A Writer’s Voice

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I have long understood that voice is most important in writing fiction, and have even been successful in creating an optimal voice for some of my short stories. But I realise now that my understanding was academic, or at best, intuitive. Until Jacqui’s workshop on Sunday, I was still ignorant of the machinations of voice:  how it works in relation to person, character and narrator, within the story, and how it touches vicariously on an assumed reader and an assumed listener. Jacqui was able to tease apart these aspects, and to describe, in imaginative and dramatic ways, the function of each in order to get it across to us. I can say that we were all literally on the edge of our seats listening to her.

It brought back to me long-forgotten memories of childhood evenings underneath a balmy star-spangled sky in South Grafton. We are an unruly composite of uncles, aunts, siblings and neighbours, as a dark-skinned man that we kids know as “Uncle Sammy” keeps us spell-bound with tales from the Arabian Nights.  His deep voice weaves magic on us, retouching millenia-old yarns with an Aussie flavour that pulls us into the caves of Ancient Syria, whilst sitting on a manicured lawn on the banks of the Clarence River.

Other story-tellers from childhood were from the Irish side of my family: my mother,  her mother, Grandma Walker, and her brother, my Uncle Bargy (pronounced /bah-ghee/), who was a stutterer. When he told a story, his stuttter magically disappeared during the telling of the tale. And of course there were the teachers, many of whom were expert or naturals when it came to telling a good story. I remember the fairy stories that filled me with dread or longing in kindergarten, “Hansel and Gretel” and “Cinderella”; and later on, the stories of explorers, such as Burke and wills, who perished in the desert. Then there was the teacher who recited “The Forsaken Merman” reducing me to tears for the family of mer people abandonned forever by the human wife and mother. Even in Year Nine or Ten in High School, there was an occasion when I was reduced to a weeping mess as the teacher read out a long narrative poem about two friends on opposite sides who fought in battle, the one killing the other.

And so I realise now that it is to these story-tellers, the flesh-and-blood ones, and the writers of the stories, that I owe a debt of gratitude for opening me up to the power of narrative. I love reading and trying to write good stories. And in order to write well, you also need to read widely and to read well-written works.

This is the lesson that was reiterated for me once again by Jacqui Winn.

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