This post is not political but it has been inspired by the political events of recent months. There are times, like this week, when it feels as if the world is collapsing around us. Reading the news, it's difficult, even impossible, to find anything that inspires hope. In times like these, it can be difficult to focus on creative endeavours like writing. When people fear for their future, when there is so much anger and pain in the world, it can seem like any art is frivolous and unimportant.
I have struggled with that feeling at various points in the last two and a half years, since I started taking writing seriously. World events make my heart hurt. I look at my children and fear for them, for the world that they will grow up in and the challenges they will face.
Let me give you a little bit of context.
When I was young, I was a member of Girl Guides for around 8 or 9 years. For anyone not familiar with the organisation, some of their key values are helping others and treating people with dignity and respect.
As an adult, I spent five years working in social care, providing support for people with complex needs to live as independent a life as possible. I spent five years (part time) at university, getting a law degree which I intended to use helping people. I also spent 6 years working for an organisation that provides support and compensation to victims of violent crime.
For the vast majority of my life, I have worked to make the world a better place, to provide service to others, to add value. Now I write, and some days I ask myself why.
"If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking."
Why write? Because I can.
Unlike far too many people in today's culture, I have a voice and I am going to use it. We need books. We need fiction, even.
Sometimes we need to read for nothing more than escapism and that's fine. I firmly believe that we learn something from every single book that we pick up, be it Booker Prize winners or escapist fluff.
There have been a number of scientific studies linking regular reading to greater empathy. Being able to lose ourselves in someone else's story, increases our ability to recognise emotions in others and to care about their needs. Reading can literally make you a better person and empathy is something that I think most will agree, is in short supply these days. Perhaps because we spend more time watching reality TV than reading books?
Reading allows us the unique opportunity to experience the world from another's point of view. Perhaps by working to understand fictional characters, we can begin to understand each other a little better.
"Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul."
Joyce Carol Oates
We can write to challenge the established way of doing things. We can write to offer safety. We can give warnings, offer solutions, show alternative ways to live.
A well written novel can live inside a person's soul, making them reconsider the narrative of their lives, the narrative of their culture. It can offer solace and challenge and educate, all while telling a good story. It can say 'I see you.'
We often talk about books reflecting the attitudes of their time but I believe that it's a two way street - books can and do shape attitudes.
Diversity matters. Freedom matters. Speech matters. Books matter.
And that's why I turn to my keyboard again. Writing is not frivolous. It's essential.