It’s all in the Voice: 2013 365 Challenge #236

My gorgeous son

My gorgeous son

Today is my 300th post! Wowee I can’t believe it! Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read, like and comment: it makes it all worth it. Here’s to 300 more! 🙂

I had a wonderful hour this afternoon with a good friend (and one who obviously reads my blog from time to time) and I realised something important.

A while I go I wrote on this blog about how my friends never laughed when I spent time with them. It concerned me, because I don’t want to be Miss Bates (Emma by Jane Austen), rattling on without humour and driving everyone crazy.

After a lovely time with my friend today, talking about my books, my blog, my love of writing, I felt on top of the world, despite feeling rubbish all day due to lack of sleep. I sent a thank you text with a quick apology that we were late meeting – I’d forgotten about the bank holiday traffic.

Yo Ho Ho Pirate Daughter

Yo Ho Ho Pirate Daughter

In response my friend said “I had a great time you are on fine form and I laughed loads”. An odd thing to comment, which is why I think she reads the occasional blog post (and if you’re reading this, thank you! You have no idea how much it means to me!) as it felt like a direct response to my previous post about making friends laugh.

When I got home I also read a post on Kristen Lamb’s blog about author’s voice. Putting the two together, I realised that friendships are like novels: either you relate to someone’s voice or you don’t. The enthusiastic five-star reviews of the novel you couldn’t stand? The one-star diatribe against your favourite author?: it’s all about voice. Genre too, and characters and plot, of course. But, underneath it all, is the voice.

Poor grammar, typos, even bigger problems, are all forgiven in a book that captures our interest. But the most polished, crafted, well written novel in a style you can’t stomach is unlikely to be read to the end, certainly not more than once.

And you can no more say why you love an author’s voice than you can explain why an hour with one person will have you both laughing, and with another can feel like the first time you’ve met.

So, as an author, if someone doesn’t like your book when most people do (not just your doting Great Aunt Maude) don’t change your voice, change your audience.

________________________________________________________________________________

Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

________________________________________________________________________________

Claire rolled off her bunk and groaned. A day’s hiking followed by grade five white water rafting for three hours meant her muscles had turned to mush and her bones to jelly.

All I want to do is crawl on the bus and sleep. Next stop Wellington.

The smell of fresh bread wafted through her room, and Claire paused in her packing to soak it in. A gurgling response from her tummy made her speed up her progress and, before long, she was striding down the corridor with her rucksack bouncing on her bruised shoulders.

“Good morning.”

Claire looked up and smiled at the girl eating breakfast by herself in the kitchen. She recognised her from the Tongariro Crossing and had a vague feeling she had been on the rafting expedition too, although not in her testosterone-laden vessel. The last thought made her scowl and she had to force the feelings away before her fellow traveller took offense.

“Feeling sore?”

The girl interpreted her grimace as one of pain. Nodding in agreement, Claire helped herself to some food before sitting gingerly at the table.

“Me too,” the girl mumbled around her toast. “Name’s Bethan, by the way.”

Claire introduced herself and gave off her companionable silence vibes. They didn’t work.

“Are you going on the horse trek this morning, before we leave?”

With a shake of her head, Claire tried to kill the conversation. A combination of pain and memories had kept her awake for too much of the night and now it felt like someone was trying to deliver her brain by ventouse.

“I thought I might try the spa,” Bethan continued, oblivious to the wall of silence on the other side of the table. She flicked her long black hair over her shoulder and looked around the room with a grin. Claire hated people who were happy before 8 a.m.

“I didn’t know they had a spa,” she murmured. Actually a spa sounded perfect, to ease the muscles with some hot water and a massage. But money was getting tight and she couldn’t afford to be frivolous.

“No, I think it better be the horse riding,” Bethan continued, debating her options out loud. “I can go to a spa at home, but I can’t ride an unbridled horse across the hills.”

“Bareback riding? You’re brave.” Claire had struggled enough with the pack pony in the New Forest and that had been a slug.

She flushed as Bethan laughed. “No, not without a saddle, just without a bit and bridle.”

“How do you steer?” Claire looked around, desperately hoping a vat of steaming coffee might appear from nowhere.

“They have rope halters to guide them. Apparently you get to canter if you want to and everything. It sounds awesome.”

Claire wasn’t convinced, although the scenery around them was beautiful. Unfortunately she hadn’t realised how expensive all the extras would be, on top of the coach ticket. She was starting to feel that hiring a car and finding her own way round, able to choose her own activities and accommodation, might have been a more frugal and sensible option.

At least I can write authentically for the backpacker market. I can’t afford it this trip, even with my salary: how do the youngsters who’ve never worked a day in their lives, apart from pulling pints in the student bar, afford their gap year? She thought for a moment, and shrugged. Same way as me, I suppose. The not-so-flexible friend. I think my plastic my snap if I bend it any further.

She finished her breakfast and wandered out to find what time the coach was leaving, and to see if it was possible to pass a couple of hours without spending any money. Some how she doubted it.

***

The Knife of Never Letting Go ~ All about conflict

I have just finished reading The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – part of the reason why I have been quiet on the blog for a while. That and I have been writing a guest post for Findingmycreature, which will hopefully be on her blog sometime in November.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is a stunning book, one that drags you along from the first sentence to the last. I have learned a great deal from reading it, as it consolidated some of the lessons I have been taught through reading blog posts such as Kristen Lamb’s on the role of conflict and Annie Cardi’s on the importance of voice in Young Adult literature.

The voice of Patrick Ness’s main character, Todd Hewitt, is so well realised I almost wept with envy. It has made me revisit my Young Adult book, Dragon Wraiths, and realise there is little distinction between my voice and my lead protagonist’s voice, despite Leah being 20 years younger than I am. I have a lot to learn about creating the voice of a teenager and I may have to wait a decade until my daughter is one before I can recreate the voice as authentically as Ness has.

The book also has conflict in bucket-loads. There is conflict in every scene right through to the very last line. The pace is relentless and the story so compelling it made me sit up until 2am to finish it, even though I knew there was a chance the kids would then kept me awake the rest of the night (they did).

However the book also left me bereft and unsettled because (for me) there was too much conflict. Even when there was the occasional scene without conflict, I knew it was just creating the calm before storm, setting up the irony for when it all went pear-shaped again.

I’m a Libra, we like balance and harmony. My inner peace is wrenched apart by too much conflict. As a result, even though I accept the advice from people like Kristen Lamb about the importance of Goal – Conflict – Disaster, I find it very hard to write. My attempts either become terribly predictable: Oh look, my character is happy, let’s throw some crap at them and make them feel rotten, or I shy away from the places where I could ratchet up the tension and let my protagonist off far too easily.

Reading through Dragon Wraiths I found myself noting again and again – Make more of this, build up this scene, make it harder for Leah. When there’s a sentry in Leah’s way he doesn’t chase her for a league making her terrified and sweeping us up in her fear. Instead he’s distracted by his grumbling tummy and she sneaks past. Another security guard is conveniently on the floor above when she needs to avoid detection. She’s running from the authorities but not once is she approached by a policeman or gets accosted by some busybody in the street who has seen her face on TV. The entire book has less conflict than an episode of Noddy.

I guess the problem for me is that my life is full of enough (generally internal) conflict that I read to escape. At times in The Knife of Never Letting Go I found myself skipping ahead during the most tense and dramatic scenes, to find out the end result, because they were so drawn out I couldn’t sustain that level of suspense for so many pages. It was so expertly written, and I was so caught up in Todd’s exploits, particularly as a result of the very intimate first-person-present prose, that I had to metaphorically hide behind a cushion for some of the scenes. Only Doctor Who ever normally makes me do that (and the only characters in Doctor Who that have made me do that since I was eight are the Angels).

All that aside, Patrick Ness has written an amazing novel with a brilliant concept, 4D characters (my favourite being Manchee the talking dog) and enough things to get me thinking about my own characters’ voices and motivations to keep me re-writing Dragon Wraiths for a decade. It’s just a shame about the cliff-hanger ending. The characters were left in danger. I hate that. And I’m not ready to read the next one in the series yet. After a novel that edgy I need at least three Georgette Heyers to restore my equilibrium. Now, where did I put Friday’s Child?