I’m an avid reader and an avid writer, and I do one or the other, if not both, every day. Story is such an integral part of my life, as vital as food and travel and fresh air! So when Alyssa invited me to post on her wonderful blog, I thought I’d take a look at what attracts me to stories; what makes me pick up a book to read, or put a pen to paper? Am I following the same path or are my writing and reading attractions polar opposites?
I’m a very visual person, so the cover is the first element that attracts me to a new read. Afterwards, I read the blurb, and dip into the first page/middle of the book, and I also love recommendations, but the cover plays an important role. I like many types of cover, but I dislike anything too cartoony, or covers with photographs of people’s faces (I want to make up my own mind, thank you very much!) and my biggest pet hate is film covers.
When I write, I have images playing out in my mind like a film. If a visual is particularly strong, usually a character starts talking to me also – and that will be the next project I work on. It could be a short story, or a new novel, or even both (I often work on a few projects at a time in the early stages), but the visual images need to be strong.
Whether I’m writing or reading, the characters have to be 100% real and believable. I don’t always have to like them, but I need to understand their motives, the reasons behind their actions and behaviours – that’s the only way I can get engrossed. I enjoy reading books from multiple viewpoints too; it gives such an exciting twist to be able to see different layers of the story through different eyes. I haven’t explored this in my novels as it wasn’t right for the story, but I have tried in my short fiction; it’s not something I’ve mastered quite yet but I’m working on it!
I truly believe that your environment affects your mood and behaviour, and this is true for characters in books also. I love stories set in other countries and cultures, as well as futuristic and historical fiction – I’m really attracted to the unknown.
My novels, however, are set in places I know well; Dublin and West Cork (with a hint of magic) for The Book of Learning, the North East of England and London for Caramel Hearts. The reason is: I want my readers to really feel and understand the setting, and I can only maintain this for a novel-length piece of work if I’m familiar with the place.
In short fiction, however, I feel like I can play more; I’ve written about Okefenokee swampers, pickers in Brazil and book rescuers during the Bosnian war. I find shorter fiction more intense to write; but because it’s a snapshot, I feel like I can capture the mood and essence of a place I’m not familiar with more successfully.
Give me dark, strange, poetic, unsettling, brooding, scary, and atmospheric – but also give me hope. I don’t even need a happy ending – in fact, I prefer it when it’s not a particularly happy ending – but I want at least one of the characters to see a way out, otherwise it’s not real to me. Even the meanest of characters believes that they’re good and will care about someone somewhere – show me this in context and you’re onto a winner!
I purposely added an element of hope in Caramel Hearts because I wanted Liv’s situation to resonate with anyone who has experienced the effects of addiction or bullying – but I also wanted the reader to feel that however bleak the situation, where there’s hope there’s a way out.
Structure should be fun – novels don’t need to be linear! I love reading books containing maps or diaries or newspaper reports, also stories that are playful structurally such as Sarah Crossan’s verse novels, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (with that infamous half-finished sentence that confused many), or the gorgeous Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter.
In Caramel Hearts, I structure the story around real cake recipes; they reflect the story and the emotions of the characters, and it was really fun to do! It wasn’t my intention from the start, but after a few drafts and a few chats with the main character in my head, it became apparent that the recipes had a bigger role to play – but it was important that they were integral and not just a writing device.
It seems that what I like to read and what I like to write hold very similar attractions; in short, I’m writing the stories I want to read, that haven’t been written yet, exploring the themes that interest me. And as I devour more books, I’m learning – all writers should be avid readers. It’s fuel for the soul. Huge thanks to Alyssa for letting me try this experiment out via her blog; it’s amazing how you can always learn more about yourself and I’m sure it’ll feed back into the creative process.
I wonder, what attracts you to what you read and what you write? I’d love to read your comments below!
To learn more about E.R. Murray visit her website www.ermurray.com
Thank you so much to E.R. Murray for writing up the guest post! ❤ Be sure to check out her novel! When I first saw the synopsis, it reminded me of Like Water for Chocolate 🙂