A Writer’s Voice

October 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

My blog is two weeks old today – just a baby. Instead of another story, I’d like to share with you how I found my voice.

How did you find yours?


Finding one’s own voice as a writer is rather like growing up. As a child one emulates those one thinks are better than you – or at least that’s what one believed at the time…

When I was about twelve I read everything by D. H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy. I kind of fell in love. They became an obsession. I buried myself deep in their worlds and refused to come out until I’d read every word. I must have found what I was looking for, but I stayed hungry.

In 1997, and used to writing academic non-fiction, I had a shock. I discovered Arundhati Roy. She won the Booker that year for her novel, The God Of Small Things. It was a light bulb moment. I recognised her. I loved the way she thought, loved the way she constructed sentences, loved the way she handled the subject matter. I also recognised something else – it was if I understood what she was doing. Maybe I could do it too. So I copied her, or rather emulated her – for about twenty thousand words – in the form of a fledgling cathartic novel. But the little bird died – it got to be such hard work feeding it, and I let it fall out of the nest. It was as if I was trying too hard to be her – and so I was doomed to failure.

I learnt a lot from that experience, so I did it again and again. Over the years I devoured contemporary writers and developed a passion bordering on obsession. Most writers didn’t touch me at all, I could establish no relationship with their minds: but a few held me fast. As well as reading their work, I found out about their lives. I read many Irish writers like Colum McCann and Colm Toibin, American and Canadian novelists like Attwood and Isabel Allende; and the wonderful Asian and African writers who have emerged over the last twenty years. And I recognised something in their work that had an affinity with my own. I immersed myself again.

Then I began to steal. Not borrow, but steal. I’d take an idea, or maybe just a sentence, and run with it. Sometimes it grew and became indisputably mine, at other times it simply died.

Some writers I fell out of love with – it can be hard after all to stay friends with ex lovers; but others, particularly poets like Eliot and Hughes, stick around to be good, reliable companions when I need to touch home base.

After a few years of writing and experimenting, the balance between reading and writing changed. The books lay about largely unread, and I began to write more. I starting breaking the rules I’d learned, and realised I’d started making up my own. Then it started to happen: my writing voice flourished. The strange thing was I didn’t like a lot of the stuff I had written. It took me a while to realise what was happening – I was still refining that voice. It was changing – it had to change. So I decided to be kind to myself – I stopped reading fiction. I read travelogues, books on art, gardening – anything that interested me. And I just wrote for the love of it.

Today that voice isn’t that different from before – but now I know it’s mine.


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