To pick up a book, to smell it’s cover. Whether it is new and shiny, full of the unknown or musty and old. The pages made thin by other peoples fingers. A spill of food here, chocolate usually. Or coffee stains and yellowing pages that have been highly traveled. It’s an invitation to another world. Your feet tread the streets of the writer’s imagination, instead of your own. You can hang around with characters of the author’s creation, drink in their pubs, dine with them at their homes and share their exploits. Be they large or small. You could be in Middle Earth or the dour streets of the mill towns of Northern England in the late 1940s.
Before I had children I dipped into and grew with my reading pleasure, one book at a time but something happened to my brain after giving birth. It didn’t turn to mush, at least not where reading was concerned, instead it gave me a super power. I now have the ability to read more than one book at a time, to inhabit more than one fictional world. At the moment I am stretching my legs on the London streets of a parallel universe, fishing in the cold Tasmanian waters where a loved one has recently drowned and discovering a town in the US, not far from Seattle, that I hadn’t heard of before. I am an octogenarian, a pre-pubescent boy and a model recovering from a car accident that has changed my face forever.
I have a dream. It turns up every now and then. I am reading a newspaper or maybe a new novel. Letters dance across the page, excitement grips me. Where are these wonderful words coming from, who is the author? Suddenly I realise. It’s me. I’m creating them off the top of my head. Just like the cartoon character that walks off the cliff, strolling in the air unsupported until they notice the gap below them. That knowledge alone has them tumbling clumsily to the ground. For me when I realise I am inventing the words, and I can do this for a while, sometimes in another language, I’m quite clever in my dreams, the page turns white. As naked as the Emperor when the small boy points at him. Perhaps that’s why I started writing. To fill in those starkly blank spaces.
I admit I am at best uneasy, at worst distrustful when someone admits that they don’t read fiction. My husband and father are among that number. Once this would have been a guilty admission, followed by an apology. Perhaps a touch to the forelock. “Sorry Ma am. I’m not much for readin’ and tha’.” Nowadays it seems to be a statement of pride, a boast even. As if mere stories are not to be trusted and all fiction writers are liars.
It’s a fabulous world out there in fiction. Dark stories, fairy tales, erotic fiction. Whatever tickles your tits till Friday. Science fiction, speculative fiction, psychological thrillers. There are genres to please everyone’s tastes. When I’m writing short stories, yeah yeah, I know you knew I would get to that subject, I am immersed in a world of my own making. I’d like to say that I’m in control, calling the shots, telling everyone what to do as only a big sister can. The truth is it’s like tiny slits that gape slightly, giving me a peak into my protagonist’s world. I wander round, sharing tragedy and triumph, occasionally putting the kettle on. It’s a kind of madness, troweling through the undergrowth where certain wires in my brain are hooked up and somewhat dusty.
Once I win a short story competition or receive an accolade I can no longer re-enter that story to another competition. The stories hang around my hard drive with no one to play with. Next blog I’ll post you one of them and you can let them live, reader by reader. But only if you want to.