The Function of Fiction

More than a decade after completing my undergraduate degree, I’ve recently started a full time MSc. This is a challenge, both in mental capacity and logistics as I also have a part time job, two children, two dogs and a spouse whose domestic skills have atrophied after years of having an obsessive and compulsive house wife.

I am enjoying it; the course is stimulating, fascinating and opening up my eyes to a myriad of potential futures. Having always lived in small, rural villages, the campus is the most multicultural environment I have ever been in and my course mates are a varied and inspiring group.

However, last week one of our tutors advised that, due to the immense workload, we should forget about trying to read any fiction until after Christmas. As I was nearing the end of a gripping sci-fi novel, I understood what he meant. I knew that I was reading it when I should have been reading a set text but I couldn’t put it down and when I did it occupied my thoughts throughout the day. I worried about the protagonist’s future as I was meant to be contributing to a group discussion in a tutorial and wondered how the characters were going to escape from their predicament as I sat in a lecture. I googled the author’s other works during a computer lab based class. I know that it would be safer to just not pick up another piece of fiction until this busy semester was finished so that I can focus fully on the topics I need to. But I can’t. Fiction, to me, is a break. An escape, a release, a liberation from the stresses and trials of the day. I cannot function without some fiction in my life. I need that magic, that sharing of other lives, thoughts and words. I need to experience the imagination and vision of the author; to rest, for a moment, inside their head and not my own.

Fair enough, I won’t write any fiction until I am a Master of Science. I promise will only write assignments, reports, occasional blogs and a colossal dissertation. If any characters, plotlines or dialogue pops into my head (which is unlikely, it’s fit to burst as it is) I’ll put them in a pot marked ‘Do not touch until late 2014’ and leave them to soak. But I cannot stop reading. I would shrivel, wither and fade.  

So, as a compromise, I have lifted a piece of ‘chick lit’ from my bedside table. Something light, easy and requiring no further thought after I have laid it back down. That piece of fiction is functioning as the most basic level of escape, but right now that is all I need.
Diane Scott


  1. I go through periods of obsessive reading followed by weeks of almost none. When I am in a 'hunger' for fiction, there is little to keep me away from it. Good luck with your gorse - and with keeping away from fiction. And on no account should you pick up Doctor Sleep...

  2. You'll probably find as soon as you're not 'allowed' to read/write you'll want to all the more. Look forward to seeing you explode from your course bursting with great new ideas! (And a qualification of course ;0) )

  3. Hello, Diane! I think a break is in order when the rest of the day is 'heavy'. Don't feel guilty. While I was teaching fiction of an evening kept me sane! (Not sure if that was the opinion of my class, though) :-)


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