I read a lot, but there are two writers that I have to pay homage to, for teaching me one of the most valuable lessons in being a writer. Find your own voice.
This is exactly what David Sedaris and Barbara Comys did for me, and this is all about how they inspired me with their style, wit, and candour; and you never know, they might do the same for you.
Regarding Style, both of my inspirations write in the way that someone might really speak. Not in tangles or high falutin language; which has it’s place of course, they both write in the every-day accessible language that anyone might use.
But, they use those familiar words in such a way that they sing, and carry you along. Yes, I’m that enthusiastic.
You only have to listen to David Sedaris read a story once to forever hear him reading his stories to you, and that’s serious skill. You know you are getting the authentic David. It’s him through and through, he makes it easy to imagine what it would be like hang out with him, to listen to him discussing a television programme, or what we need on our shopping list, or whose turn it is to do the housework.
And that’s something I aspired to from the first moment I read his work, that my voice will become my signature style.
The first Barbara Comys book I read was ‘Sisters by a river’, how I love that book. It wasn’t written in a classic style, instead being more of a collection of anecdotes, which is exactly how my own brain tends to think. I totally bought into book, and it was only much, much later I found out it it wasn’t a memoir, that it was in fact a novel with autobiographical undertones.
So, if you have ever seen me say it was a autobiography there you go, I was sort of wrong, but that’s the power of the book. Barbara writes the extremely dark parts of the story with such a light touch that you can chose not to even see the horrors if you don’t want to. If you have never read her work, get yourself a copy of any of her works, believe me you won’t regret it.
Regarding Wit, you only have to see David Sedaris book titles ‘Dress your family in corduroy and denim’, ‘Let’s explore diabetes with owls’, ‘me talk pretty one day’, ‘Squirrel seeks chipmunk’. To name just a few, to know that you are in for a comedic treat.
What I particularly like is that the title doesn’t necessarily tell you everything, or in some cases anything at all, about what the book is actually about, I love that. And yes, that did inspire me when naming my first book Down With Frogs.
Once you get into David’s books you have such comments as “I hate you’ she said to me one afternoon. ‘I really, really hate you.’ Call me sensitive, but I couldn’t help but take it personally.” David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day. And “Boys who spent their weekends making banana nut muffins did not, as a rule, excel in the art of hand-to-hand combat.” David Sedaris, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.
See simple but highly intelligent and effective.
Barbara can be a bit more edgy with her humour, but it’s female, and it works ‘I had a kind of idea if you controlled your mind and said “I won’t have any babies” very hard, they most likely wouldn’t come. I thought that was what was meant by birth-control’ Barbara Comys, Our Spoons Came From Woolworths.
With regard to candour, now this can be a tricky quality to write with. You may want to hold something of yourself back, and that’s fine. But not only do people respond to someone putting it all out there, if you write without putting your heart into it, it shows; and it just doesn’t work.
That kind of bouncing along the surface might appeal to some readers, but something about it won’t ‘feel’ right, especially if you write about a subject you haven’t lived without really researching it.
This isn’t about adding detail for the sake of it. When I say candour, I am talking about truthfulness, sincerity and integrity. And both David and Barbara have this is bucket loads, both write about their own families to a degree. David’s family really cannot have any secrets left, having been written about in all their wonderful, monstrous and endearing beauty. And if you want to know what it’s like going for a colonoscopy read Calypso.
Barbara on the other hand used her family and husband’s as inspiration, using the difficult and traumatic from her life to give her characters life, and an emotional connection to the reader.
The message I hope you to takeaway from this, is that other authors are not your competition, your measuring stick, or a reason not to write. They can be your inspiration, and your teachers. All good writers read, without exception, so renew your library ticket, visit your local bookshop, or get online and fill up your ereader. Get yourself something to read, and read widely from your genre.
Let me know what you have been reading and if you have been inspired.
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