On Reading and Writing by Misha Herwin

Reading and Writing.
Two years ago I set myself a target. Inspired by my son, David, who is a voracious reader, I would read one hundred books in a year.
I made it. With a few days to spare and with the help of a two week holiday in the sun and the long haul flights to get there, I managed my century. The books I read were a mixed bunch, from the dense volumes of the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk to the current Lee Child novel and everything and anything in between.
The subsequent year, the number of books read was much diminished and this year my total, so far, is laughable. In my defence I would say that I have been very busy writing and writing and reading, for me, don’t always mix.
When the writing has been going well, then the reading is easy, because I am neither intimated nor overawed by the success of books of the same genre. If I am struggling, or feeling my way through a book, then I have to avoid anything similar, because that is when the insecurities kick in.
If the book is a best seller, but not particularly well written or edited, then I am seized by jealous rage and a sense of the unfairness of life and the publishing industry in general. On the other hand, in the novel is totally brilliant, then I am tempted to give up, delete my files and spend the rest of my life being a model housewife, with floors that gleam and cupboards where everything is arranged in neat rows and/or piles.
This extreme reaction is occasionally tempered by the fact that there is so much to be learned from other writers, but I would argue that those lessons are for when the book is finished, or perhaps, more productively, before the start of the writing process. At that point immersing myself in the works of Barbara Erskine, or re-reading “The Time Traveller’s Wife” gives me pointers of how I might, or might not, want to plot and structure my own about to be work in progress.
Reading critically, is vital for a writer’s development, but so is reading for pleasure, or sheer escapism and this is where the problem lies, because I tend to write the sorts of books I want to read. In which case the answer, I have discovered somewhat late on in my reading life, is to read outside the box and try something I would not usually choose.
Thanks to another conversation with David, I am currently reading Derek Walcott’s “White Egrets”. Derek Walcott is a poet I had long ago dismissed, as I had had to teach one of his poems, not I felt his best, as part of a module for GSCE, however, I am loving this book, in particular the images of the Caribbean, the sense of heat, the vividness of the landscape and the cadence and rhythms of the language. On a subliminal level, I am sure they will enhance my own creativity, as will “Waterlog” by Roger Deakin.
This account of “A swimmer’s journey through Britain,” is giving me another perspective on our relationship with the streams, river, and seas around this island and I am luxuriating in reading and re-reading the detailed description of riverbanks and countryside, plus the personal anecdotes and snippets of local and national history.
Like “White Egrets” this book is so rich that it will make a lasting impact, not only in the way I look at the world, but also in my own writing, because everything we do, or see in the end translates in some form or another to what we put down on the page.


Bill Kirton said…
I often find the balance between reading and writing difficult to manage and when you throw in the distinction you make between critical, analytical reading and reading for pleasure, that complicates it further. The two can and often do coincide, of course. As a reader, getting a sudden insight into how an author is conveying subliminal messages or blending narrative levels can be a source of even greater pleasure than the satisfaction of discovering 'what happened next'. One thing's certain, I couldn't do without either reading or writing.
Susan Price said…
Misha, I well recognise your feelings on reading books by others. It's why I rarely read fiction while writing fiction.

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