I read to learn
- “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)
Through the lens of history, we can more clearly see our own times. The Regency and Georgian eras fascinate me. There was a growing disparity between rich and poor, privatisation of public good properties, wars and rumours of wars, rapid technological changes with unpredictable outcomes. Sound familiar?
Although I write to entertain, I also write to inform, and in doing so to hold up a mirror to our own times.
- “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” (L.P. Hartley)
The similarities are challenging; the differences are fascinating.
I continually trip over things in my reading and my research for writing that astound, horrify, or delight me. Did you know that between a quarter and a half of all women in the early 19th century had ‘Mary’ as one of their first names? That an estimated one in five women in London made income from the sex trade? That the man who invented one of the world’s earliest self-propelled wheelchairs did so after demonstrating another invention: the world’s first roller skates?
I love to read about history, and now I’m not wasting time, I’m doing research.
- “I like reading novels because it provides insight into human behaviour.” (Claire Danes)
We learn about people by meeting them; by watching them. In historical novels, the people we meet face different challenges to our own, have been moulded by a different culture, must react to a different context.
But they are still people. I want to read about people who are real to me while I’m in the book, and stay with me when I close it.
I know I’ve captured a character when my readers discuss their motives and their beliefs. It’s enormously thrilling when someone explains to me why one of my characters thought, felt, or did something, and I have an ‘Aha’ moment because the thought is new to me but they’re right.
I read to be entertained
- “These boys in books are better.” (Carrie Hope Fletcher)
Knights, Dukes, Earls, handsome rogues and pirates; what’s not to like? Let’s face it; gorgeous men in cravats and knit pantaloons are hot. And hot men who are considerate and respectful are even hotter.
Fletcher’s song points out that real life men can’t live up to the standard set in Twilight, Deadly Instruments, and the like. And any girl who stays single till she finds someone as good as her book boyfriend is in for a long wait.
- “I read for pleasure and that is the moment I learn the most.” (Margaret Atwood)
Reading taught me that the kind are rewarded, that perseverance will win in the end, that love is worth striving for. That you can start a fire with spectacles and that sharks can’t swim backwards. That lying on a frozen over pond spreads your weight so you are less likely to break through.
Ideas; concepts; principles; facts. I’ve learned all of those from reading. I read for pleasure. And I write books that I hope others will read for pleasure; books with strong determined heroines, loving heroes, compelling story lines, and convincing challenges.
I read to escape, to take a micro-holiday
- “I have never known any distress that an hour’s reading did not relieve.” (Charles de Montesquieu)
I lived more than 50 years with an undiagnosed condition that gave me chronic tiredness and constant pain. In that time, I raised four children, two with serious health conditions, and fostered two others. We entered adolescent hell with one of them and didn’t emerge for ten years. Reading allowed me the break I needed.
When people say that historical romance (or science fiction, or fantasy, or mystery novels) are escapism, I agree. Any book that captures your imagination allows you to escape whatever distress you may be in. The best books strengthen and inform you, sending you back into reality better able to deal with your challenges. But even the most flagrant chewing gum for the mind gives you time to recharge.
- “You can travel the world and never leave your chair when you read a book.” (Sherry K. Plummer)
And not just the world! I want to go somewhen else for my book holiday. Travel, so we are told, broadens the mind. In historical romances, I am able to travel to another time. In the hands of a good writer, I experience the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the stories, and all without the risk of plague, pressganging, or death by tooth infection.
- “Reading is a discount ticket to everywhere.” (Elizabeth Hardwick)
I dream of a life of leisure, with nothing to do but flirt with rakes and dance at balls. I’d undoubtedly hate it in practice. I like being busy and useful. But I can have that in a book, and then walk away, back to my real life.
- “There’s no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” (Frank Herbert)
I like happy endings. Some other writers like tragic endings, or even no ending at all. In my view, happy endings are better. Every writer has to choose where to start and where to stop the story, so why not choose the bit that feels good?
The romance novel’s ‘happily ever after’ is not about perfect resolution of all problems; it’s about convincing the reader that the protagonists will support each other through whatever problems arise.
I read to learn to write better
- “I believe that writing is derivative. I think good writing comes from good reading.” (Charles Kuralt)
Reading good books gives us the sound of good language. It teaches us how plots work, how to show character rather than telling it, how to make choices that show the theme of the book, how to use words to create atmosphere, how to write dialogue that sizzles.I believe I need to do two things to be a good writer. Read a lot. Write a lot. That’s all.
(Originally written for Nicole Zoltack’s blog)