Monday, 6 February 2012

“What a scholar one might be if one knew well some half a dozen books.”

The wise words of Flaubert could not be any truer for an aspiring writer. It's common knowledge that very often, the best readers make the best writers. So the Loud Mouth team set ourselves this challenge: if we had to pick half a dozen books that we think made us better writers, what would they be?

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Technically, this qualifies as seven books, but we'll overlook that for the the sake of this challenge. The Loud Mouth team is proud to call themselves members of the Harry Potter generation. Harry Potter kicked off a renewed interest in reading, and books finally became 'cool'. They proved that one does not need to write like Dickens or D.H. Lawrence to write works that people will fall in love with.

  1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë  
Few authors possess the ability to manipulate language as Emily Brontë did. Brontë was an author who wrote what she knew. There are many, many writers who try to write the next 'Oliver Twist' or 'Ulysses'... but remember, Dickens witnessed the pickpockets, poverty and thievery which he wrote about with such accuracy and depth, while Joyce was able to capture the essence of Dublin because he knew it like the back of his hand. Now that's not to say you should only write what you know, otherwise the entire fantasy, horror or sci-fi genres would be made redundant. But use what you know to illuminate your writing. 'Wuthering Heights' is littered with the natural imagery that Brontë was accustomed to on the moors; the class divisions that were commonplace in the 19th century; the 'appropriate' and 'inappropriate' relationships between men and women. Her writing is frank, honest, and above all - believable. 

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale is a bleak dystopic tale that certainly should not be read if you're in a bad mood and looking for a little comfort. It embodies the 'warning novel' - the novel that targets the tragic flaws in society, and in humans, and creates a world which depicts the potential consequences of our actions. Many a writer has tried to pen witty political satire, and failed miserably. 'The Handmaid's Tale' sets the standard. The key to this novel's success is observation: observe the world around you - its failings, its successes, its flaws... the best writers are aware of what is going on around them. They then use this acquired knowledge, add a little imagination, and create something extraordinary. 

Room By Emma Donoghue

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Emma Donoghue's 'Room' is a rare gem in a literary world that has recently been flooded with general 'crowd-pleasers'. It's unapologetically controversial, never shying away from the horror implied by its content. We would draw a comparison with Snape's death in the final Harry Potter film (well, we are the HP generation!) and admit that Donoghue lets the reader's imagination do the work here: what they don't read explicitly results in the creation of images that are far worse than the reality. 

Narrated from the point-of-view of a child, 'Room' is set in a 12-foot square room where five-year-old Jack is imprisoned with his Ma, who preserves her own sanity by raising her son with every scrap, whilst desperately craving the freedom of 'outside' that she once knew. If you put aside the Josef Fritzl comparisons momentarily, you'll find yourself won over by the pure simplicity of Donoghue's language. A great novelist can put themselves in their protagonist's shoes: speak like them, think like them, reason like them. Not many writers can assume the identity of a five-year-old without sounding sickly sweet, pretentious or stupid. 

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The key to a successful book is the most difficult to achieve: imagination. You need that one plot, that one idea, to create a triumph of imagination. Be it complex or simple, a writer needs to be motivated enough to sit down for an hour, a day, a week, or a month, and construct their tale. The Shadow of the Wind is a novel that constantly surprises, twists and turns in unusual directions, shocks and challenges the reader. It not only tells the tale of Daniel, an awkward teenager piecing together the story of his favourite author, Julián Carax in post-war Spain, but also that of Lain Coubert, a devilish figure intent upon burning every copy of his books; Penelope Aldaya, the teenage girl who captured Julián's heart; Miguel Moliner, Julián's best friend, who hid a terrible secret from the world and made the ultimate sacrifice for his friend. These tales are narrated alongside Daniel's own narrative as he struggles with his love for his best friend's sister, befriends a tortured soul with an equally tortured past who soon becomes his best friend, and races against unknown enemies to discover the truth about Carax. This novel is a novel of possibilities: the astounding works that writers can create with a little imagination. 

But these are just our picks! If you had to pick half a dozen books that you would recommend to any writer in the making, what would they be? Leave your comments below!

We're signing off today's blog with a sneak-peek at our exclusive interview with Carnegie-medal shortlisted writer, and author of 'The Last Dragon Chronicles' series, Chris D'Lacey.

Loud Mouth is a platform primarily dedicated to showcasing the work of young writers. For young and aspiring writers, what advice would you give, on getting published and on avoiding the dreaded writer's block and procrastination bug?

Chris D'Lacey with series favourite,
Gadzooks the clay dragon - everything
Zookie writes on his notepad magically
comes true
Remember, you're going to spend hours alone working on a computer or with your head in an exercise book.  That takes dedication.  Writing is not the best way to make lots of friends.  You need self-belief, too.  It's a very competitive business.  If you truly believe that the work you're producing deserves to be published, then stick at it.  Everyone gets rejected at some point.  It's all about finding that one person, that influential editor, who really connects with your work.  It goes without saying that you should read, particularly if you're young.  Young writers are overflowing with ideas, but they generally lack the technical skills required to pace a book successfully.  That comes with practice and study.  As for writer's block - if a story isn't working for you, putting it away for a week then coming back to it with a fresh mind often helps.  I sometimes back up to a point where I'm sure that the narrative arc is correct, then I set off in a slightly different direction.  If none of this works for you, get a Gadzooks!

Have a great week!

The Loud Mouth Team