Monday, 14 April 2014

When A Writer Loses Her Voice Anne Cassidy

At first glance you will think post is about some form of Writers’ Block. You may think that I am going to describe a time when I sat down at my computer and couldn’t think of a single things to write. This has never happened to me. I have too many stories in my head.

This post is about me losing my actual voice and the effect it has had on being a writer.

Last summer I had a hoarse voice. I expected it to get better within a week or so but it didn’t. I put up with it for a few further weeks enjoying the sympathy I got from friends and family and thought I’d wake up one day back to normal with my regular voice. It didn’t happen.
I went to the doctors. She sent me to see a specialist and a quick scan was organised and I was told that thankfully it wasn’t anything ‘bad’ but that my left vocal chord was not working. They could give no reason for this and called it ‘idiopathic’ which means that they didn’t know what caused it. It could be a virus and if so might take eighteen months to go away (if it did). Meanwhile I could get some speech therapy to help.

The manifestation of this problem was a voice with less volume. It meant that I seemed out of breath and husky and struggled to make myself heard. Initially I tried all sorts of remedies. I stopped the inhaler I used for asthma. I gargled loads. I ‘saved’ my voice. I whispered.  Nothing worked.

I make my living by writing. So fortunately my voice isn’t an issue here. Is it?

I’ve always been one to argue on the importance of talking about books. For me talking about books and writers is a crucial way of promoting books and reading in general. A chat about a writer or a book makes me go and look up their books and try one. But the act of talking, itself, is a way of making sense of the world and what we might like to do or read or not read. So a discussion on books is a way of my sorting out in my head what it is I like and don’t like. So the ability to talk unfettered is an important part of the reading process.

Equally, for me, talking is a crucial part of the writing process. Having ideas about stories and talking them through with friends or family (or editors) is one of the ways in which I build my stories. Discussing a plot development is a way of trying it out outside my head. My character will do this or maybe it would be better if she does that… Walking the dogs and running through a possible plotline with my husband or my sister or my mum is a way of making that story real, testing its convinceability meter (spellcheck went mad here).

We learn through talk. My twenty years teaching showed me that. I am still learning as a writer.

But when the act of talking is an effort sometimes you don’t bother. When I’m explaining and my husband says What? Pardon? Several times I tend to give up. When I say things and it’s quite clear that people haven’t heard me I think, why bother? Not good. I remember watching Musharaf, the boy with the stutter on Educating Yorkshire, and understanding why people might give up trying.

There is another problem. I have always been happy to do school visit and of course my first concern was that I wouldn’t be able to stand in front of a large crowd and give a one hour talk. The funny that was that didn’t turn out to be the problem. The school provided a microphone. After an initial apology for my scratchy voice I was able to give my usual talk. The problem came with the ‘social’ aspect to the visit. Meeting teenagers and trying to talk to them. They are usually incredibly shy anyway and don’t come very close. In the past I would talk to them about what they were reading and what kind of books they liked, just chit chat. But now I found I couldn’t do it because they couldn’t hear me.

I am now (after eight months) used to my voice. I am persevering with the speech therapy. In my struggle to pronounce words I am beginning to end them succinctly (if at a low volume) and my husband says I am beginning to sound ‘posh’. That would be a funny outcome for this cockney girl. To end up sounding like a BBC reader!

So, if you see me out and about don’t be put off by my little voice. Ask me about my stories and, with some difficulty, I will tell you what I’m working on.


michelle lovric said...

You poor thing! The voice is definitely a writing organ. Yes, we all rehearse dialogue aloud, and express our enthusiasms to our nearest and dearest to monitor their reactions. And, as you say, voice is also necessary for what publishers call 'profile'. I wish you well and better.

Tamsyn Murray said...

Hope this gets better soon, Anne! I hate having to repeat myself too and can easily imagine how awkward it must be when talking to kids.

Joan Lennon said...

I end my words succinctly - tell your husband you're sounding Canadian!

This sounds like an exhausting time - good wishes for gradually getting stronger.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Anne, you were perfectly clear to listen to at your FCBG event with the help of a microphone, and well worth listening to - thank you!

Nick Green said...

I hope the voice comes back. Happened to my dad once (a professional singer - nightmare). It returned just as he was ready to give up on it.

Interesting what you say about talking about books in progress. I never speak at all about a book in progress, to anyone at all. This is not out of some silly fear that the idea will be 'stolen' (an impossible crime, if you think about it) but because if I talk about an idea, it always sounds rubbish. And often when I write them, too... but less often.

catdownunder said...

I started my teaching career working with children who had (and still have) severe and profound communication difficulties. I never cease to be amazed at how hard they will try to communicate and how they sometimes seem as if they can't be bothered, as if it is too much of an effort - all too often because other people can't be bothered to try and understand.
The most important thing we learn to do is communicate but communication requires partnership.
I hope you continue to improve and thankyou from me and from all the children out there with problems for not giving in. It helps them too.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

There must be the kernel of an idea for a story for you to write within the context of what you're coping with. Being 'voiceless' in a speaking society whether literally or figuratively is tough and who but you could write so personally from the inside of this. I hope you will soon get your voice back Anne. In the mean time it seems you have adapted amazingly! Look forward to hearing you speak 'posh' !!!

David Thorpe said...

I also hope your voice returns soon, bringing tales of its journeys.

Miriam Halahmy said...

My deepest sympathies Anne. I've had on and off problems for a while too and worry that they will get worse. You're a trooper for getting out there still and meeting the kids! I'm sure they really appreciate it. I do hope the problem properly resolves itself very soon.

Nicola Morgan said...

So sorry to hear this, Anne. But a very thought-provoking post. Wishing you a stronger voice soon.