Some months ago I interviewed the editor Lee Harris for my podcast. I asked him what he was reading at the moment, expecting him to mention a book from the Science Fiction or Fantasy – the genres he works in – or maybe a biography or historical novel. In fact he was currently enjoying a book of mathematics.
More recently I attended two talks at the Cambridge Literary Festival. One was by the journalist and broadcaster Andrew Marr on the subject of the poetry of the British Isles, the other was a perspective on the history of Britain through portraiture, given by the academic and historian Simon Schama. I enjoyed both of these talks even though history and poetry are not core areas of interest for me.
These things reflect a habit that I’d like to adopt in 2016. I want to step outside of my immediate areas of literary interest and explore what else is out there.
We know that the vocation of writing is a relentless one, it can consume us as we focus on building up our skills in the craft, and as we pour our energies into a writing project. I can even find myself resisting the idea reading just for the sake of reading, for the pleasure of the activity, and the joy of finding out something new. But this is just what we writers need: a balanced diet. Certainly we should read around the area that appeals to us and our writing, but we should also try to give ourselves the space to be distracted by other genres and writers.
There are some captivating characters and subjects out there. Why not read about Canon Andrew White the ‘Vicar of Baghdad’, or Ann Hasseltine Judson one of the first female missionaries, or maybe the man who first measured the metre, the mathematician and astronomer Jean Baptiste Joseph Delambre.
If you want to try some poetry that would be company in the Christian life you could try the work of George Herbert. What about the story of how astronomers have discovered nearly two thousand exoplanets outside of our solar system in the last twenty five years, or perhaps you could try ‘Tiger of the Snows’ by Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who accompanied Edmund Hillary on his quest to climb Everest in 1953.
We should never be so focused that we lose a sense of delight and interest in the wider world. We should always want to read, and not just in our own subject. When I interviewed the Christian writer and historian Nick Page he talked about reading widely as a critical step in the writing process, and letting what we read seep into our minds and settle there.
I am convinced that God wants us to retain our delight in the wider world, and the Christmas period is an ideal time for a bit of literary foraging. We can add a different kind of book to our wish list; or maybe visit the local library and browse some of the shelves that we normally avoid. A wide and varied diet of good reading will help us to retain that delight, for the sheer pleasure of discovery as well as the benefit of our work.
Andrew is the presenter of The Creative Writer's Toolbelt a podcast that offers practical, accessible advice on the craft. Andrew has published a novel and worked on a number of ghost-writing collaborations for Authentic Media, including the bestselling, 'Once an Addict' with Barry Woodward. He has also self-published a number of science fiction short stories.