I believe what we read will come out of our fingertips one day so we may as well read good books.
Maybe every writer – whether they know it or not – learnt to write by reading. Before we had creative writing courses how did people learn to write? Were they born already talented with pens in their hands? They read their predecessors. Artists painted the masters; writers read Jane Austin, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Louisa Alcott. We have all the masters from the 20th century to choose from too. Gillian Rubinstein, Madeleine L'Engle, Alan Garner; and modern day ones like Sonya Hartnett, Ursula Dubrosarky, Markus Zuzak.
I can remember taking apart a novel to see how it was done – how many chapters, how they led to the next chapter, how many things happened, writing an outline, how close to the end was the climax? I can remember reading A.J. Cronin's Lady with Carnations one day and suddenly realising that I needed more images, different and new ways of saying things, to let the character gradually be seen by the reader, to let the reader get to know the character and to do the working out.
I find myself reading now with a writer's eye. I see if I can work out why I like it. It's good to be conscious of the style, the tone, the use of words. I write down words, phrases, images – different ways of seeing the world. I take note how the sentences are formed, how information is conveyed, how the dialogue works; how the author is revealing character and structuring the plot. Francine Prose, in her book Reading like a writer, calls this 'close reading'.
Some writers like Victor Kelleher say they don't read fiction while they are writing because they don't want to be influenced by someone else. Francine Prose said she hoped Tolstoy would influence her. Some writers say that now they are writers, nothing they pick up anymore satisfies. Perhaps they are picking up the wrong books: there is always someone we can read who we can learn something from. We can all learn from each other.
I believe reading can release our creativity, for example, when I was writing Wolfchild I was reading David Malouf's An Imaginary Life and although it was quite different in style, subject matter and audience, I suddenly could see how to write the next part of my own story.
A man will turn over half a library to make a book.
I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read.