Monday, July 02, 2007

Book List

I rise insanely early, feeling like a kid. So early I'm washed and dressed even before Anna-mouse's sing-song cries break the coolish air (Daaaddy, oh Daaaddy!). As ever when we're both around, she is suitably non-plussed when I appear at her door, not he.

But I said... she begins.

I know, I know, you said Daddy. Well it's sooo early he's next door sleeping, so I'm here instead. Good morning!

Can I go and give him a kiss? she asks. So sweetly sleepily I've melted already, and the day not yet begun. No time for sentiment this morning, though. I take her through to the Bim. She curls into the nook of his big arms and deposits a kiss on his sleeve. I note with relief that I won't have to worry about Anna-mouse today. They're reading the one about George, the scruffiest giant in the world as I slip from the house to catch my train.

After numerous changes and waits on windy platforms (won't do that route again) I get to the university site with just twenty minutes to register. It seems I have, magically, appeared at exactly the right moment: my surname starts with the very letter they have just called and I am whisked to the front of the queue like a celebrity at a nightclub. I embrace my new-found status and in a matter of minutes I am clutching my take-out cappuccino in one hand and a large manilla envelope with my name on it in the other. I am beside myself with excitement.

They send me to Room 038, which I take some pride in finding first go. The nice lady at the front of the class informs me that there has been a room switch and that I have, in fact, come to the Effective Writing class. Creative Writing is in another building altogether. I walk in circles for some time before stumbling, at two minutes to ten, upon Room 068, my correct destination. All morning there are small moments confusion as one, two, then another of our class realise that the same error has occurred to them, only in reverse. But I only wanted help with my paragraphs! I could hear them muttering as, one by one, they scoop up their papers and beat an embarrassed, hasty retreat.

The class is upbeat, interesting, stimulating and precisely pitched to what I need. We discuss monologue, point of view, the tricky line between stereotype and character in 3-D. I am in seventh heaven. It all goes swimmingly well, in fact, until the last informal moments. I have spent so long making notes that I find I'm the last to leave. The tutor is there, too, packing up his papers.

That was very good, what you wrote, he says encouragingly as I near the door. I am beginning to approach a feeling equivalent to the icing on the cake. And then -

Who do you read? he asks.

A hopeful, expectant look flickers across his pleasant face.

Er... I say.

He might as well have driven me into a brick wall. Who do I read? I ask myself, attempting bibliographies in my head. Who do I read? And I, who was raised on the classics, who could quote Shakespeare at seven, who once wrote critical essays citing Woolf, and Mansfield, and Plath - I who carried Henry James with me at sixteen, discovered John Irving in my thirties, moved on to Philip Roth, then back a century to Edith Wharton - in that moment could not utter one single author's name.

The question was asked of genuine interest. For my tutor, who I read places me on his world map. Later it occurs to me that had he asked What do you read? I could have answered. And what I have been reading of late defines me as sharply as my former intimacy with the Brontes.

The conversation goes like this:

What do you read? he asks.

Sell-by dates, I reply without thinking. I read alot of those. Oh, and ingredient lists come a close second in those stolen moments at the fridge door. Then there's cereal packets, shopping lists and instructions on battery-fitting - always a joy. Small-print, disclaimers, the fiddly bits on bills. When I have lots of time I read magazines - you know, Woman and Home, Ideal Home, that sort of thing. Anything with a home in it, really...

Late tonight I flick through my notes for the day. The very first note, in big, breezy capitals, says READ, READ, READ. ANYTHING. EVERYTHING. BROADEN YOUR WORLD.

I think I'll start doing that now.


Stay at home dad said...

Effective writing sounds completely ghastly.

You should have had a coffee with the tutor and discussed all your favourite existentialists!

Debbie said...

Oh, Livvy, I'm so happy for you! I could feel the excitement of your first day. You are off to a great start! I love the answer you gave your tutor. It was real and honest. Best wishes to you on this grand adventure :)

Cathy said...

I read voraciously as a child and teenager, though mainly Enid Blyton and genre fiction. My reading for pleasure slowed down a little in my twenties, as I was studying for much of that time, though what I did read was often quality writing. Reading almost stopped altogether in my thirties when I had two young children.

But children eventually go to school. Now I am a compulsive book buyer. Mainly secondhand, because I no longer feel I ought to read to the end of a book if I'm not enjoying it. I just send it back to the charity shop without guilt.

Your lecture note was the best advice that anyone cold give to a would-be writer. I just wish I had followed it earlier.


merry weather said...

That course sounds wonderful Livvy!
A good opportunity to expand and grow - marvellous. I did smile at the reading thing, ha, sure I'd have done the same and tried desperately to picture my bedside!

I think Cathy has put it perfectly. In my twenties I idolised the classics and the 20th century greats. Now after such a desert during 12 years of kids stuff, I'm far more inclined to dismiss books I don't like. I used to believe I had to finish them. Recently, I found myself reading about W H Auden and thinking, I was desperate once trying to understand his poems at uni. Why? What have I ever had in common with a rarified old stick like him anyway!

Good luck with all your endeavours :)

Sue said...

Great news about the course. I too think your note is on the mark to read to broaden your mind.

I'm trying to get away from chick lits and read something sensible. But at the end of the day when my mind wants to switch off as well as my body, I just can't seem to manage it!

JK said...

I've had the same blank mind experience when asked who/what I read, especially if asked in front of 20 classmates... when I do think of a book, it's usually something with bright colors and small words, written for someone under age 6.