A tale, fictitious or otherwise, illuminates truth. Jalaluddin Rumi
Reading is fundamental to living in our society, to meeting the demands of everyday life and to discovering the magic contained within books. Yet in this increasingly fast paced, hi-tech society we run the risk of losing that magic. We have become impatient, finding ourselves drawn to abbreviations rather than elaborations. Facebook and twitter reduce our news to paragraphs and sentences respectively, micro-fiction is blossoming, the pace of our stories is increasing, as is the speed with which they are delivered, until there is little time for contemplation, for pausing over a beautiful passage in a story, for allowing stories to seep into us and change us from within. And yet stories are vital. More than mere entertainment, they tell us who we are and they help us to find ourselves.
As Ralph Waldo Emmerson once said, ‘I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.’ Each of us is the product of the stories we tell ourselves, the stories our culture, our society, our family, our friends, our teachers, our filmmakers and our authors tell us. Story is what forms our identity and our opinions. But stories can do something else too. They can be truly revolutionary. When we read heroic myths, or novels which tell of the coming of age of a character, then we find that these stories can also help to free us from an identity that has been constructed by others and to see through the ideology in which we are immersed. Reading can and should help us to learn how to live as individuals within society, by encouraging us to reach inwards and explore ourselves and showing us how to reach out and connect with others. Continue reading →
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
Despite the fact that I had always carried the knowledge within me that I would one day become a writer, for many years I also believed that I couldn’t write, or at least that I was incapable of producing any writing of value. Not surprisingly, this caused a deep conflict within me and some confusion. Looking for the reasons behind this fundamental lack of faith in my own ability, I could cite low self-confidence or even low self-worth, and to a certain extent this was true. However, the real reason can be found in the word ‘value’. I believed that I could not produce anything of ‘value’ because I was quick to measure my abilities against those authors I read and often loved in high school. My schooling had given me a clear sense of what was valuable and what wasn’t. Maths and Science were valuable, while Art and English were not. And in English, the subject I was most drawn to, some authors were valuable while others were not. At the time I didn’t question these hierarchical constructions. I revelled in the glorious language of the authors I was studying, and in the process became deeply engaged in exploring the underlying meanings of texts and excited by their philosophical and spiritual explorations. Yet, while enjoying these texts I also came to believe that I was not a good writer because I couldn’t match D H Lawrence’s vocabulary, the intensity of his passion or the richness of his descriptions; Shakespeare’s depth of understanding was beyond me, and while the philosophy of Euripides was tantalisingly wise, I was too young to embrace it. Continue reading →
‘I do not plan my fiction any more than I normally plan woodland walks; I follow the path that seems most promising at any given point, not some itinerary decided before entry.’
Recently I’ve found myself immersed in discussions about the pros and cons of planning a novel before embarking on the writing of it. These days there are endless numbers of story planning tools, maps, checklists and even software designed to help us plan our stories. Many of these tools are no doubt very useful and I know a few writers who swear by them. People write in different ways, according to their character and preference. Some write haphazardly with no story in mind, then cut and paste, creating links between sections until a story emerges. Some plan everything before sitting down to actually write a story, mapping out chapters and scenes, character traits and biographies. Others plan very little and simply trust the process. There are dangers and rewards in each of these approaches. Too much knowledge of a story can set the boundaries so tightly its natural growth becomes restricted. Too little and the story might never be found.
‘Of course, the writer can impose control; It’s just a really shitty idea. Writing controlled fiction is called “plotting.” Buckling your seatbelt and letting the story take over, however… that is called “storytelling.” Storytelling is as natural as breathing; plotting is the literary version of artificial respiration.’
‘The worst realities of our age are manufactured realities. It is therefore our task, as creative participants in the universe, to redream our world. The fact of possessing imagination means that everything can be redreamed. Each reality can have its alternative possibilities. Human beings are blessed with the necessity of transformation.’
Collections of essays by authors are generally intriguing, providing an insight into the mind of the author, their perspective on the world and of course, their perspective on writing. A Way of Being Free by Booker prize winning novelist, Ben Okri is one of my favourites and one that I refer back to whenever I am in need of soul nourishment. It’s a collection of twelve essays, of which my favourites are ‘The Joys of Storytelling’, ‘The Human Race is Not Yet Free’ and ‘While the World Sleeps. Together, the essays explore inspiration, creativity, religion and the power of storytelling in a beautifully lyrical way.
‘Beware of the storytellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art: they could unwittingly help along the psychic destruction of their people.’