As some of you will know, I am working on the second draft of my novel, ‘A woman like Doli’. As it happens (yes, it does) islolation and self doubt started creeping in. I sought the support of a mentor and chose Emma Darwin, who came recommended by a fellow writer.
From the Suffolk countryside to the old Basque towns of Spain, Emma Darwin's unforgettable debut tells the astoundingly moving story of Stephen, a veteran of Waterloo…’
This write up just didn't appeal to me because it seemed to be set in a place and time that had nothing to do with my world nor one I'd be interested in. And Historical fiction? It's just not something I'd choose to read. On top of that, due to my politics on war, I did not want to get into the head of a soldier.
But Emma is my mentor. I could see she knows stuff. I mean really knows stuff. Stuff that I was already taking on board to help improve my writing; structuring and loads of other things related to the writing process. Reading her novel would actually enable me to see how she applies what she’s trying to show me. It could speed up my learning process.
Then…what do they call it? ‘Divine intervention’? Coincidence? Well, I got an episode of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and had to rest my wrist. What on earth was I going to do with myself? I couldn’t be asked to activate my speech recognition software so that I could dictate my work onto the page. So, I did more reading. Finished the novel I was currently reading; started to read another, then it came to me: What about Emma’s book?
I bought it. Started it. Felt uncomfortable reading the first few pages full of oldie worldie language, from the point of view of my ‘dreaded character’ ⎼ the soldier, then as I read on, discovered I'd found a good read, a page turner that surpassed my expectations. It was a great and satisfying read.
I thought about this reading experience, my prejudices and claimed ‘dislike’ of historical fiction. I recalled that during my late teens, I chumped through loads of stories set during the transatlantic slave trade. A few years ago, I enjoyed Andrea Levy’s, 'The long song', which, although listed as contemporary fiction, could be seen as historical, since the story, at least most of it, is about a slave girl living on a sugar plantation in Jamaica.
Thank you Emma Darwin, for, among other things, taking me out of my comfort zone.
Turns out, I do like historical fiction after all.
What about you? Do you tend to stay in the 'safe/tried and tested' zone with your reading, or do you think you could do with some diversifying?