Friday, 21 May 2010

We look but do we see?

We hear The Voice in our heads but do we obey?

...and what has this got to do with a visit from Salley Vickers?

How many times do we look at things without seeing them? I was in the garden the other day as it was getting dark. The lights were on in the house but the curtains were not yet drawn. I looked and thought, ‘What a lovely house.’
Yes, I know that Mr A. is always reminding me of this when I moan about things like windows that won’t open. It was because I was looking at the inside of our house from an unusual angle that I really saw it.

I was reminded of this last night when Salley Vickers visited the Leicester Writers’ Club. She told us how she often wanders through art galleries when she’s working on a novel. One day she found herself looking at Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus. It was a painting she had looked at many times but this time she really saw it. The story it portrayed gave her the inspiration for The Other Side of Me.

Salley, who used to teach ancient literature, says that she finds reassurance in the grace and value of ancient stories. Miss Garnet’s Angel emerged from the story of Tobit. As a teenager she had accidentally discovered the Venetian Church with Tobit’s story told in a series of painted panels. Years later she taught the story to her students, revisited the Church and Miss Garnet appeared.

Salley is an author who never plans, has never been to a creative writing class and is quite sure that if she were to attend one, just talking about her novel before it was completed would make it disappear. Her talk last night was not so much an account of her writing life, but more a challenge to get us thinking.

Do we hear the author’s voice when we read or do we see the words and absorb the story that way?

When Salley reads a novel she has the author talking to her from the page. She enjoys the rhythm of the writing and delights at being surprised by the actions of the characters. Salley likes to write about those characters that we think we know... but we don’t really know if we know them until we get to know them better... and then we realise that we didn’t know them at all... or maybe we did know them all along. We just thought that we didn’t know them. [Sorry. I know what she means. I just couldn’t quite put it into words.]

Do we hear The Voice in our head?

In Salley’s current book, Dancing Backwards, one of the main characters is The Voice. She says that we all have The Voice in our heads. The Voice is that part of ourselves who knows what’s what and what we should do. The problem is we sometimes don’t listen. It can get us into all sorts of trouble. During the question and answer session at the end I wish now that I’d asked Salley if she can remember ignoring The Voice with interesting consequences. If you’re reading this, Salley, do please comment below and let us know. The same goes for the rest of you. Have you ever refused to listen to The Voice? And what happened as a consequence?

[If anyone has read Dancing Backwards please don’t let me know how it ends. I bought a copy last night and so have not yet read it!]


  1. Such an interesting post and fascinating to hear Salley's thoughts on writing and how she reads, and writes. I absolutely loved Miss Garnet's Angel.

    I think I'm pretty good at really "seeing" small, everyday things and noticing them over the things that everyone else seems to notice, but I'm so great at listening to the voice in my head. Although I do usually revert to what it advised me to do in the end!

  2. I've got a tug of war with my voice, it has a deep rumbling sound which pushes me towards the fridge ;-)
    Now seriously, I guess this voice is our conscience and that usually feeds on our moral values, so I do tend to listen to it. Means I'll sleep better at night.

  3. That should be "I'm NOT so great at listening to the voice in my head"

    and I'm not so great at checking what I type before posting, apparently.

  4. Hi Kathryn, I knew what you meant! I loved Miss Garnet's Angel too and I think that, like you, I usually listen to the voice in the end.

    Thanks for the follow, Sarah. I wonder if Salley would say that the voice is a step further removed from us than our conscience, more like another individual speaking inside our head. I'll let you know when I've read the book.

  5. Fascinating post - thanks for sharing Salley's visit. I think I know quite a lot about the voice - more an instinct than a conscience, I think. Sometimes hard to listen to it and to other people!

  6. Yes, Ali, I know what you mean. The voice often gets in the way and so that's when we ignore it. I suspect that's the problem that I'm going to be reading about in Dancing Backwards.

  7. Salley sounds like a fascinating person.

    I try to listen to the voice, and when I don't nothing seems to go very well. :)

  8. Hi Jemi, it's not always easy to listen to the voice, is it, and yes, Salley is a fascinating person. Her books are most unusual and worth a read too.

  9. Thanks for a mesmerizing blog Ros. I too loved Miss Garnet's Angel, a captivating read. I have often heard The Voice called The Watcher, the Observer and The Guide Within. I personally think its the Intuition. Whatever it's called, not to listen usually equals disaster and confusion for me, (well perhaps that's a bit dramatic) but you know what I mean!! After reading your blog, I ordered a copy of 'Dancing Backwards'....... Happy Reading.
    Rifka M.

  10. Hi Rifka. The Watcher sounds a bit scary but I do like your suggestion of The Guide Within. Hope you enjoy the book.

  11. Great post - I love hearing how Salley wanders through art galleries because I find them so inspiring when I'm writing, too.

  12. Oh thank you for sharing this... I love reading about successful authors who just write - without the aid of classes etc. We had a visit by Alexander McCall Smith some months back and he said more or less the same thing. As a result I inaugrated the Laid Back Literary Ladies - feel free to grab the badge from my blog!!

    Thanks for this.

  13. Thank you, Barbara, for my lovely badge. I shall sport it on my blog with pride! Laid Back Literary Ladies is a lovely thought. I will pass the idea on to my critique group. We could all do with being a bit more laid back... especially me!

  14. hi Ros

    Enjoyed your blog very much - and put a link to it from my own. And now I see Rod has blogged about Sally Vickers' talk too - so she really made an impact on our local community of writers! Very interesting stuff and each of us got different things from it.

  15. Hi Siobhan. It was a good talk, wasn't it and thank you for the mention on your blog. If anyone else would like to read Siobhan's view of the talk then please visit