I got to thinking. I didn’t plan it, it just sort of happened.
I got to thinking about reading.
I’m a writer, so I feel a connection to the written word, and that’s what I’ve been talking about for the past six weeks or so. It’s not as simple as that, though, is it? Aren’t we all readers first?
Most children are read to while still unable to do much more than grasp a rattle or clutch a fat, wax crayon, long before they can say their letters, let alone write them down. Of course, some of the greatest storytellers were bards, who might never have learned to write, and there are all sorts of things that modern writers could learn from telling tales and recounting folklore.
What I’m talking about, though, is an appraisal of other writers’ work, of making comparisons, and, above all, of contextualising my own writing within the broader tradition. None of us writes in a vacuum. Everything we do is informed by what we know, and most of what we know about writing is, in the first place, via reading.
I’ve always been a reader, and I studied English Literature at a time when Chaucer and Shakespeare were widely taught in schools. I was lucky enough to learn some Latin, too, although, rather sadly, my Latin Master ended up teaching IT. What a waste.
I feel a connection to the past, to my favourite writers and favourite literary forms over a couple of millennia. I’m as comfortable reading Shakespeare or the poetry of Lovelace or Marvell, as I am sitting down with Jane Austen or Philip Larkin, or, dare I say, Stephen King or Ian Rankin. I’m grateful for the examples of beautiful writing, or great storytelling, or, once in a while, if I get very lucky, both of those things. I’m affected by cadence and rhythm, by grammar and style, and I still respond to the written word, sometimes with anger, sometimes with pity, and sometimes with wonder.
I’m not entirely sure exactly where my own writing fits into the whole, but I am aware that it does, and it must. I have a decent knowledge of what has gone before, and certain expectations about what is being written right now. I feel grounded in the continuum, and, I honestly believe that all that reading and studying will make me a better and more relevant writer when my time finally comes.