Glimpses into everyday life: Read Regional 2017

Deborah Andrews is the author of Walking the Lights , which has been described as ‘a feminist Withnail and I’ and was shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize 2016. It has been one of the featured books in New Writing North’s Read Regional 2017 campaign.

I’m on my way to a Read Regional event in Durham when the train pulls to a stop between Bingley and Shipley. Glancing up, I happen to catch the eye of a man looking down from a window in a block of flats. For a moment I wonder who he is, what the room’s like in which he’s standing, what’s happening in his life…and then the train moves on. Part of me wants to alight at Shipley station and run back to those flats to see what I can find out, and then the crazy itch passes and I return to seeing what comes next.

The journey, through the luscious countryside (mostly green, some towns, some striking fields of rapeseed flowers) is made up of such glimpses: a girl painting a canal boat; an old man pulled along by a dachshund; a woman with a welding torch burning a copper angel purple and blue. And it’s not just visual – there are smells of farmland, of oil, a surprising burst of vanilla… and plenty of sounds too, of the train, of ringtones, of snatches of conversation.

This is part of what we learn as writers – to use the senses to bring our worlds alive. And it’s in tuning in to my senses that I feel most alive in the world – always observing, often thinking, ‘how would I express that?’… ‘How could I communicate that in the most exact way?’ I love glimpses and how they stimulate the imagination, in day-to-day life and in works of art too – I’m thinking of Avril Paton’s painting Windows in the West and Juan Muñoz’s installation Double Bind – and in literature I’m passionate about ‘tip of the iceberg’ storytelling, prose that’s rich with subtext and inference and requires an active reader.

I’ve always believed reading is a creative act and, as a writer, I love meeting people who’ve read my book, who’ve brought it to life. I often wonder what my characters look like in their heads, and it’s always interesting to hear what aspects of my work resonate with people: who’s been moved to tears by what part and why; who’s felt angry with a character and for what reason. It’s been brilliant participating in Read Regional and having these kinds of conversations with readers, as well as conversations about writing, publication and literature in general.

I’ve been to three libraries now as part of the campaign. At two of the libraries I’ve had the pleasure of meeting participants from specific reading groups. I carry them with me, the glimpses – people’s faces, their comments, the woman who was trying to write a novel. Did I give her enough useful advice, I wonder. Was I encouraging enough? I mull over people’s questions, searching for fuller and more accurate answers. It’s a wonderful thing: I get to know a little about some of the people who come to the events; they get to know a bit about me; and I come to understand more about the relationship between life and art and my process and practice, which in turn affects my second novel, on which I’m currently working.

Some of the best glimpses I’ve had as a Read Regional author have arisen from visiting libraries I perhaps would never have seen, and witnessing the endeavours of the librarians that work in them. I’ve been bowled over by the passion and warmth of all the librarians I’ve met, and am in awe of their investment in literature and in their communities. In some libraries that have suffered huge budget cuts, it’s been humbling and inspiring seeing librarians striving to continue to deliver a full range of services and support their reading groups. Everyday heroes to whom I’d like to say a big thank you, along with readers and the Read Regional team.

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