Thursday, 15 November 2012


Voice is mysterious. How can you develop your writing voice? What does Voice actually mean? How do you know if your writing has a distinctive voice?

I have my own thoughts on Voice and I'll try to show by way of an analogy.

I'm a reed player. I play saxophone and I play clarinet. I started learning on clarinet and my first attempts sounded terrible, as if I was being strangled while blowing through a drinking straw. The tone had no substance, the tuning was all over the place, most of the notes were drowned out by squeaks and that horrible buzzing sound that comes from a reed that  is way too soft.

I knew how a 'good' clarinet tone was meant to sound but I was nowhere near achieving it. But I practiced. I started to learn saxophone, too; same result. They are both reed instruments and the essential problems are similar. But I put in the hours. Instead of going out and playing football with friends I sat in my room and blew down a tube. There were learning milestones along the way, like when I learned about opening my throat, about diaphragm breathing, about sustaining a column of air. And slowly I developed a good, clean, pure tone. But in my mind my playing still sucked. It didn't have Voice. I had a fine, sweet tone, but it was boring. Something important was missing.

But not always. Now and again there was an extra edge. I started to realise that a clean tone wasn't everything. I was playing on a hard reed, but over time reeds start to go off, and there are moments in the life of every reed when the tone isn't perfect but it is honest. At those times I began to feel the vibration - in my lip, in my head and in my bones.

It wasn't just a matter of tone, either. There were times when my rhythm was kind of lazy and relaxed but not wayward. There were differences in the way I was attacking the notes, and sustaining them. And when all of these things came together, not quite pure, not quite tight, but with an underlying security that came from years of neglecting my footballing skills, well then my playing had Voice. I'm not a good enough sax or clarinet player to be able to turn it on like a tap. It comes now and again and when it does I am always grateful. I can recognise the moments and so can the audience, and one of the joys of music is the instant feedback that tells you that you are doing something right.

And I wonder if the writing voice is the same. It is harder to relate the feedback to the execution because there is such a long time delay between the two. But if you use your ear. If you listen to what you have written, then sometimes you know.

There is one big difference, though: Writing can be edited. This is why writing should be edited. The sterile parts can be removed and the rich parts, the parts that have voice can be allowed to sing.

There is also another, important similarity between writing and music: Both need practice.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

How many 'Swanwicks' is your writing Den?

Ive been reading an article in the October Locus magazine about photographer Kyle Cassidy and his Where I Write project, (click on the link WhereIWrite to see some of the terrific offices where SF/F writers work)

It has given me the urge to take a critical look at my own writing space. Cassidy has developed his own scoring system using Michael Swanwick's office as his benchmark. It takes into account degrees of clutter, awards, files etc. Just about everything that contributes to the feel of the office. Most writers score less than one Swanwick, which means their offices are tidier and more orderly. Others, who are a little wilder might hit 1.5 or even a 2. I'm guessing, with some degree of shame, that my score would be up around the high thirties.

Here's an inventory of some of the distracting clutter I stuff into my room.
Doesn't look too bad from this side...
First, writing related clutter:
Three-and-a-half computers, of which only the netbook is still usable. Stacks of magazines, many dating back to the last century (New Scientist, National Geographic, Locus - from when I used to buy the print copies rather than the e-versions, and various one-off magazines, many of which are unopened); biros, rollerballs, ink pens, none of which work but I can't bring myself to chuck them, because, you know, they worked once so you never know when theyll snatch another breath of life. Then, of course, there's books. Books, books and yet more books. I buy books faster than I can read them. Sometimes I buy the same book one more than once. (There's a fundamental insanity in this behaviour I suspect.)
...but turn around and there is chaos!

Secondly there's all the non-writing clutter:  Three saxophones of which only one is useable or even in tune; a broken ceiling light fitting that once worked; an electric drill charger (I think I lent the drill to someone. Surely it must need charging by now); other orphaned chargers that will never be reunited with their long lost parents; two music stands evil beasts that snip off the ends of your fingers every time they are folded. Theres a winter caravan cover. A Panama hat, God knows where that came from. Four suitcases full of... well, more stuff.

But its a homely kind of place. Im happy with it. I know where everything lives. Mostly. This has been a useful purging exercise. 

And Ive just noticed I have a plastic kit of the Apollo Excursion Module, Eagle, buried behind of my magazine files on top of one of the bookcases. I'd forgotten all about it.That can be my winter project. The LEM will look cool in here, if I can find a space to display it.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Mjke Wood: Web Meister

After much fiddling and faffing about I now have a website. It has been a long haul. The initial setup was easy and I thought I'd have something up and running in less than a week. But then the old demon, procrastination, set in. For two months I've been tweaking and dithering over the finer details but at last the final product is out there for all to see. All I need now is some traffic. I'm not expecting a lot.

Anyway, you will find my new online presence at:

>>As a post script, it has taken Mjke the Web Meister five attempts over the course of several hours just to get the actual words of this post to be half way readable. I'm afraid I am not destined for a geek job in Palo Alto any time soon. Does anyone know of an opening for a quill pen sharpener or a ledger binder?