Saturday, 20 December 2014

Fiction and non-fiction

When people find out I am an author they get all excited and squeaky. 'So what do you write? Have I heard of you?!'

I instantly get squirmy. 'Oh, nothing exciting. Just non-fiction. Boring stuff. You won't have heard of any of it and I've hardly sold any….so what do YOU do?'

I know, I want to slap myself too.

My mystery conversationalist doesn't know that actually, I've always wanted to write a novel but I don't feel I'm quite ready yet. Or rather they probably do, because I'll tell them, apologetically, if they ask me if I've thought about fiction.

The way I present non-fiction you'd think it was some kind of inferior option. Writing for those who aren't (whispers) real writers.

The urge to write a novel has been plaguing me for as long as I remember. As a young girl I devoured all the children's and YA fiction, and even Mills & Boons, I could get my hands on. I'll see you a Sweet Valley High and I'll raise you a Saddle Club, The Silver Brumby, Phantom Horse, The Babysitters Club, The Black Stallion, anything by any of the Pullien-Thompsons, Mallory Towers, and Enter My Jungle to boot.

And I wrote too. Thrilling tales of girls and ponies, girls who wanted ponies but couldn't have them, girls who had ponies and went on adventures with them, exciting yarns about misdeeds uncovered by intrepid girls, the misdeeds inevitably involved ponies, you get the gist.

As I got older and added Jilly Cooper and her ilk to my reading list, I would throw a Handsome Man into my writings. He may or may not have been roughly based upon a combination of Liam Gallagher and Ronan Keating (criiiiinge). Our intrepid girl heroine usually stumbled - literally - across this weirdly handsome, inevitably Irish, rather rude ruffian while she was riding her pony, and they would have cross words, and off she'd gallop, fuming at his lack of manners.

But when she got home she'd find she couldn't stop thinking about him…and he about her, of course…and in the meantime, ponies...

A novel is in my future, of that I have no doubt. I have two drafts saved on my computer, both of which need A Lot Of Work. I flit between the two then have long, long periods of not attending to either. I have little creative and emotional energy at the moment for anything that doesn't involve my children. When this will change, I don't know. But I know I will know when I know.

I also haven't had the emotional energy to read much fiction lately. Or more pertinently, the time! But I have read a lot of non-fiction, and I can honestly say I love it as much as, if not more than, fiction.

I always have. One of my favourite things to do when I was younger was read non-fiction. I had a library card and boy did I know how to use it. Having read my way through every single pony book (and magazine) in the South East of England by the age of six, I turned my avid, greedy eyes to anything else I could get my mitts on.

On any given week I would check out of the library books on herbal remedies, yoga, cooking, gardening, beauty, makeup, music, dance, gymnastics, hair care, DIY, design, geography, art, photography, the natural world, reflexology and massage….

Healing, nature and animals certainly featured heavily but I would read almost anything. Once I checked out a book entitled How To Be A Supergirl which was like a pre-teen equivalent of How To Walk in High Heels by Camilla Morton. The ethos was wonderful, here was a practical guide to being capable, a lifestyle handbook dressed up as aspirational.

Another time a friend dared me to find a library book that had never been checked out (we knew how to live) and take it out. The Complete Guide To Beekeeping was duly brought home in my rucksack. I read it from cover to cover and within a year I'd been to beekeeping classes and had a hive kept in an orchard a mile up the road.

I rarely, if ever, delved into anything around politics, economics, history, popular culture and celebrities. If it was historical and involved ponies, it might make the list but other than that these were - and still are - pretty much black holes for me. I can't explain why, these just aren't areas that have ever lit a flame within me in the same way the natural world or, well, ponies did.

Today I still read non-fiction in a kind of frenzy, devouring it until the words are coming out of my ears. I've read so many parenting and child development books I could probably write a thesis. The consumption of parenting books in particular is surrounded by snobbery and finger-wagging and the myth that good parents don't need to read as they somehow automatically just know everything. I am 100% happy in my decision to read as much as I can about the development of the two people I have chosen to bring into the world. After all, reading about what I do, is what I do.

I'm still that girl with the bruised, battered library card. I'm sad that libraries no longer keep dated records of checkouts in the front of books because if I could, I'd find a book that had never been taken out of the library, and I'd take it home and read it to this day.

I don't even know if any libraries hold my books. If they do, they may well be the books that nobody's ever checked out. But some day somebody like me might. They might take home The Girl's Guide to Life on Two Wheels, laughing to themselves. 'Who needs a book about riding a bike?' And they might read it, and fall in love with the idea of getting a bike and riding to work, just as I fell in love with so many things through the medium of words, and if they did, that would be just lovely.

Pix of Cherry circa 16 months reading The Girl's Guide to Life on Two Wheels.

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