Thursday, 17 January 2008

Touchy Feely

Yawn…blogging over breakfast (porridge - must make more bread this evening)... not ideal. But off to paid work today so thought I’d get this up now. Went to Oxford yesterday and was reminded – again - why living on the wrong side of the M25 is such a pain – it’s in the way of getting to anywhere which isn’t Kent. It took me 4 hours to do a 2 and a half hour journey on the way there…. Oh. My. Goodness. Thank heavens for Radio 4 - and Classic FM when the going got a bit tough on Mark Porter - was today national have a go at people who haven't signed up for organ donation day? If not, it should have been, because the issue was on pretty much every programme. (I am signed up btw.)

But, sitting on the conveyor belt otherwise laughingly call the London Orbital road was the only unpleasant bit of the day.
I was entertained very nicely by the journalist who interviewed me. Are you supposed to name journalists who interview you? Is there a convention? Will I be contravening some unwritten code if I tell you that her name is Jenny Lunnon and she is an extremely nice person who writes interesting stuff for the Oxford Times, usually about environmental or business matters and sometimes books? I assume not as her articles tend to be online on the OT site even if you don't buy the paper...

Talking to her was really interesting. We spent quite a long time just chatting about Testament, how it came to be, how I came to write it, what research I did and so forth. But she also made me think about the nitty gritty of my writing. She had noticed that there’s a lot of sensory stuff in Testament, particularly focusing on the sense of touch and tactile elements. Did all that come automatically, she wanted to know? I must confess, I had to think hard. And I came to the conclusion that sometimes it did come automatically – that it was there on the very first take of the very first draft - and that sometimes I went back over a scene and fleshed it out with more sensory stuff.
Reflecting on the way I construct my scenes, I came up with the thought that it’s a bit like the way a theatre director works – he blocks in all the moves first and then gradually, working with the actors (read characters) he perfects the scene – the dialogue, the emotions, the overtones and undertones firmly in place casting light and shadow on the events.

I must confess to being really pleased that the sensory aspects of Testament came over so well. After all, as a mason and a carpenter, both Simon and Gwyneth are people who work with their hands; they would, of necessity, be thinking about the feel of their materials beneath their fingers. But that sounds as if I thought about that very consciously – manual workers = must put lots of fingertip stuff in – and it wasn’t like that at all. I would hope that it’s just a case of getting inside the skin of the character and seeing the world through their eyes. I’m certainly having to do that more consciously in the work in progress as one of my characters is profoundly deaf and the world is very different when you can’t hear anything, whether it’s people talking to you or the wind in the grass.

I know I enoy books more if I can see the characters’ world not only through their thoughts and actions but through their senses too. I think perhaps that explains why I particularly like the novelists I do – Joanne Harris, Tracy Chevalier, Sue Gee – they can all be relied on to give you a multi-sensory kaleidoscope of impression.

What do other readers and writers think? Is this important to other people too or am I particularly touchy-feely?

1 comment:

Akasha Savage said...

I like touchy-feely books.