Last night I had the pleasure of meeting with students and staff at the University of Brighton – my first outing as their new Writer in Residence for the coming academic year. I’m thrilled to be working with them all, and very excited about our planned calendar of events – more on that to follow!
The evening kicked off with an introduction from Dr Jessica Moriarty, Subject Leader for Creative Writing, followed by readings, discussion and a lively Q&A (along with a welcome glass of wine!) Much of the talk surrounded the subject of ‘reading’ – what we’re reading – what readers make of the books we write – is there such a thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ reading? All fascinating stuff to me, as I like nothing more than a good natter about books.
One student asked, ‘What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?’ A good question – and one with a multitude of possible answers. I replied, ‘Keep a notebook – lots of notebooks. Don’t give in to the seductive idea of writer’s block. AND – read, read, read! Consume everything on your university list – then everything on the supplementary reading list – then read everything else that interests you.’
I should also add a word about procrastination, something we’re all guilty of at times, both in our writing and our reading. For me, a tidy house usually means I’m not doing enough writing. It’s very easy to say, ‘I don’t have enough time to read more,’ but ask yourself, are you still finding time to watch Hollyoaks/play Grand Theft Auto/wander aimlessly around Top Shop (or whatever your guilty pleasure)? Tell yourself, I WILL find more time to read – and believe me, it will make all the difference to the quality and insight in your own writing. The more we absorb from other writers, the more conscious we become of what we like to read, of how we write ourselves, of how a great opening or ending feels, of how the world around us can be represented in fiction.
The more we read, the smarter we become – the richer our lives become – the better writers we become.
So what are we reading at the moment?
Me: I’ve just come home with a copy of The Accidental by Ali Smith (who will be visiting the university for a Meet the Author event on 12th November) – which I can’t wait to get started on. My favourite time to read is in bed on a Sunday morning, with a large glass of iced coffee and a slice of toast and marmalade – bliss.
Dr Jessica Moriarty, Subject Leader, Creative Writing: ‘I am re-reading Zadie Smith – Changing My Mind – which I find gets me ready for teaching and even more excited about reading and writing. And I am also reading The Drive by Tyler Keevil (another Myriad book) which has enough mania and humour to lift anyone. Only trouble is, I read it before bed and then can’t sleep.’
Dr John Wrighton, Head of Subject, English: ‘Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, my highlight from summer reading: made me want to play tennis at the hotel Adequate view in Porto Vergogna and drink wine on the terrace. This afternoon, short stories by Junot Diaz.’
Dr Kate Aughterton, Academic Programme Leader: ‘I am re-reading Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which is so intelligent about both the process of writing and the barriers to it – I get something new from it each time I read it. She is somehow able to combine a stream-of-consciousness with analytical argument and insights – such craft. I was reading Scott Turrow’s Ordinary Heroes last week – a great combination of thriller, history and anti-war novel – good bedtime reading.’
Greg, Marketing Officer: ‘I’m reading Stoner by John Williams – amazing.’
Other student reads: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon; The Beach by Alex Garland; Spoken from the Front by Andy McNab; The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez.
Please join in the conversation and share your latest reads and recommendations in the comments box below. Until next time, I’ll leave you with these wise words:
‘A word after a word after a word is power‘ – Margaret Atwood