Thursday, 3 November 2011
Here Hazel gives her view on that most elusive and inexplicable entity, a writer's 'voice'....
You write funny….
Many thanks to Elizabeth for giving me the opportunity to write this piece – it’s been brewing away in my brain for a while and concerns what I feel is one of the mysteries of writing: where does the writer get her voice?
It’s a question that intrigues me because up until five years ago, I wasn’t listening to what now appears to be my writing voice, but trying to summon one up based on what I believed I should be writing. I put it down to ‘doing’ an English degree and to equating ‘being serious’ with ‘being taken seriously’.
It will not surprise you to learn that the pressure to write something weighty and profound resulted in a blank mind and a computer screen to match. Soon the only writing I was doing was advertising copywriting– nothing wrong with that and I will always be grateful that advertising taught me the importance of being entertaining, brief and direct… but where was that book I was going to write?
It took Richard Armitage, the actor, and the discovery of fanfiction to wake me up and show me that my voice was romantic and funny, and to convince me that making people laugh is not a barrier to making them cry a few pages later.
If I hadn’t been wearing intellectual blinkers, I would have picked up on the clues earlier. I might have realised that there was a reason why I day-dreamed love stories from an early age and continue to do so even when, and I say this at the risk of the curse of smugness shrivelling my vitals, I have been happily settled with the same man for A. Long. Time.
And the humour thing? Well, did I go for The Famous Five when I was little? No, and sorry to those of you who love those stories, but I much preferred the Just William books …and later, when my sister let me read her copies of Monica Dickens’ One Pair of Hands and One Pair of Feet I remember feeling as if I’d stumbled on someone who was completely tuned into how I saw life. By the time I discovered Dorothy Parker you might have thought my reaction to her would have told me something.
For all my short-sightedness, I suppose that somewhere deep down I was learning an important message: Richmal Crompton and Monica Dickens and Dorothy Parker had an absolute right to be funny even if, between the three of them, they did not possess one willy.
Of course it wasn’t all about women… during my teens I also had the great good fortune to need a lot of dental work. This of itself may be a funny thing to say, but what did all those hours at the dentist’s mean? Access to piles of Punch and writers as wonderful as Alan Coren.
So there we have it, my voice was in there all along but I wasn’t letting it out. I’m not saying it’s a better, more insightful voice than a serious one, but it’s true to my take on life – that humour, used properly, is a great leveller, comforter and humaniser. To write a book without it, or even a short story, just feels like I’m wearing someone else’s shoes. And they pinch.