The sharp edge of inspiration

Sometimes when I’m reading another author’s work I find a phrase or sentence or paragraph that’s so good I have to re-read it immediately to savour the way the words fit together. I guess it’s similar to what went through my mind gazing at the Taj Mahal – an awe that a mere human could get something so right.

Reading such inspiring writing can be a double-edged sword for me. I’ve had moments when consuming work from master craftsmen such as Tim Winton or Ian McEwan that I’ve wondered if I should bother writing at all. My thought process is something like “Wow. Double wow. What an image! Damn. I’d be happy to come up with a sentence that good, let along a paragraph … or an entire novel.”

Indeed, for a long period I was so gob-smacked by the writing of authors such as Winton and McEwan that I believed I’d never create anything that met my own quality-assurance checks, let alone match the lofty standards set by others. And so I didn’t write.

What changed? I guess I got older and the urge to create stories didn’t go away. I found myself briefly unemployed in 2001 and it seemed as good a time as any to have another try. I also realised I didn’t have to match others’ talents – just do the best I could with my own.

Besides, there are lots of readers and infinite reading tastes. Hopefully someone would connect with the stories I wrote.

Fast forward to 2008. It was fantastic to have Game as Ned made a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book. It was just as good to get a load of letters from students who said they generally didn’t like reading but loved GAN (even though they were made to read it at school.)

Anyway the reason for this post is I’ve just finished Before I Die by UK author Jenny Downham. It’s a prize-winning debut novel for young adults about a 16-year old dying of leukaemia. It’s brilliant. I reckon every human being aged 15-16 and up should read it.

Why? Because the narrator, Tessa, is so full of life, so appreciative of the beauty and tragedy she witnesses in every waking moment, so desperate to experience and learn and grow. Tessa is an inspiration. A reminder to us all not to take things for granted. To live well and leave the planet a better place for our existence.

I’ll be thinking of Tessa the next time I try to create a character that’s worth reading about. It’s a big ask but we should always aim high.

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