After my decision the other day to read more books, I started thinking about how many books that I actually absorb.
When I say absorb I really mean listen to...
Anyone who has listened to Radio 4 will probably have heard of Book at Bedtime; It is on at 10.45 pm Monday to Friday for 15 minutes and if you haven't tried it I'd recommend tuning in sometime. A book can be read over one or two weeks, sometimes three weeks, though there is obviously some abridging needed in longer novels.
A few weeks ago I was listening to Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, a book I've always intended to read but never have.
In the past I've fallen asleep listening to On Chesil Beach but needed to force myself to stay awake so I could follow Atonement- both by the same author- Ian McEwan-but clearly with very different results.
I remember listening to the first part of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and without knowing anything about the story- the book was just coming out at the time- thinking that the boy in the story had to be autistic (I recognised the same patterns that I've lived with every day with my own sons) and when I found out more about the story I understood why.
The books are brought to life with the very good readers, using intonations of accent when needed, easily suspending my disbelief when a male reader speaks female dialogue.
And that is something that appeals to the writer in me, not just me the the listener.
New writers are told to tune in and to listen to people and conversations going on around them- that's why I'm never without a notebook- and after a while it becomes automatic, we do it without thinking about it.
I think really we're wearing an invisible pair of headphones with an antenna attached which constantly tracks from left to right for that voice or chatter that we zero in on for some reason.
I've never had difficulty with my characters sounding different, and dialogue is my strongest area so perhaps all these years when I've been lying under the duvet listening to that week's book, my creative brain has been absorbing the skills of the readers and writers...