Although I have never read any of Lynn Freed’s fiction, I was interested in her collection of essays, Reading, Writing and Leaving Home: Life on the Page because as a high school writing teacher I am always looking for writing advice to share with my students. You know, something like King’s “If you don’t time to read, you don’t have the time or tools to write.” While there aren’t necessarily any pithy quotes in this collection, it was an interesting book because Freed herself has had an interesting life.
Born and raised in South Africa, Freed’s parents were actors, and she grew up – the youngest of three girls – surrounded by books.
Most of the books in the house were kept in my parent’s study, a cosy room with leather chairs, teak bookshelves, leaded windows, and piles of scripts stacked around on the floor. It was there that my mother was to be found during the day, either timing scripts or drilling a new actor. And there that I was allowed to read whatever was available – mostly plays, but also opera libretti, the odd history, a few biographies, a selection of popular novels – as long as I didn’t interrupt.
Her writing career began when she wrote “ninety tedious pages” for an AFS scholarship application. The following year, when she actually landed in New York after having won the scholarship, she was told that the organization had put a two-page limit on the essay because of her entry. That story and those characters continued to swirl around in Freed’s head and eventually found their way into her novel. But none of it was easy.
The world I was writing about was the same world I had tackled for AFS, but now could life it from the restraints of myth and detail and report and do with it anything I pleased. Or, at least, so I thought.
Freed writes about writing as I believe writing is: hard freakin’ work. Frustrating. Painstaking. A labour of love, sure, but it’ll kick your sorry ass.
…I would suggest that one should never overlook two essential elements in the development of the writer: long years of practice and a ruthless determination to succeed. Writers come to their material in different ways, but come they must if they are to succeed.
Even though this sounds like advice, Leaving Home isn’t actually a how-to book. The book chronicles Freed’s journey from girlhood to adulthood and covers everything from her relationship with her sisters to a trip back to the house she’d once called home – and all if it is fodder for her writing. If, as she claims, she has chosen truth over safety in her writing – I suspect her novels would be worth a look. I certainly enjoyed this collection of essays.