Monday 9 June 2008

In Search of Voice

There has been a fascinating and wide ranging discussion over at the British SCBWI list serve about VOICE.

How many editor/agent panels have I attended in which the Holy Grail to publishing, apparently, is Voice.
I am looking for a fresh Voice that draws me in immediately.
Last year's SCBWI (UK) anthology competition focused on voice - hence the anthology's title UNDISCOVERED VOICES. And yet when I search the mountain of How to Write books I've accumulated through the years, I am hard pressed to find one with a clear guide to finding your Voice.

What is Voice anyway?

It's not point of view, although the list serve discussion swung in and out of the merits of third person, first person, omniscient etc etc.

I can cite examples of novels with clear, compelling voices - Anthony McGowan's boy with a wisecracking brain tumor in Henry Tumour, Meg Rosoff's anorexic leading lady in How I Live Now, Geraldine McCaughrean's hearing-impaired teenager who has an Arctic explorer for an imaginary friend in White Darkness.

I've been re-reading Geraldine McCaughrean's earlier novels, A Pack of Lies, The Stones Are Hatching and A Little Lower than Angels. And although the quality of writing is formidable, clearly, McCaughrean had not yet found the Voice that makes White Darkness such a triumph.

I would venture to guess that a unique Voice is something one develops over time.I would also guess that though every novel is unique to itself, each author has a particular, unmistakable voice.

If you checked out the very earliest posts on this blog (see this piece in 2004 on multicultural writing), you will find a completely different voice. When I started out, I had imagined myself reporting in the manner of a journalist. But personality will out and the journalism is now buried under... well, I've found my Voice.

Newbie bloggers often experience that same groping and searching suffered by authors seeking their Voice.

Comes the modern reality of an over-publishing, over-crowded children's market.

We don't have the luxury of time to discover that Voice. There are no publishers willing to publish two or three books so that an author can discover that fresh, unput-downable Voice.

Interestingly, there are some who are up to the challenge.

It's a bit sad that my social life revolves around critique groups. But at various critique groups I've attended, I heard some fine unpublished examples: Anita Loughrey's tough-talking (and hilarious!) teenage blogger, Miriam Halahmy's island girl who finds herself hiding an illegal immigrant, Angela Cerrito's grieving heroine trying to understand her sister's suicide. At the reading of Anita's newly penned chapters, we just wanted her to read on and on, the voice was so extraordinary.

It was clear to me that for these talented writers, getting an agent/publisher was probably only a matter of time (or finishing their manuscripts!).


  1. Hi Candy,

    I found it fascinating, when writing for Barrington Stoke, who publish books for children with Dyslexic reading problems, how the child testers got used to the vagueries of the text once they had "got" the author's voice.

    My text was full of pecil notes at the start of the story.Every problem made sense and was easily re-written. b ut as the story progressed the suggestions and corrections became fewer and fewer- As the reader began the "hear" the voice.

    Finding your voice is probably something to do with finding yourself. Everyone has an original voice, it's a matter of using that voice without trying to be someone else or being self-conscious and embarrassed by opening yourself up to others.

  2. I think that not worrying about your readers is the way to find your voice. I decided early on that my blog is mine, and that I needn't make allowances for imaginary editors, or try to sound intelligent or learned. Whenever I do, I write very badly.

    In my author interviews I try to be a little less me, for the sake of my subject, but it's hard. And I sound more like a prat.

    I agree with you about Meg Rosoff. I think she has been herself from book one, which is why her writing works so well.

    Have you read Faiza Guene? She's the same.

  3. OMG! I'm thrilled to mentioned in your post with such amazing writers!

    I agree with bookwitch when I read a book with great voice, I hear it.

    BTW I order you to go out dancing (and don't bring any manuscripts to critique)

  4. At this rate I doubt Moira will ever be finished. what I need is someone with a whip and a deadline.

  5. I have a deadline
    Had a bunch of whips... they keep breaking!


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