Friday, May 28, 2021


by Abir

Do you alter your personal reading based on what you are currently working on?



Friday again! I don’t know where you are, but where I am, it was raining for a month but finally stopped yesterday, so I’m feeling positive. The weather here has been abysmal. There was one point last week when I considered building a boat and collecting up all the animals, two by two.


Life seems to be returning to normal round here though. I went and sat inside a pub the other day for the first time in about a year. I had a few celebratory drinks and then promptly fell off my chair. It seems that during lockdown I may have forgotten how to drink beer. Rest assured, I shall practice all summer till I’m good at it again.


So, on to this week’s question: 


Do you alter your personal reading based on what you are currently working on?


The short answer is ‘no’, not least because ‘altering my habits’ suggests a degree of planning and general control over life which I sadly don’t possess. My reading habits are a bit like the ball baring inside a pinball machine, constantly bouncing from one thing to the next: I’ll start something and if I’m not hooked withing thirty pages, I’ll probably drop it; or I’ll be reading something, and then something else more shiny will come along and I’ll pick that up instead. This isn’t always the best way to go about things. Recently, I had to read a book for an event and the first thirty pages were turgid. If it wasn’t for the fact that I needed to be able to discuss it, I’d have chucked it in the bin, but as I kept going, the book got really good and drew me in. So my thirty page rule is a rubbish way of reading, but I’m a pretty rubbish person.


My tastes are eclectic. Like my friends on this thread earlier this week, my reading skews toward crime fiction, mainly because I get sent quite a few of these books to read and maybe provide a quote for, but other than that, I’ll read as widely as I can because I find I like trying new things.


I’ll generally read several things at once: some for pleasure; some to give quotes; some for research; and some in order to prepare for events that I’m taking part in. Right now, I’ve got the following on the go:


“Pushkin Hills” by Sergei Dovlatov – An unsuccessful writer and an inveterate alcoholic, Boris Alikhanov has recently divorced his wife and is running out of money. The prospect of a summer job as a tour guide at the Pushkin Hills Preserve offers him hope of regaining some balance in life as his wife makes plans to emigrate to the West with their daughter Masha, but during Alikhanov's stay in the rural estate of Mikhaylovskoye, his life continues to unravel.


I’d never heard of Dovlatov till last month when I came across a film about him on Netflix. He was a Russian author who found it impossible to be published during the Soviet era. He finally emigrated to the Sates where he died in the nineties. Posthumously, he’s now one of Russia’s most popular authors.


“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote - a non-fiction novel detailing the 1959 murders of four members of the Herbert Clutter family in the small farming community of Holcomb, Kansas. I’m reading this as research for a true crime novella that I’m going to be writing.


“The Cut” by Christopher Brookmyre – Millicent, a special effects make-up artist whose talent is to create realistic scenes of bloody violence wakes to find her lover dead in her bed. Twenty-five years later, her sentence for murder served, she’s ready to give up on her broken life - until she meets troubled film student and reluctant petty thief Jerry. Together, they begin to discover that all was not what it seemed on that fateful night . . . and someone doesn't want them to find out why. This is my second reading of this fantastic novel as it’s preparation for the next episode of the Bloody Scotland Book Club which I’m hosting on 30th June. 


“The Order of Time” by Carlo Rovelli

Alongside fiction, I’ll always try and have one non-fiction book on the go, generally either history or science and normally on audiobook. I find it much easier to concentrate on non-fiction audiobooks than on fiction ones. One of the things that is currently fascinating me is the concept of time. I can’t profess to understand what’s going on, and after a couple of chapters, this book got pretty complicated for my small brain, but it was thought-provoking.



Returning to the question, I guessing it might have been posed with the thought that maybe writers don’t want to be influenced by other authors’ work when they’re writing their own novels. I’ll echo what my colleagues have said earlier this week, namely that I think by this point in our careers, we’ve all developed our own styles and authentic voices. I’m not scared I’m going to end up mimicking someone else’s style because I know it wouldn’t work for me. I can only write in my voice, and I’m too lazy to try and copy someone else’s,


That’s not to say I haven’t learned from other writers. The works of Philip Kerr definitely had an influence on what I write and how I write it; reading the work of Kingsley Amis had a profound effect on me in terms of opening my eyes to what a supremely gifted author could do with language; and the short stories of Frederick Forsyth and Jeffrey Archer helped me to see how to better structure my own short form work. Similarly, I’m reading Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ to learn from a master. I won’t end up writing in his style (because I can’t), but if I can pick up a few gems of what might improve my own work, then it’s time well spent.


Re-reading the question, I guess my first answer was slightly wrong. I do alter my reading for what I’m writing, but it’s a positive alteration, in that I seek out books like Capote’s for research, rather than a negative alteration of avoiding certain work which might be similar to what I’m writing.


Yeah, probably best to just ignore everything I’ve just said.


Have a great weekend.




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