Monday, 30 July 2012

The beginning was simple to mark.

I was sitting in a darkened classroom, lights off and blinds shut. This was me, taking my first Lit class. I remember being early. I remember being eager to find out about things then, having only chosen the A level on the back of a GCSE the top set were forced to take. I remember the humming of the flourescent lights. I remember the door being propped open and me trying to look excited. Then, I remember the girls coming in, one at a time in what seemed a never ending chain of potential partners. I stuck around, and not just for the hugely attractive female:male ratios. There seemed to be something interesting going on in the English department, a feel in the air that the teachers knew and loved the material, a feel of expectancy, should I say.

We're discussing favourite writers this week and, whilst that subject itself is something I am coming back to, if I was going to pick at some, I'll take two straight from those college years. Ian McEwan sits on top of my list. He sits there for the simple reason that without him, I wouldn't be writing this blog. I wouldn't have read Enduring Love and, if you'll excuse the pun, wouldn't have developed one for the subject. I certainly wouldn't have taken an English degree. I adore his attention to detail, the realism and the most tremendous tension he creates from the most mundane of situations. His book covers say 'the master of disaster', and I can't beat that for high praise.

Ballard soon followed and, given that our lecturer was something of an expert (choosing Ballard for his own doctorate), almost the whole class became engrossed in Concrete Island. We were tasked with studying island worlds and the idea of a traffic island being a feasable setting for a novel blew me away. Whether my initial love for this book was heavily influenced by a great teacher, I wouldn't like to say. I'd like to think the book stands up without his passion for it.-I know it does, but there is something to be said for the way we compared that book with The Tempest, which is still to this day my favourite Shakespeare play.

What I liked the most about the pair of novelists was that, at the time, they were both very much alive and very much writing about what they cared about. I wasn't having my head stuffed in old books (which I actually enjoyed, once I'd left school) but rather new books. I was being spoken to as if I could understand them, and what is more, they were well written enough that I did understand them. I've read a lot of books since but, for the very reasons I fell in love with the writing back then, those two have stayed with me, probably influencing a fair proportion of my own writing.

Despite this though, I don't actually believe in the ideal of a favourite writer. How do you define one, being the obvious stumbling block. Whilst my bookcase seems to favour those two authors for example, you'll find a range of stuff on there. I'd place work from Faulks, Amis, Conrad and Orwell in the top ten books I've read, and in amongst them would have to throw in Wuthering Heights and the bit I've read of Jane Eyre. I would do this despite my refusal to recommend any of work by a Bronte sister to a person that I like. In ranking these books, my personal canon would have to be based on something, and so do we place emphasis on greatness, accessibility, inspiration, longevity or literariness in deciding a winner? I read as a hobby, I read to escape and I read to indulge. I become inspired. I become moved. Ideally, I will make a connection with the book- learn a new way of looking at the world, a different opinion or idea. Maybe I will consider the reasons behind the book, the sub-texts of the book, the books it has influenced directly. I won't be considering marks out of a possible ten for a multitude of various categories, though. I don't need just one favourite.

It would be wrong for me to leave this saying I'm not drawn to certain writers. Of course I am. If it hasn't come to me by way of recommendation, I won't stray too far from writers similar to the ones I know- a tactic I have found often delivers something I'll enjoy. It might not be an inspiring way to find reading material but at least it has kept me from Fifty Touches of Pink, or whatever it is called.

Thanks for reading, S.



Ashley R Lister said...


When people ask me what our blog is about, I tell them it's writers talking about writing. From now on I'll just direct them to this excellent post.


Adele said...

Bravo. Forget fifty something - I was recently asked whether I had read it and assured the young lady that reading The Story of O in my twenties was the only sojourn into S & M that was ever required.

I always select at least two from the Booker shortlist to keep me in touch with the now and agree that McEwan is a phenomenal talent. I re-read Hardy often - makes me grateful for 20th Century Britain but it is escapism to a rural, pastoral Britain in the way that Danny Boyle expressed the same feeling in his opening ceremony masterpiece.

Keep reading, keep writing and please Shaun keep blogging about it!