They tell you to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader.
If that were the only rule to do with writing, I would be well on my way to be a good writer. You may have noticed (since I write a blog about reading books) that I like reading, and I do quite a bit of it. I know some writers who let their ‘writer’s hat’ get in the way of enjoying reading – everything is analysis, criticism, working out how an author did something or didn’t do something to make a books work, or how it didn’t work… This does not sound fun to me. I am lucky that I have an almost child-like ability to become absorbed in the story that people will sometime tell me something negative about a book, something really obvious that I should have picked up, but i was too wrapped up in the story to notice.
Anyway, the point of this all is to tell you that I have found a new book that I think is one of my absolute favourite books from the 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up, and perhaps one of my favourite books off the 1001 list as well… The Little White House by Elizabeth Goudge is one of the most enchanting books I had ever read. I fell in love with it from the first sentence. I spent all last Sunday reading it on the banks of the local river, unable to tear myself away from the page despite the grass getting itchy. When I finally had to move, I had to stop at a cafe on my way home to keep reading. It was just so wonderfully written.
There were a couple of elements to the plot that resembled a story I have written, a story I am currently shopping around to publishers. When I stumbled across the first plot point that was similar to mine, I had a moment of ‘isn’t that a coincidence!’. At the second one, I had a moment of dread. Then a couple of other things made me almost panic. Firstly, what if publishers thought I was plagiarising The Little White Horse? I can swear I have never read it, as my only encounter with it before is a memory of a girl in my English class reading it during our 10 minutes of silent reading time, and I remember the cover vividly, as it had a quote from J.K. Rowling on the cover, and a picture of a galloping horse, and I remember thinking I probably wouldn’t like it, I didn’t much like horsey stories… (It is not, I discovered after reading it, a horsey story at all, and I wish I had read it as a child, as I would have loved and cherished it). What if someone thought I had ripped off the story?
But secondly (and more dishearteningly) Elizabeth Goudge tells all these plot points and her whole story so much better than I ever could.
The Little White Horse is a story I wish I could have written, it has everything I love about a story in it, but it is written so much more skilfully, so much more enchantingly than I ever could. As a reader, I love the story, as a writer, I hate and am insanely jealous of it.
Luckily, for my first point, Elizabeth Goudge actually takes the story in a very different direction that I do with our similar plot points. But for my second point…. I hardly ever, when reading, compare myself to the writer, either positively or negatively. The fact that I did with The Little White Horse, while disheartening for a while, can help me strive to be a better writer. Because now I can have a clear goal in my head. I want to write a book that I can be proud to compare with The Little White Horse. Not just in plot points, but in literary magic.
(If you haven’t read The Little White Horse, I urge that you do. It has the same charm and old-fashioned magic as E Nesbit and Frances Hodgson Burnett. And just look at the wonderful illustrations…)
I think this an appropriate moment for a heartfelt “D’oh!”
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