Me, my voice and I
This post first appeared on the Kingston University MFA Creative Writing blog No Dead White Men. Check it out for many more fascinating posts by some great writers.
I was having a drink with a friend a while back when the subject of my blog came up. I’m always surprised to discover that someone has willingly read my online ramblings, but it prompted an entirely unexpected conversation that got me thinking about voice.
Although complimentary about the blog itself my friend said, ‘It made me think I didn’t know you.’ There was a hint of sadness in the way she said it, as if we had somehow drifted so far apart that the person she was reading bore no resemblance to the person she thought she knew.
It’s natural that people glide in and out of your life, especially as you get older – life has a nasty habit of getting in the way. What threw me was that this is someone I speak to every week and while we don’t see each other as much we would like, we do manage to get together at least once a month.
I couldn’t get her comment out of my head. Was I so different now? Had I kept more of myself back than she realised? How had I not noticed this happening?
Meanwhile, a few days before, my sister had been on Facebook and posted the following: ‘Who says you can’t learn something new about someone you have known 34years… an end of book dance?!? I never knew Lisa Davison did that!’
I repeated this to my friend as a way of saying ‘See! Even my own family hasn’t a clue!’
But as we sat chatting, it struck me – the person she and my sister are reading isn’t precisely me. It not that I’m lying when I write – I’m afraid I did indeed do an end-of-book dance as a child – it’s just that I’m choosing to highlight certain aspects of my personality in order to create a role.
And the more I considered this, the more I realised how much of my time is spent creating these roles through voice. The me on Facebook is not the same as the me on Twitter. The professional corporate journalist me is not the same as the fiction writer me who is busy trying to get in the head of a 20-something man living through the Second World War as a conscientious objector. None of these voices are ‘me’ and yet cannot help but contain elements of me-ness since I created all of them.
So, with all these voices in my head, I was particularly interested to watch the latest series of the BBC arts show Imagine, which interviews artists, writers, musicians about their creative processes. I love any programme that peels back a little bit of the mystery around how other writers write, and so the interview with crime fiction writer Ian Rankin was fascinating. What struck me most was his relationship with his fictional detective Rebus. He has Rebus grow up on the same street as him and locates his detective in an Edinburgh that clearly Rankin knows very well, and yet he told Imagine presenter Alan Yentob that if the two men ever met, they would not get on. They could chat about music and beer for a few minutes, he said, but ultimately, Rebus would want to pick a fight with him. Rebus both is and isn’t Ian Rankin.
Because in the end, we’re all multiple voices. It’s what makes us interesting and complicated as human beings. The trick for any writer is, of course, to blend just the right mixture of those voices in order to create truly three-dimensional characters that readers care about as if they were real.