I will keep this brief this morning before I take the pooch for her hair cut (oh the glam life of the writer eh?) but I was thinking a lot about voice and what it is that connects us to story.
You all know how much I think voice matters, and by this I mean character voice, putting on a character like another skin and thinking and feeling as them.
We touched on this when I spoke to the students at Salford and aptly one of the students said how it was akin to acting and I think this is absolutely so.
Moving away from the old-fashioned omniscient narrator who slips between heads at will, today we are much more drawn into the intimate thoughts and feelings of character or viewpoint narrators. As such we really do get to glimpse the world through their eyes. I think this is what always drew me to writers like Stephen King, who for me not only has some great stories (and story is so important) but he knows how to get you into their head; to think, feel, speak, observe the world, flaws and all, as the character would.
One of the interesting things we also talked about was where voice comes from and I talked about how Jigsaw– the very first thing I had published, came to me as no more than a first line, and oddly while I was writing an adult novel and what’s more as a kid’s voice. This is what he said to me:
‘I’m not like other kids. Mum says it all the time when she thinks I’m not listening. She says it isn’t normal for people to disappear. But for me it is.’
Now where the hell was I going with a child that disappeared … well it kind of took on a whole life of its own, a time-travelling kid, a chronological disorder and the need to go back and finish the jigsaw he never got to finish with his dad because he was killed in a fire. The story wrote itself as if my brain had been invaded by this child. And what’s more it was new to me to connect to this voice. It was accepted and became the first short story I ever had published, and it inspired the cover too. Making Changes Bridge House’s first short story collection that came out in November 2008. I didn’t work for them then, it was my introduction to them! Link below.
We have come a long way since this collection, both as a publisher and personally, yet still I think this is the one I am most proud of and I have been reading it to the children at the John Bright School and they seem to really connect to Leo the protagonist. It’s also a good way to discuss ambiguous endings, how they need to be satisfactory and answer the main question of the story, while at the same time, there are several endings according to how you think of it. And I like that!
Will be interesting to see what the children make of the ending in the last workshop tomorrow.
What I loved about Leo’s voice and later child narrators I used, like the child in Rats in the Attic that won Sunpenny Press a couple of years ago, is the way you can be so honest. Children say things in a way adults don’t and when dealing with big issues, as I have tackled, i.e. the loss of a parent, a sister with leukaemia and later I have a teenage tomboy dealing with the death of her brother in Afghanistan in Learning to Fly that was highly commended in the Frome last year, is how you can really explore these using pathos … humour tinged with sadness.
I think it really is a great way to invade another head and see the world differently and if none of you have tried that voice please do. Perhaps consider shifting out of the comfort zone and playing with a child’s voice in an adult story. Your challenge!
I’d love to see your stories if you do and you never know, you might win something like I did!
My first success: BUY