I love reading. I love books. I love the escapism of tales of love, and mystery, and suspense, and history, my taste is eclectic.
I learnt to read at a very young age, not sure how young, but given I could read by the time I started school, four months beyond my fifth birthday, I guess maybe four.
I was an only child, and for four impressionable years we lived in the village of Piggs Peak in northern Swaziland. Books were my closest companions. I assume, because I have done so much of it, I learnt to speed read, or simply in my lingo, to read fast, always impatient to find out what happens next. I have frequently read through the night, the story compelling me to turn page after page until the last word.
I am sure most people have a favourite ‘go to’ novel, or movie, the place you visit in order to laugh, or cry, or simply to escape for a while. My best is Colleen McCullough’s The Thornbirds. I have had many copies, which somehow disappear, so now I have it firmly ensconced on my Kindle. If I’m needing a good howl the movie Out of Africa does it for me. I spend the entire film in tense anticipation of Fitch’s death, the funeral, the lions on his grave at sunset…wonderful blub stuff!
Strange, because I avoided Percy Fitzpatrick’s Jock of the Bushveld because I couldn’t bear to read about the parts others talked of: the baboon fight, the kudu kick, the putting out to pasture, and his end. I was well into adulthood before I managed to get beyond page two!
The wonder of books is you can go from the heat and dust of the Australian outback to the freezing darkness of an Alaskan winter without leaving your armchair, drawn into multiple worlds of intrigue and love and stoic survival.
I have just put down one such book: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, recommended by a friend in our book club who said she had long since read a book so beautifully written, that gripped her so.
She was right.
Kristin Hannah, through the eyes of Leni, took me on a roller coaster of emotion, from tears to laughter, to teeth clenching cold, to glorious views in a couple of pages. I cried, I got angry, frustrated, terrified the cat as I thumped the arm of the chair, yelling “NO!”, gave up on the idea of sleep until my eyes could no longer focus, drifted off on an Alaskan breeze wondering how I dared call myself a writer, awoke in the pre-dawn warmth to continue reading.
As I devoured page after page, I had to pause as I revisited painful places in my own life, wondered at highs, looked at hints of answers for lessons learnt from lows, floating just beyond where I wanted to go at that moment. I now understand fully, if I want to write good books I have to visit those places, feel those emotions, confront those faults, instead of skipping around them, and causing my characters to do likewise.
That is the craft of a great writer, one who draws her readers in to the pages, making them think, feel, search for their own answers, and at best bring a difference to their lives.
I spend hours trying to fit all I need into the opening pages of the books I attempt to write, trying to come to grips with the technicalities of our craft, constantly chaffed as I make the transition from journalist to author.
Kristin Hannah has no such issues as she effortlessly sets the scene, the time of year, introduces the main characters, establishes the ethos of the story, and has you hooked in three pages. Brilliant. From there the story flows, and did not let go of me until the last work.
If you are looking for a good read to while away the long nights of a southern hemisphere winter, get a copy of The Great Alone – it will keep you company!
Thank you for the best 24 hours I have spent in a long time!