I’ve been thinking a lot about books just lately. AHA! I hear you cry, that explains the strange noise that has echoed around the place for the last few days. The clanging sound was my steampunk designed brain turning over.
I used to be an avid reader. I devoured books like a chocoholic demolishes a tin of Roses at Christmas. I’d find something to read wherever I was; a book or a magazine in my tea breaks at work, the rules and regulations on the guesthouse reception wall; sometimes, even the fire drill instructions. At breakfast, in the digs, I’d even read the back of the cornflakes packet if there wasn’t a newspaper around. It didn’t matter which paper either. Although I lean to the left and have been an avid Guardian reader for decades, I’d still happily pick up the Times, or, dare I say it, the Telegraph. I even admit to reading the lofty ambitions of the page three girl as she smiled at me from just inside the cover of the Sun.
Back in the day, I’d pick up a women’s mag in the doctors surgery and read more than just the agony aunt page, I can even remember reading both sides of my bus ticket whilst making a trip into town. As the bus trundled down the road towards me I’d even read its number and destination although there was only one bus service running though the village. I’d read anything, direction signs at the side of the road, adverts, political messages on billboards, shop signs; even the timetable at the railway station. I’ve been like it since my first Janet and John book at infant’s school; the one where you were only allowed to colour in the picture if you could read the three or four simple words underneath. I even read instruction manuals for electronic goods in those days… or at least the Chinglish bits. Then, in 2009, I stopped. I didn’t just ease off the literary accelerator to slow down, I just stopped completely. Strangely, my abandonment of books happened at exactly the same time as I made my first tentative efforts at writing. Over the next five years I read very little, just a few articles on the internet or a few paragraphs of the books I’d bought for research purposes. Then, at the end of 2013, I suddenly began to read again. It wasn’t an epiphany or anything like that, it was just a gradual thing and I found that the books I was selecting were the books I read back in my teens. I think the first one this time round was The Forbidden Territory by Dennis Wheatley. This was followed by I Claudius and Far From the Madding, Crowd. It took me quite a time to get through them this time round but after finishing Thomas Hardy I found that my reading rate increased until I was consuming a book, (or more,) a week. Since then I’ve managed to catch up on some of the wonderful books that I knew I was missing out on during my period of abstinence. I discovered gems like The Book Thief, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I am Pilgrim and Anthony Ryan’s magnificent Blood Song, trilogy.
This Phoenix-like rise from the literary ashes may sound wonderful to a lot of people, and indeed I have thoroughly enjoyed my re-emergence as a bibliophile, but, there was, and is, a downside. I have discovered that my newly-revived love of reading has pretty much silenced the urge to write. It’s something I saw coming but was unable to do anything about, and that is the position I find myself in now. Where I once had to force myself to read anything at all I now find I have to force myself to open up the word processor. Even then I seldom stab away at the keys in any sort of meaningful way The result of the aforementioned clanking noise has been the scary realisation that that my own creative needs are now served by other people’s imaginations. I don’t know why this came as such a revelation. I don’t think up plots, story ideas or silly snatches of prose anymore, and I haven’t done for a long time now. Back then, I had to fight off story ideas to concentrate on the one that I was working on at the time. I had a folder full of concepts that could be used for future books or short stories; they’re still there, but they lie, unloved and untouched at the dusty end of my hard disk drive. The other change is, I’m thinking about someone else’s hero as I fall asleep at night. It always used to be of my own characters that waved me off to dreamland.
Over the last couple of years I’ve blamed my lack of writing ambition on poor sales, disinterest from the reading public and an unfair publishing system that rewards only the well-known or the incredibly lucky, but, on reflection, although these things do come into the equation, I don’t think they are the dominant factors in my inventive regression. So, the big question is, do I ditch the kindle and see if my impoverished mind demands that I think creatively to fill the void, or do I stick to my role as a succubus, continually feeding off someone else’s imagination. There doesn’t appear to be room in my life for both. Has anyone else suffered this?