East 17’s Tony Mortimer: my love of literature during lockdown
I want to use my new love of literature during lockdown to inspire young boys to read.
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, or so they say. There I was, like the rest of us, thrown into the midst of a pandemic. So, what to do? I know, I’ll read a novel and force myself to finish it, I thought.
What’s the big deal you might ask? Well, I had never actually read a novel before that I recall, which may sound absurd.
In fact, I never thought it strange until I told people and found I was quite alone in this little feat. I mean, I've read books, yes, plenty of them, but an actual novel? Hell no. I couldn’t think of anything more boring.
Often, I would see people on holiday - remember those? Their heads stuck in some thick novel, throwing away their time. Get in the sea, I would think, as I stared at a reader who to me was missing out on relaxing.
How tiring must it be to make yourself read, as opposed to enjoying life, not understanding they were likely so engrossed with their book that they were themselves escaping to some other world and enjoying every minute of it. A world where they could become so attached to a character or setting that they may long for the moment where they could meet again. Overwhelmed, not by a desire to dive into a sea or communal swimming pool but right back into a world exactly where they had left off. Taken away on some literary locomotive to a distant, possibly more exotic land than the one they were in.
And then I picked up my first novel: Secrets of the Greek Revival, a ghostly, mystery read. I felt a huge sense of achievement when I finished it and was totally addicted from then on in.
These worlds between the ink-laden lines came as a huge relief
In the past, I was oblivious to what I had been missing, and always favoured film. The good thing about a novel over a film is that a novel offers you most of the picture but not all, leaving you to make up the rest with your own imagination.
The downside is the vast array of worlds are far more than we could ever hope to visit, more characters and plots than we could ever uncover. Not in a single lifetime.
Novels have helped me immensely during this pandemic, offering escapism and a host of other mental benefits such as relaxation. All at a time when travel and socialising have never been so restricted. Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None; The Flower Girls by Alice Clark Platts; The Best Werewolf Short Stories 1800-1849 by Andrew Barger; The Fear Bubble by Ant Middleton. Oscar Wilde’s Complete Short Stories; JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner; Stephen King’s On Writing.
These worlds between the ink-laden lines came as a huge relief. In fact, I’ve fallen in love with novels so much so that I’ve finished my first draft of my own book. This was inspired both by my grandchild and an article I read which told how many boys are seen in book shops, but sadly a large number leave empty handed. It seems they cannot find something that suits. Perhaps there is a shortage of books for young male readers? Therefore I hope to write one they can enjoy. Something exciting, adventurous. Something that may take them away from their world, if only for a short time.
So, if life is chaotic or stressful you could do a lot worse than immersing yourself in a far-off distant sci fi galaxy or cosy country village mystery. There really is something for everyone; I only wish I discovered it long before I did.
As this has come from the chaos that was and still is this pandemic, perhaps it is fitting to sign off with these words from Sun Tzu: “In the midst of chaos comes opportunity.”
Tony Mortimer is a former member of the boy band East 17 and Ivor Novello-winning songwriter.