August 16, 2012

Why I read/Why I write

Why I Read

As a young boy I was insular and liked a quiet space. I had friends and played sports, especially in the summer months, but the worlds of the imagination seemed so much richer and colourful than the real world I lived in. We had a small house with two downstairs rooms, with two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs.  As one of the downstairs rooms was the ‘front room’, it was rarely used except when we had visitors.  So usually, there was no getting away from people – that is, the other people in my family: mum, dad, younger brother.  We’d be squeezed into the back room with the kitchen sink, the pantry, the kitchen table and the television. 

And the armchair I sat in to read.

From the age of about four, I read everything I could lay my hands on – well, everything I could understand. I have vague memories of Janet and John books being read to me by my mother.  And after that I remember the Arabian Nights (read under the bedclothes while it was still light outside) and being given a copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel for Christmas. 

Then came the comics: Hotspur, the Hornet, the Beano. And American ones too, with glossy covers – Superman and Batman, naturally, and the characters with different super-powers: Green Hornet, Flash, Atom,The Justice League of America. Marvel comics were dark even then – Daredevil, Iron Man, the Hulk ... and often they left you disappointed because you had to buy the next issue to find out what happened next.

And this led to a teenage fascination with science-fiction. Finding Dune in my school library at the age of sixteen was probably the greatest single reading highlight of my teenage years. Suddenly reading wasn’t just about action and adventure (thanks, Biggles) but was about depth – introspection, subtlety, relationships. Next stop, The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby, Catch-22.

What strikes me is that I read for almost exactly the same reasons now as I did then. I want a hero who is strong but understands how other people think; I want a story I can believe in but is full of surprises; I want to smile or laugh at regular intervals; I want an ending that wraps everything up but is poignant; I want to enter a world I know little about but am fascinated by. It’s not about escapism – it’s about seeing reality from another angle so that it makes more sense. Imaginary worlds are not completely separate from the one we live in – they offer hope and can act as aspirations. I read now to recapture that hopefulness of youth, still believing that everything will turn out fine once the hero has overcome his or her struggle. 

Why I write

Writers often say that they write because they have to – there’s a kind of internal pressure that they can’t resist to get words on paper. 

I understand that pressure. I went almost twenty years without writing anything for myself. I wrote every day for the various jobs that I had, but nothing ‘made up’ for my own enjoyment. And then I couldn’t resist the pressure any longer and started writing my Sam Dyke series of books.

If you’ve ever tried to write fiction and given up, you’ll know it’s not something that always comes easy. But if you’ve got the bug, you’ll also know that there’s immense pleasure from writing a scene that’s full of suspense, humour, drama and conflict. For a short while, you have a grasp on how people think, how they talk, what’s important to them and what they want. And – however briefly – you’ve got the technical ability to put into words all the subtlety and nuance that are in your head.

That’s why I write – to prove to myself that I can do something that most of the time I don’t believe I can. 

Like a good fictional character, I’m succeeding against the odds and creating the world afresh.

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