I’m taking a trip to the UK today, trading places with Tony Benson. Here’s what he has to say:
What Do Authors Read?
I’ve only ever met one person who’s never read a novel but wants to write one. At the time it struck me as strange, and it still does. But why? Plenty of obvious answers spring to mind, not least of which is ‘How can you write a novel if you’ve never seen one?’ or ‘Why do you want to write a novel when you’ve never even experienced one?’
I never got a good answer to those questions, and I have no idea whether he ever wrote his book, but it made me think. What kind of reading should be considered necessary for an author?
I see a lot of advice on this, and most of it is to read widely in our chosen genre. That sounds like good advice. After all, if we write genre fiction, it would be nice to appeal to readers of that genre, so it helps to know what they’re reading. If we follow that argument to its logical conclusion we would read the most popular books in our chosen genre and – what? – try to emulate them?
To some that might sound like a good thing to do, but it’s a risky path to follow. If I start to read a book and find it’s clearly a rip-off of Lord of the Rings I’ll stop reading and not look for more work by that author. Fan fiction has a market, but trying to emulate a great author is a sure-fire way to be judged an also ran.
On the other hand, when I read I get inspiration as a writer. That inspiration isn’t about emulating or copying, it’s simply that the right parts of my creative mind are stimulated, and it helps me to come up with new, original ideas of my own.
Most agents shy away from anything that’s too familiar, and they have good reason. They know what sells. Nonetheless, they also look for something which fits the model of what’s selling now. So how do we write something which is new but has the right elements of familiarity to attract the reader?
When I wrote An Accident of Birth I had read a reasonable amount of dystopian fiction, and a considerable amount of science fiction. However, I think what’s more important is that I read widely in pretty much all genres. I should also add that I had read no fiction that dealt with the core themes of my book. That came later.
What I got from my wide reading was an understanding of what makes a good book. Also, when I considered the thorny problem of writing something new which would still appeal to the reading audience, I had an intuitive grasp of how to do that. I didn’t want or need to emulate any other authors – I had my own story to tell which was unique.
When I talked about the themes of my brand new, unique story – after it was written, people started to tell me about other books that treated very similar themes. Books like Children of Men by P D James, Implosion by D F Jones, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Of course I then wanted to read these books, so I did.
What I discovered was that each one, while treating similar themes, was so completely different to An Accident of Birth, and indeed to each-other, that the related themes were all they had in common.
That led me to wonder. Would that still be true if I had read all those books before I wrote mine? Is it possible to read a story and not be influenced by it?
I’m certainly not advocating that an author should selectively avoid reading the competition, but it does give me some context for the usual advice to read widely in your genre. I like to read in most genres, and I believe that reading widely outside the genres I write contributes to my creative tool set in a way that focusing primarily on one genre would not.
Twenty-year-old Francesca was born with a rare gift – fertility. In a polluted society, the government imprisons and forces her to breed children for the infertile masses. She has waited four long years for her boyfriend Dominic to rescue her. Now desperate, he hires a black market rescuer.
Baron Drake is a fertile who has escaped the government’s clutches and thrives on exploiting others. Deciding he wants Francesca for himself, he turns on the charm to gain Francesca’s favour.
What follows is a fierce struggle between the sensitive, caring Dominic and the ruthless Baron Drake to free her and win her love. And the baron will stop at nothing – not even mass murder – to expand his criminal empire.
About the Author
Tony Benson lives in Kent, England with his wife Margo and two cats. He grew up in a Kent village, and had a successful career in engineering before leaving corporate life to make stringed musical instruments, augmenting this work with technical writing. An Accident Of Birth is Tony’s first novel. You will find him at:
Five Year Project
The Five Year Project is hosted by Misha Gericke. We report the last Friday of each month on how we’re doing. It’s never too late to join.
My goal is to see The Backworlds on TV. It came out on audio last month and I released book 4 this month. Currently, I’m working on book 5. I don’t know if I’m any closer to seeing it on TV, but my audience grows and my sales remain steady. This last release reached the goal I was aiming for business-wise. So, it’s a win.
Meet Me At:
Laura Eno’s! I have a guest post there today. I’ve been very careful to avoid the punch over there… and touching anything. 🙂
I’m also at Tony’s. Patience and Perseverance, two things authors need in spades. Confession: I stink at the patience part.
See what’s going on at Untethered Realms. Sheriff Gwen rounded up some folks guilty of book wizardry. See who the guilty ones are.
I’m also at C. Lee’s The Write Game revealing how fans have influenced the Backworlds.