Most of my evenings end with a spot of reading.
Unfortunately, that period of reading usually lasts for precisely one minute before I lose consciousness and the book tumbles to the floor, closely followed by my glasses. In some ways, that’s frustrating. The working day might be taxing, but it would be nice if my brain had enough energy left by the end of the day to last through more than a page or two before powering down.
On the other hand, it’s pleasing that, with all the demands and distractions that crowd our lives every day, many of us still see reading as the way to unwind and push back the cares of the everyday world for a bit. If you were lucky, reading was the way you were encouraged to relax as a child, and the habit stuck.
To stand any chance of writing well, you need to read as much as you can, and I read a lot when I was young. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of staying awake too late because I was engrossed in a desperately exciting story, like Enid Blyton’s Five on a Treasure Island or David Whitaker’s Doctor Who and the Daleks.
Just as importantly, I read our household’s copy of the Daily Mirror every day. It was always the most tightly written newspaper of them all, and if I have any aptitude at all for writing concisely, it’s probably the result of absorbing that prose style.
Today, it’s possible to read all day and night without ever picking up a book or newspaper. The internet has shown us just how resilient the written word is. For all the bandwidth taken up by Instagram and YouTube, a huge amount of the online experience is about text.
But while we might consume a lot of words online, it is important sometimes to shun the easy dopamine hit of the internet and go back to good old-fashioned ink on paper. It is a different experience – deeper, more focused and less vulnerable to the impulse to switch tasks. It’s easy to fritter away precious time looking at your phone’s screen, but time spent on a book is rarely wasted.
Susan England is a great champion of text on a page. She’s read a lot of books – and recommended some good ones to me, introducing me to the journalist turned real writer Carl Hiaasen.
She’s an experienced ex-publisher and editor with lots of ideas. I suspect that the people who use her services will be better writers as a result.
© Darren Slade, 2019.
Poole-born Darren Slade is a long-serving journalist at the Daily Echo. He has been local government correspondent (covering such controversies as the Imax and the Winter Gardens), chief reporter, occasional columnist and business editor. He recently became group business editor for the Daily Echo Bournemouth, the Southern Daily Echo and the Dorset Echo.
He is a politics junkie, a film fan (everything from Woody Allen to Hammer horror) and a book lover who doesn’t get enough reading time but is rarely happier than when reading PG Wodehouse.
The Independent published an article a couple of years ago about Charles Dickens and his many publishing ventures such as Household Words, Household Narrative and All the Year Round, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Here’s why.
The author of the piece, Jeremy Parrott, ¹ described how he had unravelled the roll call of contributors to these journals which up until his research had largely remained something of a mystery. Within his article he refers to the University of Buckingham’s online digitised archive of these magazines which can be accessed by researchers and the public alike. I was especially intrigued with this extract from the article:
“As well as staff writers for the magazine, Dickens had a small group of regulars including the nigh-indefatigable Walter Thornbury who wrote close to 200 pieces for All the Year Round and Household Words before dying of exhaustion in a mental asylum at the age of 48″. ²
It would seem that in the service of Household Words and All the Year Round Thornbury travelled widely, writing articles that vividly depicted the United States and Palestine, the Iberian Peninsula, and European Turkey. He also wrote a long series of articles in All the Year Round entitled “Old Stories Retold”, where he covered topics such as “Trafalgar in 1805”, “Bombardment of Algiers in 1816”, “The Assassination of Mr. Perceval in 1812”, “The Cato Street Conspiracy in 1820”, “The Two Great Murders in the Ratcliffe Highway in 1811”, and “The Resurrection Men—Burke and Hare, in 1829”.
Apparently the series was curtailed due to Dickens’ dislike of their sanguinary and salacious content!
You can read more about Walter George Thornbury, Dickens’ indefatigable writer here
² Sadly, Thornbury died of overwork at Camberwell House Asylum, Peckham Road, London, on 11th June 1876, and was buried on the 13th at Nunhead Cemetery. He was survived by a wife and three sons.