i’ve been reading and writing my whole life. i could read whole books before i went to school, i drove my teachers and librarian crazy asking for more books all the time. i wrote my first novel (about 60 pages) when i was still in primary school. i sent the hand written pages to my favourite author at the time, ivan southall, asking him to read them and he sent them back with a lovely hand written note explaining that he just didnt have time, that if he read everything he was asked to he would have no time to write anything himself. i wasnt upset, i was just so thrilled to have a note from him, and the librarian made me a special clear plastic envelope for it (im sure she was just as excited as i was). his advice to me was to keep writing, that the only way to be a writer was to write, and i did, for a long time. but then later, my mother decided that wasnt good enough for me, i needed to be a doctor (despite me showing no scientific or mathematical aptitude at all) and where i went from there was kind of inevitable.
its taken me a long time to crawl out of the hole she made for me (in more ways than one) and i came back to writing, using all my spare time at a number of menial clerical jobs typing away furiously, short stories mostly, bleak and dark and violent ones. then someone encouraged me to apply for film school, and i did, and i got in. i dont think anyone was more surprised than myself really. but writing scripts, especially for other people, can be kind of soul destroying (although i am quite proud of this one, which ironically missfee worked on before i knew her!)
anyway, my point is this. i havent written anything creative for a long time. 10 years of academic writing, including 5 on a phd, can pretty much ruin your love of putting words on a page. and now that i write academically for a living, i dont want to sit in front of a screen and worry about the order of the words when i get home! but something was bugging me last week, and the scenes and dialogue for a particular story jumped into my head one night as i went to sleep, and i got up and wrote it. it took me two days, and i really enjoyed doing it. i was kind of thinking it was ok too. then i read this.
is there anything more capable of killing your own authorly aspirations than reading a masterpiece? seriously, this is without doubt the best book i’ve read in a very long time, and it comes second only to wolf hall, the first book in this trilogy. actually, i think ‘bring up the bodies’ is better. it’s tighter, and a bit more plot driven, the inexorable descent of anne to the chopping block driving the narrative more than in the first one. its shorter too, which was a bit sad, because the writing! oh my goodness. the way she puts words on the page, every single one carefully chosen, you can feel the weight of deliberation behind it. but its effortless at the same time, just so perfect i got completely lost, its like being mesmorised and having a web woven around you. i was sad to finish it and must now wait impatiently for the final volume.
lucky for me, im not a literary snob. i was just as happy last night to crawl into bed with harry hole again, and im even thinking about reading ‘fifty shades of grey‘. i have a whole bookshelf of black spined penguin classics from augustine to zola, but i also have the complete collection of hanning mankells, the sookie stackhouse books, the twilight books and songs of fire and ice. and now the nesbos. i dont understand people who read jane austen and then put shit on the twilight books. yes the austens are better written but they’re not much more than romance novels, really. i can put up with a lot of bad writing if the story keeps me turning the page.
and i do mean a page, in the physical sense. i have no interest in the whole e-reader thing. i was disturbed lately to see my reading role model has gone over to the dark side. i know this makes me sound like a terrible luddite, dont get me wrong, im all for technology and i get frustrated when im doing my research and the things i want to read arent available in digital format, but theres just something about reading off a screen i dont get. even at work, i print off all my pdfs to read. someone told me once that i collect books as if they’re trophies, but its not that. its the feel of them, the smell of the paper, the pretty covers, they’re like works of art
it contributes to the whole experience for me, getting lost on the yellowing dusty pages. i just cant imagine curling up in bed at night with a cold steel kindle. and audiobooks? what is that? yes i get the convenience factor, but its not even reading! reading is seeing the words, having them turn into something in your brain, imagining the tone and intonation of the characters in your head. i never did like having someone read to me as a kid either. i would rather stay up all night driving my sister crazy with a torch under the sheets.
so my point,again? go get ‘wolf hall’, and ‘bring up the bodies’, if you havent already, and read them on the page, letting the words slowly unroll under your fingertips, so you can almost smell the blood. and be safe in the knowledge that i am now the anti-elle mcpherson, and wont, apart from work things, read anything ive written myself, ever again.