From David Napthine
Photo by Wenni Zhou
John Foxwell and I have been exploring Writers’ Inner Voices with a variety of writers groups. We have been struck by their spirit of enquiry, their willingness to experiment and share individual and collective discoveries, and the interest they have in the phenomenon and its implications for the individual, for writing, and for society; all this plus tea, coffee, cake and biscuits. We have taken away from each group valuable insights into Writers’ Inner Voices which are finding their way into our work.
At the end of each session we have asked the writers if they would be willing to creatively respond to the following questions; What do the voices say? How do the voices speak? Who do the voices belong to? When do you hear the voices? Where do you hear the voices?
We begin with two contributions from members of the U3A (University of the Third Age) writers group in Ashington, Northumberland with more to follow in subsequent posts.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A SLIGHTLY UNHINGED WOMAN.
Maria Nelson Langford
Voices? You bet I hear them – some days quiet, restrained yet insistent, other days loud, peremptory, demanding. I tell them to shut up, leave me alone. But they don’t listen, just keep following me around, poking, prodding. Today I’m planning to complete my story “The Island” and sit down after breakfast, focused, determined.
The telephone shrills. My concentration is immediately broken. A friend tells me she’s teaching her granddaughter to knit but the child is experiencing all kinds of unimaginable difficulties. So what? I’ve other things requiring my attention. Even before I replace the phone I hear a voice gurgling with mirth –
“Little Ellie knitting
in red and blue and white,
pokes the needle up her nose,
gives herself a fright.
Next she knitted in her hair
which was long and curly.
Knitters moral “Just beware
of all that’s plain and purly.”
I don’t want this rubbish I tell the voice. I’m trying to write something serious. Just go away. Leave me in peace. But it doesn’t. It’s suddenly joined by others and my day takes a completely different turn. I’m scribbling the stupidest things on scraps of paper everywhere – I can’t seem to stop.
The merest sight, smell, sound, taste of something sets it off. Already there’s been a crocodile with a toothy smile, a hedgehog like a pincushion, a bigamist major, millipedes wearing shoes, my great aunt’s legacy, a man walking upside down, an army chasing Martians and a multitude of others – all complete and utter nonsense. Where the heck’s it all coming from? I’m at it all day spewing it out.
“The Island” lies in the middle of the ocean, deserted.
I’m frustrated, irritated, by the end of the afternoon running out of energy fighting voices. In the kitchen I start to prepare dinner. Reaching into the fridge for strawberries – oh! no – there’s another voice –
“Little Tommy picking strawberries
picks five pounds and consumes four,
cycles home with all his booty
vomits on the bathroom floor.
Tommie’s mum complains “Oh Tommy
couldn’t you have reached the sink?”
Tom defiant, tells her proudly
“Bet you’ve not seen puke this pink.”
Look, I scream at the voice, you are driving me mad, round the bend; all my screws are coming loose. I don’t want this nonsense; it’s not even remotely clever. It’s embarrassing, humiliating. I’m a serious writer not a clown.
“Maybe too serious?” asks the voice. “perhaps it would be good to lighten things up once in a while.”
“What? – with garbage?” I counter. But there’s no reply.
I stroll along the beach seeking calm, watch oystercatchers, idly examine shells, listen to the sea. The sun has gone, as though pulled by an unseen hand to the far side of the world. Light is fading, colours muted. Birds are silenced. It’s enchanting, magical. I climb the dunes above the shore.
I stand on the edge of twilight,
watching and listening –
listening to the sea sounds,
the constant rustle and whisper
and the far waves distant thunder,
watching for the first pale star
to pierce the darkening fabric of the sky –
watching and listening
for this is the magic hour.
I return home quiet, serene – voices like the birds, temporarily silenced. Not even a whisper.
Somewhere in the East another morning is waiting. So is “The Island.”
I awoke startled, but why? Then I heard a voice saying, ‘get out’ in an odd metallic sound. Was this real or imagined? Was it perhaps from some story I had been reading?
What should I do? I live in a sheltered housing building where we each have our own apartment and we are advised to stay put in cases of emergency, (just like Grenfell!)
I got up, put on my dressing gown and slippers, looked out of the window but saw no signs of anything untoward. I picked up my handbag and moved towards the door still with a voice ringing in my head saying, ‘get out, get out!’
In the corridor everything was eerily quiet but still I had the urge to obey. The lift wasn’t working which was a warning sign but still I was on my own.
I made my way downstairs and to the front door. Should I stay in or go out? Did someone want me out of my flat for some reason? Was someone playing a joke on me? Had my snoring kept my neighbour awake and this was his revenge on me?
I went and stood outside for a while but it was freezing cold. The voice had stopped! I went back inside and into the warmth of my flat. I got back into bed and a voice within me said “Do you always do as you are told, even when you are sleep walking!”