For reasons that made sense in my sixteen-year-old mind, I opted not to take English A Level. What I didn’t take on board was that this would be my last opportunity to learn literary appreciation, or how much I would need this skill in writing. I knew I wanted to be a writer since primary school, when it seemed to me that Enid Blyton’s output was not enough. (Yes, I know she produced loads, but I was even younger at the time.)
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” This is the advice Stephen King gives in On Writing, but he didn’t give it until 2000 and, Dear Reader, I was a child and a teenager long before that. I wasn’t making the connection myself. Some people might expect me, not being tutored in conventional literary criticism, to come up with new and interesting perspectives… but I’m not that intelligent.
When I read, I read for pleasure. During the Winter of Discontent in 1978-9, I devoured Dickens in paperback, on heaving, snow-swept platforms, and in draughty commuter train corridors, always (unlike my train) racing ahead, desperate to find out – equally – what was going to happen next, and whether there would be a train to work (or home). However, there were long periods when I didn’t open a book at all, even though I was writing reams and reams, and in a manner that was supremely suited to me myself personally. I believed that my novels were pretty amazing (because I wasn’t comparing them with anything else), but, when I came to join online writing groups, I was gently pulled up for not developing characters and for inadequate (actually non-existent) descriptive passages. In these groups, I was given a lot of very useful advice about writing, which I would not have needed if I had learned to read properly, to analyse structure, character and writing style. I would like to add to Stephen King’s famous quote. “…and take it apart.”
I review (almost) every book I read on my other WordPress blog, Dear Reader; this is my attempt to analyse what books are about, how the storyline works, how characters are drawn and to think about written style. However, when I read a critique of a work of literature by someone who really knows how to do it, I’m gobsmacked at what he/she finds, often angles that I didn’t see at all. I have paid a heavy price for my decision to take history, geography and maths at A level. My reason was that I knew, from being in English classes lower in the school, that the English staff were obsessed with Dylan Thomas and D H Lawrence, writers I did not get on with at all. Actually, I think I was too young for them. Just recently, I came across Thomas’s poem, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’, which I’m sure everybody else knows. I need no expert here. The howl of impotent fury against the inevitable is palpable. Oh, if only I could write anger like that.