Thursday, 22 July 2010

The place to be

"Where you will be in 5 years' time will depend on the books you read and the people you meet."

Someone in business said that to me 18 years ago. They weren't talking about writing or being a writer, although since then I've often reflected on the ability of the maxim to embrace almost any discipline – but it is particularly pertinent to doing what we as writers want to do, which is to tell stories.

So how, if you're wanting to break into writing, do you immerse yourself in the atmosphere and mindset of those who are "in" the industry or the business or however you want to term it?

Okay, so your first question is, "what are the books to read?" Well, reading widely is the first thing I'd suggest, together with some of the more serious academic books (keep away from titles such as "Become a top-selling novelist in just 30 days"), for which a university's reading list for a creative – or professional – writing course should be obtained.

Right, then, back to the question: how to rub shoulders (not necessarily in a literal sense) with those who are in there as well as those who want to be because they, too, often have something valuable to offer (morale springs to mind). Short of actually attending one of the annual literary festivals such as the Guardian Hay or Port Eliot, you can experience a sense of belonging and feel for the industry by simply watching The Book Show on the SkyArts channel. There's also Channel 4's TV Book Club.

The Book Show's 9-day coverage of the 2010 Guardian Hay Festival meant that the presenter, Mariella Frostrup, was in our living room every day with an impressive selection of writers as diverse as Kate Mosse and Bill Bryson and Robert Winston. But whoever or whichever you prefer reading, each one has his own perception of writing for a living which means that each one of us, at whichever stage we are, can learn something of value.

All good things come to an end as did the Hay Festival; it also meant the end of the series. I felt like I'd actually met the writers that were interviewed and, yes, I can say that something has rubbed off. We may not have actually walked in each other's footsteps or breathed the same air, but it feels like I have rubbed shoulders with these great names in contemporary literature. They don't know me, but I have gleaned some of the essence of their personalities, which can be priceless.

So where will I be in 5 years' time? That will depend on the books I've written and the people I have met, if only in a virtual sense.

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