The Art and Love for Novels: The Truth in the Stories.

15th December 2020

The art of novels often go unnoticed, but here is the story behind the stories. Diana Groves investigates.

In the summers past it was a common occurrence for my sister and I to visit the library. A place which is unknown to many. A library card, what’s that? It could now be considered a rare artifact, an item which I barely see anyone with now. With the break-up of school the time would come for the Summer
Reading Challenge.

The child in me would look forward to a summer of competing with her sister. The race and mission to see who could read the most books in six weeks. I remember being excited every week to go and collect my next book, getting a sticker to say I have finished yet another story and a prize to go along side with it. At the end of summer holidays you would get a certificate and a medal. It was the simple things like that which mattered.

“There’s so much online to distract them from reading"

— Charlaine Harris, Author.

A lot has changed in a decade, social media has taken over and children have grown more knowledgeable about technology as opposed to the need for literacy.

Literature is a dying trend and people no longer holding the love they once did for it. More importantly they have a lack of understanding and passion for it.

A decade on in we reach the summer of 2015. I volunteered at my local library to help with the reading challenge. through my time there I noticed things had changed since I was young.

There were less children and they were less interested. However what was most obvious to me was the lack of enjoyment. When parents brought their children in they didn’t run to the counter and pick out a new book excitedly, it seemed more of a chore for them to read. As if the thousands of worlds and adventures waiting before them didn't matter at all.

The National Literacy Trust posted their annual publication earlier this year. There were reports that only 53% of children and young people enjoy reading; which is an all-time low since 2013. As well as only 25.8% of children and young adults were reported to read daily in 2019. With technology on the rise it is no wonder these figures are so low.

Last year according to the Department of Education 73% of pupils nationwide reached the required standard for reading which is down 2% from 2018. The rise of technology has not only affected these reading figures but also the appreciation for novels. Many children and young people are consumed with what is happening on their phone.

Along with the decline of interest and enjoyment we have also seen a decline in budget cuts and lack of public funding for libraries across this past year. With annual figures from The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy showing a cut of £20mil. Within the last 10 years we have also seen the closure of 800 libraries nationwide.

Credit to Pexels

However many councils have tried to overcome these obstacles. When I spoke to Medway Council to see what they were trying to achieve I was surprised to find all the new activities that they were running online through this pandemic.

Jade Edwards, Press Officer at Medway Council, said: "In normal times we usually host a range of children’s activities in our libraries and community hubs including baby, bounce and rhyme and toddler shake and boogies, although these sessions are unable to go ahead due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic our children’s librarians have been creating Storytime videos... We are also running online book clubs using Microsoft Teams for both adults and young people to get involved email"

"Reading is not only fun but it is a fundamental life skill and we’re committed to fostering children’s love of reading. Every year we encourage children and young people to take part in the Summer Reading Challenge and over the last six years more than 16,000 Medway children have taken part and read up to six books during the summer holidays...We also have a brilliant online library service and more than 103,103 eBooks, eMagazine, eNewspapers and eComics have been borrowed since 23 March."

Over the years my love for reading has never died and my passion for writing has only grown. So, when I got the chance to speak to one of my favourite authors from when I was a teenager, I couldn’t help but find out what inspired her to become an author.

I remember one of the first series I read were by Charlaine Harris. After the first few chapters I became addicted with them. I brought the collection and added it to my book shelf.

I would finish a book in a day and sit at school in my lessons reading instead of doing my work. Then when I got home I would curl up all day only moving when absolutely necessary.

Charlaine Harris, author of The Sookie Stackhouse series and many more, tells me her inspirations: “ ‘Jane Eyre,’ which contains so many elements that have become commonplace in romance and suspense. ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ for the humor and the strong backbone of the protagonist. And so many others. I was a voracious reader, still am."

Charlaine Harris said: “I had always thought of myself as a writer, and I had written poems, plays, and so on. But when I married the second time, my husband offered me the opportunity to stay home from work and write full time. I wrote a book, and it got published, to make a long story short.”

“It was quite different when I was a mid-list writer. Nothing commands respect like conspicuous success. I used to have to explain who I was when I called bookstores, but no longer. I think it's ironic that the success of my TV series ("True Blood," "Midnight Texas," the Hallmark movies of the Aurora Teagarden books) has validated me as a writer.”

Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse Series: Book One

Reading is a vessel for the imagination, novels do not just tell a story they are pieces of art that authors aim to create. Like an artist with a paint brush. They spend days, weeks, months; even years creating something just for someone to enjoy. It is this time and dedication that they put in it that is inspiring to see especially when their work gets the recognition it deserves.

This happened to Charlaine when her Sookie Stackhouse series got picked up by HBO. The books inspired hit television show True Blood; staring Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer and Alexander Skarsgård. She series ran for seven seasons from 2008 to 2014. This gave her the opportunity to reach out to people who do not read.

However, once you create a world which your readers love making the switch from novel to screen can have its difficulties. Where some viewers freely critique things which they do not agree with. Whether this be with casting choices of slight changes in the storyline.

“The TV show amped up the media scrutiny and the reader attention by a thousand percent. Of course, that was exciting, and I had many experiences I had never dreamed of. But it also created a lot of tension for me, and upped my traveling hours, and caused some problems for my children. It was very difficult to keep on an even keel.”

However, like most things with the rise of technology came the scrutiny and critiques, Charlaine continued on: “when I ended the series, the media world came crashing down on me. That was a horrible time. People are quick to say things on-line that they'd never say to your face. I learned a lot. But who couldn't be grateful for all the attention that the show brought to my books, and the increase in my sales? That was fabulous!”

It was recently announced that HBO are planning a reboot of the show and it is in its early stages.

Gaining the chance to inspire a television show gives authors the chance to branch out and advertise their books all over again. This is a brilliant way to encourage young adults and children to read. Especially when people always comment on how the books are always better that the films.

When I was in school there was not a passion for novels, whilst it was part of the curriculum there was a lack of stimulation. Could this be because people would rather spend their time watching at the time ‘Snapchat’ stories rather than ‘Of mice and men’.

“There’s so much online to distract them from reading. But there is so much good in YA and children’s books now! The ones who do read are in for a bonanza. And it’s so important to be able to read well.” Harris said.

Perhaps that’s what we needed to do - move the books onto their phone. Since Kindles and e-readers have become more of the norm and possibly the way of the future. However, there are still some of us that prefer the traditional form of a book. Nothing can replace the feeling of fresh cut pages piled together in your hands. A whole world waiting to be discovered just sitting on a shelf. The unmistakable smell when you open up the pages.

However, physical books are classic
The Debate

The Publishers Association stated that digital book sales were up by 23% this year to £199mil. Whilst print sales were down by 8%. Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive of the Publisher Association stated in the press release: “These figures show us that UK readers have returned to fiction during lockdown, turning to novels for entertainment, escapism and comfort during the first six months of this year… In a challenging year for the UK publishing industry, growth in digital has helped counterbalance print decreases and this has largely been driven by a combination of wonderful new writers and a resurgence of interest in the classics. These figures really emphasise the enduring nature of books and reading – and that readers continue to embrace books in all their forms.”

Lotinga continued on to say: “Whilst it is encouraging that books continued to reach readers during lockdown it has clearly been a difficult time for bookshops, which are vital to the health of our industry.”

Findings from Report
Increase Percentage
Digital Books 26%
Fiction and Non Fiction 25%
Childrens Books 50%
Audio Books 47%
E-Books 18%

With the rise of E-books also come a rise in self-publishing. A route many new authors take for convenience as well as it being cheaper to produce.

Charlaine Harris describe what she thinks will happen in the future of books: “My experience with self-published books is that all too often they are poorly edited, and that yanks you out of the narrative. I suppose that the field of independent editors will flourish, and also cover designers. That has probably already happened, and I just don't know it. - Readers have become accustomed to getting cheaper books; and if the price is lower, they are willing to take a chance on an author unknown to them.”

Many books on E-readers and I-Books can often be free which means readers no longer have to pay for the expense of a book. Self-Published writers tend to get free rein on how much they want to sell their books for. Often so many authors choose digital print as it is cheaper to make too as you do not have to pay for the paper and factory work. This way they make more of a profit and also reach more people all over the world.

E-books are also available in an instant which is what people are all about. Most people today want things as soon as they can, so being able to simply download a book is more appealing to people. There are no delivery fees and given the recent circumstances involving Covid-19 it is more convenient than going to the shop to buy one.

Love for Novels

Harris continues: “It's also made word of mouth even more important in a crowded market, and created a whole new field of writer promotion that didn't exist before. It's impacted to me to some extent. My agent is bringing out books whose rights have reverted to me. Also, there are so many writers I don't know and haven't heard of, because they're in this self-pubbed market. I do read some books that have been published that way, and some of them have been excellent.”

Social media is now a main source of advertising for all companies, with many investing most of their budget into ads for Youtube. However, one of the main aims for social media was to connect people all over the globe. The use of social media has been successful at reaching out and encouraging people to read more. More authors have even turned to social media to use as a tool to engage and connect with people. They use it to their advantage to promote their work and to respond to fans.

Charlaine is one of these people – “I really resisted the social media thing for years. It seemed a waste of my time and energy. But I do like to connect with readers, and I do like to recommend good books, so that's the part I enjoy. I have a feature I call "Book & Blog" on my website, and write a column at irregular intervals including book recommendations and a blog about whatever crosses my mind. The blog is not really important, but the books are. I also answer questions on my professional Facebook page, and I have a friend who does my Instagram for me. I just ran out of time on that one.”

Apps such as TikTok have drastically changed the face of social media. With so much different content on it, it was no surprise when I stumbled across a side of it known as ‘Book-Tok’.

Users of all different ages; including authors and aspiring writers, have taken to the app to review books and create trends. With many showcasing their never ending ‘to be read’ piles or their favourite reads for the month and even their latest purchases.

I personally have added almost 100 books to my wish list all by authors I haven’t read before. All of which I have seen on my TikTok as recommended by fellow users.

‘Book-Tok’ has become a frequent appearance on my feed and on many others. It has allowed a community of people all over the world with a mutual interest to connect. It is a place many people go to appreciate the art and dedication that goes into a novel.

To my surprise there is a bigger fandom than I anticipated.

Another current trend that has had increased attention and appreciation is for anime and manga. With millions of people taking to this style all over the world.

Anime and manga has been around for decades only now it has exceeded expectations.

Manga and anime have become extremely recognised all around the world with conventions like comic-con and people part taking in cosplay. Drawing in hundreds and thousands of people to the events each year. Mange is mainly a visual book which also tells a story. The time which goes into crafting and drawing such things should be recognised as an art form.

Chloe Russell, 20 year old from Kent, is one of these people.

“Upon leaving school there was no longer a stigma around watching or reading manga and anime. Many people at school deemed it ‘nerdy’ or ‘geeky’. At the time not many people showed much of an interest. But gradually I started to see more of it and thought it seemed intriguing and creative. Manga has become a love of mine, my favourite being Haikyuu!!. ”

Chloe continued on: “I realised there are a lot of communities that I could be a part of, which made me realise that it is more popular than I thought it was… It so different to what you would typically read, I find it fascinating. I can spend so long translating it from Japanese just to get the full experience and to truly be able to appreciate the time and effort that goes into it.”

Chloe has also taken to drawing her own adaptations of the characters in her free time where she posts them on Instagram.

Drawing by Chloe Russell @tourmaline_prints on Instagram

Reading will always be important to society whilst it might not typically seem as popular there are still many individuals keeping the love for novels alive. You simply have to find your people no matter the form, style or genera you prefer.

Nevertheless, statistics do not lie. Figures are showing a gradual decline amongst the younger generations. With so many new trends and distractions in life it is easy to see why people see reading as nonessential.

However, this needs to change there are many benefits to reading and so many new ways to access books. The is something for everyone out there. What does the future really hold for the survival of novels?

The stigma which surrounds reading does not hold much significance the older you get. When I spent my lunch time in the library reading and felt as though people judged me for it, I have come to realise it should not have mattered as long as I was happy. Reading is good for your mental health, your memory and your imagination.