I never really understand it when people say they don’t have time to read. To me, it’s like saying: I don’t have time to breathe. Although, actually, people say that as well, don’t they? Anyway, my point is that books are as important to me as oxygen. I read, read, read. That means I always have another author’s voice chattering away in my head, which is fine, except for when I sit down to write. Then I need that other author to be quiet, so I can remember my own voice. Otherwise, I automatically start to imitate their style.
For example, I recently read a book by an author who has a habit of using long, lilting sentences, with numerous commas, and all of a sudden that seemed like the cool way to write, and my sentences began meandering on, like this, all over the computer screen, and part of me was thinking, wow, would you look at my long, elegant sentences, while another part of me was thinking, this isn’t you, it’s her, stop that!
Anne Tyler is one of my favourite authors and even when I’m not reading one of her books I find myself channelling her style. My characters start to speak like they live in Baltimore, and I use italics everywhere because she does it so beautifully, whereas I just sound like a lunatic.
I recently read the ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ series and I didn’t think Stieg Larsson’s voice was creeping into my writing at all, until my character got up one morning and dressed herself in a short-sleeved turquoise cotton shirt, a black cardigan with silver buttons and blue denim jeans and sat down to eat a poached egg with black pepper, two pieces of crispy bacon and half a slice of buttered multigrain toast. Larsson describes every outfit and every meal in weirdly compelling detail. I can’t get away with it. Who wears a short sleeved turquoise shirt? Also, it makes me hungry.
It takes at least half an hour of writing before I manage to exorcise the current book I’m reading from my head. Then I need a cup of tea and perhaps half a slice of buttered multigrain toast to celebrate. Then I think I’ll just quickly check my email. Then the batteries in my mouse die and I walk around the house swearing and pulling apart appliances looking for another pair. Then the phone rings and I have a good chat about how lucky I am that the baby is sleeping while my toddler is off with the babysitter, so I have time to write. Then I just quickly check my email again. Then I need another cup of tea. And then, I start writing, and it’s going beautifully, and I’m writing like me, and oh, I love being a writer!, this is the life!, and the words are clickity-clacking across the page, and this novel might actually be going somewhere and then…the baby cries. Right on cue. Every time.
So if you’re wondering why it’s taking me so long to write my next novel, that’s why. It’s the baby’s fault. She keeps me so busy I barely have time to breathe.