|DICTIONARY CORNER: My first novel was full of multi-syllabic horrors|
I'VE tried a lot of things to try and improve my writing. Open University courses. Short story exercises. Drinking ink distilled from Dickens' own quill on the night of a full moon...
Some were fairly productive, others were a downright waste of time (when you're 16-year-old it seems like a good idea to use as many words with more than four syllables as you can.)
To be fair, I can forgive my teenage self for his use of vocabulary because it's the sort of mistake that an eager to please adolescent would make. Luckily I eventually realised that a story should be an invitation to a reader, not the literary equivalent of an arm wrestle.
And it's quite possible that the best way of realising that using words like "effulgent" and "invidious" every other line was bloody daft was to do it and then attempt to read back the passage six months later. Discovering that my first attempt at a novel was like a direct-to-video sequel to Underworld crossed with Countdown's Dictionary Corner was not a pleasant experience, but it's one that I probably learned from.
Far less forgivable, in my eyes, was my tactic a few years later of deciding the best way to write a best-selling novel would be to read absolutely no fiction books until I'd written the final word of the final chapter.
From memory, I'd discovered some advice online about the importance of writers having to find "their voice". The problem was that I pretty soon became paranoid that if I was reading a story at bedtime or on the bus to work I might lose "my voice" and start using someone else's. The only solution, or so I thought, was to make sure that I'd read nothing which might cross-contaminate my own writing style. Only then could I say, beyond all doubt, that my prose was pure.
It didn't take me long to realise that this is utter balderdash. And thank god, because if I'd stuck with this strange act of abstinence it would have meant that by now it would have been two Olympic cycles, seven series of Doctor Who and the rise and fall of my journalism career since I'd bent back the corner of a page. Worse still, it would have been the case that I hadn't read a work of fiction since David Cameron entered No 10. And if there's anything that leaves me needing to escape into an imagined landscape it's that twazzock.
The truth is of course that if you want to be a good writer, I think you need to read. A lot. Even bad books (I'm looking at you Eragon) will teach you what to avoid, while good books will show you how it's done. There's probably nothing more inspiring than reading something that's genuinely brilliant and thinking "I'd like to have a crack at creating something that's a fraction as good as that."
Part of the reason I decided to create the Noticeboard of Awesome Things (patent pending) is that I wanted something above my desk to hold me to the mark. The little bits of brilliance I pin to the cork aren't just there to look cool. Well, okay, they're partially there to look cool, but they're also reminders of books and TV shows, people and characters, real places and fantastical worlds. Although there's practically nothing up there that I can say I've created myself (a few friends have contributed things) it is in a way completely and utterly unique to me and my peculiar predilections. Where else in the world would you find Sam Tyler, Sherlock Holmes, Saruman and some slightly spindly tree demon thing* sharing the same wall space?
And maybe somewhere, between the Time Lords and the dark lords, the dragons and the rolling peaks of Dartmoor, there's the beginning of something worthy of their company...
* From BBC's "supernatural whodunnit" Strange, in case you were wondering. Seriously, go watch - there are demons and shit.