Thursday, December 17, 2009

Read On

It's the silly season and I've not been feeling that inspired. Too busy Christmas shopping and wondering why all the dust in my house is the same colour (that is, grey). I mean, dust is not a thing in itself, is it? It's a sum of its parts, so why does it end up so uniform? (To which most sensible people would say, 'Who cares? Vacuum your floors, you slob. Problem solved.' To which I would reply, Problem not solved, merely post-phoned.)

Anyway, further to a previous post voicing doubts as to the benefits of reading lots while writing, here is a post by Nicola Morgan at Help! I Need a Publisher (very useful blog), in which she gives some quite reasonable reasons for writers reading a lot.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Just Another Day in Parodies

This is a bit lazy of me, because this was written a while ago as part of a Joseph Heller phase I was going through. But talk of imitation yesterday got me thinking of parodies, which are kind of same same but different. They're pretty hot right now (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sound familiar?) and if you've got writer's block they can be a good way of forgetting about what you're stuck on and having fun writing. (I particularly like this reworking of Jane Austen for the social networking age.)

So, apologies to Mr Heller:


Papa Bear, Big Mamma and Baby-face stumbled back through the woods, roaringly drunk. Baby-face peered around him.
  ‘Where’s the house?’ he asked. He was hungry. So hungry he hadn’t had a fight with Big Bad Wolf before leaving the bar, just so they could get home for that porridge.
   ‘What goddam house?’ said Papa Bear.
   ‘Our house.’
   ‘How the hell should I know?’
   ‘It’s gone!’
   ‘It’s there,’ said Big Mama, and she led them into the house.
   ‘You’re crazy,’ said Baby-face to Papa Bear. Papa Bear shrugged and lit a cigarette he’d found on the floor just when Baby-face hadn’t started a fight with Big Bad Wolf back at the bar.
   Their bowls of porridge were sitting on the table where they’d left them. Baby-face pointed at his with dismay. ‘It’s empty!’ he cried. ‘Some punk’s eaten my porridge.’
   ‘There there,’ said Big Mama, ‘have some of mine.’
Baby-face took a spoonful. ‘Ugh!’ he spat it out. ‘That’s too hot.’ He reached over for Papa Bear’s.
   ‘You won’t like it,’ Big Mama warned him. ‘It’s too salty.’ Baby-face ate some anyway then spat it out. ‘It’s too salty,’ he moaned.
   ‘Of course it is,’ said Big Mama. ‘That’s the catch.’
   ‘Catch?’ Baby-face stared at her. ‘There’s a catch?’
   ‘Catch-33,’ she replied.
   ‘Sure. You can tell me when I’m cooking it how you want your porridge, and I’ll make it. But Catch-33 says if you ask for it just right, some little punk’s going to climb in through the window and eat it all up. So if you want your porridge there when you get back you need to ask for it burnt, or salty or lumpy.’
   ‘You mean,’ Baby-face sputtered, ‘either I ask for something inedible and I get to eat it, or I ask for something edible but I can’t eat it?’
  ‘That’s right,’ Big Mama beamed. ‘Exactly right.’
   Papa Bear put out his cigarette and shambled over to the table. He began to shovel spoonfuls of his porridge into his mouth, making great slurping, lip-smacking noises as he ate.
   ‘He’s crazy,’ said Baby-face.
   ‘Of course he is,’ nodded Big Mama. She began to eat her own porridge. It had been heated so much it was burned through-and-through and the smell of it turned Baby-face’s stomach.
   ‘It’s the salt that does it,’ Big Mama said cheerfully. ‘He should cut back.’

Friday, December 4, 2009

To Read or not to Read

We’re always being told to read, read, read. That good writers are great readers. But sometimes I’m not convinced that this is always useful. What if you’re trying to write a serious scene in your novel/short story/feature article but you’ve been reading Douglas Adams and your characters all become slightly weird and start pining for cups of tea? Or if you’re trying to be literary, but you’ve been reading Raymond Chandler and things turn out a bit like this interpretation of Hamlet. Or worse, if you’re trying to write crime fiction and you’ve been reading Raymond Chandler and your work turns out like Raymond Chandler's.

If you’re someone who finds it easy to imitate styles of writing, then maybe it’s better not to read anything at all while you’re trying to write your own stuff. It's difficult to not pick up another author's style, and the stronger a style, the more likely it is to stay in your head and take over your own. I admit, this is just my own experience, and other people might not have any problems of this kind at all (I'm the sort of person who unconsciously mimics other people's accents when speaking to them). Still, despite the mantra about readers and writers, maybe sometimes it's better to declutter your brain and just focus on your own style. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it don't necessarily make good writing.