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Stories are not a luxury

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.

– Philip Pullman, quoted on Goodreads here.

This is to give a cheer for all of you who are creative writers. You may have seen a hint at my thoughts on this on my fiction editing page – ‘because stories are essential’. What you’re doing is important to people’s lives. I mean it!

At a time such as this, with the world locked in a battle against a deadly pathogen, we rightly applaud the real heroes: the health and care workers, the police officers, the teachers who have kept schools open, and many more besides. And we often perceive from an early age that following a creative path is less valuable than roles in science or technology.

But once our basic needs for survival are met, stories come very high on the list of the next most important things. Neil Gaiman describes how his cousin risked death in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II by hiding a book, secretly reading it while others slept, and telling her friends the story the next day as they worked. He says:

These girls were risking certain death for a story. And when she told me that story herself, it actually made what I do feel more important. Because giving people stories is not a luxury. It’s actually one of the things that you live and die for.

– Neil Gaiman, quoted on Goodreads here.

I’ve heard creative people defend the value of what they do by asking others to imagine life without their work – no music, no television, no newspaper or magazine articles, no films, no photographs, no novels or biographies, no art, no theatre. And I’ve probably missed some! These things spark our imagination, make us reflect on our lives or on the world, uplift us with their beauty, provide us with a brief escape.

People need your stories now more than ever.

Originally posted 19 May 2020

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