The next best thing.

If you write, it follows that you MUST read. You just have to. There’s no other way about it. Recently I heard an editor remark, while talking about reading submissions for a short-story competition, that it was obvious that some of the people submitting had never read a short story before, and this came through in the writing. It is almost more important than anything else.

And, logically, if you don’t read, why they hell should people read your stuff? This doesn’t mean you have to go out and read everything under the sun. If it’s shit, don’t waste your time – you’re not getting any younger, right? I know I’m not. If I get halfway through a book and every sentence is eye-gougingly awful then I have to stop. No point sticking out to the grim end, and being completely put off by the experience. Before you chuck it in the salvos bin though, make a mental note, ‘what was so bad about it?’ Jot that mental, or actual, note down, and move onto something else. Eventually you will find something that’ll really get your knickers in a twist and KAPOW you’ll get that lovin’ feeling. And that book or short story, essay, poem - whatever - will go on to inform your writing, give you ideas, make you sound intelligent, and generally light a fire under you (or, if it’s too good, it might send you into a creative depression for four months because everything you do is bollocks comparatively, but DON’T WORRY! Fight through.You’ll eventually get back to using that mental anguish to identify what made the writing so good you wanted to cut yourself, and then channel it into your own work).

And there are no excuses. If you’re an impoverished and misunderstood writer then get yourself to the Recyclibrarians, the library (heaven forbid), your friend’s bookshelf (assuming you have friends; if not, get some. They’re occasionally useful too) or, ahem, the nearest Salvos. Just don’t buy the one you just threw out. That would be stupid.

I just bought Ghost Story by Peter Straub for 50c from the Vinnies op-shop on Main Road, New Town. It’s completely different to my usual reads and it’s going to rock my world – either because I hate it and I want to write something better, or because it’s great and I want to do what he does – like when you’re a kid and you see the firefighter on the screen, exhalted for being awesome, so you pull up your wellies and declare chipmunkishly that you’re going to be a firefighter too, Gramma!

Here’s a gal/guy whose obvious love for the feel, shape and function of books I find inspirational

- Lesley Halm, all up in this