Wednesday, 1 March 2017

I BLAME IT ON ADRIAN McGINTY or The Big Reading Problem by Penny Dolan

Soon I’ll be having an at-home writing retreat, so there is something I must do. Or not do. And it will be Hard.

There are several Not Hard things. The solitude won’t be at all hard. While sociable writers like Caitlin Moran seem capable of isolating themselves and writing surrounded by noise and people, I know I work best when I am alone.

When people are around, I get slightly anxious about “being away” within my writing. Blog-posts are not so difficult but dropping deeper into fiction isn’t easy. All I can offer – other than laziness, which may be valid - is that my father had more than a touch of Basil Fawlty about him. 

He was given to surprise appearances, sudden rages and interrogations and ominous silences. All probably caused by a Bad War but, as you can imagine, not an atmosphere that gave a child confidence about idling time away on their words or work. Sooner or later, it – whatever it was - would all be my fault. And these things stick for far too long.

So you can understand that having some solitary time will quell certain anxieties. And that is the first Good Thing.

A second Good Thing; even though I’ll miss the Happy Traveller very much, is that this furry boy will be around:
Cat Oliver came from the Cat Protection a few weeks ago. Yesterday he was shown the Outside so I’m hoping he won’t be going off on his own wild travels too. Today he learned about the Cat Flap - both the Out and the In – so life should be simpler.

The third Good Thing will be eating what I want when and where I want. Simple food. Toast. Baked Beans. Cheese. Eggs. Easy stuff. Some healthy salad and fruit - especially fruit.  
I will stock up first so I’ll have no reason to go out shopping for this and that.  Or that  . . . and that. Oh, and what about this too? Might pop along to . . . Oh, look, it’s five o’clock already. Time for tea. . .  
No, my retreat meals will be easy but organised - and I can even work in my dressing gown all day if I want to.

All this sounds easy enough so what is the Hard Thing?
This: I am going to cut the Reading. No way! Aaaagh! Help!

I am a book addict. I don’t read slowly and carefully, as I would like to do. I’m a gobble-em-up reader, busily escaping into the security of pages. I have a huge book pile beside my bed and gathered on bookshelves. In fact, if I need to give up anything for Lent this year, it’s buying books.

My Big Reading Problem came to a head because – thank you, Bookwitch! – I heard good words about the “Sean Duffy” crime novels of Adrian McGinty. Set in Northern Ireland, back in the 1970’s, these thrillers are well paced and compelling and the plots grow into events you hadn’t expected (even if the big incident doesn’t appear quite as it did on BBC News). Furthermore, the books give unexpected insights into the troubled  society, reminding one that the Hundredth Anniversary of the Border comes up in 2021, which should be around full Brexit time. What joy!

McKinty’s novels are “read through the night” books. Furthermore, I know there are other novels by other authors out there, plenty of books so absorbing that they will swallow me up and leave me with no time to think or write or find my own words. My head will be full and slightly groggy and there will seem no point to my writing at all because of the many fine books already out there, which is not a good state to be in.

Then, as I was berating myself again for having been lured deep into the third Duffy novel - which I had bought early but was definitely, definitely saving for reading in March, I suddenly recalled a chapter in Julia Cameron’s famous The Artist’s Way. 

It’s the moment in Chapter Four when she suggests:

If you are stuck in your life or art, few jump-starts are more effective than a week of reading deprivation.  Reading deprivation is and a very powerful tool and a frightening one.

Can’t do that, I think, and discover she writes about the rage this advice always causes in her audiences. She warns – of course - against filling up the empty space with radio, tv and “other pollutants” which by now would include social media.

There are reasons. We often cannot hear our own inner voice, the voice of our artist’s inspiration, she says, explaining that it is a paradox that by emptying our lives we are actually filling the well.

After last week’s big book binge, cutting back on my reading – or at least the fiction reading -  certainly sounds worth a try, at least during my quiet week. I’m not convinced I’ll succeed totally, but I’ll give it a try.

A Good but a Hard Thing, for sure.

Are you someone who reads fiction while you’re busy with “deep” writing?

And how do you feel about writing- or manage your writing - while there are people – large or small - around the house?

Penny Dolan


Susan Price said...

A very wise and pertinent post, Penny. I, too, am a binge reader. I don't know if I could give up reading. I admire you for trying.

Here's wishing you the week you want for yourself: peace, quiet, simple meals, few distractions - and may Cat Oliver always return through his cat-flap to purr at the huge amount you've got done.

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Sue.

Lynne Benton said...

I don't think I could possibly give up reading, even for such a good cause. But compromise in all things - I suppose you could limit yourself to only an hour a day, or only after you've written x thousand words, or solved the next problem in your work.
Otherwise, Sue is right: a week of peace and quiet and simple meals and a cat to stroke when you need him: sounds exactly what you need! Good luck!

Savita Kalhan said...

I think I'll have to read a Adrian McKinty - he's new to me, so thanks, Penny. I can't not read when I'm writing, but I don't read teen or YA when I'm writing YA fiction because I find it too distracting. Good luck with your writing week - it sounds perfect.