A couple of years ago I sat down at my desk. It was the first day of a dark November and my intention was to write 50,000 words of a new novel, my first. Having written posts for this blog for several years, and increasingly looked to improve the quality of the writing it was an interesting project. Write a book, they said.
I’ve been reading books for as long as I can remember. My father is an avid reader, and weekly trips to the local library are a formative part of my youth. The children’s section was downstairs and it was there I’d head whilst my father went off to roam the aisles. It was liberating to be fully in charge of those choices and whilst I was first drawn to Asterisk and Lucky Hand Luke comic books, I soon started to find longer stories more palatable.
Trillions by Nicholas Fisk was a formative book in my young years, a sci-fi novel for young adults is probably the classification and whilst I can remember little about the story and how it unfolded, it was the first time I read a book and felt that spark of imagination. It stuck with me to this day, the feeling of wonder that something as simple as a few words on a page can transport you to an entirely other place.
My love for sci-fi continued, no doubt feed by my father, with Arthur C. Clarke and as I got a little older I discovered friends at school who also read books. I was such an avid reader (the acorn doesn’t fall far and all that) that I’d rush through school work and ask to go and read, and what school teacher of any repute would say no to that. The Isle of Sula beckoned next, a trilogy I think, set in the north of Scotland, as did the Three Investigators (aka Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Detectives, my first exposure to the great director), Robert Louis Stevenson, and others.
Moving to high school brought new friends and new reading habits and a certain man called Stephen King started to feature more and more heavily. To this day I’ve probably read more books by him than anyone else, although thinking on it it may be a tie between him and Ian Rankin. King has a habit of writing books that a very easy to immerse yourself in and it wasn’t unheard of for me to sit down on a rainy Sunday afternoon and read one of his novels from start to finish before bedtime, even if bedtime in question was beyond midnight.
It’s a trait I’ve retained, when I’m reading a really good book I tend to focus on that over other things like sleeping and eating…
I have no idea how many books I’ve read, I only started tracking some of them a few years ago when I joined a, now sadly defunct, book club. I’d gotten away from the habit of reading, and the book club brought that back alongwith several wonderful books that dragged me away from my everyday life and into their vivid poetry, slapping my imagination back into gear and consuming me as every good book should. It also taught me an important lesson on the art of reading books; you do not need to finish a bad book.
Book reading should never be a chore, yet the act of writing a book certainly seems like one. Those 50,000 words I wrote a few years ago remain in draft, reworked a few times since admittedly, but are no closer to forming a book than they were back then. I even read a couple of books on how to write a novel, the best of which remains On Writing by the aforementioned Stephen King.
One piece of advice he offers is this: “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story. Your stuff starts out being just for you, but then it goes out.”
This latter part, ‘then it goes out’ seems to be where I’m stumbling, knowing that the words I’ve cobbled together onto the pages would be out in the wider world and read by at least 4 or 5 people (who are all family and friends of course). It’s not so much a cause of writers block as writers fear, but that is a topic for another day.
Instead I’ll end and offer some book recommendations. The type of book and writing style may vary but each of these brought me no small measure of joy over the years.
- A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
- Number9Dream, David Mitchell
- Vox, Christina Dalcher
- The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North
- If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead, Andrew Nicoll
- And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
- Smilla’s Sense Of Snow, Peter, Hoeg
- Ghostwritten, David Mitchell
- Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
And for more, check my Good Reads account.