Food for the soul

Plato advised us that:

‘Knowledge is food for the soul’

I’ve been thinking about this quote, which led me to thinking about books and reading.  I started to read when I was around four years old (according to my mum!).  Since that tender age I have rarely been without a book in my hands.  I was lucky enough to spend my working days editing and even though the subject matter focused on health-related conditions and medicines, it was still fun chasing words around the page.

Now my focus is fiction and my feeling is that people read fiction for a whole host of reasons.   There are times when I just want to read for pleasure, laying in the bath, or sitting in the garden.  The book in my hands gives me the chance to block out all thoughts of chores.  It might be a grabbed ten minutes, or a leisurely half hour (or longer, if I’m lucky!).  I’ve escaped into another world, maybe another time zone and the only interruptions are the birds singing a little too loudly, or the bath water getting cold.

Then there are the times when I read to learn.  As a fiction writer I love to discover the way that other authors approach character development, plot structure or timelines. As a writer I see myself as an apprentice, constantly trying to develop my craft, with years of learning ahead of me.  So, when I come across a beautifully constructed sentence I read it over and over and dream about the day when I can write that perfect piece of prose.

Here are the opening lines from a wonderful book by Ann Patchett, called ‘Bel Canto’:

When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her.  Maybe he had been turning towards her just before it was completely dark, maybe he was lifting his hands.  There must have been some movement, a gesture, because every person in the living room would later remember a kiss.

 

And some more from Rachel Joyce’s tear jerker, ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’:

Harold Fry was a tall man who moved through life with a stoop, as if expecting a low beam, or a screwed-up paper missile, to appear out of nowhere. […] The boy learned quickly that the best way to get on in life was to keep a low profile.’

 

Of course, there is a whole lot more to learn from fiction.  When I read, Helen Dunmore’s ‘The Siege’, I learned about the horrors of the Nazi’s winter siege of Leningrad in 1941, which killed six hundred thousand people.  Helen Dunmore focuses in on the detailed experiences of her characters, to tell a story that affected so many.  They learned to boil shoe leather to make soup, such was the devastating hunger they experienced.  Certainly an eye opener for me and a story that stayed with me long after I finished reading it.

Books also bring us together.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of book clubs around the country where friends get together maybe once a month and chat.  They chat about the book they have all read, but it’s a great intro to chatting generally and a way of making new friends.  Then there are online forums – The Fiction Café – is a great Facebook group where people can share their thoughts about their favourite books.   Passing on recommendations also means that we can all be tempted to try something we might not have otherwise picked up.

Libraries and charity bookshops are wonderful places, giving us the chance to read to our heart’s content for free, or for just a few pennies.  We are coming into the season of summer fetes and festivals, where I always make a beeline for the book stall!  I am a member of the Chichester Network of Independent Authors and throughout the summer we will be out and about at the local fairs and festivals – maybe I will see you there!

We are a lucky bunch of readers – we have access to books in ways that our parents and grandparents might have only dreamed of.

These are a just a few reasons why people read – how about you?  What makes you dive into a book?  Share your thoughts by adding a comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

A brave lady

I read an article this week that made me feel sad and inspired, in equal measure.  It was an interview with the daughter of the wonderful, and much missed, Helen Dunmore.

I have loved Helen’s writing since I first discovered her novels, maybe 15 years ago or more.  The first title of hers that I read was, A Spell of Winter, (published 1996) and since then I have gone on to read several more, including, The Siege; House of Orphans; The Greatcoat and The Lie.  

Right now I am in the middle of reading Exposure, published in 2016, just a year before she died.

I haven’t read any of her poetry, but it is her eighth collection of poetry, Inside the Wave, for which she was awarded a posthumous prize of the Costa Book of the Year.  Her daughter, Tess, and her son, Patrick, received the award on their mother’s behalf.

“Poetry was in Mum’s soul,” Patrick Charnley told the audience, thanking her poetry editor, Neil Astley, in particular. “This collection contains some of the most beautiful writing she completed in her life and it came at the time of her death. It is so personal and so wonderful, we hope it will touch a lot people who face this thing that we all do.”

(excerpt from The Guardian, 30 January 2018)

Two weeks before she died, Helen wrote a poem for her children.  She was creating even then.

Her daughter, Tess, explained how Helen had been so incredibly brave during her last months and weeks.  She said that her mother approached death with ‘such grace’ that it took much of the fear away.  Quite a gift to give someone when you know your time is up.

Her daughter explains:

“I think although her world got smaller, she couldn’t go out so far afield, she continued to just see the beauty in everything – which I find very inspiring.

“She just made the most of every single day until she died.”

 (excerpt from BBC News, 31 January 2108)

Tess is right.  Helen Dunmore has been an inspiration, not only to her family and friends, but to the millions of readers who have marvelled at her writing.  Let’s hope she knows what a difference she has made and how her legacy will continue.