Last month during our Professional Development Session at Write Links, Melanie Hill presented on Critical Reading for Writers. Tyrion Perkins reports.
Melanie took us through the process of how to get more out of your reading by focusing on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
She started with a short quiz, which she used to show how well JK Rowling had planned the books. As a member of the audience, I tried not to do a Hermione, but no one else seemed to have reread them over and over to learn their inner workings. Despite my vast knowledge, Melanie went on to tell me how to get even more out of reading.
When you pick up a book it makes you a promise.
The first Bloomsbury cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone shows a boy in front of a bright red train. It is clearly for children and about a boy going off to school. When you turn it over and see the odd-looking character on the back and read the blurb, it suggests fantasy.
This creates expectations in the reader – for unusual and magical things, and would you like it if the baddy was a muggle?
The First page:
Some books don’t have chapter headings, but this one does. “The boy who lived” tells us that someone died, but someone also made it. It makes you curious.
Two families are mentioned – the Dursleys and the Potters. They are introduced by adults so that we can meet Harry as a baby – why? So we can hear about Harry and Voldemort at the same time. It shows how important both are to the book.
Tip: After finishing a book, go back and reread the first page so see how well it was set up.
The writer’s background:
Joanna Rowling’s favourite authors were Jane Austin and Roald Dahl. She studied classic literature and French, and you can see the influence in the books. She started writing the first one at a time when her mother had died and marriage had broken up, leaving her with a baby and not much money. Death is a strong theme in the books.
Other things to think about when reading:
Themes in this book:
Death and meaning for life
Good vs evil
Do you have any? (Most of us went blank at this one, I thought of a few later, such as detention in the deadly forbidden forest.) Melanie mentioned:
Harry is not damaged much by his abusive upbringing.
Harry never fails.
Magic doesn’t come at a cost. – I baulked at this one and I personally think it depends how you set up your story. Apparently it comes from fantasy writers and readers who are used to the cost. One attendee pointed out that the bigotry theme requires the ability to do magic to be inherent, like the colour of your eyes or skin, so it would be strange if that came at a cost.
Report by Tyrion Perkins
Melanie Hill lives in Brisbane with her husband and four children. Her children’s poems appear on the Australian Children’s Poetry website and in the Prints Rhyming Anthology edited by Sally Odgers. Melanie’s short story for children Bunyip Moon is included in the Zoothology Anthology. Her short stories for adults are can be found in the Darkest Depth and 18 anthologies. In November 2016 Melanie’s first adult poems will be published in Poetry d’Amour by WA Poets Inc.