Like most writers, I’ve had some surprisingly varied and sometimes intriguing reactions from readers, but it was a recent one from a reader in the USA that provoked this blog. He wrote to say that he was halfway through the first of my Jack Carston series, Material Evidence, and enjoying it very much. I wrote back to thank him and, in the course of the email, asked ‘OK, whodunnit, then?’
A couple of days later, I got another (600 word) email in reply. He was still just over halfway through the book but was confident that he knew who the perpetrator was. He then named the character and, in great detail, mapped out motives, the web of relationships that triggered and justified them and the various ways in which the investigating policeman (and he himself) had unravelled them. He was, of course, ‘wrong’ but, as I wrote that word, I knew I had to put it in quotes because his reasoning was flawless. If my mind had worked in the same way as his, I could have written the book as he saw it and, assuming that my style was consistent and there were no swarms of typos, it would have worked as well as my own version. (I should qualify that by saying that I actually think mine is a better outcome because it’s more surprising and – I hope – thought-provoking.)
The fascinating thing about the experience is that it confirms what I’ve said many times before in discussions and articles about fiction – that it’s a collaboration between writer and reader. The act of reading is a creative act. The characters in novels, even though their histories are outlined far more precisely than those of any ‘real’ people, are still far from lifeless, predictable beings. Their paths can diverge and introduce complexities which may not have occurred to their creator. This isn’t to question the authenticity of the writer’s vision and achievement – on the contrary, the fact that the finished article is still capable of multiple interpretations confirms its dynamism, its life and its ‘reality’.
On top of that, one of the great pleasures of publishing a book is the thought that, at different places in the world, individual readers will open it (or click on it) and, as they read, bring its characters to life and recreate the reality you’ve imagined – or at least their version of it. That idea of a person you’ll never meet (in fact, if you’re lucky, hundreds/thousands of people you’ll never meet) entering a world you’ve invented and making it live again is a magical feeling. There’s a sort of alchemy at work – neither of you knows or will ever know the other and yet you’re sharing an intense, unique intimacy.
Post by Bill Kirton
Bill is an award-winning author who writes crime, historical, satirical and humorous novels as well as books for children and non-fiction books on writing, study and work skills for students. He’s also written stage and radio plays and sketches and songs for revues at the Edinburgh Festival. You can find out more about him on his website and blog at www.bill-kirton,co.uk