Friday, November 14, 2014

The Rewards of Random Reading by Sheila Claydon

When I go on holiday I rarely read the books I take with me. Instead I read the books previous holiday makers have left behind. Crammed onto shelves in the hotel reception area, scattered on tables in the guest lounge, stacked beside the TV in the villa or apartment...wherever we happen to be staying there are always abandoned books. And what treasures they are. On holiday I've discovered authors I've never heard of, learned new things, been reminded of  long forgotten stories, looked at situations in a different way and, in the reading, remembered why a new book is always such a joy.
Of course reading on holiday has an added bonus because it's one of the few times it's possible to read a book  from cover to cover in an afternoon.  On my last holiday I read The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and in the process learned a whole lot more about the American Deep South in the early part of the twentieth century. By the time I finished it I was so entranced that I followed it up by listening to a podcast of the actress Whoopi Goldberg being interviewed on the UK Radio programme Desert Island Discs. Whoopi Goldberg won so many acclaims for acting in the Steven Speilberg film of The Color Purple that I wanted to find out more about her, and thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I did just that. Apparently she was so deeply affected when she read the story that she wrote to the author asking for a part if a film was ever made of the book. Alice Walker wrote back about two months later to tell her she had sent  the necessary paperwork to the studios. The film script for The Color Purple was then written specifically for Whoopi Goldberg. It was her first big motion picture. The rest is history.
After I'd allowed myself enough time to think about what I'd just read, I turned to something that I thought would be very different but which turned out to be linked in the strangest way. This was Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson who is a well known British author. It is a semi-fictional autobiography. I know this sounds like an enigma but I assure you it's true. To understand what I mean, however, you'll have to read it.
Like Celie in The Color Purple, Jeanette Winterson is someone who lives on the edge and who also spends much of her life searching for love as well as for a lost love. I didn't see the similarities while I was reading because  one was about a black community in the American Deep South in the 1920s while the other was set in the 1960s in a poor northern town in the UK. In both books, however, the main character was lonesome and abandoned, and immensely brave.  It was only afterwards that the similarities became clear, and that is another benefit of this random holiday reading...there is far more time to think.
There were other books too, more random choices, and while I read them an amazing thing happened. In each one of those holiday books I discovered a fact that was crucial to the novel I had just started writing.  I had an outline clear in my head and the first two chapters written but what I didn't have was the detail. I needed to research a lot of things if I was to get my facts right but it was hot and sunny and I was on holiday, so I decided to concentrate on enjoying myself and worry about the detail when I returned home. Ignoring that little voice in my head that said I should at least think about my story,  I just chose those random books and settled down to read.

I had no plan...I knew very little about them. I wasn't even sure I was going to enjoy them, but although I didn't realize it, they had a plan for me. In each book I read I discovered a nugget of information that I needed to flesh out my own story. I was also confronted by a new way of looking at a situation, something that made me reconsider how one of my characters was going to react. After two weeks of reading these random stories my research was complete without any effort on my to every writer whose book I read in that villa in the sun, thank you. And to every holiday maker who has ever left a book behind, thank you. Random reading has much to commend it.

This link will take you to Sheila Claydon's titles, including her latest release, Book 3 of her Pathways Trilogy,  Saving Katy Gray


  1. What an interesting post Sheila - holiday reading is a joy because there is no time constraint. I loved The Color Purple and will put Jeanette Winterson on my reading list.

  2. Interesting post but unlike you when going on vacation, I load my Kindle with books I've been meaning to read and haven't had the time. There are too many books out there to read but one looks forward to vacation for these treats. No one ever leaves books in the places I stay.

  3. Like Janet, When on vacation I always have my Kindle, which is loaded with books I never have time to read otherwise. Most of the books are not at all random, but chosen for their setting or time period. Maybe I should consider adopting some of Sheila's tactics. One never knows what impact this will have on the book I'm working on. Thanks for a fascinating post!


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