Julie's Quest

Hello, and welcome to my blog. My blog is about the trials and tribulations of writing, where we celebrate successes and commiserate our near misses. We tell it like it is here and will do our very best to help you on the road to being published and pick you up after the rejections (they will come!) Whether you are a professional or amateur writer you will find something useful here.

I hope you enjoy reading my posts and will visit again soon.

Happy Writing

Julie Phillips - freelance writer - member of the Association of Freelance Writers - member of the Society of Authors

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

One of life's little pleasures

My daughter never ceases to amaze me. For weeks she has been obsessed with Cats, The Musical. She puts on her black ballet dress, and the cat mask her father made for her, and she stands in front of the telly, watching the DVD and trying to dance and sing like the actors on the stage. It's as though she is lost in her own little world and is there on stage with them. It is beautiful to watch, and it also got me thinking.

As Human Beings we tend to learn by watching and copying others. We follow instructions laid down by those who have gone before us, and by copying them, trying to imitate them, we aim to be like them, always striving to be as good as, or better than them. (I promise you I have no hidden desire to be the star in Cats! Spandex never has been, nor ever will be the look for me!)We humans are competitive; it's a primitive drive, we can't help it. It's ingrained within us, etched into our essence. It's survival of the fittest and all that.

The same could be said about learning to write. We learn, as children, about how letters look and sound. They learn the alphabet by looking at the shape of the letters and listening to, and speaking their sounds. They repeat the sounds over and over, often in rhymes and songs, or music. They learn to put sounds together, pairing appropriate sounds together to form words, then putting words together to make simple sentences, then more complex sentences and paragraphs.

Writing is the same. We all start off with jagged, unconnected, non joined up, chunky writing, but through repetition, practice and perseverance our writing evolves from those early, messy scribblings of our childhood to the joined up fluent and coherent writing of adulthood. Well, it does with the right education and with parents and teachers who care enough to teach and encourage children properly. The child writers of today are, after all, the Orange Prize, or the Booker Prize winners of tomorrow.

I think that we also learn to write through reading. As a child, I loved books; I loved their smell, their texture, the mystery and attraction of their front covers. I loved everything about books. The library was my sanctuary. Everything about books filled my little child life with joy and escapism. I was a very private and withdrawn child, very shy, but by reading I was allowed to stay in my own little world and loved nothing more than to stick my nose in a book and lose myself within its pages. I could be who I wanted to be, go where I wanted to go - places so faraway and removed from my own life, that they excited me and made me realise that there were worlds and people out there who were different from me and who intrigued me. I had a vivid imagination and would often drift off into my own imaginary world. I still do, to a certain extent!

My love of reading books has endured throughout my childhood and into today. I think I'm probably even more of a bookworm now, than I was as a child. Everyone has a favourite book that they remember from childhood and books that they love as adults. Certain books just seem to resonate with us throughout our lives and it is one of lives little pleasures to find a few books that we, as readers, engage with, that fill our souls with new ideas and questions, and that make us happy, or make us think differently about something.

On an online writing forum that I frequent, there was a discussion going on about children's literature, prompted by a series of excellent programmes on this subject that were recently shown on BBC4. Someone commented that they didn't like to see adults in public places reading children's literature (as though it was something dirty that should be hidden?!) They said it was childish for adults to read children's books and that they should just grow up! All I could think, on reading this rather limited and generalising view, was why? What's wrong with reading children's books as an adult? Isn't it comforting sometimes to just sit down with our own children and read to them the books that we read as children? I think there's something very special in watching the sparkle in the eyes of kids as you read a book with them. It something passed own from generation to generation. I love the way a book is discovered by mum or dad as a child, and then rediscovered by their offspring. Some books just have an enduring quality that beg to be read over and over again.

I think that reading should be a pleasurable experience and not a form of torture we inflict upon ourselves! In fact, if we try to force kids to read something they don't want to, it could put them off reading for life, which would be a shame. Isn't it perfectly acceptable just to sit down and read something just for the enjoyment of it? Instead of reading something we like, do we have to read books that we have to dissect and decode, as we do, well I tend to do, as a writer! Sometimes I feel that it's impossible for a writer to just switch off the analytical and critical part of their brain and just read - not analyse. It's in our nature to ask why, when, how and where!

Some children's fiction, from the classics to more modern books, are extremely well written and a pure joy to read - whether you have kids or not. Is it that some readers just read for the sake of being seen to be reading something high brow and literary and would rather be seen dead than to read, oh horrors, a 'children's book'? There's nothing wrong in reading either, and surely that's the point. We, as readers, and writers, have a kaleidoscope of different books, different genres and styles in which to dip our eager fingers into, and so we shouldn't stick our noses up at something we (quite often misguidedly) dismiss as inferior or not suitable for our eyes and brains to waste time on.

As writers, I think it can be beneficial to frequently dip our toes into a different pond and paddle upstream to refresh our minds; you never know what literary delights you might find there. I find that by reading something I wouldn't usually read it helps to inform my own writing. I gain so much by it; it expands my mind and gears me up to embrace different ways of thinking and being. I can connect with the author, their characters and story. I get a feel for different rhythms, different beats of a variety of styles and voices. This can only help the writing process.

By reading different styles of books, I am not trying to copy or emulate the authors; they merely leave an impression with me, a ghost almost, that I assimilate and add to my own unique voice. No two writers can ever write in exactly the same voice. Their voices may be astoundingly different, or just different yet familiar.

If, as writers, we never read, or read very little, then I think this can hinder the creative and writing process. There may be a number of reasons why some writers don't read: Lack of time, tiredness, an inability to find something they want to read, or maybe they feel their own voice will become strangled or stifled by the voice of the authors they read and fear that their own writing will become confused. I read widely and I haven't had this happen to me yet.

The general advice seems to be that it's a good idea to read around the subject/genre that you want to write in, and I have found this to be excellent advice. If you want to write short stories for women's magazines then read a variety of women's magazines. (It's a good excuse to just sit down with a coffee and a chocolate biscuit or too and read under the premise that it's purely for research purposes!) But don't forget, when you have the time and inclination, to read other things too. Your writing will thank you for it.


Suzanne said...

You're so right. Writers should read everything and anything. And there's certainly nothing wrong in reading children's books. Most books aimed at children and young adults are very well written and entertaining and we can all learn something from them

Your daughter sounds adorable.



Julie P said...

Thanks, Suzanne! My daughter is incredibly funny,well I think she is but then I'm biased! I'm also very lucky to have her. I love reading and she loves being read to and looking at books. She refers to me going to my writing circle's meetings as going to writing school!

Fee said...

In order to let our imagination flow we sometimes have to think like a child and act like one. Nothing wrong with reading children's books.

When I was doing my law degree everything I read or watched was law related in some way. It made law seem real.

Life is real therefore every experience has to be read about to be understood.

Your daughter sounds lovely. I expect she will be a star writer or an actress one day.

Best wishes.