As the pandemic continuously stretches on, I think it’s fair to say we’ve all found joys wherever we can. For example, I got to spend my last year at university studying from home, which brought me inundated happiness because I’m an incredibly independent learner who likes making my own schedule. My mother has been working from home, meaning she gets to spend more time with our old dogs and that a parcel’s never missed.
We’ve all found ways to take comfort where we can, whether that’s something as enormous as realising the importance of health, happiness, and connection, or that you can sleep in a little later because your office is downstairs and not at the end of a thirty-minute commute into town. Finding positives, big or small, has been paramount for keeping a lot of us sane and happy in times where it seems like the world’s about to end.
One of the biggest joys for me, amongst many other things, is the fact I have been able to partake in book tours for the first time, because they’ve all been online. Before the pandemic, I hadn’t had the opportunity to go to any book tours because they rarely came to my city, and travelling solo to a city like London has a lot of difficulties; it can be a dangerous city, it’s expensive, and the dates rarely fit my schedule. It was always incredibly disappointing whenever I heard an author I adored was going to do a book tour where you could ask them questions and get the book signed, and then I would check the dates and the cities and realise, yet again, I wouldn’t be able to go.
Therefore, this pandemic has led to me, finally, being able to hear authors I love talking, answering questions, being all inspiring and incredible role models. I really do believe nothing is quite as inspiring as hearing from the voices of those who have done what you want to do. Authorship is a saturated market, like so many, and being able to hear from people who have achieved what you want to achieve makes it feel a little more real because it makes your goals feel reachable, more attainable. If they can make it, then why can’t you as well?
Three authors, each occupying a space within my top three favourites, have had releases this year, which meant I was able to hear them all talk whereas, in other circumstances, I wouldn’t have likely had the same opportunity. These authors are Maggie Stiefvater with ‘Mister Impossible’, Cassandra Clare with ‘Chain of Iron’, and, just a couple of weeks ago, C. S. Pacat with ‘Dark Rise’. If you’ve read my fussy readership acknowledgement post, you’ll see that all three of these books adhere to what I like to read; fiction, and fantasy fiction at that, the YA/NA genre and, most importantly, they contain queer characters. This year has been difficult, just like the last, but not only being able to look forward to three books by my three favourite authors, but also being able to hear from them, either from a paid event or during an Instagram Live, has alleviated a lot of stress, and I can only hope it feels the same for anyone else out there who has also been looking forward to new releases this year and last.
Not only is it wholly inspiring to hear from these authors who have written some of my favourite books, but one thing I love to do most is compare myself and my techniques with theirs. Hearing how Clare creates characters gives me advice for making sure my own characters are as complex and well-rounded as hers. Hearing how Stiefvater uses the Dreamers as a metaphor for creatives, writers, and artists makes me re-evaluate my own metaphors to see if I can make the same fascinating, intriguing comparisons. Recently, being able to hear Pacat talk about how ‘Dark Rise’ was conceptualised before Captive Prince makes me feel reassured that some of my projects might be in the background for years before they see the light of day, and that you really cannot rush your projects. Pacat said that some of the best advice she’d (note that Pacat is genderqueer and uses both she/hers and he/his pronouns) ever received was that the work doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be finished, which is something I’ve adhered to since I started writing. Hearing advice that authors you love have received from those before them is reassuring, and it allows knowledge to continually be passed around.
I would argue writing is a solo sport, for the most part, and that you spend a lot of time sitting at your computer, researching and writing without anyone beside you. That allows for a lot of self-doubt to creep in, allows for a lot of vulnerabilities, and it can also make you feel incredibly lonely. But getting to hear from authors who have made it, whose books get on Best Sellers lists, having discussions with other authors about their process and how each story came into being, not only is it reassuring to hear from those who are successful at what you want to do, but I would argue that’s one of the ways you alleviate some of that loneliness too.
I loved hearing how Pacat created the ‘Dark Rise’ series and how, in a typical day, she writes about 1,000 words. And I loved hearing Stiefvater talk about how she was inspired by myths and legends, and how she is very much a writer who adheres to Parkinson’s Law (this idea that work expands to fill the time available for its completion, meaning however long she’s given to write is however long it will take). And I love hearing about how Clare likes to choreograph fight scenes on location to make it feel grounded and real. Listening to other authors talk about their process invites you into their community in some ways, it creates a connection, and feeling part of a community is a step towards ensuring your writing process isn’t so abhorrently lonely.
I’m also currently reading Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s new release, ‘Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World’, which is a beautiful sequel that I’ve instantly fallen in love with. He says something very interesting in his Acknowledgements: ‘No one writes a book alone’. Immediately, this might seem contradictory to what I’ve just said, but I think the two ideas of writing being a solo sport but also one you don’t do alone somehow work together, even if they are a touch antithetical. You do spend a lot of the writing process alone, but writing is also about the shared experience, listening to (or ignoring) advice, reading others’ works. If you write alone like me, we’re still part of a shared community, even if I do admire authors from afar. Therefore, when I’m sitting at my computer, alone, I’m not technically alone because I’m surrounded by books, concepts, knowledge of what I share and can take from other authors, and part of this knowledge has now come from book tours.
There’s a lot of discussion in art about copying, how one book feels like another, how this movie clearly stole scenes from this movie. And don’t get me wrong, plagiarism isn’t to be taken lightly, and we all like things that are new, unique, original.
But I’m also a big believer in the idea of the homage, in work inspired by other works. In all three of the “tours” I was able to attend, they each spoke about what other works they were inspired by. Clare talked of Oscar Wilde, Stiefvater talked of ancient myths and legends, Pacat talked of Tolkien, Lewis, Dorothy Dunnett’s ‘Lymond Chronicles’, and I think that’s another reason why I find these tours so fascinating; I’m inspired by these authors who are inspired by authors before them. Art is cyclical, inspired by art that has come before. One of the many intriguing aspects of Pacat’s new trilogy is how she’s re-imagining the English pastoral fantasy where the queer, Other is at the centre, directly paying homage and constantly referencing these other tales, and it isn’t a copy whatsoever, it’s new and wonderful, and made with previous texts in mind.
There must be nothing quite as humbling as hearing someone has been inspired by your work, and to know these three authors were inspired by authors before them is reassuring, and inspiring in and of itself. Writing, even if you don’t speak to other authors, is a shared community where we are constantly being influenced by the works and writers around us.
Art is a cyclical creation, pulled from sources all around that often include other art. So, when it comes to these tours, I feel inspired by them. I get to hear from the voices of those who have done what I want to do, and I get to hear about how they’ve managed it so that I, too, will be able to manage it. Obviously, I go to these tours to hear about the specific book they’re there to talk about, I love hearing about the characters and relationships and the moments that brought these stories to life, but I go to these tours to hear about the background, to hear about their techniques and tips. I love comparing and contrasting and, one day, I can only hope that someone might find my work inspiring, that someone might come to a tour of mine to hear how I write and to see if it’s the same or different to their own methods, and to hear about those who have inspired me.