By Pamela Moeng
Wanna-be writers are often advised to read widely. From the time I could read "See Jane run" I soon became an inveterate reader. Everything was grist for my mill - toothpaste tubes, cereal boxes, labels on tins, my father's daily newspaper, my mother's magazines, the Reader's Digest Condensed Books that my parents subscribed to.
Nothing that contained text was safe from me, even the dog-earred paperback copy of Peyton Place that my mother tried to hide from me. In summer i visited the library almost daily, reading my way quickly through the children's section and starting, to my parents' and librarian's dismay, on the adult novels. My tastes were catholic and through books I escaped the confines of my small town upbringing, my parents' tempestuous marriage and a small house . Turning those thousands of pages, it never even once occurred to me then that I could conjure that magic for myself and others.
Finally as a young woman, I took the first tentative steps toward writing myself and fifty years after that little girl climbed an apple tree to read The Wizard of Oz, I'm a published author with stories bubbling up and out of somewhere deep inside me daily. What role did those hundreds of books play in forging a writer out of a little girl who used books as her escape, her magic carpet ride up and away from her every day world?
Thinking about it now, remembering the journey toward that first story and its publication, I realise that reading has been the perfect way to develop my writing skills. From crime thrillers I've learned how to build suspense and introduce interesting twists in the tale. From poetry I've learned that there is an exact word for every nuance of expression and it's worth it to wait for the right word to appear. From romances I learned to write about emotion and the physical response people have to each other. From chicklit I've learned how to write dialogue that sounds the way people really speak. From historical novels I've learned that the details count toward building the scene in the reader's mind. From dramas I've learned that building the plot is critical to keeping the reader interested.
Courses in creative writing are wonderful; nothing is better than a good lecturer assessing your work and critiquing it. But reading the masters and analysing how they kept your interest as the reader, delighted you with the exact word, made you laugh at the way one character taunted another, thrilled you with a description of a lover's hand stroking the landscape of his or her beloved,or took your breath away with suspense through a plot line is an exquisite way to learn the skill required of a consummate weaver of magic, teller of tales.