I picked up my reading habit from my mum. I read everything from Sheldon, Christie, King and the like to Yeats, Whitman, Neruda, Donne, Dickens, et. al. It sure helped that mum had a huge library of her favourites (yes, that’s the picture above) and I read most of them twice over before I left school.
It was also in school that I started to write myself. When you’re an amateur author at that age, you really like having somebody read your work. These other people more often that not turn out to be amateur authors themselves, and then of course there’s a quid pro quo. That’s how I started started to read unpublished writing, and while over the years I’ve lost the muse, I still read a ton.
When I say this to other readers, they often look at me mystified. Amateur writing, seriously? Is that like fan fiction? Where do I get to read them? Don’t most of them require a spell check & a good editor? To the last: well, yes. But amateur writing is in an electronic format, and that brings about with it some unusual advantages. Let’s banish the negatives from our mind, and take a look at the upside:
- Let’s take length first. Who decided that a novel should be 40K words plus? How about a 500K mammoth saga? Or a 300 word scene? Some of these lengths bring about some wonderful stories & different ways to consume them.
- Controversial & sidelined genres such as polyamory, serious examinations about bending legal age, or even religious & political writing find a place in amateur writing. There is nobody to judge.
- Unusual genres, such as self-insertion, mind-control, time-travel, and gender-bending novellas are cool. Who doesn’t need more 70s SciFi?
- Crossovers: because of copyright, this has been largely unexplored in a mainstream genre. But wouldn’t you, as an author like to build upon the worlds of Tolkein & Rowling? Perhaps combine them, mix and match?
- Alternate timelines: just this: imagining redoing the travesty that is the Harry Potter finale.
- Serial writing: just like TV shows, writing doesn’t have to be published all at a go. Amateur authors regularly publish a story a chapter at a time.
Having said that, the proof of the pudding is in the reading: these are five good stories written by unpublished authors that I’ve read over the years:
Delenda Est: a Harry Potter and Bellatrix Lestrange (!?) alternate timeline story, an incredible pairing that somehow Lord Silvere manages to turn into an amazing story. Lots of plucky Bella here. This could have the Bella all of you panted over.
The Book: a mind control story: what happens when a middle-aged guy picks up a book that has symbols in it that gives him the power to control other people’s minds? Blackie weaves a tale that has the usual vagaries that come with mind-control, but also a surprisingly intelligent & coherent story behind it.
The Adventures of Me and Martha Jane: probably one of the books that has influenced me the most with its ideas of love, longing and blurred relationships, SJR’s Martha will stay with me forever. Forget the warnings on the page and dig through the story, worth it.
HPMOR: who says Harry Potter has to be irrational? LONG, good Harry Potter fan-fiction.
Sennadar: this should have been published. It’s as good, or if not better than a lot of what goes for fantasy now. A classic coming-of-age fantasy novel, but with a were-cat twist.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m both excited & worried about the future of amateur writing. Excited, because efforts such as Amazon’s Kindle platform have provided a level playing field for a lot of budding writers out there. And worried because while the platform is egalitarian, it’s also commercial, which means a ton of potential authors will write stories in genres that are more popular & more acceptable. Amateur fiction until now has never been about making money, it’s about an author slogging away at a computer somewhere writing something that just needs to be written. But maybe that’s just the old-man in me speaking. There has never been such a time where there’s been such a low distinction between a “published” author and an amateur one. That, in my books, can only be a good thing.