Non-Fiction (like pie) is your Friend

My shelf is in danger of falling down. We put it up to replace the bedside tables, so it hovers above our heads, laden with all the stuff I used to cram into those drawers. A basket filled with far too many tubes of half-finished hand cream, assorted earphones, toe separators, the tiny glass pig I brought back from China years ago. And, of course, books. At the moment I’m reading six. There are a couple of literary magazines, one novel, and four non-fiction books. Herein lies my downfall.

While I do love delving into a bit of non-fiction, I confess that I can never seem to swallow it up with quite the same speed or enthusiasm as a novel. In just a few days, I’ve read the same amount of Wind Up Bird Chronicle as I’ve managed to get through From the Beast to the Blonde in a few months. Whether it’s the dense consistency of more factual writing, the lack of narrative, the style, who knows. I just never get through them at the same pace.

Why not read books about stories? Very meta.

Secretly, though, I think that’s a good thing. What it does give me time to do is think back over and reflect on it, which invariably means it gets translated into some form of storytelling. This is very much appreciated, non-fiction writers. Because the thing is, I do find coming up with ideas a bit tricky. I think the knack might be to take things that I’m interested in from the real world, and think about how that might be used to tell a story.

Just last week I was listening to the TED Radio Hour while cleaning the flat (I do like to have something for my ears to do when I’m busy). It was all about manipulation, and how memories are not quite as reliable as we would like to think. Mixed with my recent outing to watch Bladerunner, and I have a short story about someone who discovers a treasured memory that helps them get through tough times is actually an implant, a ‘present’ from a friend who was trying to help them out.

Books that reveal flaws in popular ‘science’ can also have creative influence.

And it doesn’t stop there. While I found it hard to read just before bed (it’s not calming to get angry about pseudo science used to justify nonexistent gender differences), Delusions of Gender turned out to be another brilliant source. Of course, I largely used it to rant at fellow feminists/anyone who would listen about the absurd claims made about male and female brains and the way this has been used to excuse discrimination and inequality. But its inspiration didn’t stop there. My current project (watch this space!) will deal with a gender-free world, so looking in more detail at the variations (or lack thereof) in neuroscience has fed very nicely into my storytelling. From the Beast to the Blonde has already resulted in one short story about the mistrust of female storytellers, and a half-idea about the silencing of wives in the Middle Ages. Homo Deus has yet to prove fruitful, but I’m pretty sure that’s because I’m only about ten pages in. Dipping in and out of these non-fiction books has proved incredibly fruitful, and it’s often when I put one of them down that I get the urge to scribble in my notepad.

I think the simple message here is: read. But don’t be restricted in what you read. The wonderful Terry Pratchett was clearly an avid reader of everything, as was clear in his multiple references to history, religion, literature and science. Being a fiction writer doesn’t mean you have to just be a fiction reader. Branch out, and who knows what those little grey (gender non-defined) cells will churn out.

And while you’re reading. Eat some pie. It is blackberry season, after all.

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I'm a writer, teacher and drummer based in London. Short fiction and reviews are my main staples, along with some dabbling in novel writing.

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