Defending the Love of Reading

World Book Day happened last week and I was pleased to see so many children getting involved in dressing as their favourite characters. World Book Day is a great day to champion quite how magical reading a good story can be and the levels of participation seen across the country.

Last week also saw the frankly heart-breaking story of Callum Manning, a 13-year-old boy from Newcastle bullied for his love of reading.

Callum’s story really got to me as I do relate very much – even from my own secondary school days, reading was an almost weird activity to admit to enjoying. Perhaps that’s due  to secondary school being the domain of adolescents with other more physical pursuits that leaves those content with nestling away with a book in the library seen as “abnormal”.

As a secondary school kid myself back in 2001 I found it very difficult to fit into the cliquey nature of secondary school as I didn’t really share many of the more “mainstream” interests in sport, nor did I find socialising with my peers at an all-boys school particularly easy because I didn’t share those core, keystone interests that boys bond over. For some reason, then and now, boys who don’t seek the pleasures of sport – or the opposite sex – aren’t seen as “normal” boys.

Is this because of a predilection to assume masculinity in this country (and perhaps the Western world generally) does not promote intellectual prowess as a key trait? Perhaps it keys back to prehistoric times where physical strength was valued as a survival trait?

Both of those questions are a little beyond the scope of this post but both pose interesting questions about how boys are raised in this country, on a societal level. Maybe World Book Day is seen as a more “childish” thing, so reading in general is lumped in with that?

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

But getting back to the point of reading, I feel that there are very few male role models in Western society that seem to champion the power of thought. Most boys have sporting icons as heroes and the few that seemed to exist (the Doctor from Doctor Who, prior to 2018 at least) seem to have largely fallen by the wayside.

Therefore, I understand the mindset of those that cruelly tormented Callum for his love of reading, but pity it immensely. As an adolescent myself I recall I had to be very select about who I shared my “esoteric” interests – history, computer games that weren’t the usual “boys” staple, like The Sims and SimCity, and books – and it’s this that likely made me the very private person I am today. It’s something I’m attempting to shed as a characteristic in my 30s now because I’ve stopped caring, frankly.

That said I think this perceived anti-intellectualism that pervades society to look strangely at readers continues. When I joined Facebook in 2008, a disappointing number of people listed things like “I don’t read” in their favourite books section. Even now, researching this post, 78,000 people have this on their page as of 2020. It’s sad and heart-breaking because it’s such a missed opportunity.

I also apportion some of the blame for this sentiment to mass media – shows like Love Island, Geordie Shore and The Only Way is Essex are harmful as they actively promote a “it’s cool to be stupid” air to them. It’s a race to the bottom, and society seems to be dumbing down.

Even back in my more formative years, shows like Big Brother catapulted people such as Jade Goody to public consciousness. While what happened to Jade at the end of her life was awful and not something I’d ever wish on someone, was Jade quite the person to be front and centre of British society like she was? I was sceptical at the time and remain so.

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Of course, I don’t propose we bring up kids on a diet of Radio 4, classical music and Tolstoy. These shows, the most egregious I think being Love Island, actively promote this apparent “bimbo” culture – if you have a “hot bod”, it doesn’t matter that you know nothing. You will succeed on no discernible “talent”, but on how marketable your image is. Indeed, there’s already some consternation about the hidden toxicity of the show right now.

It’s a superficial culture that seems to actively promote a lack of thought, a shallowness that I find, personally, distasteful. While I would never begrudge these people their “trash TV”, I do find its prevalence in a race-to-the-bottom worrying. And as we’ve seen with Love Island recently, the brightest candles burn shortest.

But let’s get back to the more positive nature of World Book Day. I think it’s wonderful to see so many kids celebrating their love of stories. I think reading is a magical activity – you stare at ink on a dead tree and imagine things. It’s totally engrossing and I’m so glad my own reading has taken up this year, I am very much enjoying it.  More and more people should take the time, challenge themselves to a book and they’d realise too what an engrossing and amazing experience getting lost in a good (or bad) story can be!

Editing The Thaw – Second Draft Success!

A while back I discussed where I was at with the editing process with my post-apocalyptic novel The Thaw. Basically, just starting off on the wonderful journey! During that time, I happened to take a meandering, very-much-procrastinating wander onto my Twitter. I found this:

Well, I’m delighted to be able to say that, two years after I started writing the book at all (and about a year after finishing that), I now have a fully line-edited second draft in my possession! I even managed to print it out and it looks mightily impressive!

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A very proud author with his printed second draft in sunny Kingston-upon-Thames! 😎

Safe to say, I am thrilled and proud of myself for making it this far.  The Thaw is easily the longest single work I’ve written and I’m more proud of myself for being disciplined and making it through the edit. It’s been a tough process – it took about two months, with around 70 hours work, to get from cover to cover.

That’s longer than I’d anticipated but, in a way, unsurprising given how rough and heat-of-the-moment the initial draft was. What I’ve learned through this process is a lot – I’m certainly able to handle a work of this length, and more importantly, I’ve learned some important lessons about self-editing and how a novel evolves as a piece through successive drafts. With The Thaw I already feel the work is a lot stronger, a lot clearer and a lot more engaging than it was in its initial form.

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Ultimately, thinking back, I’m extremely proud of the core idea and story at the heart of my book, and I do genuinely think it’s something I’m going to pursue publication of. It’s a good story – yes, not perfect, but making measurable steps toward – and I think it’d fit right in the marketplace.

Now, while it’s easy to bask in my own self-adulation (and the heartfelt congratulations of friends and colleagues, all of whom have helped me massively) at completing this substantive edit… it’s not the final stage. So what do I plan to do now?

  • Take some time away from the new draft. One of the key lessons I learned (and ignored in a way) from On Writing is to let a draft breathe after completion. As a writer, having that objective distance from your work, so it’s not so fresh in your mind to cloud your creative vision, is paramount I’ve found. It helps ease the inevitable self-doubt that will creep in. The Thaw, even in its roughest form, is a good book. In its new form, it’ll be a better book. But it’ll still take effort to make it a great book.

    “With six weeks’ worth of recuperation time, you’ll also be able to see any glaring holes in the plot or character development. And listen–if you spot a few of these big holes, you are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself. Screw-ups happen to the best of us.”

  • Read it as a reader, than as a writer. I need to let the new draft, when the time comes, soak back in. For the first draft I did partially read over it but I found note-taking at the same time as that initial readthrough was erroneous. So when I re-read the book toward the end of July I will give it a reader’s pass before reading it again and asking myself questions how to improve it.
  • Enlist beta-readers. I’ve approached a few trusted writer friends to read the new draft and I’m designing a feedback questionnaire. I realise the book is a lot for people to mark-up inline comments on, especially to those with day jobs and family lives. But it’s important to me to get help and guidance, to help spot errors I wouldn’t on my own.

    “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.”

  • Explore professional editorial advice. My friend Gary Thomas has been working on his autobiography for a while. He brought to my attention an organisation called The Literary Consultancy who offer manuscript evaluation and other editorial services. I’m going to get in contact with them once a third draft is complete in August about what services they’d suggest for The Thaw – as I previously stated, I feel it’s worthy of publication and deserves the critical eye of a professional editor. Yes, it’ll be expensive but money well spent in my opinion!

As a learning process, though… there’s been some invaluable and harsh lessons I’ve learned in retrospect. Yes, I am a little regretful that The Thaw has taken so long, but I hope it’s worth it. My confidence as an author – a proper one at that! – just, at this stage, feels so very buoyed and I am excited to get started on the next phase of getting this book in front of people who could make some exciting decisions!

Plus, relief – I can breathe and relax. Enjoy video games and books (hobbies which have suffered as I’ve edited; time management skills there but I’ll go into that later).

Overall though I can’t really express how proud I am of myself for making it this far with The Thaw and I hope to be able to share some more of it soon! If you have any advice, comments or things you think I should know as I enter the next phase of this project then please feel free to send them my way.