Reading and it’s effect on Writing.

Going from the title, you might be fooled into thinking that I am going to regale you with a scholarly essay.

You’re in luck though…there’s a reason that I hated English A Level…

Actually, I just finished reading “Lies Sleeping” by Ben Aaronovitch.

It was one of my christmas presents and all the way through I enjoyed the experience.  I always do. Mostly because it’s like Ben Aaronovitch seems to have read all the same books as me – I’m forever catching the literary version of what film buffs like to call Easter Eggs – and we appear to have the same sense of humour.  Which probably explains all the Pratchett references…

However, this time round I finished the book and found myself thinking two things;

1) I wish I could write something that good.

2) I now see the reason that Sir Terry Pratchett and various other big authors have said “When you’re writing, you shouldn’t read in the genre you’re writing in.”

The first thought, is what I always think when I read one of my favourite authors. Doesn’t matter if it’s STP, King, Tolkien, Carriger, Howey, Eddings, Reichs, Slaughter… I always feel in awe of the story I’ve just read and the author whose imagination it came out of.

The second one requires a bit more explanation though.

Thinking about all the books I have read over the years, I’ve read a startling breadth of stories and authors. I started with Enid Blyton, Lewis Carroll and CS Lewis, passed through Tolkien, Eddings, Bradbury, Clarke, Herbert, Anthony, McCaffrey,  Michener, Le Guin, Anthony… you get the idea.
I took in Stephen King, James Herbert, Dean Koontz and various other horror writers. I spent some time in Romance Land (yes, even Mills & Boon) and although I don’t remember any of the authors (other than the Grande Dame of that realm, Barbara Cartland) they all delighted me while I read them.

They’ve all had an effect on my writing, even if I don’t know it. I adore STP, but I can’t deliberately write Comedic Fantasy. I’ve been told that there’s a certain humour to my fantasy though, so something must have rubbed off on me.

The problem is, when you read exclusively in one genre, you don’t just pick up small touches of each author’s voice; you start sounding like them enough that it could be considered plagiarism.  I had a brush with that when I was at Uni –  I helped TOH with his written coursework for the course we were doing together,  and I’d changed his personal “voice” enough that it sounded like he’d copied my work!

That time, he was accused of plagiarising me… and I really don’t want to have my work sound so much like my favourite authors that I get sued for plagiarism! Hence why I thought the second thought…

So what’s the fix? I have to read in my favourite genre to keep up with my favourite authors or any trends, but I don’t want to sound like them. Any ideas?

Close your Eyes…

Close your eyes for a moment. Block out the noise from around you and engage your imagination.

Done it?

Good.

Now I want you to imagine a Sunday at home. You and your family doing whatever it is that you normally do on a Sunday. Don’t tell me about it, it’s your world, your reality.

I’ll describe mine though; just to give you an idea of what I mean…

It’s now sunny; the day started out wet and stormy, but the sun has come out and the green trees outside my windows are blowing in the breeze. TOH is playing Destiny, running his character through what looks like a cave system, shooting at various aliens that keep popping up in front of him or round rocks… SB is gurgling happily in his bouncy chair, munching on his favourite firefly toy. From upstairs I can hear the two girls laughing as they play Mariokart together (for a change) and NOS has disappeared into his bedroom to play Overlord on his PS3.

The cat is sleeping in a curled up pile on a box by the patio doors, sunshine warming her white, orange and charcoal coloured fur.

I’m sat on the couch with my laptop, typing away. It’s relatively peaceful or at least as peaceful as our house can get anyway.

So, have you got your imagination primed with your personal reality?

Excellent.

Now let’s alter it a little…

* * *

You’re sat there in your Sunday at home and there’s the sound of boots and shouting coming from outside. You look out the window to see a unit of military piling off the back of a lorry into the quiet peaceful street that you live on. That truck pulls away and another pulls up, disgorging another rload of soldiers.

The first set of soldiers start going door to door in pairs, carrying assault rifles and wearing identical serious expressions. Your partner goes to the door when they knock at yours and comes back looking unhappy.

“We’ve been told to stay in our house. No one is to go outside as Martial Law has been enacted due to a major terror threat to the country.” He says.

You turn on your TV. The same information is being relayed on the news channels, the presenters looking scared, as if there was someone pointing a gun at them to make sure that they said the correct thing.

After a few days of martial law, there’s a change in government. Not an election, a change. The Prime Minister is marched away in handcuffs and replaced by a man in a suit that has the unmistakable bearing of a Military Man.

The TV tells you that everything is safe now, but that the soldiers will still be on the streets with guns until further notice.

Day after day a new face is seen in an important position. Newspapers are shut down unless they print what the government give them. The national curriculum is altered; all children from the age of 16 are trained in using an assault rifle and the younger ones are taught to fight with their hands and kill with a knife.

The media are telling you that there is an imminent invasion threat and that everyone over 16 will be drafted into a suitable position for their documented talents.

Your oldest son comes back from college with an official draft notice. He’s being sent into the Airforce. Your Partner receives a draft notice the same day, telling him to report for duty in the local engineering corp. Your oldest daughter is drafted into working in an ammunition factory that has sprung up down the road.

Only you are left with the two youngest to watch as your world goes to hell.

Every single day you hear of people being shot because they refused to do what the government told you. The TV exhorts you to do as you’re told “for your children’s sake”.

You wonder when it will end.

The invasion happens. Strange soldiers are shown shooting at your country’s soldiers. The local gossips all say “It won’t get anywhere near us.”

You and your partner discuss it and the decision is taken that you will raise as much money as you can and take the two youngest to stay with your father in the USA, where they’ll be safer. You suggest that you’ll come back, but he shakes his head, “I can look after the older two, you stay with the younger ones; they need their mother more.”

Reluctantly you agree.

Getting out of the country is tricky. Your passport is out of date and the govt aren’t issuing new ones, so you pay the exorbitant price that a local forger is asking for to ‘update’ the old one. You buy tickets for yourself and the two children, pack as little as possible so you can qualify for just carry on and head to the airport.

The soldiers there examine your passport and look at the children. They strip search you and the children, check your body cavities and laugh when your youngest cries from the pain.

They let you go though.

The flight is crowded with women in similar situations, carrying a crying toddler or baby with one or two children under ten clinging to them. There’s not enough food and water to go round on the flight, so you let your portion go to your kids, knowing that it might be the last food you have for a while.

At the other end, an airport somewhere in Europe, you are rushed off the plane by the police and military of that country. You’re shoved into what looks like an old caravan and told to wait there until you can be cleared to travel onward.

You have to write a letter to your father to beg him to get you into the USA. Then you write another one to your partner and children back home, to reassure them that you’re all still alive. The people running this ‘camp’ take the letters but you have no idea if they’ll get to the people they’re addressed to.

A month later, the news coming out of your country is not good. Other countries are intervening in the war and more and more deaths are happening. You hope that your older children and partner are okay.

Then your older daughter arrives at the camp. She’s filthy, her hair is matted and she looks as if she hasn’t eaten for a month. She tells you that your partner got her out of the country by bribing a govt official with the last of the money you left with him.

They haven’t heard anything about your oldest son, so you hope that means good news and not bad.

A flight to New York is chartered to get eligible families across the Atlantic.

You spend what little money you have to get your three children on the flight, into the care of your father. The official that allows them on says that you can go too, as long as you let him do something to you that only your partner should do.

You’re so desperate that you do it.

Finally, you’re on the flight together. It’s crowded by as the miles fall away below the plane’s wings, you feel safer.

Landing at the other end, you’re ushered into a holding area. The US soldiers surrounding it look just as scary and angry as the ones that you’d left behind in your country. A woman comes in with a pair of suited, sun glassed men and calls you and your children over.

“Your father died last week. There is no other relative here for you to go to.” She says.

“What does that mean?”

“You’ll have to go back to your country.”

You hold your youngest to you and groan inwardly. Your older daughter is cuddling the younger one, both of them looking terrified.

“Let them stay, please?” you gesture to the children.

She looks them over, frowning, “I can see what I can do.” She walks away again, followed by the besuited men.

The crowd of old men, women and children in the holding area settle down on the floor for an uncomfortable night. You hold your children to you and watch them drop into an exhausted sleep, but you can’t rest because you’re too worried about what is going to happen to them.

The next morning, the woman comes back, gestures to the soldiers and steps back.

The soldiers grab at the babies and toddlers, dragging them out of the parent’s arms. Your youngest screams as he is ripped from your embrace. Your younger daughter shrieks with fear as she is pulled away from her older sister. Those soldiers march away, carrying the children. You don’t know if you’ll ever see them again.

“These children will all be placed with foster families. If the war in your country should send, we will send them back to you.” The woman announces.

You look at your oldest daughter. She looks at you.

“The Teenagers here will be accommodated in barracks and enrolled in our military schools. They will then be sent to fight for the war in your country to be ended.”

Your daughter gasps and hugs you. You can feel her trembling.

Then she is pulled away by another soldier and forced to line up with the other teenagers. They are marched away.

“The rest of you will be returned to your country. We do not want you here, taking up jobs and homes that decent law abiding Americans need. If you want your country back, you must fight for it and that means returning to it.” The woman turns on her heel and stalks away, as the remaining soldiers herd you and the other women and old men into another area, clearly intended for a flight away from the US…

* * *

Obviously this is a story. I haven’t actually experienced anything I’ve detailed. I’m lucky that way. I live in a stable country with healthcare, peace and tranquillity. I’m not being bombed or attacked on a daily basis. I don’t have to worry about my children’s future in any way more serious than what they’re going to have for dinner or where they’re going to go to school. Obviously this piece was mainly inspired by the recent news from the USA, but it also takes in things that I know about the second world war, that have been reported about the problems that the refugees from the middle east have faced on their trek to perceived safety.

There are mothers, fathers, grandparents and other family members that are having to worry about the sort of thing that is in my story. There are people having to make the journey with their children to another country only to be told that they cannot stay with them or that the children have to be separated from them, even if they are allowed to stay.

There are politicians that could fix these things, that could extend the hand of kindness, but they’re not interested in anything other than what might fill their bank accounts… and the ones that are interested in helping, are being stymied by the ones who aren’t interested.

All I’m interested in is opening up minds – if you can imagine the above story happening to you and your family and you can make a difference somehow, then do it.

I’ll do my bit as well… what that will be I don’t know yet.

 

But you can rest assured that I will do it.

Continuing Personal Development…

A while back I was feeling pretty unsuccessful.  I don’t sell a lot of books and for some reason I equate the number of books that I do sell with my personal sense of achievement. That hasn’t changed… I have.

Since we moved to this town, I’ve been feeling very low and trying to write when my brain refuses to focus and co-operate with my muse is almost impossible. I started doing various art & craft courses – mostly to get myself out of the house and talking to adults more. I was also trying to keep my hand in with the techniques so that I could teach them if I ever went back to work (I’m a Design & Technology / Art & Design Teacher remember?)

One thing that the courses have done is give me more confidence in my own abilities. Writing is a very solitary pursuit and I had thought that doing the courses would stop me writing, but  practising my other creative skills and socialising with people face to face, other than just with Writers and Artists online,  I found it revved up my writing muse and I found that I was managing to write something on my WIP’s every day.
Don’t get me wrong – I love my online friends; they stop me going crazy and make me feel better about myself, but the face to face interaction makes me feel less like a hermit.

So here I am nearly at the end of may, with over 50,000 words into Teacups & Time Travel. I’ve also written a flash story and a short story for two different anthologies (although I have no idea if they’ve got in or not) and I’m working on another one. I’ve also started looking at my blogsite here and my branding etc in the hope that I can improve my chances of selling my work, using the Panoptic Foundations Website Planner.

I’m not going to be going back into teaching for a long while – and when I do, it’s almost certainly going to be Adult Education rather than Secondary Education; it’s not that I don’t like teaching kids (I do) but I need the freedom to be able to teach what I want and how I want, rather than having to stick to the Curriculum that the Dept of Ed force on us and I find the other side of Secondary education (marking, reports, politics etc) far too stressful to enjoy the Teaching side.

So I’m going to continue writing and publishing. I’m going to continue taking courses, crafting and designing… and hopefully between the two, my sense of achievement will latch onto something other than my sales figures!