Reading, we are told, has a host of benefits; it helps us improve our word-power, it boosts memory, makes us more compassionate and caring, makes us more interesting, and it provides a means of escape from stress, anxiety and loneliness. So we ought to read, don’t you think?
Writers, too, are told to read. The received wisdom from most writing tutors and mentors, is as Stephen King says, ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write’. We can learn so much about the ‘how-to’ of writing, simply by reading other peoples’ work. You can learn the grammatical rules, and how to break them. You can learn how to plot, how to create believable characters, you can learn how to create suspense or how to write dialogue. The nuts and bolts of creativity and writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, literary or genre, for adult or children, it’s all there to be absorbed, in the pages of other peoples’ books.
But as we all know, life gets in the way. Apparently binge-watching TV shows is at the moment, the biggest ‘threat’ to reading. I say that in quotes because there’s always some new threat, and nothing ever seems to keep people away from books for good – thankfully.
I’m as guilty as anyone for binge-watching TV shows. I’ve gone from being someone who seldom watches TV to one of those people who says, ‘It’s still early, let’s watch the next one…’ So yes, it’s eaten into my reading time. I can say without shame I have binge-watched the usual: The Making of a Murderer; How To Get Away With Murder; Imposters; The Staircase; Unforgotten; Homicide Hunter; Snapped: Women Who Kill; as well as all the usual British mystery dramas: Vera, Shetland, Hinterland, Midsomer Murders, The Loch, Endeavour, Morse, Lewis, Poirot, Marple, The Coroner (fluffy but likeable, and underrated), Death in Paradise…
I’ve made a concerted effort this year though, to read more than I did in 2018. And yes, it is good to pick up a book and dive in, escaping from the world around me into a fictional place that I have never seen with my eyes, but which I feel instinctively I know in my head.
As a child, I used to think all my favourite characters and heroes knew each other. That they all existed in a collective fictional world, just the other side of my perception. I imagined Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington meeting up for honey or marmalade. I thought that the Famous Five and the Secret Seven got together for the odd ‘case’, forming the Tremendous Twelve. These days we’d call that a mash-up, I think. Fifty years ago, it was just my daft idea. Maybe there’s some fan-fiction out there somewhere in which these things actually take place. (If you write this kind of stuff, message me!!!)
Well you probably know that I love murder mysteries, but in fact I’m really a romantic suspense secret adherent. (We meet up, cult style, by candlelight wearing sheets and murmur the password, ‘You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.’ In a phone box – it’s a small group.) There’s a strong romantic streak in my work, and if I read a murder mystery ‘without shenanigans’, I’m bitterly disappointed!
What I’ve read so far this year:
By Patricia Wentworth:
Grey Mask: the first Miss Silver book, published in 1928, and the Miss Silver character undergoes quite a bit of refining in later books. But I do love this one! A recent reprint.
Danger Point: Another Miss Silver, but published later, in 1942 in the full power of Wentworth’s writing. This is one of her best, in my opinion, although others point to the weak heroine, and it’s true, she is a bit of a wimp, but I love this book. After a long time out of print, it has recently been reissued.
The Alington Inheritance: Miss Silver again, one of the later books, published in 1956, and irresistibly romantic, with a young heroine, lost treasure, and a truly evil murderer that you instinctively hate from the outset.
The Coldstone: older, non-series, not her best work, but ok, particularly good if you want to get a feel for idioms and customs etc of the 1920s.
By Peter Robinson:
Sleeping in the Ground: I’m ashamed to say I got bored with this about a third of the way in and couldn’t be bothered with it. Yet I’ve got most of Robinson’s books, having started collecting them in the later 1990s when we lived in Australia. I used to go into Brisbane city centre to a shop called Pulp Fiction, which sold only genre fiction and true crime. I loved that shop! And that’s where I first met Peter Robinson’s books, and those of Barry Maitland, Marele Day and John Baker.
By Elly Griffiths:
The House at Sea’s End: I bought this book because I loved the title. This is a great book for lovers of murder mystery overlaid with a historical context. The main character is a forensic archaeologist. And there are a few shenanigans between the main character and the second main character (spoiler alert!) Actually this is the third book of the series, so I really should get the first two next, and do my homework!
By Julia Chapman:
Date with Mystery: I love the continuing characters in this series, they are revealed with such affection and depth. I am a bit frustrated by how slowly the two main characters are getting together – if they don’t get together soon, I shall be really fed up! The mysteries are quite good, but the characters are better. This is book 3 of the series, book 4 is out in June. I shall definitely get that. I have done my homework here and read the first two!
And by way of a change: By Rupi Kaur;
The Sun and her Flowers: a book of amazingly touching and vivid poetry – you have to read this if you love language, or the intricacies and nuances of family life. Or life, generally. Absolutely beautiful. I bought it for the cover and the title, and loved it. The poetry is mainly short and very accessible, reflections on what it means to be a wife, a daughter, a mother. Beautiful, wise, and a bit intimate.
Next to read:
Cara Hunter: In the Dark.
M J Rose: The Book of Lost Fragrances.
Peter May: I’ll Keep You Safe.
Chris Brookmyre: Black Widow.
What are you reading?