10/10

Why should engineers read more fiction?

10 – Support writers, translators, designers, publishers and bookshops

Aha, now we get to the nub of it.

Is this whole series of book recommendations just enlightened self interest?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, I’d be delighted if you try one of my books. I confess I started this blog with intention of suggesting my own Phosphate Rocks: A Death in Ten Objects as number ten.

But no, I’m not going to do that.

Like many professional engineers, I still have a full time paid job, despite a series of COVID-19 lockdowns.

It hasn’t been so easy for others.

Business has been terrible for many bookshops, particularly independents.

It’s been tough on writers, especially authors with debuts planned for 2020. Publication dates were delayed or promotional events cancelled. There were no school visits or book festivals or live events.

For publishers, it’s a mixed picture. Digital sales (including audio) have increased as print book sales have fallen. Readers have turned to familiar fare in times of crisis: bestsellers sell even better, sales of familiar classics have soared. But it’s been much harder for smaller publishers, the brave ones with exciting new authors, as yet unknown.

And there’s a knock on effect for all the freelancers who are so crucial to the business.

So now is the time, for those of us who can, to get out there and actively support the arts – new writing, new music, new visual art.

But it’s more than that.

Everyone has been affected by the pandemic. Isolation meant loneliness and anxiety for some, overcrowding and exhaustion for others, illness for many.

It was a time to lock down and lock in, focus on the here and now, find safety and comfort.

The Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet, but for those of us lucky enough to have been vaccinated, now might be a good time to look up, look around, look outside, look beyond our own horizons and embrace the experience of others.

And what better, safer way to start than through a book?

I’m going to go out on a limb for my final recommendation.

My recommendation: Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs

This extraordinary poem was written during lockdown in 2020. It mirrors Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice, written as Europe teetered on the brink of the second world war. Spring Journal follows the evolution of the pandemic in England and the politics of denial. I had the great good fortune to listen to Spring Journal unfolding week by week courtesy of an online literary salon – A Leap in the Dark – hosted by David Collard with readings by Michael Hughes and others.

Sometimes, in writing, less is more. Sometimes you need a poet’s observation skills, razor sharp insight and artistry to cut through the darkness and shine a light on what matters.

Fiona Erskine is a professional engineer and the author of Jaq Silver thrillers The Chemical DetectiveThe Chemical ReactionThe Chemical Cocktail and genre defying Phosphate Rocks: A death in Ten Objects.