Guest blog by Karen Ankers
I write to give myself a voice. As a child, and as a teenager, there were so many things I wanted to say. But I knew people wouldn’t understand most of them, or approve of them. So rather than be locked into silence, I started to write them down. And now that I’m old enough to have stopped caring what people think of me, I still write them down, because now there are other people who need me to be their voice. Like the homeless woman I met last year, whose apologetic request for money became the subject of a poem, Meeting At Euston. Like Dorothy, in my one-act play Frogs, who loves her husband, but finds it hard to cope with his growing dementia. And Jenny, in my play Still Life, whose life of abuse has driven her to commit a crime she doesn’t even understand.
And then there is Sadie. Sadie is not the protagonist of my novel, The Crossing Place, but she is one of its central characters.
The story is woven around her and unfolds as Laura and Paul’s relationship begins to develop. Sadie is a character I developed a deep affection for. Difficult as her life was, it is hard for me to think of her as just a victim.
Writing enables me to be honest. Brutally honest, sometimes, as I examine the world through my characters’ eyes and try and help them deal with their problems. It’s a kind of therapy. But who is the patient here? My characters are part of me, aren’t they? I gave a talk to a writing group last week, entitled “Are Your Characters Really Fictional”. I don’t believe they can be. Every character I create is an amalgam of voices I’ve heard, faces I’ve seen, stories I’ve observed, and, most of all, needs that I want to amend. So, as a writer, I can give a voice to the silent. The barefoot homeless man Laura falls over in the opening pages of The Crossing Place was a real person. Janine, in my play Good Enough, is all the women who have ever been held back by what family and society expect of them. Anna, in my play Dance Before Dark, has been imprisoned for her beliefs. For believing, and insisting, that humankind has to change its behaviour if we are to save this planet, she has been locked up and silenced, like so many women before her. It was a privilege to give her a voice and let her speak.
Writing is power. I learned that as a child. I learned that I could write down the thoughts no one wanted to listen to. I could hide them away until I found someone who did want to listen to them. And not much has changed. Now I write the words on a computer and submit them to publishers. When I find one who wants to hear my my characters’ voices, then we work together to find readers who want to listen.
I write for the lonely ones. The misunderstood, frightened people who would otherwise live their lives in silence. Laura, in The Crossing Place, finds her self-doubt magnified by the events which unfold during the course of the novel. But she also discovers her own strength, so that her reply, at the end of the novel, when asked how she is, is “Never better.” And that’s good enough for me.
The novel I’m currently writing, The Stone Dancers, is a new journey, with a new set of characters, who each have their own story to tell. And it’s them who tell the stories, not me. I just operate the keyboard. Every now and again, I politely suggest to them that three in the morning is not the best time to start telling me the next part of their story, but they don’t listen. And why should they? I gave them a voice. I should let them use it.