Sunday, 28 September 2014

Read Something Wonderful

How do you boost your writing powers when a week at work, with busy, tired evenings and a weekend packed with chores has left your creativity squeezed to an arid husk? Read something wonderful!
This Sunday, I came down before my alarm for an early morning dose of Dylan Thomas.

Dylan Thomas. The man loved a booze-up, but what an extraordinary way with words.
Courtesy of

I loved his work at school – enjoying his vivid, lyrical writing and taking pride in his Welsh splendidness  (my Dad is Welsh, and that counts, OK?) But other than knowing some gorgeous, evocative lines by heart*, I hadn’t paid him much attention since.

Then this summer, on our family pilgrimage to the land of my Fathers, my parents suggested that one evening as we gathered in the cottage, three generations together, Dad was going to read to us from his favourite Thomas piece, The Outing.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure. I thought it might be awkward. In this day and age, people don’t read aloud to each other. In fact, people don’t spend much time listening to each other at all. But Dad went ahead, and do you know what? It wasn’t awkward. The story, of a Chapel outing that turns into a well-dressed bout of after-hours binge drinking, was funny, fresh, sharp and beautifully observed; the wording was bizarre and yet spot-on apt, and it all rolled out in my Dad’s recovered-for-the-occasion soft Welsh accent, warmed by his own appreciation for the work. Three generations laughed, and were spellbound.

It reminded me that it is my Dad who passed on to me his love of literature, that in my teenage years I raided his Penguin classics; that it is thanks to him that I now cherish a collection of my own.

A book shelf panorama from my home

As a writer who struggles to find words that surprise, strike oddly and yet hit home, evoking a startled but precise response, I could see that I needed Dylan Thomas in my head. When Jon asked what he could buy me for my (enormous) birthday this month, I asked for a Complete Works. It lay for a while, adding to the pile of things I feel guilty about because I don’t have time for them. Then this morning, I made time.

The poem, Prologue, was at first strange and mysterious. Then I began to find my way in it. I picked up the poet in his bay, surrounded by the thronging Welsh landscape, writing of a flood. When, some time later, I turned to my own writing, an ongoing (on and on-going) revision of my novel, the power of Thomas remained with me. Ordinary words were suddenly not enough; I deleted them. Fresher, wilder and more sharply aimed, better words took their place.

* Time held me, golden and dying/ Though I sang in my chains, like the sea.

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