Spreading the joy of reading

What better way to enjoy the long, hot summer days than by lounging outside with a glass of lemonade and your favourite book? Or, in winter, by curling up on the sofa with a mug of cocoa in one hand and a great novel in the other?

Reading is a holiday that everyone can afford. Books can transport us to other lands, to new adventures, they entertain and instruct, they give us new friends and allow us to identify with their characters, to realise that the world is so much greater than what we can know and see with our own eyes, though not so large as to be overwhelming. At heart, we all go through similar struggles and share the same joys. And it is through reading that we can come to realise this. Not that everyone needs a book to teach them this, but, for some, it helps. And it certainly doesn’t hurt! 😉

By opening a book, we’re opening a whole new world of possibilities. As we read—whatsoever we may choose to read—we deepen our language comprehension which aids us in other areas of life, such as communication and understanding. We may find our ability to understand the sometimes complex language used in official forms and newspapers, strengthened. And, if we happen to gain a greater understanding of people, history, science, or even ourselves in the process, so much the better.

For most writers, reading is a pleasure, a joy, and a much-coveted leisure activity. But, for others, reading may, at times, feel like a bit of a slog. Perhaps it isn’t something they are accustomed to doing, for various reasons. Or, perhaps it just isn’t something they’ve given much thought to, as they keep busy with other activities.

This is something that’s been on my mind for a while now. As a writer—and a reader—I’d like others to have the opportunity to experience the same joy and pleasure from reading that I do. Or, even if they do not enjoy it to the same extent that I do, they should at least have the chance to be exposed to reading in a positive way that honours them as an individual. Because reading is so often an individual past time, though it needn’t always be.

With my MLitt in its final stages, I decided that I needed to start looking for ways to become more involved in promoting literacy. After all, I’m now a published writer 😉 .

One of the ways which occurred to me was to do some volunteering with organisations which promote reading. Tomorrow I’m going along to a community reading group which takes place in a local library. Note that I said a ‘reading group’ and not a ‘book group’. All reading takes place during the session itself, with a passage read aloud and responded to by anyone who may wish to attend, book lover or not.

But there are lots of ways to promote literacy in your community, from volunteering to read at a local school, to participating in your local Bookcrossing scheme where you leave a book in a public place in order that someone else may find and read it (for more information on this scheme, visit: http://www.bookcrossing.com/ ). Promoting literacy can be as simple as reading to your child before bed, or helping an elderly neighbour pick up some titles from the local library, seeing as you were going there anyway 😉 .

So, how about you? Have you been to any reading groups? Or, are you part of a book club? If you’re a writer, do you think that we have the responsibility to promote reading and literacy in our communities? If so, what actions have you taken to do this? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below.

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Thanks for reading! 🙂

Short stories vs Novels: Which do you write?

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Every writer of fiction has been asked at some point if they are a writer of novels or of short stories. So, which are you?

When I began writing I set out to mostly write short stories. Why? Because they’re short, and, I figured, there are lots of magazines which publish short stories, and that should make my job as a writer easier. Right? Wrong!

No matter how short the story, it won’t be a satisfying read without a well-rounded protagonist, an interesting plot and a strong climax. And trying to fit all of these elements into just a few thousand words (sometimes even less these days with the advent of flash fiction) is no easy feat.

In a novel you have more space to flesh out your characters and storyline, you have room to manoeuvre, so to speak.

Or do you?

These days with novels, if it’s not getting a reader’s attention straight away, they’ll put it down. I’ve always wanted to do a survey of present day novels and compare them to the novels of previous times (say, the 1940’s) to see how they compare. Is it true that we have to be punchier now, or is it just a sense of nostalgia making us believe this?

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A different audience

Many short stories are read online, in magazines or anthologies whereas novels must stand alone. If a reader isn’t sure about your book they won’t buy it, but a short story might be stumbled upon in an anthology and read almost by mistake. Novels require a considerable commitment on the part of the reader in terms of the time they take to read. If they don’t like your characters, or where your plot is going, they won’t invest that time.

Of course, not all short stories are published in magazines, some of them are published as collections, like these.

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Although several of the stories originally appeared in literary magazines such as The New Yorker.

Short stories which turn into novels and vice-versa

When I began writing about the main character of The Forest King’s Daughter, it was in a short story. From there I went on to write more short stories about her and this progressed until I knew she needed a novel. I know some writers who do this in reverse, writing a series of short stories based on their novel’s protagonist after they’ve written the novel. Whichever way round it is, I think character driven fiction is important. If a character wants to take you someplace else, maybe somewhere new where you’re not sure if you’re comfortable going—follow them! It’s our only hope as writers, to follow our ideas through to the end, to explore all possibilities and to discover what we can achieve.

So, which are you? And do you think it’s necessary to specialise in one form or the other? If you’re a novelist, do you ever dabble in short stories? And if you’re a short story writer, have you ever attempted a novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts!