This poem was published in the Scottish Review of Poetry in 2010 but is no longer available online, so I’ve put it up here.
‘a ebony mouse, life-sized with shiny black eyes. It was so cleverly carved that you could see every hair, and it felt like fur to stroke’ The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston
I first held this mouse in my hand when I was eight,
Its weight and shape deceptive, it tugged at me,
Shrugged off petty realness to create reality
From fiction. This was an artefact of a life unlived
Except on paper, and yet, like him, I could have sworn I felt
It twitch. That was the moment that the itch
Of narrative locked into place. The mouse fits
The snug clutch of my fist exactly and my thumb its ears.
Years later, this resin replica recalls the sunlight
Filling that day; feather-fine dormouse hairs defy
Smoothness. My memory curls around him with his tail:
Serpentine it catches on my finger tip
© Victoria Elliott 2009
NaNoWriMo is a fantastic invention – I’ve never completed it, but I have had a go a few times. I know some people say anything you can write in 30 days is probably not worth reading, but Kelley Armstrong, author of the fantastic Women of the Otherworld series, said on Twitter recently that she had a go – the result was the first draft of The Summoning, the first book in her new YA series. She’s doing it again this year.
I am not. Not a single word of fiction has been composed for some time. I was going to do NaNoWriMo this year, and finally kick its butt, but life, as usual, got in the way. I have, in fact, managed to let life get in the way of writing every day since I went back to work after my summer holiday. I’d set a nice low goal (not like NaNo’s requirement of about 1800 a day to hit the 50,000 final target) of about 400 words a day. Haven’t even managed that.
Well, tomorrow I’m getting to work on an academic article which needs revising and only has a week til its final deadline. That’s my priority. Then some poetry revision resources that bring in a couple of hundred pounds extra income (hey, Christmas is right around the corner). And I’m going to hang out with the lovely friends I made on my Creative Writing Diploma course in Oxford on Sunday. But then, I promise, I’ll get right to it…
This is a very Narnian turtle from C.S. Lewis’s back garden in Risinghurst, Oxford. I’ve posted about the garden on my other blog. I just felt like I needed a moment of magic.
You may have heard of the website Goodreads, a sort of social networking site for books. Well, for readers, obviously. It’s a place where you can review the books you’ve read, indulge in competitive rating of books with your friends (this loses interest rapidly but it was hilarious for about a week), and set yourself a reading target for the year. If you’re the competitive type.
Which I am.
Last year I missed my goal by a lot. I read about 150-250 books a year. Yes, that is excessive. I confidently typed in my goal of 250, completely neglecting to notice that it was already August. The measure of ‘reading’ a book is to have entered a review for it (which can be blank) with a date in that calendar year attached to it. This year when it came to July and I set my goal, I set it low. Every time the little widget tells me I’m 5 or 10% up on my current progress, I add some more books to the total goal. I’m at about 75 right now. I’m not sure why I bother, but it seems to be important to me for some reason.
Our esteemed Minister for Education has suggested that children should read 50 books a year – roughly one a week. I’m totally behind the ‘read a lot’ principle. It definitely helps you develop reading skills, and it also helps to develop writing skills (which is why every writer worth their salt tells aspiring writers to read, and read a lot). You learn what a sentence looks like by experiencing them. A lot.
But I’m not so sure that setting number goals is the way forward for kids. For one thing, it doesn’t necessarily encourage quality reading. I’m an adult, for crying out loud, and I still find myself deliberately whizzing through a book I should be enjoying, in order to carve that notch on the Goodreads’ site. And for those who don’t meet their goals, it can be completely dispiriting (witness it taking me to July to recover from the stop of not officially meeting my reading goal last year…). I can’t find the article that I read earlier in the year citing a school Head complaining that the reading challenge (based on number of books read) had had no impact on the school’s attainment figures at all. Not surprising, if you make reading instrumental and about completion rather than enjoyment and nourishment of the imagination.
I don’t know what the answer is. Reading is important, I know. Getting kids to read books is important. Reading with your kids is important. Letting them see you reading yourself is important. Books matter.