I’m one of those people who get completely taken in by whatever I’m reading / watching / listening to. Some cynical people would call this gullible but I prefer the phrase ‘open minded’. Over Christmas I’ve been doing my readers job a lot (yes I have really elevated reading to the status of a job because, to my mind, if you’re a writer, you should also be an avid reader) as it’s been pretty much impossible to do any writing due to the hoards of people that have festooned every room of my house over the last month. I have readily burrowed myself into the mythical worlds of other people’s making in search of escape and inspiration. Escape from the cycle of cooking, cleaning and chit chat that comes with Christmas, inspiration for a short story that I’m writing for my next tutorial that has a whimsical ilk and requires a more poetic style of prose. My hunt for grown up fables began after reading Shane Jones’ Light Boxes, earlier this year: a strange and sad story about the month of February terrorising a town and the struggle of one man, Thaddeus Lowe, as he leads the townsfolk in various bids to overcome February with drawings of balloons, mint leaves and boxes of light. I loved it and I wanted more like it. My search for more of the same so far has led me to three books, and it is these that have kept me sane whilst the storm in my house has been raging against me and so I want to recommend them here.
I began with Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan, a magical fairy tale for adults about two bewitched feuding families which I was completely intoxicated by and found extremely difficult to put down. I followed this with The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw, who is an alumni of Lancaster University’s Distance Learning MA in Creative Writing course. Aside from the unique plight of the protagonist, Ida McLaird, whose feet have myseriously turned to glass, I loved the beautiful lyrical language used to weave a magical other wordly feel to the story. I’m still reading this and I’ve estimated it’s going to be another couple of days before I’m finished. As soon as I do, I plan to move on to The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia. The synopsis on Amazon says: ‘Amidst disillusioned saints hiding in wrestling rings, mothers burnt by glowing halos, and a Baby Nostradamus who sees only blackness, a gang of flower pickers heads off to war, led by a lonely man who cannot help but wet his bed in sadness. Part memoir, part lies, this is a book about the wounds inflicted by first love and sharp objects.’ The Times reviewed as, ”The People of Paper is a novel like no other, emerging from the chrysalis of magic and imagination to create a world of letters that seeps back into the world we know and then metamorphoses into something else altogether.’ Sounds exactly what I’m looking for. I’ll let you know how it reads.
Anway, to my mind, what these four books have in common to a varying degree is an element of the fanastical and the requirement for the reader, not only to suspend their beliefs in order to ‘read’ the story, but also, to commit to seeing and believing in a world, whose characters, language and setting bear enough resemblence to those of the real world to make reading about them an unsettling experience. And at the end of all that still come away feeling like you’ve enjoyed the book. This is precisely the effect that I am hoping to emulate in my own story which tells the tale of a young girl as she grows up coping with a rare, but real life condition, called synthesisa. (Synthesisa has a fusing effect on the senses, causing sufferers to see colours, experience tastes, feel textures and hear music in reponse to words, letters or numbers.) Whilst the medical condition, emotions and struggles are all recognizably real, the world that my story is set in is decidedly fairytale territory.
I’ve enjoyed every minute of my research for this tutorial especially as it’s has meant that the stressful Christmas period, really hasn’t felt that stressful at all. And after ten days of the in-laws living in my house, that in itself is a miracle.