Philip Pullman is known for speaking his mind and telling it like it is, if you will. This past September in an article in the Guardian, he said that "...the use of the present tense in fiction had been getting more and more common, and I didn't like it."
For Pullman to say this gave me pause. I liked that he said something so critically bold, and because he's a great storyteller and a great writer, I listened. He goes on in the article I linked above to clarify that he thinks present tense is a great device in contrast and then lists some wonderful examples of what he means. You get the sense that Pullman has studied his craft and read widely. And that's what I really wanted to talk about today.
One thing that has always touched me about Pullman as a writer is something he wrote in the author's note to the completion of the His Dark Materials series, which begins with The Golden Compass, continues with The Subtle Knife, and ends with The Amber Spyglass.*
*I just used present tense in the way that he described it working; note the contrast in present in my sentence and the events of the past (writing the books in the series).
In that author's note, he says the following, which floored me completely:
"I have stolen ideas from every book I have ever read. My principle in researching for a novel is 'Read like a butterfly, write like a bee,' and if this story contains any honey, it is entirely because of the quality of the nectar I found in the work of better writers."
He goes on to list three works that particularly influenced the creation and writing of that series (The essay "On the Marionette Theatre," by Heinrich von Kleist, which Pullman says he read in 1978, John Milton's Paradise Lost, and the works of William Blake.)
We all pull from other writers, or we should. Les Edgarton's book Hooked talks about (and recommends) this concept of stealing from other writers. NOT plagiarizing, you understand, but learning from others and using what you learn in your own writing. Maybe it's a theme, or style, or word, or a style of voice, maybe it's a trick of character, maybe it's a clever use of adverb. Whatever it is, it's not plagiarizing when you read something that delights you, internalize it, and make it yours.
What I loved is that Pullman puts it out there and admits it, and he didn't have to.
Some authors I have appropriated elements, ideas, or tricks from:
- Maeve Binchy
- Marian Keyes
- Gerald Durrell
- Bill Bryson
- Nick Hornby
- Kate Morton
- Mary Kay Andrews
- Anne Tyler
- Anne Lamott
- Ian Rankin
What do you think--do you do this? Should you do this, do you agree with Philip Pullman (and me)? Who are some of the authors you've pulled from recently or over your life as a reader and writer?