Thursday, 28 January 2010

Enjoyment: the whole point of reading

I've just been reading an excellent post over on Sarah Duncan's blog ( about individual tastes in reading, and why some people think it's shameful to admit to liking 'certain types' of book. It's so true - I know a lot of people look down their noses at anything that could be classified as 'light' fiction - whether it's romantic, or just easy beach-reading stories, or 'chick-lit' ... my books have been referred to in all those ways, and sometimes accompanied by a definite sneer!

Coincidentally, I mentioned this at the talk I gave on Monday. By the way, it was very successful, thank you to those of you who asked, and who wished me luck! I was staggered by the size of the audience ... we worked out that there were over 160 people there - there weren't enough chairs in the hall so about a dozen were standing in the aisles! Don't get too excited, they weren't just there to hear my pearls of wisdom (!) - it was a meeting of a new U3A group and obviously they had other business to attend to at their meeting, but as I was their first 'professional speaker' (as I was introduced ... no pressure there, then!), it was very rewarding for me!

I often bring up this subject in talks: the fact is that most of the very successful authors out there write genre fiction (romance, crime, paranormal, chick-lit etc) rather than 'literary fiction'. And I always point out that 'literary fiction' is a very new concept (and actually I think the term is meaningless!). The New York Times apparently published an article a while back in which it was pointed out that the distinction between highbrow and lowbrow fiction has only recently been invented, and that in fact, Charles Dicken wrote crime novels and Jane Austen wrote chick lit. Nobody sneers at them, do they! And their novels are certainly considered 'worthy'.

I write the type of books I do because they're what come naturally to me - what (I hope) I'm good at. If anybody ever asked me (as I once read that another author was asked) why I don't write something 'better', I'd find it hard not to say that it was an incredibly rude question! - but I'd also have to say that I write the best books I can ... maybe they're not 'good' enough for some people, but presumably those people won't buy them or read them. And my consolation is that, if they're 'good' enough for an editor to have accepted them for publication, then that's good enough for me!

Because a book is easy to read, it doesn't mean it's easy to write. If that were true, we wouldn't have such brilliant books published for children who are only just learning to read. I had a lovely message on my Olivia Ryan website today from a 19 year old girl who has reading and writing difficulties, had never read books before, but had read my 'Tales From' books and enjoyed them so much, she wanted to know if I'd written any more books. Of course, I told her about my Sheila Norton books! - but her message meant so much to me, because surely this is what it's all about: the enjoyment of reading.

And of course, the enjoyment of writing, too. I'm having a good time working on my attempt at a serial ... a steep learning curve, but I think I'm finally getting the hang of it! I'll keep you posted. And next time, I'll also update you all on how my lovely little grandson Noah is progressing!

Happy writing ... and reading! (whatever you enjoy).


  1. 160 people - wow! Well done you!

    I so agree with you on this and very much so that just because something is easy to read doesn't make it easy to write.

    And how lovely to get that message from the 19 year old, that must have touched your heart. And it just confirms that you are very good at what you do.

    Can't wait to hear all about little Noah!

  2. I think I would have fainted on the spot, Olivia! That's brilliant - I bet you are chuffed. Every published novel has an audience and you can't please everyone - it's a good job we all prefer to read different things. How noring would it be if they were all similar?!

    Julie xx

  3. Sorry, Olivia - I meant boring not noring!

    Julie xx

  4. Having work published is hopefully about giving pleasure to people as well as getting satisfaction yourself from writing it. Isn't it? How lovely to hear from that reader. I've only ever received one letter but I remember thinking how great it was that something that started off in my mind, then made it onto paper and finally onto the pages of a magazine, had touched the life of a complete stranger so much she was inspired to write and say so. If what you write touches people, then who cares if some look down their noses at it. There will always be those who profess to only read "worthy" fiction (whatever that is!). I prefer to just enjoy it! Good luck with the serial.x

  5. Thank you Teresa. Yes, I was chuffed about the talk, although as I admitted, the 160 people weren't just there to hear me, sadly! -it was the second meeting of a newly formed group so they were there to enrol as new members/ join various sections/ sort themselves out. A very enthusiastic bunch and a nice audience! And yes, the message from the 19 year old was lovely. Makes it all worthwhile!

    Thanks Julie. (Actually I like 'noring'. Sounds like a cross between gnawing and snoring ... could be interesting!). You're right, why should we all like the same books, any more than we all like the same type of music or the same clothes? Don't get me wrong - I do like different types of books, myself: I like thrillers, and I do often read the latest big literary prizewinners; some I enjoy more than others. I also love Shakespeare's plays so I do have a spark of ... er ... 'culture' despite being an Essex Girl! Only joking! Yes, it'd be terribly noring if we were all the same. x

    And thanks, Lydia. Yes, it's a tremendous satisfaction to hear that someone has enjoyed our work. It feels a bit less like your book is out there in a void! I don't get massive amounts of 'fan mail', but whenever I do get any it's such a thrill, I always print them out and keep them. It means so much to me, that people actually go to the trouble of not only reading the book but finding my website and sending a message to say they've enjoyed it. Sadly we don't get that, so much, with short stories do we - so you must have been thrilled to get that letter. x

  6. What a lovely post - really brought a smile to my face for the right reasons.

    Well done on the talk (wow, 160 people!), but the best bit was hearing about your reader letter. That's the kind of thing you need to re-read on a grey day when the words aren't flowing, to make you remember why you do what you do :o)

    (And, as a fellow Essex girl, I agree about having a diverse taste, too!)

  7. Thank you Kate - and you're right, the reader letter has really given me a boost this week. SO nice of her to write, wasn't it. We Essex girls got a bad press a few years back, didn't we - but I read in the Essex Chronicle this week that people living in Chelmsford have been voted the happiest people in the country! Wow! Now I MUST stop grinning and laughing and get back to work!