Why I Write

I’m it! Thank you Graham Milne for asking me to take part in the ‘Why I Write’ blog hop and for providing a balm for me on what had been a tough day with your honeyed words.

For those of you new to Graham’s writing, check him out on Twitter, at his blog or Huff Post. Sometimes in the blogging world, you find posts that don’t really touch the sides. Not so here. Graham’s posts tend to be long form. They are thoughtful, honest and he’s not afraid to address topical issues. He’s a feminist in the vein of the UN #heforshe campaign, and one of the original group of people who made me feel welcome on Twitter.

I’m it then. Did you play tag when you were younger, or stuck in the mud, kiss chase, cat and mouse, all those variations on chasing games that were so exhilarating as a child? I usually laughed as I ran, my lips pulled wide apart by the wind and my mirth, my bottom tucked in awkwardly lest someone be near enough to tag me. There’s not much that brings that sense of abandonment. Being tickled as a child, perhaps. Or being thrown up in the air by your dad, the strands of your hair lingering in the sky as you make your decent into his embrace. Or riding a rollercoaster and laughing despite the pain and fear.

Life grounds us. The longer our feet stay on the earth, the more roots come twisting out of it to bind us. Responsibility beckons with each passing day of our childhood. We become distanced from simple pleasures, like the crunch of an apple, the feel of springy grass between our toes or the fizz of a lolly on our lips. Writing reconnects me. It allows me to forget the bills, the illness and yes, the wars, and cocoons me in a world where anything is possible. Is that what writers are? Anarchists, egotists, foolish God impersonators?

Let’s stick with the it analogy. I’m trying to remember when I decided that physical exercise wasn’t for me. It was in my pre-teen years, I think, when I felt clumsy and ungainly. Now, I look at athletes and dancers, honed gym bunnies and yogis with a sense of awe, not so much for their physique but for the strength, radiance and litheness their bodies retain.

Power. We all seek it in different ways, don’t we? Over our bodies, in the workplace, the petty wars at the water cooler or with our neighbours, the respect and submission we seek in our relationships, the beliefs we impose on others, the money we seek to fill our wallets with, the bombs we rain down on foreign soil. Me, I seek it with the pen. With a pen in hand or my fingers flying over the keyboard I feel like The Bride in Kill Bill: poised, vulnerable, uncompromising, in charge of my destiny. That’s why I write.

Spoken words I sometimes find tiring; written words are for me a source of energy and understanding. I can take the time to weave intricate sentences or get the nuance just right without worrying that it is already someone else’s turn to speak or that I have bored my listener. I can examine a thought carefully, tangibly, without it slipping through the fog of my brain like a wandering child at a funfair.

I write because in this world of constant change and fleeting lives, it comforts me to leave a record of my thoughts. The physical act of writing, the tap of the keyboard, the soreness of my fingers after a long day’s work, the crease of the page and the glare of the screen that blurs my vision are satisfying. They mean I have done an honest day’s work. Fiction may be a lie, but writing is truth. It helps to write in a world that often feels destructive. It helps to create, imagine and make sense of the confusing. It’s a tool for self-insight and healing. It’s the closest I’ve come to magic.

There you have it. That’s why I write. I’ve seen lots of fantastic posts for this blog hop. If you’re still nursing your cuppa take a look at Joanne Blaikie’s, Mark T. Conard’s and Siofra Alexander’s responses. For now, I’d like to invite B.G. Bowers and Natasha Ahmed to tell us why they write. B.G. Bowers has just completed the first draft of her novel and is a blogger and poet. I was blown away by this recent piece of hers. Natasha is a blogger and novelist. Her novella Butterfly Season is on my to read list. Read about the origins of it here. Blog hops and awards can be time-consuming as Paula Reed Nancarrow discussed in her excellent post this week, so ladies don’t feel pressured to pick up the baton if you can’t manage it. Look forward to your next words whatever form they take.

Fear of Change and the Promise of New Beginnings

Excitement is fizzing and popping underneath my calm exterior at the moment. Change is afoot, with its candy-scented promise of success. It’s not the type of change that happens out of the blue, when you are unprepared and unsuspecting; it is the sort I initiated myself.

You see, for a long time my career choices have been shaped by the fact we have young children. I valued a secure salary and flexible working options so I went back to my job at City Hall after the children were born. The problem is, I’m no longer the same person I was when I started working there seven years ago. The tussle of politics has lost its sheen and I crave more creativity. I’d been carving out small pockets of time around my job in London and childcare for both my own writing and building up my writing business, but there just wasn’t enough time in the day. More than that, I got more fulfilment from writing a small article for a client, than from delivering a big budget project in London.

My husband and I toyed with the idea of whether I should leave the day job. We did our sums and worked out that we can afford it and that now is a good time to concentrate on my fiction and expanding the writing business. Writing fits in beautifully around when one of us has to be there for the children. It also means I will be closer to home for school performances and those inevitable phone-calls telling me my child has projectile vomited across the room and needs to be picked up immediately. The thought of having more time to write is exhilarating but inexplicably, I found myself saying: ‘Security is so important. I should stay in the job a bit longer.’

Change is unsettling: it breeds fear. It is much easier to focus on what we lose through change than what we may gain. Why would you risk certainties for uncertainties? Isn’t it much better to cling to safety than to risk losing face? For me, it was about about realising that the status quo didn’t measure up any more. Uncalculated risks are foolhardy but so is continuing on a path that you know doesn’t allow you to live up to your potential.

Leaving City Hall was hypothetical until the first day back at work in the new year, the day on which I’m told most resignations and applications for divorce are submitted. I rolled out of bed that morning in the dark to gusts of wind and sheets of rain, and had no idea that I was going to resign. I sat down as my desk with a coffee, started up my computer and began catching up on the emails I had missed over the holiday period. It hit me that I was in the wrong place and had been for some time. I called my husband.

‘Can I resign? It feels right.’

‘Wow…Well, we’ve done the math. Sure, do it.’

‘Am I being stupid?’

‘We can make this work.’

After that phone call, I went upstairs and typed out a resignation letter. It still feels right to have acted as I did, but the fear remains. It’s daunting to be leaving a secure income behind. There is a lot to wrap up at work before I leave, so for the moment writing has taken a back seat. I can see the shadows of looming monsters at the edge of my consciousness begging me for attention, asking me to succumb to anxiety, uncertainty and regret before I have even started on my new path.

The truth is, uncertainty is part of life. Yes, I am taking a risk, but we have made sure this is viable financially. Although change is intimidating, I am buoyed by what I now know. Taking risks is liberating. Surrounding yourself with supportive and inspiring family and friends helps keep fear at bay. Success is not assured, but we learn though our endeavours, not by hiding. Resilience and courage can take you a long way.

I’ve dipped a tentative foot in the unknown. We’ll see what strange, beautiful creatures come swimming my way.

‘I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.’ Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point

‘Change, like sunshine, can be a friend or a foe, a blessing or a curse, a dawn or a dusk.’ William Arthur Ward

What Makes a Book Lover?

Some of my earliest memories are of long, joyous hours alone in my bedroom with magical characters and their imaginary worlds.  The first book I fell head over heels in love with was Roald Dahl’s Matilda.  I read indiscriminately as a child, borrowing books from friends and libraries and secretly from my mother’s bedside cabinet.  (She had a secret stash of Mills & Boon and self-help books in there and her choice of titles provided a previously hidden window into her psyche.)

I wasn’t a social butterfly at school, I wasn’t sporty or a nerd but what always brought me joy was reading.  Which brings me to my question: why is it that some people have a lifelong love of reading for fun and others don’t? Is there a series of factors that creates a lover of books or is it pure chance? Here is my best guess at what makes a book lover:-

Ability to read

While collecting books for their aesthetic appeal brings its own pleasure, truly falling in love with a book centres around the experience of reading it.  Figures from the Human Development Index show that (here comes the rare math bit) two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women and very low literacy rates are concentrated in South and West Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.  Literacy rates are 99% in countries including the UK, USA, Sweden, Korea, Poland, Russia and the Vatican City; but in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Mali, South Sudan and Chad, they are between 22 and 38%.

The ability to read of course, doesn’t mean people can read well or choose to read for fun.  Reading volunteers and literacy programmes such as those run by the National Literacy Trust in the UK help make readers more confident so they can concentrate on the story being told as opposed to individual words.

BooksAccess to books

Access to books is a key ingredient in the making of any book lover.  How can you be a book lover without the chance to realise you like books?  Books at home, libraries, book shops and books online are invaluable here, slowly but surely seducing the would-be reader with the power of words and imagination.

Exposure to readers

Would-be readers can be hugely influenced by individuals who already read.  Do you remember your family and friends reading to you in your formative years?  Did you regularly make time to sink into the sofa with a book each?  Did you go to storytime at your local library?

Our daughter is three years old and is just learning to pick out letters in books and put them together with sounds.  I hope that even when she can read independently that we will continue to read to her, and maybe take turns in choosing books to read to each other.  The oral tradition, the sharing of stories is always special and communal reading is one way to instil a lifelong love of books.

Identifying with characters and situations

There have been times when such is the insight a book provides that it has been more of a friend to me in difficult situations than even my real-life friends and family.  We see shades of ourselves and our loved ones in many of the characters and situations we read, and it is because of this peculiar power that books make us feel less lonely.  It is possible to find comfort time and time again within the pages of familiar books, like a homecoming.  (I am tempted to go and reread a favourite novel right now!)

Thirst for knowledge

I like to think that the two characteristics book lovers tend to have in common are humility and curiosity.  I think that one of the reasons book lovers read is because they are aware that there is so much out there to learn and that to read is to further your education.  For me, the archetypal book lover has a need to understand the world and its inhabitants.

Escapism

It’s a delicious feeling to bury yourself in a new world, to forget about your responsibilities and troubles for a while and to take a walk in someone else’s shoes.  Books offer a refuge from everyday life.  They offer different voices, other rules and unfamiliar settings.  They can be anywhere on the sliding scale of the impossible to the realistic, but suffice to say they will always take you out of your immediate surroundings and onto another plane where possibilities are endless.

Entertainment

Alternative modes of entertainment, particular those central to our home lives, such as films, television, the internet, radio and computer games compete with the time available to us for reading.  These other activities could be perceived to be more passive and therefore more relaxing.  The book lover knows that there is rarely a more satisfying form of entertainment than a good read.  The trick is to find a book that resonates and to introduce would be readers to the variety of options out there for book lovers.  Comic readers might like graphic novels; commuters might be too tired to actively read but might enjoy an audiobook; sceptics might be sucked in by a charismatic author’s book reading.

So, that is my account of what makes a book lover.  Life is busier now than it used to be, but I feel strangely unprepared to face the day if there isn’t a book in my bag.  I am always looking to reclaim that freefall feeling from my childhood of delving completely into a make-belief world.  Have I missed anything out here?  What brings you to read?

‘That I can read and be happy while I am reading, is a great blessing.’ Anthony Trollope