For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to read. Curling up with a good book is one of the simple joys of civilisation – and so is the anticipation, the knowledge that you have a story waiting for you when you go to bed after a long day. As a child I realised that I didn’t just want to live in someone else’s created world, but that I also wanted to create my own worlds for others to enjoy.
One of the first authors to inspire me was Sir Terry Pratchett. When I discovered his Discworld series, I found an ideal place to escape to from all the overblown melodramas of early teenage years. During particularly low moments I found something soothing and encouraging in Pratchett’s alternate reality. Death was not just an inevitability, but a tall fellow with a fondness for cats. Dragons stopped existing if you didn’t believe in them, and cowardly, inept wizards became reluctant heroes.
I would wholeheartedly recommend the Discworld series to anybody, but as I started to exhaust Pratchett’s vast collection of novels I moved onto more traditional fantasy. One of my favourite novels is Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I have always loved mythology, and I found echoes of my favourite myths in Tolkien’s writings. Later, I started reading Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, as well as George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Fantasy is wonderful escapism, and I will always have a soft spot for the genre. However, as my fledgling writing progressed I realised that my reading was hindering my work.
The best advice I ever received about writing is this: write a lot, and read widely. Don’t just read genre fiction, and certainly don’t stick to one genre. As I got a little older, I started to read books instead of authors, and forgot about genre entirely. From Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, or Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs – I started to get more of a sense of what I wanted to do with my own writing.
There’s so many ways of writing a novel or a story – so many different directions you can head in. A novel isn’t a straight road, but a spaghetti junction, a sprawling mass of tributaries feeding into the core of your subconscious. The things you read, the things you see and do, the people you interact with or just observe from the window of a bus or café – all of this filters into your writing. More than that, it filters into your daily life.
Can reading change the way we think? Can it change the way we act, the things we believe in? Can an author inspire you in ways others can’t? What do you think?