"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris ... then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." Ernest Hemingway

Monday, 22 March 2010

Does What We Read as Teens Shape our Writing Today?

Ah. the 1960s! Free love, LSD, peace protests, grass, the Beatles, the pill! To be a young teen at such a time was surely to be standing on the cusp of the rest of the century, but the more radical ideas passed me by. Why? It's all thanks to an aunty of mine who would bring boxes of her dog-eared Mills and Boon romances for my sister and me to read. And read we did. While my peers were jumping on (very expensive!) planes to hit the streets of San Francisco or to shop in Carnaby Street, I had my nose in books.

I spent the '60s following the adventures of the governess sent to tutor English to the poor little children of some Greek God, who naturally owned a gob-smackingly glorious Greek Island and so on. That was much more exciting than pot! And remember, Mills and Boon in the '60s was very tame compared to the rampant sex between the crisp pages these days!

Anyway, my mother was looking over my shoulder (as mothers do), concerned at the risque reading matter. She always had her nose in Jean Plaidy or Taylor Caldwell. I had those auspicious authors to discover and discover I did, and hopefully I've learned a little of their style by osmosis. I moved on to Catherine Cookson, Georgette Heyer and Mazo de la Roche. I loved those epic family dramas - Poldarks of Cornwell, the Jalna series... not to mention the wild settings, so strange compared to my tame little town. Oh wow! Still love them. Hemingway and Gore Vidal were to come later, then I moved on to my current favourites, Anita Shreve, Paullina Simons et al, always staying true to all those who came before and shape my writing today.

Back to the '60s. My mother used to ask me - why do you read that trash (M & B)? I answered, sort of honestly, that I loved to learn about exotic places. Growing up in a Queensland country town with a population of 300 (and that was including the horses and cows!) my exposure to other cultures was limited to say the least. My mother thought about it and was quiet. Maybe she felt responsible for bringing me up in such a backwater. So as I devoured Mills and Boon stories, I was fascinated by the wonderful European locales, I promise, and my fascination continues.

Which brings me to today. I love reading good stories with multiple settings (I am a multi-tasker after all!) I am sitting here blogging, listening to News TV, minding 2 doggies, planning my tutorials for today and wondering what's cooking for dinner while in the back of my mind I'm thinking about editing my NaNo story and tidying up a couple of short stories for Fast Fiction magazine  (all with interesting locations, of course!) Hmm. Does that mean I don't do anything properly? No, I don't think so...

My multi-tasking includes having so many things I would like to do when I 'retire.' And running a B and B is one of just many dreams. Yeah, I know, glorified housework, but I think about all the interesting travellers I would meet and I could practise all my new recipes on them, but the best bit is that I could close my doors when I wanted to and fly off to somewhere exotic to have more stories to tell. That is, if the B and B made any money, which I guess is debatable, as I'd be so busy reading and writing, I'd forget to do that housework!

True to my 'Staycation' (see previous entry), I went driving to Brisbane's Northern Beaches (which all have English names - Scarborough, Margate...go figure...) on the weekend and saw some wonderful houses in the Old Queenslander style (which probably originated in England too!). Perfect for a B and B, and overlooking Moreton Bay to boot! Dreamy views, dreamy houses. With plenty of room to write in, I'm sure...

Old Queenslander, Sandgate

Which brings me to the book I am currently reading, well, one of many, I am a multi-tasker after all. Written by Monica McInerney it's called Greetings from Somewhere Else. Have you read it? Well, it ticks all the boxes for me - great settings: Australia and Ireland - great story with running a B and B involved. I'm loving it. The type of novel I aspire to write.

It fills a gap until I can get to the Greek Islands!


  1. There's also a Margate in South Africa.

    I read Jilly Cooper when I was in my teens and loved her books so much I bought them again a couple of years ago.

  2. Lovely. Books (and authors) are like friends, really, I think...I bought the whole Jalna series by Mazo de la Roche but had to search secondhand shops. Fabulous. That's about 30 books!

  3. I fell in love with Scott Fitzgerald when I read The Great Gatsby in my early teens. And I remember a phase of reading anything to do with the supernatural. Those books you read at an impressionable age really stick with you don't they.

  4. Ha! It's funny! My mom used to read the Jana series too in the corner of France...seems like dreams are about the same everywhere!!
    I never tried them, and don't know most of the authors you are talking about (well - except for Hemingway and Vidal of course!) There are so many books to read!!!!!
    I am trying not to pick up a new one right now because I NEED to work on my translation. But it's tough.

  5. Ha, Joanne, I'm still teaching The Great Gatsby to my senior students. They slowly fall in love with it. His imagery is wonderful...
    Aurora, my mantra is: life is too short to read a bad book, when there's not enough time to read the good ones...The Jalna series is awesome, set in the wilds of Canada. Think I loved it because of the great characterisation. Maybe the fact that there were so many winter snowy scenes which fascinated me as I'd never seen snow!!

  6. I read M&Bs from the age of 13 - but, as you rightly say, they were pretty tame in those days.


  7. Huh, yeah, I never got back to M & B. I've been to a few Romance Writer's Workshops and realise how much things have changed since I was a girl!

    Oh and Debs, was interested that there was a Margate in South Africa. I must look at the history...

  8. I read Mills and Boone too - now growing up Catholic in the Philippines, that was considered taboo reading by the nuns. Then we got to Barbara Cartland with her damsels in distress saved by princes from foreign lands! I read once that the author Isabel Allende was fired from her first job because she rewrote the plots of romance novels - made the females less harebrained and less helpless - when she translated the stories.

  9. Hi Rachielle. Seems like most of us cut our teeth on M&B at some stage. Yes, dear Barbara Cartland. Interesting story about Isabel Allende. I can imagine it's true having read some of her books. She gets a bit heavy at times!


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