Trying and Failing to Read

For the last few years, I’ve followed the Icelandic tradition of reading on Christmas Eve, or Jólabókaflóð if you speak the language. In a nutshell, it’s about exchanging books, then reading them all evening with a cup of hot chocolate. This year didn’t go to plan.

Firstly, I hadn’t been able to exchange with anyone, although I have plenty of unread books on my shelf. I normally choose a poetry book and try to finish it in one night. This year, it was This: Tay Poems by Jim Stewart, published posthumously.1

Secondly, I’d underestimated how rich and descriptive the poetry would be. I was enjoying what I was reading, but I found it difficult to concentrate. I gave up at the halfway mark to head to bed.

Just a few days before this, a pal of mine had arranged a 12-hour reading event the previous Saturday to roughly coincide with Yule. There wasn’t a schedule as such, just time set aside to start or finish our books, but that also didn’t go to plan.

My intention was to sit down and finish Mort by Terry Pratchett, lent to me by a friend. Instead, as the day approached, other events kept encroaching onto the day, including a three-hour Dungeons & Dragons session. As such, I ended up listening to a total of about two-and-a-half hours of my audiobook: Beauty’s Release by Anne Rice.

Indeed, audiobooks are the way I tend to take in fiction these days. I’ve been trying to increase my walking this year, and it fits in with my schedule much better than sitting down to read. Still, I will carve out time to finish Mort as it needs to be returned at some point.

1 Although it was only published in 2018, I’m having difficulty finding a place you can buy the book. The only place that seems to stock it is a Dutch website called Athenaeum. The publisher barely has an Internet prescence, although you could try contacting the editors via the site they do have.

Far, Wide and Deep

This blog primarily discusses writing and the performance of literary works. For the most part, this encompasses novels, short stories and poems.

But some of the entries touch upon films, TV series and rap music. What these forms have in common is that they almost always begin as a written document, from the musician who jots down lyrics in the notebook to the screenwriter carefully crafts a story arc.

In my view, it’s healthy for a writer to have influences from many different sources. Last week alone, I’ve been to see a 40th anniversary screening of Alien, I visited and participated in the StAnza poetry Festival in St Andrews, and I’ve been listening to the hits of Rizzle Kicks.

That’s not to say these sources will immediately influence my work. Rather, I might pick up a line of dialogue or a neat way of wrapping up a plot.

When I undertook my MLitt Writing Practice and Study course at the University of Dundee, I had the privilege of being taught by Dr Jim Stewart before his death in 2016.

If you came to him with a piece he didn’t understand, he’d ask you questions until it was clear to him or research it. If he felt something could be improved, he would guide you rather than make outright suggestions. I never once heard him dismiss anything.

And when a writer embraces an unlikely influence, the result can be eye-opening. Take P D James as an example. She was known for her detective novels, then at the age of 70, she wrote Children of Men, her only science fiction work.