Thursday, 29 August 2019

Living narrative: N M Browne ( first published ABBA 2010)

Do you live in narrative? Are you someone who always has a little voice in her head interpreting,describing, novelising your daily life?

If you have such a voice are you a) mad? b) possessed? or c) a novelist.

I now think the most usual answer is c) but as a child I did worry that it was a) or b). No one ever talked about it and, fearing that this endless descriptive flow was at worst mad and at best pretentiously self indulgent, I never raised the subject. I identified with Joe Marsh and Ann of Green Gables, and even most disturbingly with the ghastly girls of the Chalet School and as they apparently thought in well structured sentences so did I.

Later, when I was older, I became concerned that this measured ( third person) narrator’s voice mediated my experience, distanced me from living in the moment and prevented me from responding instinctively to people and situations. I am not sure that was true, but nonetheless ‘I resolved to give it up’ ( I am pretty sure of that because back then I definitely was the kind of girl who ‘resolved’. ) 

Fast forward thirty years and in a series of tentative, cautious conversations with other novelists I discover that this literary voice endlessly forming sentences as an hour by hour commentary on life is not so unusual. Lots of perfectly sane people do it. Who knew?

While I can’t say I regret its loss overmuch, I do think it was incredibly useful. I grew up writing and even in the years when my pen never touched the paper, I thought in prose. I was probably more fluent, more literary as a young woman than as an old working writer. When as a student I needed the words they were always there, tumbling out of me, faster than I could write: clause and sub clause unrolling like a carpet under my feet, taking my argument wherever I wanted it to go.

Of course it isn’t like that now. Words elude me all the time and I don’t know if that’s a symptom of incipient mental decay or if it's because I no longer live in narrative: I just live. What about you?

2 comments:

Bill Kirton said...

Thank you, Nicky. And how wonderful to realise that some people 'think in prose', because so few of the people in media or public life (and people who should know better) seem to.
Your post made me ask myself whether I'd always had that 'narrative' voice nagging away at me but, since my first serious efforts at writing were plays, I suspect that I was more like a bystander overhearing other people's conversations. But you're right, they were always there, usually (to me, at least), making much more sense than the external stuff I was hearing.

Umberto Tosi said...

Thanks for your stimulating proposition. I remembering novelizing my life somewhat when I was younger. Now I keep a channel open to the narrative I happen to be writing, not so much to my daily life. Perhaps because my daily life - thank heavens - isn't all that eventful. My novel (and short stories), however, are full of the unexpected - natural and supernatural - which I strive to write skillfully enough to bring to life on my pages.