At a recent reading an audience member asked me about writing from a female perspective (the last novel, in both first- and third-person, is narrated by a woman), something I’ve not really spoken about. At the time, in the planning stage, I’d thought it no different to trying to capture any other voice – a child’s, an old man’s, someone from a different culture. But I think, looking back, it presented some interesting and unique challenges.
So, how did I come to choose this voice, that of a 40-year-old woman? The genesis of my fiction, at least the longer version, tends to come from an event, or at least a concept that fascinates me, and, I hope, the reader. This could be something seen on the News, or an experience closer to home, which immediately becomes the fulcrum the story turns on. And having taken this starting point, by definition I needed a woman to narrate and so I set about looking for one. I’d heard of writers who ‘do the opposite sex well’, and also read books that, for me, didn’t capture the narrator’s essence, but it wasn’t as if I had a choice really.
So how did I approach it? There are certain scenes and themes in the novel that, by dint of my gender, I literally could not experience, and so much time was spent in conversation with female friends, trying to tease out the intricacies, the nuances of these – much like researching anything else I suppose. But this doesn’t give you voice – that crucial element that allows resonance and verisimilitude to flourish, sweeping the reader up into the narrative so they forget they’re reading, forget it’s fiction. This is something far more nebulous.
And the honest response to this: I’m not entirely sure. My best guess would be two factors. Firstly, reading a lot of (believable) female narrators; and secondly, and perhaps more crucially, having had a good few extraordinary female friends who’ve influenced my life significantly, their qualities, their sensibilities and peculiarities resounding through my composition.
Looking back, though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, it feels like a huge gamble, (then, writing any novel is), but I believe (and fortunately my agent agrees) I’ve captured Anna’s voice. She is real.
So, which male writers do you think do women well/badly, and vice versa? Or perhaps I’m making too much of this: characters are characters, are they not?