I knew I shouldn't do it, but I couldn't resist.
I don't know if I'm unusual in this respect, but I tend to avoid reading fiction when writing a first draft. Partly, I don't want to be influenced by someone else's voice or ideas, swept away into someone else's world when I need to be thinking about mine. Building a story, breathing life into a concept and creating characters, is a treacherous process, hemmed round with dangers and pitfalls. One mis-step and a shiny idea you've cherished for months or years can turn sullen and lifeless.
Also, I already have a problem with displacement activities. I don't need the seductiveness of story to provide me with yet another excuse to avoid bum on chair/fingers on keyboard/brain switched on. (The last being by far the hardest.) And because proper thinking - really digging deep - is hard work, I find that confidence (or the lack of it) makes all the difference.
So confronting someone else's utter brilliance while struggling through the thicket of angst that is my typical first draft isn't something I find helpful. But Oxford University Press had kindly arranged for me to appear at the 2012 Hay Festival earlier this month to promote CHARMED SUMMER, the first book in a series for 8-12 girls. I spent last year writing four books about friendship and mystery on a summer island. It's been a total delight working with the team at OUP and with Working Partners on the Flip Flop Club concept. I've enjoyed the collaboration, learned a great deal, and am very proud to have been involved. The books are lovingly produced by OUP and, as I'm sole author, I'm promoting them under the psuedonym Ellen Richardson, to keep them distinct from my own books.
So here I was at Hay for the first time in my life, rather in awe and very impressed. The festival was extremely well organised and they certainly look after the 'artists' beautifully. Even the porta-loos are posh! So impressive was the whole event that I found myself surprised the weather had the temerity to rain, although monsoon might be a better description. However, on the last Saturday the rain stopped and the sun almost shone. Better yet, directly following my session, I and my son were able to trundle off to hear Philip Reeve talk about his new book, GOBLINS. Which is, of course, brilliant. As was the session. I knew it would be. I shouldn't have gone but I couldn't resist.
All indulgences must be paid for in this life it seems, and I began paying the price at once. With each delightful, clever and elegantly written extract that Mr Reeve read out, a niggling little voice in the back of my head grew louder: 'You will NEVER be able to write anything half so good. Why try? Give up now.'
I think all writers, perhaps even Mr Reeve himself, have a similar goblin inhabiting the darkest recesses of their minds. One with a nasty, whining voice which takes considerable determination (or sheer stupidity?) to ignore. I tend to avoid circumstances likely to wake mine. I've been waiting ages to read FEVER CRUMB. I'm desperate to read it. I opened the book to the first page a year ago, devoured the words on it, snapped the book shut and put it carefully away. I won't open it again until my own current project has safely made the journey to that lovely, comfortable place known as editing.
My new thing is TRIBUTE, to be published by Hot Key Books in 2013. It's a young adult fantasy. It's ambitious and big and scary and I'm right in the sticky middle of the first draft. Still floundering; still finding my feet. And it's going well. I'm excited - when I let myself be - because I know it's the best thing I've yet written. But will it be good enough? Not if I listen to my own inner goblin. I couldn't write for nearly a week upon returning from Hay, but I'm not sorry I went to hear Philip Reeve. I thoroughly enjoyed his talk and will buy the book. But I won't read it. Not just yet.
So, a question to those writers brave enough to answer. Do you have your own little goblin? Do you read other writers when writing a first draft? Or like me, do you avoid?