Saturday, 17 August 2013

It's Great to Hold IN THE MOORS in my Hands!

The delivery driver took ages to find my parcel, and I couldn't help him, because I couldn't remember ordering anything by mail (which makes a change), when suddenly he alighted on a medium sized box of some weight. When I opened it, there were my pristine, new and shiny author copies of In the Moors! Reading the words on the pages of a paperback book made my achievement feel properly authentic and all the hard work (blood! sweat!) worthwhile.

Now I'm well on with the sequel to In the Moors and I'm trying not to make the same, silly mistakes I made the first time round. Most of these mistakes are the very things that every published author warns against; they're the things I constantly tell my students not to do. 

Don't overwrite, I always say in my tutor reports. Murder your darlings! But I've just read, in the draft of my next Shaman Mystery, lines as toe-curling as My stomach felt as if it were filling with acid...was that me? Did I write that? Yes,and that might be because because other authors do, too. I've just read the most appalling line in A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson She stared into me hard enough to see the texture of my organs.. ugh! 

Don't, I urge my students, please don't forget that within the world you've created, everything must have its own plausibility. But I sat in my agent's kitchen, gripping my cup of tea, to hear Lisa say...the reveal still doesn't convince me, Nina. The characters are only behaving in that way to allow you the ending you're after... My defence? Well, all the the thrillers I've read do that...

What have I learnt from this? Be true to your own writing. For a time, it’s fine to imitate structure, plotting and the writing voices that you love - that’s one of the reasons I recommend reading so many books and read  voraciously myself. Although there is nothing wrong with copying the great exemplars, and your own favourite authors, this should just be part of the growing process and will be left behind as the writer gains confidence in their own voice. 

The voice you speak with is so unique it can be used to identify you, rather like fingerprints. The voice you write with should also be so unique that your readers will recognise it and grow to love it. A good writer’s voice helps seduce the reader and allows them to feel a certain familiarity that brings them back to a particular writer. 
 Some people say that ‘voice’ on the page can be defined as ‘the author writing as they would converse’. I think a better definition of  ‘voice’ is; ‘the author writing as they would think’.  When a writer pours their mind…their thoughts…onto their page, the voice sings out – driven by something that not even the writer fully understands. 

We often talk about a writer 'finding their own voice', but a writer is a vocal chameleon who should be able to adopt different voices in different situations. A persona is a character telling a story: they are not to be identified directly with the author, but act as a narrator for the duration of the story. They have the advantage of being able to speak in a characteristic and idiosyncratic way, allowing the author to take us deep into another culture or way of life. Creating a voice that is not entirely your own is the next step for a writer of fiction. Don’t attempt to do so until you feel confident you have found your own.

The poet Jackie Kay has written several books about her earlier life, including  Red Dust Road and The Adoption Papers  She says this of voice:

I wrote in three different voices: the birth mother, the adoptive mother, and the daughter. It was interesting when I was writing it, talking about inventing yourself, because the daughter’s voice was, in fact, the most difficult to write. Both the mothers were comparatively easy to find a voice for; the daughter I found more difficult – and this was because she was, in a way, trying to tell the factual story. I realised I found that aspect less imaginative and therefore less easy to create – this was a surprising part of the project.

I loved creating Sabbie Dare's persona for In the Moors. She can't help being a cock-eyed optimist, and even though she finds herself rubbing shoulders with sinister people, and moving through dark worlds, she can't help looking on the bright side of things - she'll always see the funny side of life. Even though she's got no money, she'd rather go without than be untrue to things she believes in. As a shaman, she's honourable and principled, but her love life is generally up the creek; she admits she's useless at judging men. She can't help turning round in pubs and chatting up the best looking bloke. 

I  love the minor characters she meets in the novel...and in the follow-up book, too. These characters are bursting with life and interest. There is Garth, who wears a kaftan and lives in a van without wheels, and Marianne, who is from Holland and is so slender she resembles the storks you see on Dutch chimneys. 

Sabbie came to me one evening, almost fully formed. I'm a young therapist, she told me I'm a shaman, and sometimes I do get very strange people walking into my therapy room. Honestly, I could write a book about some of them...

So I decided to write it for her, and allowing her to be true to herself on the page as I wrote, gave me her persona.

As a writer like me, at times at times you’ll be furiously pursuing the thread of your writing, with everything else shut out of your mind. This will really help your voice to ‘sing’, as your natural enthusiasm shines through.  All writers are looking for an authentic voice and, Eventually, you’ll recognise your own voice…the voice of you thoughts…and begin to use it in an authoritative way. This also suggests that your writing ‘voice’ is as valid as anyone’s, so long it has sufficient flow to hold a reader’s attention. It does not have to be cultured, or even grammatical...clarity, vision and personal style count for a lot more. So, don’t be inhibited by other people’s writing style and even more important; don't be pursuaded to write in any other way than the one that feels true to you. You have a great style of your own, which, when left to emerge, is unique to you.


  1. When will your book be available over here?

  2. Yes, it's being released on 16th October in the UK in paperback and Ebook. That's why it's great if people can make the launch; they can see and buy the book a whole month early! But if you can't make the launch, you can pre-order the book on Amazon; just go to my page