I’m thrilled today to be a part of the blog tour for the Sunday Times bestselling, Richard and Judy Club pic (deep breath)I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. I’ve known Clare since before she was Clare, when she blogged under another name entirely, and hosted a guest post for her a while back on the theme of Goals, not dreams. Today, though, she’s sharing her reading habits with us.
My reading habits.
Not all readers are writers, but I don’t know of any writers who aren’t readers. A passion for books is surely a prerequisite for their creation? I am, and have always been, a prolific reader. I hate to interrupt a good book, and will sacrifice anything (sleep, food, the housework…) to reach the end of a real page-turner. Before I started writing books myself my reading tastes were fairly rigid. Crime novels for most of the year, and something pink with high heels or cupcakes on the cover for holidays and high days.
Over the years, and as my own writing began to develop, my reading habits started to change. I began reading for research, as much as for pleasure, exploring crime sub-genres such as mystery, thriller, cosy crime, psychological suspense, in order to find out where my natural writing style lay. I looked at books in a different way, often going back over sections I had already read, in order to unpick how the author had fitted the plot together, or how the carefully placed clues had managed to simultaneously mislead and direct me.
My role as director of Chipping Norton Literary Festival means I am sent a great deal of books, most of which I try to read, especially if they are appearing at the festival. This pushes me out of my reading comfort zone, with surprising results. Having for many years declared I wasn’t a fan of historical fiction, or by romance novels, I would find myself captivated by a Second World War love story. Receiving books through the post is an enormous treat, and I never take it for granted. I read almost everything I receive, and if I like it I tweet about it, and occasionally write a blog post about it. More and more I take the time to review a good book on Goodreads, so that others can discover it too.
Right now I’m reading an amazing science fiction book, a genre I have always avoided.
When I am writing, particularly if I have finished the first draft and am in the hideous middle stage of the rewriting and editing process, where nothing is going right, I often suffer from reader’s block. Nothing I pick up grabs me, and if I stumble on a particularly well-written novel I am too wracked with anxiety over my own agonisingly awful manuscript to read it. I have learned now that there is no point in fighting this. Instead I return to old favourites (Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, or one of Richmal Crompton’s timeless Just Williams) and let the words wash over me. My reading muse will return – it always does.
I think that people who’ve already read I let you go would agree with me that Clare is being somewhat harsh on herself here. Her manuscript certainly wasn’t agonisingly awful 😉 I’ve read it now, in a day, which I understand is a fairly common experience, it being the kind of book you don’t really want to put down.
It’s disturbingly detailed in some parts, given the whole psychological crime thriller genre. And it fits together like a well crafted jigsaw – maybe one of those fiendishly difficult ones with the repeating patterns, so that just when you think you’ve got the hang of how it all slots together, you realise you’re on completely the wrong colour iteration and need to start again.
Hm, I’m not sure that metaphor really implies what I wanted to imply there! There’s direction and misdirection in this book, with some ‘oh of course’ moments and others where you are almost tempted to flick back to double check that you didn’t miss anything earlier. (Having read what Clare has to say on reading, I’m very tempted to go back now and reread with a notebook beside me 😉 ) But overall it’s the quality of the characterisation that always carries it for me, regardless of genre – no matter how great the plot, if I don’t believe in the people, I’m not going to keep on reading.
Clare has this nailed. For proof, I offer an excerpt…
When I wake, for a second I’m not sure what this feeling is. Everything is the same, and yet everything has changed. Then, before I have even opened my eyes, there is a rush of noise in my head, like an underground train. And there it is: playing out in Technicolor scenes I can’t pause or mute. I press the heels of my palms into my temples as though I can make the images subside through brute force alone, but still they come, thick and fast, as if without them I might forget.
On my bedside cabinet is the brass alarm clock Eve gave me when I went to university – ‘Because you’ll never get to lectures, otherwise’ – and I’m shocked to see it’s ten-thirty already. The pain in my hand has been overshadowed by a headache that blinds me if I move my head too fast, and as I peel myself from the bed every muscle aches.
I pull on yesterday’s clothes and go into the garden without stopping to make a coffee, even though my mouth is so dry it’s an effort to swallow. I can’t find my shoes, and the frost stings my feet as I make my way across the grass. The garden isn’t large, but winter is on its way, and by the time I reach the other side I can’t feel my toes.
The garden studio has been my sanctuary for the last five years. Little more than a shed to the casual observer, it is where I come to think, to work, and to escape. The wooden floor is stained from the lumps of clay that drop from my wheel, firmly placed in the centre of the room, where I can move around it and stand back to view my work with a critical eye. Three sides of the shed are lined with shelves on which I place my sculptures, in an ordered chaos only I could understand. Works in progress, here; fired but not painted, here; waiting to go to customers, here. Hundreds of separate pieces, yet if I shut my eyes, I can still feel the shape of each one beneath my fingers, the wetness of the clay on my palms.
I take the key from its hiding place under the window ledge and open the door. It’s worse than I thought. The floor lies unseen beneath a carpet of broken clay; rounded halves of pots ending abruptly in angry jagged peaks. The wooden shelves are all empty, my desk swept clear of work, and the tiny figurines on the window ledge are unrecognisable, crushed into shards that glisten in the sunlight.
By the door lies a small statuette of a woman. I made her last year, as part of a series of figures I produced for a shop in Clifton. I had wanted to produce something real, something as far from perfection as it was possible to get, and yet for it still to be beautiful. I made ten women, each with their own distinctive curves, their own bumps and scars and imperfections. I based them on my mother; my sister; girls I taught at pottery class; women I saw walking in the park. This one is me. Loosely, and not so anyone would recognise, but nevertheless me. Chest a little too flat; hips a little too narrow; feet a little too big. A tangle of hair twisted into a knot at the base of the neck. I bend down and pick her up. I had thought her intact, but as I touch her the clay moves beneath my hands, and I’m left with two broken pieces. I look at them, then I hurl them with all my strength towards the wall, where they shatter into tiny pieces that shower down on to my desk.
I take a deep breath and let it slowly out.