I find that reading a lot of nonfiction actually helps me in my fiction writing. For instance, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is one of the masterpieces of travel writing. Written by British writer Rebecca West, it chronicles her trip with her husband through Yugoslavia on the eve of World War II. Upon reading it there are two things to keep in mind, however:
- She is very pro-Serb and very anti-Turk.
- She hates Germans.
Because of her biases, you should not make this book your only source of information if you are at all interested in the history of the Balkans, but she does provide a riveting account of the region’s tumultuous past. What amazes me is how easily she is able to integrate the history of each place that she visits into her description of her own present experiences and then relate that bit of history to the overall history of Yugoslavia. Her descriptions are also beautiful, lush, and evocative. She is incredibly adept in capturing a moment in words. You can almost open the book at random and find an example:
So we went our way by the river, widened now into a lake, which held on it’s rain-grey mirror a bright yet blurred image of the pastoral slopes that rose to the dark upland forest, and which seemed, like so much of Bosnia, almost too carefully landscape-gardened. At the end, it split with a flourish into two streams, which were linked together by a village set with flowering trees, its minarets as nicely placed as the flowers on those trees.
The picture is so vivid that it makes me regret never having the opportunity to see Bosnia like that, and it is that kind of emotion that I want to bring to my writing.