My voice(s)

Beat The Dust invited submissions for their latest literary experiment. They asked for pieces of 500 words or less, taking as the start point an end line you thought good.

I took my line from Jenni Fagan’s excellent novel The Panopticon and wrote “Again”.

It struck me how the voice I used was at once my own voice, and not my voice. It’s how I speak, sometimes. It’s not how I speak usually. It is my voice. It’s in my head. It feels comfortable, natural. It’s not how my mum sounds, but my dad and brothers do. When I go home, back to where I was raised, that voice, a blending of Essex and East London, a sweary shorthand, feels very usual. Now it’s published, and I read it back, I feel awkward in case someone thinks it’s a patronising kind of mimicry. If you meet me now I probably won’t sound like that. If we have a few drinks in the pub I may well do. (I won’t ever say “nothink” though, I hate that erroneous “k”). My dad is originally from Ireland. He speaks with a British Essex accent but if he meets up with his family his Irish accent reappears. When I was young it sounded like another language. It’s interesting, is it a fake accent or is it his voice?

Seeing as how it’s a piece of fiction anyway it shouldn’t make any odds. But it does, to me. Hence this post.

I really appreciate the work Melissa Mann does with BTD. I like how she invites us to play and stretch and keep on pushing our words. It’s an interesting journal. Oh, and I LOVED choosing my five fave intros. There would be a different five today probably.

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

A novel that leaves me ignoring everything I’m meant to be doing, in favour of compulsively reading on, is a rare treat; The Panopticon is one of those novels. I became utterly absorbed in the world of feisty and smart Anais Hendricks. She’s 15, has never known her parents, and assumes she’s been created by the shadowy “Experiment” who she feels watching her at all times. The book opens with her arrival at the titular Panopticon – a young offenders institute, one step away from prison. Anais is accused of assaulting a police officer who is now in a coma. She doesn’t think she’s guilty – despite the blood on her school uniform and the memory loss caused by her drugs binge. Shown to be more than capable of violence and cruelty, nonetheless Anais is a character with her own moral code, and someone we root for. Trapped in a care system that has proved to be anything but, her reliance on alcohol, sex, and drugs to help blur reality makes absolute sense. Fagan’s prose, somewhat inevitably, reminds me of Irvine Welsh with its depiction of Scottish youth painted in vital, realistic language. Various story strands emerge as Anais forges intense friendships with her fellow inmates, texts her jailed boyfriend, ponders her birth mother’s identity whilst mourning her adopted mother’s murder, as well as outwitting authority. She has a lot to contend with (I’m barely scratching the surface here) and we get to see her many complex layers and understand and empathise with her.
The heart of the novel is a depiction of a society that not only demonises children in care but dehumanises them as well. It’s a thought provoking debut by an exciting writer. 

Available to buy here, and of course, elsewhere.

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