Monday, 24 May 2010


by Ben Bell

As the inscription implies, I know the author, and this book was a welcome birthday present.

First of all, it's a very good book. Sometimes, when you read something a friend has written, it's a case of reading it simply because you know them. But once I was into Separation, I wanted to keep reading, first and foremost, because I was enjoying it. The book says it was printed on LuLu, which means I should be able to find you a link... here we go: Separation.

The book is a lot of things. It's one of those novels where the answers to the questions 'what is it about?' and 'what happens?' are very different. What happens? Dan Crake, art student, takes us through a number of typical activities like going to a club or texting his ex, juxtaposed with the events of his mother's funeral, and he meets up with his dad.

The 'about' question is much more interesting. It's about in-betweens, connections, the search for meaning, and how distance between people is a lot easier than closeness.

And one of the things that really struck me about the novel is very relevant to me just now. I'm starting my second draft of Polaroid, and one of my main goals is to show a real difference in the characters of my two narrators, through their voices.

Bell (and yes, I'm going to call him by his surname even though I know him. I think it sounds cool) creates a unique image of his narrator, Dan, and does it very well. I see it happening in three separate ways.

One. The dialogue is uncompromisingly real. Not only do we get every step in the non-flowing, non-buzzing conversations that make up most of life ("Pretty packed." "Yeah." "Can't see any free seats." "No, I can't.") but we get the actual rendition of them saying it. "D'you know 'er?" works, because nobody ever actually says 'do you know her?'
At least not in a club.

Two. The narration at the level of sentence-choice. I mean I'm an artist, and I'm not the most practically minded of people, not by a long shot, I can be damn clumsy, but Mel doesn't make it any easier. These chains of clauses in commas are another little way into Dan's head.

Three. The narration at the level of subject-choice. The things Dan chooses to notice, where he chooses to start and end each anecdote or memory or musing, are the best clues for what he sees when he looks through his eyes.
It's not necessarily the choice of big events, but the little events that make up the big ones, and the observations that they spark, that are key.

So that's my take on voice, today. How real you decide to make the dialogue, what you let your narrator notice and ignore, and what language you let him use to do it with, those are the sliders on the mixing desk of voice.

I'm now off to write a song called Sliders on the Mixing Desk of Voice.


  1. Looking forward to that song..... Interested to read about somebody reading the published work of somebody they know - I had that experience recently and luckily the book was really good and I would have read it anyway. The only uncomfortable thing was that there were times when I could almost hear the words being spoken by te author - slightly scary - maybe too much voice.

    Thanks for sharing

  2. Sounds interesting. Gotta love commas. They are almost as good as brackets.

    The point about the use of less formal language is true, but you can't help BUT write that. He seems to have mastered it though.