Reading as a Writer

I am co-chairing the New England Crime Bake this year. I have a few duties that weekend, mostly involving making announcements, greeting people, and helping make the weekend run smoothly. I am also going to do an interview with our Guest of Honor, Elizabeth George.

I’ve already begun to prep for the interview. Though I can’t read (or, in most cases, re-read) her entire canon, I polled a few friends, and have a list. I started with A Great Deliverance, her first book, while I was on vacation. The book was published in 1988, and I read it over twenty years ago. I remembered the story line, though I didn’t remember all of the details.

While I’ve always written, twenty years ago being a writer was barely an idea, so I read the book as a mystery reader. This time, I read it as writer. What a layer to add to my appreciation of Ms. George’s first book. New observations include:

Meeting the characters. The book introduces her cast of characters, including and especially Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sargent Barbara Havers. She neatly weaves in tremendous amounts of backstory without slowing down the tension of the book.

Using different points of view. Ever since I wrote my thesis on Agatha Chrstie’s use of point of view, I always notice how authors use it, particularly in mysteries. Ms. George uses third person, from multiple points of view. In some instances, she moves in very closely to a specific character and his or her thoughts. In others, particularly when she moves to Lynley and Havers, she creates distance.

Setting. The Lynley books take place in England, even though Ms. George is an American and lives in the States. Twenty years ago, I considered that a fun fact. Now, as a writer, I have to wonder about the amount of research she must have to do.

The series. She is eighteen books into this series. She also has a YA series. (My nieces are reading those books as well, so I can get a second hand reader experience. You can’t turn off reading like a writer, and first impressions get skewed. But I digress.) I have to wonder if she had any idea that she’d still be writing these books twenty-five years in. Don’t worry, I’ll ask her about that.

Re-reading A Great Deliverance with my writer’s hat on has been a great experiment. I’m looking forward to more of my homework, and to learning by observing.

How about you? Have you reread anything now you are writing? Do you ever get stuck looking at the mechanics of a novel, forgetting to just go with the flow of the prose?

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Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series, which debuts this fall.

14 thoughts on “Reading as a Writer

  1. Of course! When that happens, it is the best change of activity for a while to then, with a clear mind, keep writing.

  2. I haven’t reread anything lately but I know exactly what you mean. I’ve always written since I was capable of writing, but never thought about taking it seriously until very recently. When I read books now I notice things that never stood out to me before (or that didn’t annoy me as much), such as how different authors handle character description and introduce new characters. I notice spelling mistakes more regularly and get more annoyed when I have to read over a particularly long sentence many times to understand it. It’s a very different experience but reading is no less enjoyable – if anything, I enjoy it more!

      • I find it quite interesting to see how all these different writers do essentially the same thing. It’s like being back at school but doing a subject I enjoy (which hardly ever happened at school). I do have more sympathy for spelling errors but at the same time they annoy me more, which is quite odd. I know they can’t all be avoided, however, it would be near to impossible to spot them all!

  3. Oh, great! I’ve read A Great Deliverance too. Liked that book. Elizabeth George seems a very intelligent woman and I love how she’s able to capture British life as an American.
    What I enjoy about her books is the interaction between Lynley and Havers, being from different social classes.
    Will you be posting the interview on this blog as well? Would love to read it!

    I wonder though: being 18 books into the series, has there never been a point at which she got tired of Lynley and Havers? Off course, a new Lynley novel will sell better then something entirely new, but has she never felt like Thomas Lynley’s time to retire has come?

  4. A long time ago I had a collection of Harold Robbins books which I all labelled: garbage. Few years later I accidentally re-read them again out of nothing better to do and though they will never be again my favorite pass time I can honestly say that I can appreciate them better the second time around.

  5. hey i loved reading your blog 🙂
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    thank you. good day

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