Everyone should have a vice. Mine is writing.
“It’s not a vice,” you say.
“Thank you, I could come up and kiss you for your innocent ignorance. May it last long.”
I think every vice started off like this. A harmless foray into a pleasurable activity and then isolated addiction. Writing is my opium, my LSD, my cocaine. If I don’t write I become grumpy and slightly asocial, but when I do write I distance myself from reality again. Its a Catch 22. There’s nothing that I can do that will make me stay in the present, so let me write.
I love writing. I love writing for a reason(I tell myself. Every addict has a reason). It takes me out of everyday and puts me in situations that I would never have encountered. I think it’s the same reason people act. Yet, I have never managed more than one voice in my writing. Of, course there are other characters who speak, but the style of one is more pronounced than others. For this reason alone, I admire writers who can write whole chapters in different voices and see the same thing differently from different eyes.
Andrea Levy and David Mitchell are two who I think do it beautifully. Just hear the different voices in Andrea’s fabulous novel Small Island.
Hortense (From Jamaica. Taking her first steps in London):
It brought it all back to me. Celia Langley. Celia Langley standing in front of me, her hands on her hips and her head in a cloud. And she is saying: ‘Oh, Hortense, when I am older’ (all her dreaming began with ‘when I am older’). “When I am older, Hortense, I will be leaving Jamaica and I will be going to live in England.” This is when her voice became high-class and her nose pointed into the air – well, as far as her round flat nose could – and she swayed as she brought the picture to her mind’s eye. “Hortense, in England I will have a big house with a bell at the front door and I will ring the bell.” And she make the sound, ding-a-ling, ding-a-ling. “I will ring the bell in this house when I am in England. That is what will happen to me when I am older.”
Gilbert (Hortense’s husband):
My mirror spoke to me. It said: “Man, women gonna fall at your feet.” In my uniform of blue – from the left, from the right, from behind – I looked like a god. And this uniform did not even fit me so well. But what is a little bagging on the waist and tightness under the arm when you are a gallant member of the British Royal Airforce? Put several thousand Jamaican men in uniform, coop them up while, Grand Old Duke of York style, you march them up to the top of the hill and then back down again and they will think of nothing but women. When they are up they will imagine them and when they are down they will dream of them. But not this group I travelled with to America. Not Hubert, not Fulton, not Lenval, not James, not even me. Because every last one of us was too preoccupied with food. The only flesh we conjured was the sort you chewed and swallowed.
This was war. There was hardship I was prepared for – bullet, bomb and casual death – but not for the torture of missing cow-foot stew, not for the persecution of living without curried shrimp or pepper-pot soup. I was not ready, I was not trained to eat food that was prepared in a pan of boiling water, the sole purpose of which was to rid it of taste and texture.
Queenie (their English landlady):
I was christened Victoria Buxton. My mother had wanted me to be christened Queenie but the vicar had said, “No, Mrs Buxton, I’m afraid Queenie is a common name.”
“Common!” my mother had replied. “How can it be common? It’s a queen’s name.” The vicar had then given an impromptu sermon which my mother, father and their gathered guests had to listen to as they stood round the stone font in our bleak local church. The vicar went on at length about monarchs having proper names like Edward, George, Elizabeth while everyone, dressed in their pinching church-best shoes began to shift from foot to foot and stifle yawns behind their scrubbed hands. “Take our late queen,” the vicar finally explained, “her name, Mrs Buxton, was not queen but Victoria.”
So that was how – one thundery August day in a church near Mansfield, dressed in a handed down white-starched christening gown that wouldn’t do up at the neck – I, the first born child of Wilfred and Lillie Buxton, came to be christened Victoria yet called forever Queenie.
My mother, Lillie, was an English rose. Flaxen hair, a complexion like milk with a faint pink flush at her cheeks and a nose that tipped up at the end to present the two perfect triangles of her nostrils. She was a farmer’s daughter and had hands that could clasp like a vice, arms as strong as a bear’s and hips that widened every year until even the old men on the village green agreed they were childbearing.
My father, Wilfred, was a butcher – the son of a butcher, the grandson of a butcher and the great-grandson of a butcher. Father was ten years older than Mother and not very good looking. Some said it was his good luck at courting and winning the hand of a lass who had once won a village country maid contest that left his face with that startled “You don’t say” expression.
Tell me, can’t you hear each voice singly in your head. Each sounds distinct. This is what I mean by writing. Aiming to reach there and beyond. First there, though. The vice is strong and it makes me weak. But something good can come out of this vice. So will that make it a virtue?