Monday, September 05, 2011

Aline here. I'm just fresh from doing my workshop session at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I'm always fascinated to know the backgrounds of the people who come to these and this time it was a varied bunch, including an established author who'd been dropped by her publisher, two who'd written children's books and wanted to move into crime; one who'd won a newspaper award for the first chapters of a crime novel but had decided she didn't want to write crime after all and had come along for, as she put it, 'catharsis' to confirm that she was right and even one whose girlfriend had bought him the ticket because he'd once said he'd like to write a book.

The one who intrigued me was a thin-faced middle-aged man who said what he wanted was to put more 'I' and 'me' into what he wrote. I wandered if this meant that he was a journalist, forced into objectivity by his trade, but no, he said. He just wanted to get more of his personality into his writing. It was perhaps significant that he said nothing at all in the whole hour and a half, and that there was no interaction at all between him and his neighbours, even before the session started, and after it finished he walked straight out again.

Finding your 'voice' as a writer should be the most natural thing in the world. We all have a speaking voice that our friends recognise even when they can't see us, and loyal readers should feel the same sense of recognition when they pick up another of our books.

But when we set pen to paper – or, more likely, fingers to keyboard – all sorts of other influences come in. We want our books to sell - would they sell better, perhaps, if they were more like Dan Brown's or PD James's? Even reading another impressive writer can have its effect; if I've had one of my regular Jane Austen sessions I find myself going all 'truth-universally-acknowleged-ish'. It's worse with Henry James, when my characters start saying heavily significant things 'beautifully'.

When I'm deep in one of my books, I don't read other crime novels for that reason. For better or worse, I want my readers to hear my own writing voice.

Is that the same, though, as wanting to project your personality? I had an uncomfortable feeling about that silent, detached man, who seemed to be talking about a self trapped inside that was trying to communicate and didn't know how. It wasn't the appropriate forum for writing as therapy and I wouldn't feel qualified to take that on anyhow. It made me wonder, though, how often the urge to try writing comes from more than just wanting simply to tell a story.


dissertations said...

very cool post! thanks a lot for sharing!

Rick Blechta said...

I feel it's a very good plan not to read anything when one is actively writing. Maybe it's part of having a good "ear" when we write, but it's too easy to infuse one's writing with someone else's voice, or style of dialogue, or...whatever.

Case in point: I had a really successful writing day several years back and passed over the results to my wife that evening for her opinion. "How did you talk Rex Stout into writing this for you?" she asked. "I thought he was dead."

Good call. I couldn't sleep the night before and passed a few hours rereading a Nero Wolfe novel that had been on the shelves above our bed.


Great post, Aline. Thanks!

Aline Templeton said...

Thanks for the kind comments. The problem is I find myself getting a bit out of touch with what's going on on the crime scene, and have to have a surfeit of crime novels in the short space between books. Camilleri is my latest obsession - anyone else a fan?