On Reading and Growing Up and Originality in Writing.

As we make our meandering way through childhood to the exalted status of adult our tastes in most things change. Of course, this includes what we read and how we think about it. I still enjoy an occasional re-reading of Billy Bunter or James Bond or Ghost Stories but I draw the line at Biggles.

Now I read more widely and with greater understanding. I like British and Australian writers such as Orwell, Greene, Gerald and Lawrence Durrell, Robert Graves, Wodehouse, Patrick White, Frank Hardy, Norman Lindsay and Colleen McCullough. As you can see it’s a broad church.

I also enjoy books by writers from non-English backgrounds such as Aravind Adiga (The White Tiger), Jung Chang (Wild Swans) and Gao Xingjian (Soul Mountain). For me it was Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart which opened my mind to cultures beyond Australia. It is still one of my favourites.

Historical fact/fiction written by Clavell, Rutherfurd and Cornwell is another great interest of mine. Bond has given ground to Le Carre, Tey and Perez-Reverte; to name a few. I like books by indigenous writers such as Mudrooroo and Sally Morgan. The absurdity of Dahl and the racy complexity of Ludlum have a presence on my bookshelves together with RL Stevenson, John Mortimer, Tom Sharpe, Tom Robbins, Alan Bennett (no relation), John Lanchester, Michael Palin, Mythology (Asian and European), Sci-fi classics (Bradbury, Verne, Wells, Wyndham, Rice Burroughs), Spike Milligan and Caiseal Mor.

It is obviously a mixed bag but I have come to regard it as rich and fertile grounds for my own writing. What we read informs us and by some process of internal intellectual distillation it allows us to write in whatever manner we choose.

Much is spoken about originality in writing. There is no clear definition and that is really no great surprise. According to Roland Barthes no author or artist creates something new and unique. Instead everything they produce is a recycled regurgitation of that which preceded it. Rolly seems to have been rather bitter when he wrote those words. The Australian writer and illustrator Shaun Tan has suggested that originality is more about a kind of transformation of existing ideas than the invention of entirely new ones.

‘What is original is not the ideas themselves but the way they are put together.’

For me there is no difference between the concepts of newness and originality. I see them as two sides of the same coin. You could say that originality lies in adapting themes or stories that have already been told. Newness derives from the way a story is told. It has been said that the number of plots and storylines is limited but that should not impact negatively on originality.

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