Friday, 13 October 2017

It's all about the story

I’ve been talking to some teachers lately about the difference between reading for pleasure and reading for education. It’s something that’s on the mind of educators a great deal: reading is a tool they use for teaching children, but many of the ways reading is used in education can put children off. Picking apart texts in order to analyse the way sentences are put together can ruin the enjoyment of story. Searching for particular information or writing techniques can blind a reader to the pleasure of prose or poetry. One answer to this is to ensure there’s time for ‘reading for pleasure’ within school, but this can be a tough call in the busy classroom schedule, and if a child’s not in a reading mood when ‘reading for pleasure’ time comes along, suddenly the pleasure becomes yet another classroom chore.

You can’t make someone love reading. All you can do is give them access to books and time and encouragement and hope it works out.

So here’s the thing: sometimes, as a writer, reading becomes enormously difficult. You can’t pick up a book without beginning to analyse the writer’s technique, flicking back and forth through the pages to see how they foreshadowed the brilliantly effective cliff-hanger moment or why the ending was so disappointing. You can’t switch off your writer brain. I think I can speak for all writers on this: reading is how we came to writing in the first place; losing the ability to immerse ourselves in books is distressing.

How can you tackle this?

1. Share books with children

I think when you read aloud you need to give so much more attention to actually expressing what’s on the page and also to being in the experience of the book with your child audience that it’s much easier to be immersed in the story.

2. Set aside reading time

I know, I know. There already aren’t enough hours in the day, what with writing and all the other stuff on your plate. But seriously, stitch in some ‘reading for pleasure’ time and make sure each chunk of time is long enough for you to get caught up in the story.

3. Don’t finish every book

If it doesn’t grab you, stop reading! The best book moments are those ones when you look up and the world around you doesn’t seem quite a real as the one that’s been conjured up inside your head by the words. With some books, now just isn’t the right time for it; others you may never get on with.

4. Reread

Sometimes the thing you need to read in order to immerse yourself in story is something that’s so familiar to you that it begins almost to autoplay as soon as you pick it up. If you’re having trouble with over-analysing, try something familiar.

5. Audio-books

I have to admit that audio books don’t always work for me, because I need to also be doing something with my eyes so simply sitting and listening is impossible because eyes begin to wander and then so do my eyes. However, listening to stories when I am doing just enough to stop me getting distracted – ironing, say, or driving or cooking – that is a perfect way to take in story.

6. Accept that sometimes you just can’t read

Don’t force it. If you’re not in the mood or you’ve got too much on your mind, even that book you’ve been looking forward to for months isn’t going to cut it. Save it until you know you can do it justice.

Just as with children, so with writers: time, access to books and encouragement will all help you read for pleasure. Remember, it’s all about the story. If you’re spending all the time looking at how it’s put together, you’re not doing it justice. Sit back, put yourself in the hands of the author and let them do their job.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Snippets: Ugly

I get that I’m ugly, OK. Even my mother couldn’t bear to look at me. She did her best, mind, fed me and clothed me, tried to keep me from the prying eyes of the village. But she never once actually looked me in the face, not that I remember. And I guess the shame of having produced such a horror as me got to her in the end because one day she just upped and died in her sleep. Village priest took me in for a while, but there were whispers, first that she’d done away with herself because of me and then, when that wasn’t enough, they started saying that I’d done her in. Priest told me he didn’t think he could protect me from them. He gave me a gold coin and a slice of bread and sent me off out of the back door just as the mob appeared at the front. Seven years old I was, ugly as sin and all alone in the world.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Snippets: Sticks

Look, building a house out of sticks is a perfectly reasonable architectural option. You humans did it for centuries, probably still do in some places. Straw’s not such a bad option either. Both of them simple, reasonably robust once you plaster over with a bit of mud and most importantly, it’s cheap.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Snippets: Flies

The tailor smiled his careful smile as he closed the door behind the two young men. He raised a hand. Not that they’d notice, those rich dandies. They didn’t even think of him as a human being, most likely. Those young men Just like all the tailor’s other customers: they’d notice if he stuck a pin in them, that was about it. Some people would ask his advice about cut and fabric. Not the dandies though. They made their demands for bigger, better, brighter suits of clothes and struck poses while the little tailor tried to measure them, talking all the time to their companions if they’d come accompanied or to the air if they were alone.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Snippets: Apple

The moment she thinks of the way to do it, a little noise gurgles up from her throat. A chuckle, she tells herself. Certainly not a cackle. She coughs politely and pats her mouth with her table napkin.

“I will be busy this morning,” she announces to the room. As she rises, a silent servant glides forward to pull the chair out of the way of her skirts noiselessly.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Getting to know you

I’ve just started writing a new book. It’s all planned, carefully broken down scene by scene, with the ups and downs of the plot mapped out, because that’s the kind of writer I am. But there are always unknowns.

The main one, for me, is who these people are that I’m writing about. I know what their role in the book is, I know what their character is and how they relate to each other in a broad-brush sort of a way. My protagonist, Ravi, for example, is male, sixteen, clever, his shyness makes him seem a bit aloof, likes computer games. That’s more or less it.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Snippets: Boy

Moment I opened my eyes I thought, o-oh, better scarper double-quick. She was looking down at me with tears in her eyes, honest to God tears and going, “Oh, my beautiful boy, how perfectly you’ve turned out. I am quite the happiest mother alive.”

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Snippets: Sleeping Draught

“Go on, take the idiot his cake,” whispered her eldest sister. “The sooner he’s asleep, the sooner we can be on his way.”

“At least he’s a skinny little thing,” giggled one of the twins. “Remember that big fat one last month, the one who needed two cakes before the sleeping draught kicked in.”

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Snippets: Frog

“But he’s a frog!”

“It doesn’t matter, dear. You are under obligation to him.”


“No arguments.”

This is beyond unfair. Ok so the slimy little beast brought back my golden ball, but quite honestly, I’d rather have lost it forever than have to put up with his creepy green body sitting right beside my dinner plate. It honestly makes my skin crawl every time he opens his mouth and human words come out.

“This is very kind of you, Princeth,” he lisps, right before his disgusting tongue flicks out of his mouth to nab a bit of meat from my plate.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Snippets: Tongue-tied

At first he thought it was simply a matter of finding the right words. He would frame it in his mind, where they would be, how he would introduce it into the conversation, this thing he needed to tell her. He would go so far as trying to picture her lovely face as he told her – horrified, sympathetic, generous – but there his imagination failed him. Or perhaps he couldn’t think it through that far because, after all this time, he couldn’t quite bring himself to hope that it would all work out.