Elaine Forrestal

Voices

‘Memories’ by C.Paton, which, after much research, turned out to be Clara Saunders

Writers, editors, publishers, we all talk a lot about voices. The authorial voice, the character’s voice, the narrator’s voice. In one of my books I even use the log-book voice. And of course each character has an interior voice and an exterior, or public voice. No one ever pretends that writing is a simple, straight forward task.

For years I have stressed to students of creative writing that each character in their story must have their own distinctive voice and body language which is part of their personality. No two characters can have the same voice. Mannerism and body language are also a part of voice. But ultimately both the reader and the writer can only breath life into characters through what is there on the page. Punctuation, even spaces, help to give atmosphere and convey personality. Pauses between words are part of a person’s unique way of speaking.

When I set out to write the story of Clara Saunders I was already familiar with her voice. It was there in black and white in her ‘Memories’ (transcribed and bound in the Battye Library). It should have been easy, right?  All I had to do to bring Clara to life was some research into the times in which she lived. Wrong. When I talked it all through with Cate Sutherland she opened my eyes to the fact that the voice in the ‘Memories’ is Clara’s ‘lady voice’. In other words it’s the voice she developed during her eighty-year lifetime of pioneering in the early days of settlement in Western Australia. It’s not her 14 year old voice. Not the one that will bring to life the excitement, the hardships, and the camaraderie of the headlong rush out into the barren desert country that became the town of Coolgardie in 1892.

The latest draft of this story is, for me, just as exciting as Clara’s own journey into womanhood.