It seems appropriate, given that the fabulous Olympic Opening Ceremony spent a lot of time on literature and music, that I rediscovered two truisms this week; Reading makes you a better writer and music can be powerfully motivating.
Both activities – reading my own choice of novels and listening to my own choice of music – have become rare events since the children were born.
There are many reasons for this.
- I tend to zone out the world entirely when I’m reading a good book; something that, until recently, hasn’t been vaguely possible. My son especially requires constant vigilance to ensure his continued good health (not because he suffers from any kind of illness, but because he likes to throw himself off high things).
- Kids (and husbands) have an in-built sensor that alerts them when you’ve got to a good bit. Husbands you can just about tell to feck off, but it’s only on really bad days that I say that to the children.
- Even after they’ve gone to bed, assuming I can keep my eyes open to read, the little one wakes every couple of hours, and on the rare occasion I’ve read past midnight, he’s guaranteed to be up and screaming from 1am until 5am. I had one awful night during my consumption of Hunger Games when I didn’t actually get any sleep. Not the best way to get through the following day without going to Mummy Hell in a handcart.
- Then there has been what to read. My book club kept choosing self-help nonfiction type books, which I duly struggled through but didn’t often enjoy. I read far too many Mills & Boon in my attempt to mirror the style for The Real Gentleman, with no success. I re-read all my favourite romances when editing Pictures of Love. But I found that I had moved on, my priorities are no longer about meeting the man of my dreams, but closer to getting a good night’s sleep and maybe the chance to pee by myself. So I sought out novels about parenting but reading them was a bit of a busman’s holiday and I knew I didn’t have the skill to write anything so funny.
- I was also paranoid that reading books of the same genre as the one I was writing might lead to me inadvertently copying a character or piece of plot. I even read a book that had almost the same beginning as mine, which terrified me.
So I stopped reading anything but blogs and my life was poorer for it.
With music it’s the same thing. When I worked as an artist I had Classic FM on all day as background burble and when the adverts became too annoying, I switched to Radio 2, where I’ve stayed, (except between 12 and 2 as I can’t stand Jeremy Vine.)
The novelty of Radio 2 has long since worn off but I only had a radio in my old car and, besides, the kids don’t like me singing unless it’s Wheels on the Bus or Old McDonald had a farm.
Anyway, this week that all changed.
I re-read Philip Pulman’s His Dark Materials to try and banish my writer’s block on my young adult novel Dragon Wraiths. The quality of the writing is such that it automatically raised my game. Reading nothing but books for very young children, (think Gruffalo and The Hungry Caterpillar), combined with permanent sleep deprivation, has resulted in my vocabulary shrinking to that of a five-year-old. Not something Philip Pulman can be accused of. When I finally found some time to write on Thursday I found myself using words that wouldn’t have occurred to me the week before.
I also got a new car this week, with cd player AND iPod jack. Even better, I had the chance to listen to my music in the car, on the two hour trip back from the beach yesterday (kids were asleep – we had children’s songs all the way there). Not only were some of the big numbers stirring, motivating, uplifting, I also found the same vocabulary-enhancing effect happening.
Some amazing one-liners leapt out and smothered me with goosebumps and envy.
Mini stories in a few words, the ultimate flash fiction.
I used to use Country Music songs as examples of story arc when I was teaching Creative Writing. There’s a great Garth Brooks song, Papa Loved Mama, which is another well-executed example of flash fiction, including my favourite example of showing rather than telling rage:
“The picture in the paper showed the scene real well
Papa’s rig was buried in the local motel
The desk clerk said he saw it all real clear
He never hit the brakes and he was shifting gears.”
It doesn’t have to be literary to be effective.
What songs and books stand out in your mind as excellent inspiration or great examples of flash fiction?