As I write, I’m thinking about voices. I think – the thing a writer needs most is a voice. Not a speaking voice, although that comes in handy for saying “hello” or “goodbye”; or, “that’s not two metres distance, mate; in fact, it’s not even two centimetres.” And, it’s handy to be able to say complex things, like: “Can I have a single fish cake, please?” (Just in case you care, the answer in some fish and chip shops is: “Yeah, but there’s two fish cakes in a single fish cake.” So, having a speaking voice doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get what you want or what you expect.) No, what you need for writing is a writing voice. It’s what let’s you write about things like fish cakes, even when there might not be an obvious point , or maybe two points, if it’s a single point .
Unfortunately, as the words above show, it is possible to have a writing voice and still get easily distracted from saying what you want to, or what you expected to say when you began writing. Maybe, that’s why I spent years trying to find my own voice. I was forever getting sidelined or slidelined, as I nearly wrote, which, I think, actually sounds better. So, to use my new word: I was slidelined into thinking my voice could be found in writing poetry or reports, or being an investigative journalist. Although, to be fair to me and to all those voices giving quite good impersonations of me, I did some decent writing in those voices. But – they didn’t really sound exactly like me.
Then, out of the blue, which I would have to translate as ‘out of the tangerine’, for it to be truly my voice, I realised: I know when I’m writing in my voice, because it makes me see and hear stuff. Not hallucinations – like a 7 foot white rabbit called Harvey, because, well, that’s not me. I’m nowhere near as tall as 7 feet. And, I don’t have James Stewart’s unique twang, which sounds like a guitar plucked inside an oil drum. “Waaawl, I guess…” And, most of the time, I’m not a rabbit. No, my writing voice makes me see and hear stuff I know about.
Stuff like – sitting at a table in a small room, across from an elderly couple with haunted, crying eyes, who tell me about being afraid of losing their car, their home, their ability to live together. And, when I write about it, in a novel, in my own voice, I realise that it did not happen, and that those particular individuals are not real, but it’s still something I know about, and that kind of thing is real, in a way, because I see those people and hear their pain. I know about that kind of pain. I have been a witness to that kind of pain a thousand times. Writing in my own voice lets me see it and talk about it.
So, when I finished writing a book the other day, I realised I had found my own voice. And, I could write in it. One of the places where I learned how to do that was here, in this blog, writing about funny things, and sad things, thinking about stuff, wondering about stuff. Stuff like Nergal The Cat. Proudly stalking imaginary birds, because real birds in the garden scared her. Or, stuff like – cycling, when I seem to be flying down a long hill in the Sidlaws, as gold-green fields flow by in blurs of being now and in the past, and I go faster and faster. And, vast blue skies. And, charity shops. Barbecues. People laughing. And, quieter hospitals, where things have slowed down, instead of speeding up. All the things that were once and will be again.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Having a writing voice is just remembering the essential stuff.