Tania Unsworth has written a blog for us that will have us reminiscing about favourite books growing up and the joys of reading the same titles again and again.
Writing to be read – and read again.
When I was a child, my family didn’t have much money to spare for buying books. I went to the library instead. And the few books I did own I read over and over again until their spines were broken, and their covers were gone. It felt like hardship back then. But now I see it as a great gift.
First, it made me feel as if I was getting more and more clever. A story read by a child of seven is a different story when that child is nine or ten. I’ll never forget the thrill of realizing (all my myself!) that Aslan was not just a magical lion as I’d assumed the first twenty times I read the books by C.S Lewis, but also a metaphor for God! And the Narnia stories were more than mere adventures, they were about the battle between good and evil, about temptation and despair and redemption…
I learned other things too. My obsessive re-reading of books by Henry Treece and Rosemary Sutcliffe gave me far more knowledge of history than anything I was ever taught at school. And thanks to my well-thumbed copy of Greek and Roman myths, I had a basis in classics long before I realized that ‘classics’ was actually a thing.
But the best thing about re-reading was that it taught me how to write. I didn’t know that was what was happening. It wasn’t a conscious process. But it’s hard to read a story again and again without becoming aware of the nuts and bolts of the thing. The unfolding of plot, the cunning foreshadowing, the miraculous transformation of the seemingly random into the utterly inevitable. The power of what is said and the even greater power of what is not. The way that moments of significance are given room to ‘land’, the creation of suspense, the pattern and rhythm of language itself…
For me, the greatest stories are the ones you want to read again. The ones that feel mysteriously rich. That’s what I aspire to in my own writing (whether I achieve it or not is another matter!). When I set out to write Nowhere Island, I wanted it to work as a straightforward survival adventure that younger children would enjoy, with enough layers to make it satisfying for older readers too. For example, I tried to present the book’s main theme (family) in a variety of ways, some clear (the children learn that they can create their own family) and others more subtle (the way that brothers Riley and Grayson demonstrate their love for each other). Keeping things simple and yet layered was often a challenge, especially in the description of the cult that one of my characters has escaped from. There were so many aspects of it that I longed to explore – narcissism, brainwashing, ‘alternative’ facts, etc. – but I forced myself to merely suggest these issues because I wanted my readers to discover them for themselves, in their own time.
I often have to remind myself, while laboring through a horrible first draft, that re-writing can change everything. And re-reading is the same.
A kind of magic.
NOWHERE ISLAND by Tania Unsworth is out now in paperback ( Zephyr, an imprint of Head of Zeus)
Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation.