You’re The Voice, Try and Understand It.

Earlier this week, I read out a new story, which is still at the stage of the first draft. When I was finished, I was told, “That wasn’t in your usual voice.” I was so pleased, I nearly shouted, “Yesss,” while pulling down an imaginary chain with one hand.

In my short writing career, I’ve developed the view that nobody necessarily has to find their own voice. To some people, it is important to write in a particular fashion, but I contest that everyone is capable of having more than one voice if they want to. I reckon you can pen ten stories in ten unique voices.

I’ve previously talked about how crime writer P D James wrote the science fiction novel Children of Men at the age of 70. Allow me to offer another example, this time from Hollywood, that illustrates my point. You could never mistake the musical Hairspray for black comedy Serial Mom, yet John Waters was behind both of them.

Changing your voice can be as simple as altering the words or the punctuation. For example, two of my own hallmarks are that I rarely go to town on description, and never use brackets. I could alter that by describing something in vivid detail, (adding extra information in parentheses). Done often enough, it would sound like somebody else.

So why not find out if you can write like someone else, but say your own thing? If you’re stuck, here’s a prompt I’ve had in my head over the last week:

Two friends are in a café or a pub. One of them leaves for a lengthy pre-arranged appointment, but returns a short while later. What has happened?

The Shock of The New.

Even although I’ve had stories published, I’m very keen to keep expanding my horizons. DamyantiWrites made this very point in her recent entry Do You Swim Free?, where she discusses authors who are happy to sit on the well-worn cushions of their comfort zone, rehashing the same ideas for years.

To this end, I’ve joined a Life Writing (LW) class at the University of Dundee. Thus far, the vast majority of my scribing has been about fictional characters in fictional situations, but LW is all about the self: memoirs of a specific event you experienced, an autobiography of your entire life, or a biography of someone else’s.

In last week’s class, we wrote a passage about a recent holiday; in my case a boat trip up the River Forth in Edinburgh. Part of our homework involved rewriting the passage using reference material such as photographs, maps and articles. The next class is on Tuesday, when we’ll be discussing the LW we have enjoyed and/or disliked.

I hope to expand my horizons in other ways too, such as poetry, and the performance type in particular; I intend to come back to that subject in the future. I’ve also written a stage play and I’m kicking about an idea for a screenplay.

There are authors who can carry off taking the same path over and over again. Read almost anything by Agatha Christie and it follows a familiar pattern where everyone ends up in the drawing room while Poirot or Miss Marple whittles them down to reveal the murderer. And I dislike Dan Brown’s style, but looking past that, he is another good example. Historical facts, symbolic minutiae and conspiracies spill out onto every page of every book, and the public lap it up.

I really yearn to pull something unexpected out of the bag. P D James is one author who did just that. For years, she penned detective books, then at the age of 72, wrote the science fiction novel Children of Men. And Roald Dahl is famous for his children’s books, but additionally wrote macabre short stories for adults, and the script for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. That’s like Cliff Richard releasing a hip-hop album.

To that end, I’ll attempt to wring every possible benefit out of the LW course, and not just from the teaching in class. Being a student allows me into the university library, where I’m writing this, and into the cheap campus bar. And that means it’s easier to take Ernest Hemingway’s slightly dubious advice to, “Write drunk, edit sober.”

But I’ll need to squeeze it all in before December, when the course ends and I’ll lose these privileges.