Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Founders' Day - The Lost "Voice"

Today at the Pink Heart Society we have Founder Natasha Oakley talking about what happens when you lose your "voice".

Apparently, finding your "voice" as a writer is the holy grail. It's what agents and editors look for when confronted by intimidating slush piles.

I read that somewhere, years ago, and I thought how odd. "Voice" is you, isn't it? My writer's "voice" is what I bring to the business. It's my life view, my values, how I think and feel, filtered across a story. It's as distinctive as a thumb print - and all you have to do is "let go" and write.


Thinking about it now, I came at writing from an acting perspective which is why it all felt familiar and why I found my "voice" easily. Actors use different words for the same process. In acting we talk about "truth". I bet you know what I mean. There are actors who, even if they are limited in shifting their physicality, make you believe. They are the actors who transport you into the story and make you forget it's a story at all. Think Emma Thompson in Love Actually.

That was a brave performance. She tapped into her own experiences and made "truthful" fiction. I defy anyone to watch that movie and not ache for Karen.

How about that lovely proposal scene in 2005's Pride and Prejudice? Did you know Simon Woods (Bingley) and Rosamund Pike (Jane) met at Oxford and dated for two years before he realised he was gay and ended their relationship. Watch the scene again.

It's enchanting - and, given those actors have a history, their performances are incredibly brave.

Where the writing process really differs is that ... it's just you. Me. In a room by myself and I am the product. That can be a great thing, but it can also be a challenge. Right now, I'm finding it a challenge and I've mislaid my "voice".

I know why it happened. I've changed. Life experiences have altered me and I feel differently now. The last time I blogged here I wrote about the life events which had put my writing on hold. They were all external and beyond my control. What I didn't share was the experience which has altered how I see myself.

Simply put, the people around me let me down.

You may well be screaming at your computer screen that if it took me until my mid-forties to discover people let you down I haven't got much to complain about.

Only .. there was a week a few years ago where we were facing a combination of circumstances which meant there was no more flex. Nigel had discovered a new lump and we had an oncology appointment looming. That was hot on the heels of his stem cell transplant in which he'd picked up a superbug. I had said what I was prepared to do and what I simply couldn't do.

This time it was a real "no". I will freely acknowledge that the only person who was behaving in an unusual way was me. Until that week I'd always shrugged silently and absorbed the consequences of what I'd imagined was unintentional selfishness. But, this time, I wasn't prepared to pretend being "landed in it" was okay.

Was I surprised no-one listened? Not really. Not initially. What did surprise me was what happened when I stood my ground. I really thought they'd respond with a "I'm so sorry. We just hadn't thought where that would leave you." Instead I got a "why should we?"

As months passed, I realised there wasn't going to be any epiphany of understanding. To them I wasn't a "treasure", but a "dogsbody" and when I refused to continue in that role I met with anger. It was then I realised there would never be a circumstance where I mattered.

I think I'm cross with myself for allowing myself to be treated like that. I know I'm hurt. And I'm certainly re-evaluating ... everything - and there's a couple of decades to cover.

What that means for my writing is yet to be seen. I'm writing again, but deliberately without commitment. At the moment I want to write spontaneously and enjoy it. I feel an overwhelming need to be kind to me.

Last week I stood in a bookshop and decided I would buy a book simply because I wanted to read it. Not because it was written by a friend (in fact, I'd mentally banned those written by anyone I know), or as "research". I wanted a new-to-me-author. It might not even be a romance...  It would simply be a book which touched my imagination.

You know, I couldn't do it. True enough I'd picked a rather cavernous bookshop in Oxford which gave me so much choice I might still be there if my parking hadn't been "up". But, still ... it should have been possible.

I've clearly got some work to do. I'm giving myself to the start of the summer - and then I'm going to be brave and commit. Bottom in chair, fingers on keyboard .. until I reach "The End".

Until then, come and play at my food blog.  I'm being equally undisciplined with that so it would be lovely if you'd join me on Facebook and then I'll appear in your timeline. I'm doing it for fun and in the vague hope my boys might one day be interested!
Many of Natasha Oakley's fantastic romances have been released on EBook in the last few months. So, if you haven't read one before or want a shiny new copy of an old favourite for your EReader, get thee hence to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or your usual online retailer.


  1. Well, for what it's worth - whatever you write I always want to read: this post, your FABULOUS food blog - and that's not even including your books! So, in the words of some band (whose name I have forgotten)….'Don't think about it. D-d-d do it!"

  2. The trouble is for an author --EVERYTHING is research. And you should buy what you want to read, impulsively sometimes.
    I recently read H for Hawk which you may enjoy. And I am currently working through the Elly Griffiths that Kate Hardy gave me as a birthday pressie. They are lovely.

    1. Isn't it! And so very little of it is tax deductible …!! I'll look those out. Ali Williams suggested 'Rivers of London' which looks good.

  3. Natasha....I just want to give you the biggest hug right now. I shared your blog with my daughter. We were talking about how we are often stronger than we realize, but that our strength is not an infinite resource. I am sending you warm, squishy thoughts and prayers that you find your joy again, and your voice. And FWIW - it's not totally gone. I "hear" it in your Cherry Plum Kitchen posts.

    Take care Lovely. :)

    1. All hugs gratefully received! Joy is exactly what I need. I feel like all the optimism has been sucked out of me. On a personal level, it's entirely possible this year will be a lovely one - only I'm braced for disaster. When I write, it's dark. Not depressed, but Thomas Hardy grim - and I don't want to write like that.

  4. Your voice is still there, Natasha - like Donna I hear it in your food blog and I can't wait to read a new book by you. I know it will be wonderful. Big hugs, be kind to yourself .. you are so worth it.

    Oh, and I second Michelle on the Elly Griffiths books. Gobbled them up.

    1. Elly Griffiths - shall definitely pop that in the Amazon basket.

  5. I'm so sorry you've been kicked when you were down. Sometimes the hardest times in life couldn't seem to get worse and then do. Wish I could give you a big hug. I had three years where I couldn't walk into a book store without crying, so I do think book stores and writers have an odd relationship!

    1. It wasn't very nice, Jill! Everyone needs to feel they are 'valued', don't they - and I thought I was but discovered I really wasn't. I'm still spluttering at the injustice of it - but if I were writing me as a character I think I'd give me a kick up the backside and send me on an adventure. I'm annoying myself now.

  6. Natasha, I adored your Harlequin romances and whatever you decide to write next, I'll most definitely be buying it!

    1. Thank you, Julie B. I'll hold you to that!