by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
Yesterday I read a great piece by Lev Grossman (author of the Magicians trilogy) on finding his author voice through writing fantasy fiction (‘Finding my Voice in Fantasy‘). He admitted that he felt something was missing in the two ‘literary’ novels he had published and that, when he was producing those works, the writing came slow and hard as if he hadn’t quite found his ‘voice’ yet. For Grossman it was writing fantasy, and the liberation of writing against the literary expectations he had imposed on himself, that gave him the chance to discover his true ‘voice’ in his writing.
For Grossman “it was the most profound, intense writing experience I’d ever had. The icy grip of reality on my fiction cracked, and a torrent of magic came rushing out”. I love that line – for it encapsulates beautifully the experience of truly being in the writing ‘zone’ when your author voice takes over and allows the story to emerge.
I’ve recently delved into the writing world of YA and middle grade fiction and what occurred to me was most surprising. I expected my YA voice would be an easier one to access (I still feel most days like I’m 16 after all…) but instead, it was the middle grade world that set my voice free. Maybe it’s because I feel attuned to my nine year old twin boys’ world, perhaps it’s because I still read aloud to them each night and these books tend to be for the most part middle grade fantasy novels…who knows? Whatever the reason I felt the exact sense of liberation that Grossman describes.
I remember when I was writing my first book, Consequences of Sin, I certainly felt as if I was channeling the voice of my heroine Ursula Marlow – and when I returned to writing the third book in the series, Unlikely Traitors, that voice was inside me, ready to be channeled once more. I hesitated before deciding to write a middle grade book because I wasn’t really sure I’d be able to access that kind of ‘voice’ within me. To my surprise the voice that emerged was just as strong as Ursula’s.
The upshot of all this, is that I think many writers need to dabble in different genres to explore aspects of ‘voice’ which they may never have expected. I know plenty of writers who consider themselves ‘literary’ and, by default, superior to those of us who write commercial or genre fiction. For many of them the act of writing is a struggle (sometimes I wonder if they feel that the angst of it all somehow adds to the mystique). I wonder, if they allowed themselves the freedom to explore other genres, whether they would discover a new and more accessible ‘voice’ within them. I can only hope that others take Grossman’s lead and realize, as he did that:
“Writing about magic felt like magic. It was as if all my life I’d been writing in a foreign language that I wasn’t quite fluent in, and now I’d found my mother tongue. It turned out I did have a voice after all. I’d had it all along. I just wasn’t looking for it in the right place.”
Isn’t that great?!
So tell me TKZers how did you discover your writer’s voice?
by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
It’s an exciting week for me with the release of Unlikely Traitors, the third in my Edwardian mystery series featuring Ursula Marlow. It’s been a long time coming and I’m thankful my readers no longer have to wait to find out what happened after the unexpected ending to The Serpent and The Scorpion (but don’t worry I’m not going to give it away – no spoilers here!)
The inspiration for Unlikely Traitors was a classic ‘what if’ scenario that came out of my research on Irish history. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been obsessed with the history of ‘the troubles’ in Ireland (I certainly disconcerted the librarian at our local library by asking for a copy of Bobby Sands’ poetry when I was ten years old…)
While researching the issue of Home Rule for Ireland (which was, not surprisingly, an ongoing controversy in Edwardian England) I found references to Sir Roger Casement and was immediately intrigued. Casement was an Irish born diplomat who was knighted by King George V in 1911 and hanged for treason in 1916.
Prior to the war, Casement was most famous for having exposed illegal slavery in South America and the Congo but when he returned to England (and despite his Protestant roots) he became a fervent supporter of Irish Independence. The outbreak of the First World War only cemented that fervour and, after traveling to Germany to secure aid for an armed Irish uprising against Britain, Casement was arrested and subsequently executed for treason.
Immediately I wondered – what was therefore happening in Ireland before the outbreak of the First World War? What if people had been attempting to get armaments and aid from Germany in support of an Irish Republic before war broke out? Turns out my “what if?” scenario wasn’t too far from the truth.
By 1912, Ulster was a powder-keg. Divided between the protestant pro-Ulster forces and the Irish Republicans, both sides were seeking to arm themselves to defend their opposing political positions. Within the pro-Ulster movement there already was a secret committee established to buy arms from abroad to resist any moves toward home rule or Irish independence. On the Irish Republican side, the Edwardian era provided fertile ground for resistance, rebellion and frustration over stalled Home Rule efforts. By the time I had finished my research, I knew that my third Ursula Marlow book would deal directly with tensions over Home Rule and the murky past of some of Ursula’s closest friends (particularly when it came to support for Irish Independence). I also knew that in the third book, the stakes for betrayal had to be higher than they’d ever been before.
So an exciting (and, I confess nerve-wracking) time for me as Unlikely Traitors is released into the world (first as an ebook then in print on August 12th). For me it’s the culmination of a “what if?…” scenario.
I wonder, how many “what if?” questions have led you, TKZers, to a new book or work in progress?