The Importance of Variety


Yours truly, trying to save the endless variety provided by libraries.

It’s strange, but as a writer one of the questions I most dread being asked is one of the most frequent: “So what do you write then?” It’s not so much that I don’t like talking about my writing- though I do get a strange modesty conflict- but more that I’m never sure how to categorise myself.

Look at the last piece of writing that I had published. “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”, a psychological horror published in the Night Terrors II anthology (which, I’ve recently discovered, is only £3.88 on Kindle. Just saying…). Last night I finished and submitted a near future SF story with an environmental bent. The next story I write will, it seems, be harder SF centred around augmented reality. And I have *holds breath* recently started a novel that seems like it will be a mixture of medium-hard SF and light fantasy.

So it’s a little hard to categorise my writing as a whole. When asked about it today in the barber’s chair, about all I could manage was “dark, horror-y, science-fiction-y stuff”. Which is somewhat embarrassing for someone who is supposed to be good with words.

But “dark” is about the only common thread running through my writing. Whether it’s overt horror, or SF exposing the darker side of humanity, I have an almost macabre fascination with the shadier side of life. I take heart that, whilst he started off with undeniable horror, Stephen King has matured into a taste for variety in the extreme. How would you categorise Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, for example?

My reading patterns are, generally speaking, just as varied. I make a special point to read a wide range of fiction, since I strongly believe that we write what we read in the same way that we are what we eat. Sameish reading results in stagnant writing.  The last book I read was Tom Fletcher’s The Thing on the Shore, a strange and introspective horror novel which was frankly excellent. And I’m currently reading two books: the first is Greg Egan’s Quarantine, which represents my first forray into reading full-length hard SF. The second is a physical copy of Dragonheart by Todd McCaffrey.

I grew up on Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books, and was deeply saddened last year when she passed away. I hadn’t read any of the later novels in the series by her son Todd, but seeing it on the shelf at the library the other week I just couldn’t help myself.

Which brings me neatly to another thing that’s been on my mind. Wokingham Borough Council’s plan to privatise the libraries rumbles onwards. The matter has seen scant attention from this blog of late, partly due to the exploding incompetence of the waste collection scheme and partly due to the fact that it’s all being done in secret. The council can claim that the secrecy is due to EU tendering rules, but those rules didn’t prevent the Conservatives from proposing it at the last election, or consulting on it before opening it up to tender.

When I go to the library for a book, I don’t go looking for anything in particular. I look for something that catches my eye, whatever it might be, and that contributes greatly to the variety in my reading. This is why I am determined to make sure that the libraries issue doesn’t drop off the agenda. As I have said before, the world would be a far poorer place without them.

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