There’s a song I used to love, twelve years ago when my husband and I started going out. It’s Words, originally I believe by the BeeGees but in ’99 when Andrew and I met it had just been covered by *shameful whisper* Boyzone. It has lovely lyrics, but it’s the refrain that’s the killer:
It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.
As any writer or reader, aspiring or established, knows, it’s not “only” words and that line perfectly sums up the power of words – they can take someone’s heart away. Hold that thought.
Last week Daniel learned to read. He’s been desperate to for a while, sitting poring over his picture books and deciphering letter by letter but not quite managing to turn individual letters into words. This week something clicked, the missing magical ingredient I guess. I’m still trying to catch it so I can bottle it, sell it, and retire. Anyway, It clicked and we sat together and he read me a whole story by himself. What happened was he wanted to sit near me while I was making tea so I gave him an early reader I’d got out from the library in case he could manage the odd word. I thought I’d have to help him out frequently but at least he could have a go and then I was on hand to do so. Instead, I stopped what I was doing and listened in growing wonder as he read word after word without my help. Some of them he stopped and decoded sound by sound, others he read aloud fluently as if he’d been reading for weeks instead of minutes.
He then read the same book to his daddy three times and searched out the Oxford Reading Tree At Home books I had ready for after Christmas. That night, our house was all about Words.
The thing is, I had a bit of an epiphany reflecting on the episode. While he was reading I kept asking him what was happening to make sure he was understanding what he was reading rather than just speaking aloud without taking anything in (he was, the little star). That’s when something I’d suspected was really borne in on me.
It’s “only” words.
It’s the Power of Words. The letters didn’t matter. He could recognise individual letters but they were powerless without being turned into words. Being able to read means being able to turn black squiggles on a page into a story and characters and conflict. He has that power now.
He had power over me with the words he was using. He had me asking what was happening, wondering what was going to happen next, and he LOVED it. Instead of being spellbound by a story, he was the one casting the spell because he could read the words.
Writers have that power over someone else every time a reader picks up their work and is caught by it. We love having that power over people and making them think “wait, but what happens next…?” I think it’s actually a little bit addictive. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility etc, not to mention great guilt, great big whopping holes in self-confidence, but those things are part of the deal and really, it seems like a fair price to pay for the power of one day dreaming that a child or a teenager somewhere is reading my words, and my words are taking their heart away.
I’m off to add some more words, perfectly packaged in books, to Daniel’s Christmas gift list. Have a wonderful Christmas everyone!