I know some of you may well be fretting about whether you have a truly unique and individual ‘voice’. Maybe an agent has knocked you back saying that your voice isn’t distinctive enough. Some authors undoubtedly do have strong and recognisable voices – but before you imagine that their idiosyncratic style is a gift that is somehow innate, please think again. They have to work at it, and if you were to look at their development from pimply teen to mega-selling author you would see that their writing will (like yours) have ‘come a long way’.
Plenty of successful books don’t have a unique or idiosyncratic voice and sell very well indeed. However, I think it’s fair to say that in order to be a bestseller that stands the test of time you need to have all your ducks in a row: strong and original characters, a compelling story – and a ‘voice’ that is very much your own.
If any of you have been watching the talent show, The Voice, on telly, you will know that there’s an easy correlation to be made. Some singers manage to make cover versions their own, while others can’t raise themselves above the karaoke or wedding singer bar. Some sound like yet another Rihanna, while others have something boldly different to offer. It is really, really hard for artists, whether they’re writers or singers, to come up with something unique and memorable. You only have to listen to Madonna’s very first record, which the producer, worried that she didn’t have enough that was distinctive in her tone, sped up so that her voice had that tinny, piping quality we know so well. (In later records, they felt confident enough to let her be herself and the voice is notably deeper.) Similarly, the Abba girls didn’t have ‘unique’ voices – the sound became distinctive only after Bjorn had layered their voices.
Suffice to say that those authors who do have a distinctive voice (eg. Elmore Leonard, Irving Welch) have gone the extra mile, spending many hours crafting their style to lose any trace of sameyness. It’s a lot of hard graft, not some hand of god miracle.