The Present is Another Country: N M Browne
|Being a bit sixth century...|
I have been thinking a lot about age recently. Not because I am old, you understand, or at least not exactly. I’ve been thinking about the impact age has on language and experience and how much that matters when developing a character on the page.
Everyone comes from somewhere; a place, a time, a set of values and part of being a writer is, I think, developing an awareness of that. We can learn to speak in other voices, but only after we have first recognised the implicit bias of our own. I don’t think that bias is a problem by the way, it is part of an author’s voice, but, if we want to change that voice to convey a different set of experiences and attitudes it takes effort, research and careful observation: it is really tricky – two words which in themselves date me and my voice to a very particular twentieth century middle class milieu.
These days the gap between me and my would be YA readers is almost a chasm. I live on the analogue side of a great divide: I’m notebooks and fountain pens, film cameras and fixed landline phones. I’m thick paper directories, filing cards, the London A to Z and badly folded paper maps. I am from a time when research was difficult, when you couldn’t google someone before you met them, a world of postcards, letters, difficult handwriting, typewriters and short hand typists. Fortunately I mainly write historical or speculative fiction. I can still hear the attitudes of the nineteenth century, echoed in my memories of my grandmother and great grandmothers ( my grandmother was 102 when she died a couple of years ago.) I wonder how easy it is for children growing up with 'Love Island' to grasp the shame of a child ‘born out of wedlock,’ the fear of the workhouse, and the reverence for the word of a doctor.
As a writer, it is my job, to convey the thought world of my characters to the page in an accessible way. The older I get, and the further my world diverges from that of those born now, the more I appreciate what a challenge that is. It is a tough job but someone’s got to do it ( as some twentieth century meme would have it) I’m happy to be one of the many someones who choose to take that 'tough job' on.