I did something rare for me last night – I watched TV. Well, no, I didn’t actually watch TV because my boys were watching Dr Who, but I got onto our free TV viewer on the computer and caught up on a couple of programmes that had been on during the week. One of them was a British programme called ‘Am I Normal?’
I’ve often wondered about that. Who is normal? Some people who have been considered ‘odd’ by others, have been amongst the most interesting people I know. As a teacher, I often found the ‘odd’ children the most interesting to teach. They had a whole different perspective on the world. Last night’s episode was about religion and ‘hearing voices’; which begs the question – are writers who hear their characters talking to them, ‘normal’?
When I’m deeply involved in writing a novel, I have to admit I do ‘hear’ voices. They’re inside my head, but voices all the same. Driving on my own is a wonderful time for them to start. A trip from home to Perth takes an hour-and-a-half. That’s lots of time to have a good conversation and sort things out. For instance –
Voice 1 (Male): You’re going to have to kill me, you know.
Me: (Of course, I don’t answer out loud. I’m not that mad…yet.) No.
Voice 1: You don’t have a choice. It’s the only logical way to finish the story.
Me: I don’t want to kill you! All right?
Voice 2 (Female): He’s right. You have to kill him.
Me: How can you say that! He’s your father!
Voice 2: I know, and I love him dearly. But it’s supposed to be MY story and you’re not going to be able to let me save the day if he’s still around. Unless you rewrite it with him as the main character.
Me: I can’t write another story with a middle-aged man as the MC. Boring!
Voice 1: There is an alternative, I suppose.
Voice 1: You could go back and rewrite from where the prophecy came in, so it’s more ambiguous as to who it’s about. Then it won’t matter whether I’m dead or alive at the end.
Me: What! But prophecies are really hard. It took me ages to get that one right. I don’t want to rewrite it. There has to be another way.
Voice 1: There is. You kill me.
Me: I can’t do that.
Voice 1: Yes you can. You’ve almost done it a couple of times already. Just go that one step further.
Voice 2: It would be good for the story. You’re supposed to be cruel to your main character. Just think how miserable my father dying would make me.
Me: It’d make me miserable, too. I can’t do it.
Voice 1: You know your problem, don’t you? You gave me the face of an actor you like too much. You should have chosen someone else.
Me: But you wouldn’t be you if you weren’t him.
Voice 1: You’re not making a lot of sense; you know that, don’t you?
Me: Hey, I’m talking to non-existent people. Where does sense come into it? But I know what I mean. Now go away. I’ll think of some way of doing this without killing you.
Voice 1: All right, but it had better be good. It has to hurt!
Me: I didn’t write you as a masochist.
Voice 1: You know what I mean.
Me: Listen, I’m the writer. I can do it. Without killing you. Now go away.
Am I mad hearing these voices? I don’t think so, but then, I have just published Treespeaker, which is all about a man who has to deal with the idea of not hearing voices in his head any more. Maybe I am mad, and just don’t want to admit it because I enjoy the voices. One of the psychiatrists on the programme last night suggested that there are lots more ‘odd’ people in the world than we think – they just don’t admit to being mad.
So did I just admit to being mad? I’ll go and ask my characters and let you know.