Voice

Posted on April 11, 2012

6


My friend, Michaela Staton, posted a very sweet tweet yesterday in response, I think, to having read Lost Sheep in the new Dark Currents anthology. The tweet was a compliment and delightful to receive, but I’ve been thinking quite deeply about the implications of it. Michaela said that what she liked about my writing was: “that his Scottishness always shines through”.

This I assume is a good thing, for those that like Scottishness at least, but what does it mean in terms of a writer’s success or failure to give their characters and narrative the appropriate voice for the story. For instance, there are three main characters in Lost Sheep: a standard human space travelling guy, his ship whose voice imitates the speech style of whatever old movies she’s been watching (she starts as a foul mouthed Cockney hard man then shifts into the fast-talking, wise-ass style of Rosalind Russel in His Girl Friday), and…um…a sort of sheep-person nun. Of these, I didn’t intend any of them to come across as Scottish.  The ship aside, I’ve given the characters and also the narrative voice relatively neutral vocal styles in this story. There are no words of Scots or dialect in there, but I’m wondering now if there are turns of phrase in what I think of as neutral that give me away.

Alternatively, is it possible that Michaela’s reading is contaminated by knowing me and the sound of my voice. There are writers that sometimes do that to you. I remember coming out of a reading by Ian McDonald with a friend. The reading had been, I think, from one of the Chaga saga (which are set in Africa), but it was read of course in Ian’s distinctive Nirn accent, and my friend admitted to me that he couldn’t read McDonald’s work without hearing his voice.

Does it change your reading of a writer’s work if you know the sound of their voice? Or should writers be trying harder to ditch what they think of as neutral and give their narratives and characters genuinely distinctive voices of their own?

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