Tweet chat 21st May 2021 Reading as a Writer

Thought Catalog Pixabay

Participants: Kathleen Marple Kalb, Maria Johnson, Gerald Hornsby, Anita Belli, Chris Towndrow, Beth Hudson, Bradley Galimore, Cheryl Whiting, Elizabeth Holland, Karen Heenan, Kyt Wright, Odessa Rose, Marsha Mildon, Mordecai Martin,  Deborah Klée.


Please introduce yourself by telling us your name, where you are from, and the book or books that inspired you to become a writer.

Cheryl: Hello everyone at Friday salon I’m Cheryl – northern lass now in Cheltenham. As an academic I rarely read novels (*gasp), I am in awe of colleagues that have written text books. I’m trying not to write a text book, but something which inspires people to be the ultimate professional.

Maria: Hi, I’m Maria, based in NW England near Manchester. It was probably Jane Eyre that inspired me to be an author.

Kathleen: Jane Eyre is one of my big ones too! I still have the school book fair copy I bought when I was eleven or so!

Elizabeth: I studied Jane Eyre at A level and it ruined my love of the book!

Maria: Oh no! I hope you have since recovered the love for it lol. Actually that’s a big reason why I did Language and, not Lit at A Level, because I didn’t want it to put me off reading.

Deborah: That’s interesting. A lot of the guests on Castaway Books say that their A level books made them fall in love with the book and author.

Elizabeth: I found it incredibly restrictive. The syllabus wanted a certain answer and that’s not how reading a book goes. We all have our own interpretations.

Kyt: Hi, I’m Kyt, an old bloke living in Leicestershire who always wanted to write; my friend and I used to pen dreadful science fiction then bombard our poor English teacher with it. It took an awful long time to write a book, but I finally sat down to do it just short of sixty.

Gerald: It’s never too late, Kyt! I’m enjoying creating stories and writing novels at 64 (and counting…)

Odessa: Hello. My name is Odessa. I’m from Baltimore When I was 9 years old, I read a short story in Reader’s Digest that inspired me to write. I don’t remember what the story was about. I just remember telling my mother that I wanted to write, and she said Well write baby.

Beth: That’s wonderful! Supportive parents can make a really bi difference in the course of your writing.

Anita: Great response from Mom. That’s all the encouragement you need!

Bradley: Hi, my name is Bradley. I’m Originally from New Orleans, but reside in NYC. I’d always wanted to write, but the book that solidified my decision to actually do it is “One More Thing” by @bjnovak (via @HarperCollins). His career journey leading up to it inspires me.

Chris: Hi, Chris from Richmond. Sadly, movies rather than books were the original catalyst. The only books which gave specific inspiration are Woody Allen’s ‘Complete Prose’ – I then wrote some crazy comedy, and Iain M Banks’ work reframed my sci-fi prose.

Beth: Movies are stories too; they’re just told differently!

Chris: Yes, and I’ve had more training in scriptwriting than in novel writing. My #WIP was originally a screenplay, and my most successful book was developed from a treatment, but I’m slowly becoming better at following the different ‘rules’ of book writing.

Gerald: I read the Wasp Factory many moons ago, Chris. @TowndrowBooks A truly excellent book

Chris: I haven’t read his non sci-fi books. Funnily enough, that book came up in conversation with a friend this week. He said it crosses genres.

Deborah: Hi Chris. Now that I am reading and thoroughly enjoying your novel Signs of Life I can see that film has greatly influenced your writing style.

Elizabeth: Hi everyone! I’m Elizabeth from Kent. There’s no one particular book that inspired me. I’ve loved reading from a very young age and I cannot get enough of disappearing into book worlds. This inspired me to create my own.

Kathleen: Hi! I’m Kathleen, from CT in the US. SO many books, but since I ended up as a mystery writer, let’s go with Elizabeth Peters: Die for Love and the whole Amelia Peabody series.

Gerald: Hi everyone! My name’s Gerald, I’m from Birmingham, UK. Two books inspired me decades ago: Two Years Before the Mast (Richard Henry Dana Jr.) and The Thirty Nine Steps (John Buchan). They were the first stories which took me to a different world. Actually, now I think about it, the book which led me to think I *could* be a writer was On Writing (Stephen King). First published in 2000. Still love it today

Beth: Hi! I’m Beth Hudson, from the American Midwest (Iowa). Books that inspired me to become a writer? I decided I wanted to at seven, so they would have been books by Lloyd Alexander (Prydain series), The Hobbit, The Little Prince, and books by Alexander Key.

Karen: Hi, I’m Karen from Pennsylvania, and I write historical fiction. I’ve also read historical fiction since I was a kid – probably A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the Anne of Green Gables series convinced me that writing was what I wanted to do.

Anita: Anita from Essex UK via Manchester and London. Teenage books like Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, What Katie Did, The Silver Sword; as well as authors we covered in EngLit later at school; Jane Austen, Laurie Lee, DH Lawrence; although by then I was more into plays

Karen: How did I forget to mention Little Women in my list? I’ve got my aunt’s 1930s edition which I’ve just written into a Depression-era story I’m working on.

Anita: Karen, I read them all many times. But I always thought the ending was just wrong and Jo should have marked Laurie. I still think so. In my rewrite, she will!

Karen: It wasn’t even that they were right for each other, it was that Amy didn’t deserve him (never forgave her for the book burning) and Prof Bhaer and his criticism of her writing really stung. Way to win her heart, dude.

Marsha: I’m Marsha, based in Victoria BC Canada and many books from early childhood inspired me, but ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ got me thru the magic door into trying it out early… longer to accomplish of course.

Mordecai: Hi Deborah and others in the Salon, I’m Mordecai, I live in Philadelphia but I’m from New York, and there are so many books that inspired me. When I was a kid: anything by Bruce Coville. Recently, the works of Grace Paley have been really influential

Do you read novels as a writer to learn the craft by analysing what works or does not? If so, how do you do this?

Cheryl: Since I’ve started to write. I constantly look at layout of books and how authors start and end chapters and create links with sections, fascinating stuff I used to teach theories of competence, you think you know it all. Then reality sets in – you realise you are clueless!

Maria: Since I’ve started to write. I constantly look at layout of books and how authors start and end chapters and create links with sections, fascinating stuff I used to teach theories of competence, you think you know it all. Then reality sets in – you realise you are clueless!

Gerald: Most fiction novels I read for entertainment. Some literary novels and short fiction I read to ‘refresh’ my writing craft. Some of the short stories I read, I re-read to absorb the writing quality. To learn stuff, I tend to read non-fiction books on specific topics.

Elizabeth: Most books I just read for fun. However, some I pick up and they’re so well written I just want to learn from them. Sometimes that means I’ll read and re-read each page. Other times I might just consider how they’ve built their characters, etc. And then there’s been the odd book that I’ve picked up and I’ve learned how not to do things!

Kathleen: I usually read for fun…but my “writer brain” doesn’t completely turn off, and I’ll make mental notes of something that really works, or something that doesn’t. Or get ideas for how to handle a particular plot point.

Karen: What sort of things engage your “writer brain?”

Kathleen: A line I wish I’d written. A new and interesting way to handle a plot point. Or, on the bad side, clunky dialogue or a character doing something that’s JUST WRONG.

Beth: Right. The clunky stuff can be frustrating, but the really good stuff just leaves me in awe (and a bit of jealousy).

Kathleen: Yes! “I wish I’d written that” is the highest compliment, I think — even if there’s a little envy in there!

Anita: I have done this in the past when writing in a new genre. Mostly it was word count, chapter length, number of chapters and overall style. I am currently getting stuck into children’s books a) because I love them and b) because I am going to be writing some!

Bradley: I actually recommend this process to new writers I edit for. It gives them some “footing” for the area they want to write in.

Beth: I read both for pleasure and for seeing what other writers do with their work. Unfortunately, I’ve studied enough that I can’t get as much pleasure out of all books as I once did, because I’m too critical. But I absolutely take notes (mentally) when reading.

Deborah: I’m afraid it can spoil reading pleasure. the sign of a good book is when you forget to notice.

Beth: Exactly! I tend to screen the writing on books I buy these days as well – I don’t tend to buy an unfamiliar author without checking out their style.

Karen: It does ruin some of the fun when you encounter something you won’t let yourself get away with in writing. Best thing about ebooks for me is the ability to highlight and come back later to think about certain bits that resonated.

Beth: I don’t usually highlight, but I’m constantly taking notes in my head. Unless I just fall into the book completely, and then I have to go back to see what worked.

Maria: Not consciously, no. I mainly just read for the love of it. Maybe sometimes though I do soak up particularly good writing and it inspires me to consider different things. Eg my 4th novel being set at a later time and with a different MC was inspired by an author.

Deborah: Some writers highlight paragraphs and mark pages as they analyse a book to learn from the writing. I would like to be able to do this but love reading for pleasure too much.

Maria: Yes, I can’t imagine myself doing that. Possibly getting a book purely for the reason of analysing their writing, but most of the time I just want to chill and enjoy the story. Especially after a day of editing!

Gerald: This is one of my problems. Although I may start reading to learn, I get lost in the story and finish the book without making any notes.

Elizabeth: I’m also guilty of this I just hope that my brain is taking it in without me realising.

Bradley: I weird about leaving marks on the pages because I like to gift really good books. If I’m gonna annotate, I do it on the eBook. I am going to try the clear sticky notes soon though. 

Beth: Sticky notes seem to be a good compromise between noting things and defacing books!

Bradley: I always think to myself. If someone finds this book in a used bookstore one day, or it’s gifted forward, I want them to have that “clean page book smell moment”. You know?

Cheryl: I am in the camp of writing in books – to the point they are unrecognisable. I read with a pencil in my hand. My books are twice the weight they were when I bought them – laden with post-it notes and other various bits of paper!

Karen: It’s hard to read strictly for pleasure once you’ve started writing. I don’t always read to work on craft, but if something strikes me, I stop and take it apart and try to figure out what hit me, how they did it, and how I can replicate that effect in my writing.

Deborah: I think that is good practice. Some of the most talented writers do that. I would like to be more systematic in that kind of approach.

Chris: Most books I read now I do as benchmarks and for education. I, like everyone, improve by doing, and picking up tips from the writing community. Just this week I’ve been re-editing a book I’ve always really liked, but now I don’t feel it stands up so well.

Gerald: I once wondered why my crime stories “weren’t coming out right”. So, I sat with an Ann Cleeves “Shetland” book, and chapter by chapter, noted what happened and to whom. It really opened my eyes, and gave me incredible storytelling clarity.

Deborah: That’s what I mean. You can learn so much about structure, and pace etc.

Mordecai: For many years I read for pleasure and information, mostly non-fiction actually, and writing was something else. In the last 6 years or so, I’ve been paying more attention to the writing I like, and reading more fiction, to improve my own writing. I usually do this by taking an assignment for myself out of the work I’m reading. “try this voice” “Run this experiment” Since I write more short stories than I work on my erstwhile novels, I see results quite quickly.

Jill Wellington Pixabay

Which authors (of novels) have taught you the most and why?

Chris: Iain M Banks. I’d written ‘derivative’ sci-fi in the 90s, and when I read the first of his space operas, the style and ideas blew me away. I channelled that for my own space opera and my writing leapt forwards immeasurably in just one book.

Kathleen: Iain M Banks. I’d written ‘derivative’ sci-fi in the 90s, and when I read the first of his space operas, the style and ideas blew me away. I channelled that for my own space opera and my writing leapt forwards immeasurably in just one book.

Gerald: I think authors like Stephen King, James Patterson, Jonathan Kellerman, and recently LJ Ross have taught me that you can write a good story and entertain readers – and for me now, that’s the most important thing.

Maria: Charlotte Bronte of course! Tolkien too. Shout out to the amazing @marianlthorpe, author of the amazing Empire’s Legacy series. Her evocative, stunning, poignant writing made me fall back in love with reading and inspired me to be a better writer.

Karen: So many writers. Dorothy Dunnett for research (and characters). Stephen King for pacing (and characters). Barbara Kingsolver. Laurie Colwin. Jane Austen. Edith Pargeter. Different things from each writer, sometimes different each time I read.

Beth: I grew up on Dorothy Dunnett! Her influence in my writing isn’t something that I usually think about, but her ability to write vivid, brilliant characters who always did the unexpected was amazing!

Karen: I wish I’d found her sooner. A friend gave me the entire Lymond Chronicles, and I read the first one *thinking* I wasn’t enjoying it that much. Finished, sighed with relief – and picked up the second book later that day. I re-read them every few years just for the challenge.

Anita: Stephen King; On Writing; and of course, I had to read his books as well. Joanne Harris taught me how to be expansive in scope and include mystical element to stories.

Beth: I learned a lot from Roger Zelazny. He would actually write backstories for characters, and never publish them – just refer to them to create an illusion of world depth. Patricia McKillip’s lush, lyrical writing paired with a lot of down-to-earth details gave me an understanding of how to write lyrically without being purple. Charles de Lint’s ability to evoke magic with simple words also taught me that what you put on the page is a mosaic – each word may be simple, but the overall effect is a beautiful picture.

Deborah: Beautifully put Beth.

Elizabeth: Ali McNamara has really taught me a lot. I’ve always enjoyed sweet romances but hers always have a twist, often magical. She taught me that romance books don’t have to just focus on the romance, they can have lots of other subplots.

Deborah: I haven’t read any of her books. I will look her up.

Elizabeth: The Summer of Serendipity is my favourite from her. Really whisks you away

Kathleen: Charlotte Bronte of course! Tolkien too. Shout out to the amazing @marianlthorpe, author of the amazing Empire’s Legacy series. Her evocative, stunning, poignant writing made me fall back in love with reading and inspired me to be a better writer.

Bradley: @paulocoelho (because of The Alchemist via @PenguinClassics) His writing stirs something in you so sternly you give off a response like a fragrance. Whenever I’m on the subway and see someone reading that book, I feel how I felt reading it and wish that for them.

Mordecai: I wonder if “teaching” is what they’ve done. Mostly I think of it as a series of “permissions” “You are allowed to mix tenses” “You are allowed to write an entire novel about a split second of time throughout an entire apartment building”. I’m a devotee of Moby Dick, I’ve read it over and over, listening to it on audiobook to get to sleep most nights. So that’s had a huge influence. Besides that, there are the books I consider in the same “tradition” as me, that is, Jewish writers I’m in conversation with.

Deborah: Do you find it a comfort because it is a book you remember from your childhood Mordecai? I feel like that about Jane Eyre and Alice in Wonderland. They remind me of my parents.

Mordecai: Moby Dick? No, actually, I came to it as a young adult, in my mid 20s. It is comforting now, mostly by repetition, but also, it didn’t really “feel right” until I listened to it and I realized how much of a poetic epic it is. It prioritizes language above almost everything.

Which are the best novels for: 





Maria: The first book that popped into my head for dialogue was ‘A Fatal Finale’ but our own wonderful Kathleen Marple Kalb. Friendship that reminded me of Jane and Rochester. Description has got to be Jane Eyre or Tolkein.

Elizabeth: Dialogue – Jane Austen PandP. The witty dialogue is brilliant. 

Description – Ali McNamara Summer of Serendipity. Whisks you away to Ireland. 

Plot – JoJo Moyes Me Before You. Wonderful plot to really get you thinking and plays with your emotions.

Maria: I second the dialogue in Pride and Prejudice. Such intelligent conversation- and savage at times! Now I’ve moved into a vicarage I’ve said a few times that the depth of the staircase is perfectly adequate, not to steep or shallow… I’ve stopped saying it because people just stared at me blankly/didn’t get the reference. PS It’s in reference to Mr Collins, by the way.

Kathleen: Dialogue: Austen — but I’ll take Sense and Sensibility. 

Description: Jane Eyre. 

Plot: Elizabeth Peters, The Murders of Richard III — you never see it coming! Prose: Jane Eyre

Beth: That’s a question and a half… For me: 

Dialogue: Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber. 

Description: Tolkien all the way. 

Plot: Possibly Steven Brust’s “Jhereg.” 

Prose: Patricia McKillip’s “Cygnet” duology.

Bradley: Dialogue: entirely too hard to choose. 

Description: @henryrollins (The Solipsist) this book should simply be described as VISCERAL.

Plot: @paulocoelho (The Alchemist) if you know, you know.

Prose: @bjnovak (One More Thing) it’s my favorite book for a reason.

Anita: IMHO: Plot: The Time Travellers 

Wife Prose: Everything by Laurie Lee 

Dialogue: Jane Austen (very quotable too!) 

Description: Most things by Philippa Gregory.

Odessa: Dialogue – Richard Wright’s Native Son 

Description – Stephen King’s Misery 

Plot – Stieg Larsson’s The Girl In The Spider’s Web 

Prose – Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.

Mordecai: This is tough, and I feel underread for it, but I’ll try

 Dialogue: East of Eden by Steinbeck 

Description: The Green Knight by Iris Murdoch 

Plot: You’ll never believe me, but Moby Dick has not a single piece of information presented before you need it.

Prose: Kaie Kellough’s Accordeon is a wonderful writing of a city, and I think that’s the prose challenge I’m most interested in.

Igor Link Pixabay

Which four authors would you like to spend an evening with?

Beth: Being active in SF fandom, I’ve gotten to spend time with authors, including Charles de Lint (very nice guy!) and Roger Zelazny (a month before he died). Authors I would like to meet: Living: Patricia McKillip Sharon Shinn Juliet Marillier Dead: Alexandre Dumas

If I haven’t mentioned them so much that they are over me (but this is also partially why I mention them so much) @bjnovak, @henryrollins, Maggie Nelson, and @paulocoelho

Elizabeth: Jane Austen F. Scott Fitzgerald Rachel Caine Ali McNamara

Kathleen: Jane Austen Charlotte Bronte Dorothy Sayers Elizabeth Peters

Anita: Only 4? Well for starters: JK Rowling, Joanne Harris, Philippa Gregory and …. hmmm… Isabel Allende … These are living authors. There are plenty of passed authors I would love to have met: like Hemingway; Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Tolstoy….

Maria: Charlotte Bronte Tolkien Patricia St John @marianlthorpe

Mordecai: Oh, I would not. I think the majority of authors who I think and know about as “Authors” are all probably intolerable guests. But I would love to see my twitter writing friends!

Deborah: I would love all of our friends here at Friday Salon to meet in person. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Bradley: If I haven’t mentioned them so much that they are over me (but this is also partially why I mention them so much) @bjnovak, @henryrollins, Maggie Nelson, and @paulocoelho

Deborah: Louis de Bernieres David Nicholls Jojo Moyes Rosie Thomas

Elizabeth: I’d be tempted to ask Jojo Moyes for my own version of Me Before You with a happy outcome

What are you currently reading for pleasure?

Elizabeth: I recently finished a really great mystery by @nikgrybaski called Black Dunube: A Leo Katz Mystery and it’s stayed with me. Looking forward to reading future releases.

Chris: Lake Woebegon Days… but much too slowly! Too tied up with my writing To Do list!

Beth: I am currently revisiting Lord Dunsany’s “The King of Elfland’s Daughter” (pre-Tolkien fantasy circa 1926.) I also have about three other books I’m in the middle of, including Sylvia Mercedes’ “Prisoner” (The Scarred Mage of Roseward).

Mordecai: I feel like for me, reading is always for pleasure, even when it’s improving me or answering a research question. Sometimes especially when it’s improving me! I’m reading Kate Briggs This Little Art as I shift into doing more literary translation, and I’m loving it!

Cheryl: I am reading “How to live forever or die trying” by Bryan Appleyard, a fascinating insight into immortality. What would happen to society if there was the prospect of eternal life – very thought provoking.

Gerald: The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins. I love discovering new (to me) authors.

Bradley: Currently I’m reading: @ndennis_benn “Patsy”, @MarkRonson “The Subtle Art…”, And Andrea Lawlor “Paul Takes the Form” For pleasure.

Anita: I have three books on the go: Different Class by Joanne Harris (one of the few of hers I haven’t read!) 31 Dream Street by Lisa Jewell and The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. I flit between them depending on my mood and time of day!