Life has been getting in the way of my two WIPs. (Yes, I’m writing two at once, ghost writing a second book for a pastor in India and working on my second novel). But working full time and caring for elderly, disabled relatives had begun to sap my energy and I decided that my imagination needed a kick-start. I can’t change my circumstances, so I tried an experiment. As I normally read a lot of non-fiction, especially for my work, I decided over the summer to read only fiction books. I almost kept to it – I was beguiled, after listening to Dave Andrews, into buying his book, The Jihad of Jesus, on Muslim-Christian relations. (I haven’t yet finished it, but I recommend it as a thought-provoking read). But that was the only exception.
So, what have I read? Many and various authors – Jonathan Swift, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Goudge, Jenny Lee, Georges Coulonges, André Gide, Philippe Claudel, Alan Bennett and our very own Mel Menzies and S L Russell.
Apparently, reading fiction makes you more empathetic, and this effect is increased if you read “literary” rather than “popular” fiction, according to one study (http://mic.com/articles/104702/science-shows-something-surprising-about-people-who-love-reading-fiction). Neuroscientists have also discovered that reading fiction improves brain connectivity and function, brain receptivity for language, and the ability to be compassionate (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201401/reading-fiction-improves-brain-connectivity-and-function).
It appears that reading “language rich in detail, allusion and metaphor” creates “a mental representation that draws on the same brain regions that would be active if the scene were unfolding in real life” (http://lifehacker.com/how-reading-fiction-can-help-you-live-a-better-life-1666696457) and so enables us to feel exactly as we would feel if the scenes about which we are reading were playing out in front of us, with real human beings whom we could look in the eye. In this way it enhances our ability to look at our fellow human beings and imagine how it would feel to be in their shoes. No wonder Jesus spent a fair proportion of his early morning trysts with his Father in dreaming up stories full of wonderful, life-like characters (the prodigal son, his heart-broken father and prickly older brother; the housewife who has lost one of the coins from her wedding headband which hold such sentimental value for her; the nervous servant who can’t face the risk of investing, and buries in the ground what his master has entrusted to him, and many more).
So what effect has my summer of fiction had on me? None of the stories I've read this summer has very much in common with the one I’m writing. And yet I do feel as if my imagination has been given the fillip I was looking for. My brain is teeming with insights into the characters I've created, with ideas for the situations I've put them into, with powerful words and phrases, and with ways of resolving seemingly intractable problems without resorting to improbabilities.
Of the books I've read, I must just mention the two written by our own members. Mel Menzies' (Merrilyn Williams') “Time to Shine” involved scenarios I could identify with because of memories of my own history. I was sceptical as to how the problem she had set herself could be resolved in any way that was credible, and yet when the resolution came it was natural, believable and satisfying – very skilfully done. Sue Russell’s book “A Shed in a Cucumber Field” dealt with issues far removed from my own experience, but it was populated with flawed yet winsome characters who invited my empathy. Their spiritual journey into honesty and openness with God had a profound spiritual effect on me, enabling me to open myself up to God in a similar way – something no story has done to me for a long time - all while being a compelling yarn, full of suspense and surprises.
Happy reading, everyone!
Ros Bayes has 7 published and 3 self-published books, as well as some 3 dozen magazine articles to her credit. She is the mother of 3 daughters, one of whom has multiple complex disabilities, and she currently works for Through the Roof (www.throughtheroof.org) as their Training Resources Developer, and loves getting paid to write about disability all day. You can find her blog at http://rosbunneywriting.wordpress.com and her author page at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ros-Bayes/e/B00JLRTNVA/. Follow her on Twitter: @rosbwriting.