I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I am so looking forward to the release of Harper Lee’s ‘prequel’ of To Kill a Mockingbird. I know many of her fans over the years begged her to write another, yet she declined to put pen to paper once more.
Now, decades later, Harper has revealed that she did write another novel which featured Atticus Finch and his grown up daughter Scout – but this was written from a different perspective and before the story as we know it today.
It made me wonder what compels a writer to write – or not write – as was the case with Harper Lee. It seems such a loss that a writer should write something so successful and then never pick up the pen again.
If you’ve never really considered it, think about it now. Why do you like to write? Do you have a burning need to write or is it just something you quite enjoy doing as a hobby to fill in the time? If you have a burning need to write, is there something in particular that you are just bursting to tell?
I realised, like so many, that my initial love of writing came from reading wonderful books as a child. As I grew older the became a form of escapism from the outside world. Words were like spells that gave me hope, new families, new adventures that were so different from my own.
As I grew older, however, just the very action of writing down thoughts and feelings somehow released me from the emotions of the world I found myself in. It was as if my mind emptied onto the page and I felt better once more.
My life has been more turbulent than most. Certainly more turbulent than my friends around me. I often said, nobody would believe the things that have happened to me, or the situations I have found myself in, all those things cannot happen to one person in one life time. It was from this thought that my writing found it’s drive, it’s desire, which was to help others who had been through the rough end of life or found themselves in situations they were just not equipped to deal with.
So there it is – the purpose of my writing is to try to help others. Social injustice – indeed injustice of any kind jangles me to the core. It’s probably why a story such as To Kill a Mockingbird is etched indelibly on my sub conscious and the subconscious of so many.
In what I have read about Harper Lee to date, it seems that she was overwhelmed, perhaps even frightened, by the response to her book and subsequent success. She had obviously written something so meaningful at just the right time, that the book became bigger than her. Harper wanted to make a statement about racism and social injustice – and boy she made that statement eloquently. She touched people with her words and her observations. Ultimately she felt she had said all she needed to say in that one book. People got behind her book and embraced its values just as surely as they believed in Atticus Finch himself.
This led me to ponder another question. As a writer, if you had the choice, would you want to write just one book that touched millions with its message, or would you prefer to be a prolific writer churning out book after book?
Before you answer, consider Dame Barbara Cartland for a moment. Not quite on the same literary scale granted, but she wrote over 722 books over an 80 year period which averages out at around one book every 40 days. She was a self-proclaimed expert on romance right up to her death in 2000. She may not have had a deep and meaningful message to convey to the masses, as we recognise it, but she had plenty to say about morals and the subject of ‘virginity’.
Of course for many writers, finances come into the equation. That said, anyone involved in the arts will know, reaping the rewards financially is more of an exception rather than the rule. Some writers are lucky. They hit on a formula that works for them, and they can churn out book after book.
One of my ‘desert island’ books would have to be Paulo Cohelo’s ‘The Alchemist’. A simple parable about how to live life. I have read many of his books since then, but have started to become bored with what seems to be a well worn templated style. Still – at least he wrote The Alchemist – and he believed in it so much he self published. He had a message that he was bursting to share, even if his subsequent books may be more about making money, they still communicate something about how we should live our lives..
I admire the fact that Harper Lee was inspired by her father’s work as lawyer working on behalf of black people. I admire that she felt so strongly about this subject that she just had to write about the injustices faced by a marginalised society. She wrote a book that froze a moment in time for us to scrutinise at our leisure, a work that we could draw life lessons from. How wonderful, if not a little terrifying, that must feel!
Go Set a Watchman is due to be published on July 14, 2015, by Harper Collins.