite hobby.
However, as a writer, it can’t just be all about the reading – one needs to actually write, too, and over the past few months I’ve found myself consumed more with the former than the latter. I read on average 8-10 books a month but have also managed to write half a novel since the New Year, so it’s not that I’m not writing, it’s just that I think I need to balance my books a little bit better – i.e. spend as much time writing my own book as I’m investing in reading other peoples’.
If my day job wasn’t also being a professional copywriter/journalist then I think this would be much easier to do. I’ve reflected on here before about how the mind often just needs a rest from writing when you’ve been doing it all day long. My novel-writing and whatnot happens in the in-between times, like most writers – squeezed in before bedtime, or on a lunch break; perhaps on a Sunday afternoon or in a snatched hour between other work/chores etc. As with reading, writing comes from making the time to do it. I don’t ‘find’ time and I certainly don’t have oodles more of it than anyone else – we all have busy lives – but if I want to keep being a writer, then I prioritise it above other things.
David Mitchell at Heaney Homeplace
Of course, sometimes we just need a kick up the backside when we feel complacent in our work, and being around other writers helps with that. Indeed, one of my favourite authors – who is a superb writer – said the same himself on Saturday, when I saw him in conversation at the Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy. David Mitchell had just taken the Homeplace tour, which documents Seamus Heaney’s life and work, and said he felt humbled by the sheer volume of work Heaney had produced, as well as its excellence. He joked that it made him want to run home and get some work done, adding that being around other writers and attending events etc. are good motivators for getting your own writing done.
It’s easy to forget that even very talented and accomplished authors like Mitchell still need that inspiration/motivation and that, just like any writer, they fret about the quality of their work and how it will be received. Poised to send his latest manuscript (which is about music and takes place in the late Sixties) to his publishers, Mitchell told us that he was nervous about what they would think of it, particularly as he always tries to make each book markedly different from the last. To give readers the same thing over and over again would be, he said, unfair to them, so he constantly challenges himself to reinvent his writing with every book (rather like Queen, if we stick with the music theme! They have a distinctive sound but always sought to create something totally different with each album, sidestepping the formulaic).
I think this reinvention is certainly evident in Mitchell’s books and is something which I, as a reader, enjoy, along with his writing style, which can be very poetic and always conjures up vibrant imagery and ideas. I always tend to describe his stories as ‘sprawling’ (in a good way), as they weave together so many different threads to create writing which is rich and intense and very exciting to read.
As someone who’s always working on various copywriting and other creative writing projects, I like the variety in my work and, by the time I finish writing a manuscript or even a short story, I’m generally looking ahead to the next project. So, it was reassuring to hear that Mitchell, too (and other writers I know) have the same compulsion. He jokingly likened it to being “in the final throes of a decaying marriage” – or something to that effect. Make of that what you will! In all seriousness, however, once a longer-form piece of work is finished, you’ve already spent so much time working on it that it’s only natural to relish the thought of getting stuck into something new. Variety, after all, is what keeps us sane. 🙂
The skill of any good writer is, of course, to make their work appear effortless and Mitchell’s readings at Saturday’s event demonstrated this perfectly as he shared some very lyrical lines with us. The final polished piece shows no sign of the word-whittling and tweaking; of the deletions and additions and the rewritings and rewritings and rewritings …
All in all, it was a great event and one which I had been particularly looking forward to for a while. It was lovely to get all my books signed afterwards too, and to have a chat with the man himself. Homeplace always has a great programme of events (all-year-round), so if you’re in NI and a bookworm, do check it out!
Giant’s Causeway Book Club
Last week also saw our latest meet-up of the Giant’s Causeway Book Club, where we discussed Jeanette Winterson’s novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. We scored the book 7/10 and enjoyed it so much that we now all want to read her actual autobiography, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal, which we will do very soon!
I would describe Oranges as ‘faction’ – a blend of fact with fiction – and I found it very quick to read and very enjoyable. Indeed, I intend to reread it, as it gives you a lot to think about, despite it being rather a short book, and has a wide range of themes, symbols and whatnot woven throughout which I’d like to ponder a bit more.
I was surprised that it actually focused more on Jeanette’s (the protagonist is also called Jeanette) general life growing up with Pentecostal parents as opposed to her later coming out, which is of course featured, but doesn’t dominate the novel as much as I thought it would. With Jeanette trying to make sense of her life as she grows up by writing fairy tales and myths, the book is punctuated with these stories of hers – something which, when you understand what she’s doing, really adds to the overall story (for me, anyway. I know this element jarred with a few people). The writing is beautiful and I’m definitely going to get onto her backlist of books!
Our May book choice is a historical fiction novel called The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland. We have five weeks until our next meet-up (and a Bank Holiday within that!), so I thought a chunky story like this would be ideal. I’ve only ever read Maitland’s first novel, which I loved, so am expecting this to be another page-turner.
The whole point of the GC Book Club is to read beyond what’s being published at the moment and delve into the many books which already exist, as well as exploring a range of genres. It’s very easy to be consumed by reading only what’s on the current bestseller lists and to forget about the wealth of great writing not being promoted in the Top 10, so that’s why our book choices are quite varied. That being said, we do also read recent books – the idea is to cover all options.
Anyway, that’s all for now… Still also working on my Big Telly Theatre story, with a feedback session on that due soon, so … more as I have it. 🙂