Michael Connelly is one of those writers you can always rely on (with a rare exception or two) to produce a book that you don’t regret picking up.
For months now, the top of my ideas board has been occupied by the following yet to be explored (until now) idea for a blog post:
“Taking inspiration from the things you see around you every day (myself as murder victim or suspect – what could the police tell about me from my house?)”
For some reason, I kept focusing on the bits and pieces tacked to my refrigerator including photographs of and drawings by various nieces and nephews. And, of course, what these things say about me is that even though I’m single, I am part of an extended (and still growing) family and I am loved. But recently something happened that made me realise I’m too close to the subject matter. Not able to see the forest for the trees.
Because being an aunt is not my defining characteristic and upon entering my house in the event of my unnatural death or to arrest me for someone else’s, the fridge is not the first thing the police would notice.
No, the first thing they would notice is the nine cats.
I’ve written before about my ideas board. I’ve had it since July when I went out with the specific purpose of purchasing an actual whiteboard to replace the scraps of paper I was writing my ideas on and struggling to keep track of. It now has pride of place in my bedroom (where I do most of my writing); in fact, it’s sitting on a bedside table that is no longer at my bedside but between two windows across the room so I have a good view of it at all times. (There’s a lamp abandoned forlornly on the floor.)
As writers, we can sometimes lose sight of the little things that help make writing easier. My big picture was to write a lot of blog posts. But the small step of buying and implementing the ideas board is what has helped me to do it. Here’s why.
A friend of mine recommended this book to me last year with the comment that it “reiterated my choice to not have kids. I think you might like this book, but don’t hate me if you don’t.” She has a history of recommending books that are long, sweeping, epic sagas and take long journeys through the lives of multiple characters in such detail that it is painful and mind-numbing to me. (Each to their own, right?)
And when I told my (married) sister (with three children) I was reading this book, she looked at me strangely and said, “I didn’t think it was your kind of novel.” She wasn’t wrong. Without knowing anything more about it than the information revealed in the extremely small blurb, I didn’t think it was my kind of novel either. Parents, children, school participation, gossip, feuds and a murder, a slightly atypical suburban nightmare but still a nightmare nonetheless. As someone who has chosen not to take the traditional wife, husband, 2.4 kids path, I suspected I was going to be not just disappointed with this book but bored stiff.
Savour this moment because you won’t hear me say this (or see me write this) very often. I was wrong. So very wrong. Gleefully, gloriously wrong.
(Note: When I first published this article on LinkedIn, it was read by approximately 9,000 people and liked over 650 times and one of the authors of the books I recommend contacted me to thank me for her inclusion on the list. It is my most read piece of writing ever. I can’t tell you why. But it was fun while it was happening.)
I’m not generally someone who recommends self-help books. In fact, in the past I have been guilty of pouring scorn on many of them, perhaps because the ones I’ve picked up and started reading have been particularly vague (what exactly is self-actualisation?) and therefore particularly unhelpful to someone like me who prefers the literal to the lateral.
Finding a self-help book that is actually going to help you is a deeply personal thing. You have to be at a particular point in your life to benefit from specific self-help books. And you have to be going through a similar crisis to the one being described by the author. And you have to be able to put into practice what they are telling you to do. They’re long odds.
But as I was sitting in my study recently, the three books I am about to recommend kept jumping out at me despite being on three different shelves on three different bookcases. I’ve read, and in some cases reread, all three of these books in the past five years and the longer I looked at them in conjunction, the clearer it became. These three books had important things to say to women of a certain age.
In some – but not all – books, a disclaimer appears in the first few pages proclaiming:
“All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author, and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incidents are pure invention.”
But what if it isn’t true?