Now I'd like to talk a bit about originality, because it's one of the things that impresses the socks off me as a reader and a writer. I've been an avid reader since I was six and have read a fair few books in my time. This makes me sympathetic, to an extent, with theories that there are only ten plots in the world (or is it five, or three?) but nothing beats the buzz of discovering stories which feel brand new, stories that come at you from the angle you least suspect and stay for a long long time. I'm not talking about the weird and wacky so much, although I am partial to the imaginings of Jennifer Pelland, whose collection I read for The Short Review. I'm talking about stories whose plots may be as old as the hills but the telling of which is fresh and vivid and generous in the way that the best writing can be generous - a gift to the reader. And a gift to the writer.
Wait, am I straying back towards that plagiarism discussion? What about the rule that says you mustn't read other people's stories when you're writing your own, in case you inadvertantly allow it to influence what you're writing? I hate that rule. It's daft, and insulting to a writer's intelligence, as if we're wayward children incapable of admiring a toy without breaking it, or as if we're unable to retain two or more strands of information in our heads at any one time. If we're good at anything, as writers, it's working with threads - holding each one separate from the other as we weave a story together. If I read something original and I love it, it inspires me. Sometimes, yes, it daunts me. My imagination can feel fallow or inadequate besides these giants of ideas. But the overriding impact is one of renewed enthusiasm for my craft. I wouldn't stop reading for anything, least of all while I'm writing when I need that enthusiasm the most.
So here's to the giants of ideas, the writers who have inspired me most recently and those who've taken up residence in my head (and my heart). Just a shortlist for now, although I may add to it over time:
Words from a Glass Bubble by Vanessa Gebbie
The White Road by Tania Hershman
Some New Ambush by Carys Davies
The Complete Saki by Saki
Uncle Fred by P G Wodehouse
Life-Size by Jenefer Shute
Oh and most of Grace Paley, Muriel Spark and Helen Dunmore. Some of Ivy Compton-Burnett, Mervyn Peake, Nabakov and Nancy Mitford.