Tag Archives: imagination

The call of the wild

At a meeting of The Singapore Writer’s Group this week, I was reminded of the importance of playing and experimenting with language. When you’re busy learning the craft of writing a novel, as I am, there’s a tendency to focus on the mechanics – character development, dialogue, structuring a plot.

I think carefully about the words I use because I want to achieve an economy of language and capture exactly the right metaphor and so on. Mastering all this brings great satisfaction, but in this pursuit of writing a well-crafted book that will sell, have I forgotten to play? I mean really revel in words and let the imagination run wild.

Authors do play with language but then they tame it, discipline it, strap it down and, after a while, it comes out walking to heel. This is part of learning your craft. You learn to use language effectively to create story, suspense, subtext and to make your reader fully believe in your world.

Then a song-writer called Parijat Mishra read a short piece to our writers’ group that was like a wolf howl to my urban fox brain. He had wanted to write something like a dream, a piece of art, a painting with words. And so he read us Tough Syrup, (it’s the second story in his blog) which we decided was a ‘prose poem’. Me included. The automatic reflex to put it in a box. We loved it, were confused and impressed by it in equal measure and called for story, discipline. And that is what his work needs if his intention is to write a short story or a novel. But I don’t think this is his aim. Not with that piece, anyway. He’s an artist at play. He achieved what he wanted and created a piece of art. His imagery was disturbing, surreal and extraordinary. It was an outpouring of imagination, a dreamscape painted with words.

One writer saw it as a comment on the emasculated male in a female world, I saw it as a comment on living in Singapore where everything is made safe and how suffocating that can be. It provoked thought and we brought our own interpretations to it. And that, I think, makes it art. We recognised that it was raw and wild and ugly and beautiful.

I hope Parijat does develop and apply discipline to his writing because his work reminded me of Kurt Vonnegurt and that kind of talent should be recognised. And at the same time, I like that it’s wild. I like that it roams the boundaries. So thank you, Parijat, and thank you to The Singapore Writers’ Group and all who shared their work, for the inspiration.

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Cuts to free books for children

So let me get this right. A week before Christmas, the British Government decides to completely cut funding to Booktrust, a charity that provides free books to children. And in the same week, figures showed that one in 11 boys start secondary school with a reading age of only seven. Surely that shows that we should invest more in schemes to promote national literacy.

Thank God the cry of ‘Scrooge!’ from the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and other authors has brought the Government to its senses.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has now back-tracked and said the Government will continue to fund book-gifting programmes. He will be talking to Booktrust about ‘how to develop a new programme… ensuring we develop an even more effective way of supporting the most disadvantaged families to read together’.

It’s welcome news that there will be some continued support from Government. But I expect funding will be reduced. And the programmes – which currently see that every child receives books at birth, as they start primary school and at Year 7 – will no longer be universal. They will target only disadvantaged families.

You don’t have to be financially ‘disadvantaged’ to be impoverished of books. I know middle class parents, for instance, with a strong focus on their children’s academic achievement that don’t see the point in novels. The children are encouraged to read non-fiction because it is seen as more educational than story books.

I grew up in a lower middle class family but wasn’t surrounded by books at home because my mum thought they were ‘dust-gatherers’. I was, however, encouraged to go to the library. But local councils are also making cuts to library services, which could lead to a quarter of librarians losing their jobs over the next year. In London alone, 130 libraries are expected to close.

In cutting Booktrust schemes and in closing libraries and generally restricting access to books, we impoverish the minds and imaginations of our children, when we should be enriching them.