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!]