Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 20 September 2014

Looking for my voice by Jennifer Young

Icelandic fireworks. Image credit: Ármann Höskuldsson/IMO
So, it’s over. What a week it’s been. Now I’ve had a good long sleep I can lift my head from the pillow and get my life back.

What? Did I what? What did you think I was talking about? The referendum? Ha ha! No, this week was the deadline for submission of my Open University Masters dissertation - snappily entitled “How far can our knowledge of past explosive volcanic eruptions in Iceland and elsewhere contribute to prediction of future events and mitigation of their impacts?”

That’s why I’ve barely written anything for weeks that wasn’t either a work commitment or else involved a complicated analysis of the current situation at Bárðarbunga volcano (which, by the way, is now looking as if it may yet erupt properly).

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve loved my OU studies. But I am slightly worried that, as I enter my recovery period, I’m right out of my fiction mindset. My brain is programmed to focus on rhyolite rather than romance, and the fireworks of my imagination aren’t emotional ones but spat out from the bowels of the Earth.

Now that I have the time to write I’m a little worried that I won’t be able to do it. Although I have no concerns about ideas (my holiday in Italy gave me plenty of inspiration) there’s the question of contrasting styles to consider. I’ve trained myself to write in an impersonal style — one that’s measured and objective, stripped of any emotion and geared heavily towards the passive voice.

My promise to myself was that when all this was over I would let myself write. I have the synopsis of my holiday story planned although I’ve rather got out of touch with my characters. But that’s easily sorted — I just need to have a little chat with them over a coffee and see what they think.

No; my fear is that I may have lost my writing voice. Have I changed it for ever? Have I given up any lightness of touch I may have had? Will I write my novels like a scientist (which might be funny for five minutes but no longer)? Worst of all, will I lose the best of each approach and end up with the worst of both worlds?

Help, please! What’s your advice?

11 comments:

  1. You don't need advice, Jennifer - you're a natural! And don't worry about your 'voice'. I can see romantic explosions ahead! Even your post has achieved the right tone.

    And many congratulations on getting your Masters thesis in.

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    1. You're very kind, Jenny...but after training myself to use the passive voice all the time, it's a difficult habit to break!

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  2. I have no doubt at all that after a few days - a few weeks at the most - your 'fiction' voice will reappear alive and well. I think it's actually a lot harder than we think to lose it!

    By the way, love the title of your thesis. Not sure I'd managed to read and understand the whole thing, but I'd love to see a summary!

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    1. Goodness Gill! No-ones ever asked about a summary of my thesis before! As it happens I had to include one - so here it is in 300 words:

      Situated above both a deep mantle plume and the mid-Atlantic ridge, Iceland, the land of fire and ice, is known for its volcanic eruptions — over 520 are on record and many others may not have been identified. Major events such as the eruptions of Laki in 1783 and Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 illustrate the potential for damage and disruption. Statistical analysis using survivor function produces very high probabilities of an eruption within the near future but the existing record is incomplete, particularly further back in the geological record. A simpler frequency analysis identifies significant peaks in activity and extended periods of quiescence, suggesting that these probabilities must be treated with extreme care.
      A review of current literature indicates a much more complex picture than the bare statistical analysis suggests and identifies a range of factors influencing volcanism in Iceland, with differences over time and between volcanoes. Key factors include the nature of the eruption (basaltic or silicic); episodic and cyclical activity; mechanical relationships between volcanic centres; and whether or not the eruption is phreatomagmatic/subglacial. Furthermore, changes in ice cover may have had an influence on eruptive activity in the past — and, indeed, may do so in the future. A review of hazards identifies flooding and ash as the two most relevant to Iceland today; external factors such as weather conditions also act to influence the extent of the impact of any single eruption.
      Historic information on individual events is more useful than statistical probability and can inform understanding of Iceland’s volcanism. Given the difficulties of identifying the location and nature of the next volcanic eruption or eruptions to occur, however, let alone the influence of external factors upon the level of hazard, direct monitoring appears the most practical approach to both forecasting and mitigation.

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    2. Thank you! I love it. And I think I understood around 90% which I think is qutie impressive. Good luck with it.

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  3. Congratulations on completing your thesis, Jennifer. It sounds fascinating. Ever since working on a project exploring the cration of the Galloway landscape I've wanted to visit Iceland to see and landscape still being formed. An artist friend is besotted with the place but she is more interested in the ice side.
    As for your fiction writing voice - it will still be there. I had a similar predicament when at university. I was sent on a placement to the local newspaper for eight weeks. While there, I had to learn to chop long sentences into much shorter ones and use one-sentence paragraphs and, of course, nothing was in passive voice. When I went back to the academic work my tutor was appalled and demanded to know why I had written my dissertation in such silly short sentences!

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    1. Now, that's a project I'd liek to read, MAry - I love anything to do with landscape and am very fond of Galloway to boot!

      I do find it hard to strike the right note. One assignment was praised for being extremely readable and the next criticised (by someone else) for being too chatty!

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  4. First off, many congratulations on such a mammoth 'write'. PhD next? Interesting what you say about losing your fiction 'voice'. When fiction was slow to sell for me for a while I did quite a lot of journalism and found the discipline excellent for sharpening my fiction when I eventually got back to it. I think, now, that I write better fiction for having researched and written features and articles and the like. I hope you will, too.

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    1. I've never found the difference between the two styles easy; but I suppose it may come more readily with practice.

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  5. That's great advice, Linda. I found the move from journalism to fiction quite hard but now it can give me the discipline to start a new project. Good luck, Jennifer!

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    1. Thanks. Your experiences are all encouraging me... so I won't give up just yet!

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