Do you hear voices? I don’t mean paranoia or schizophrenia, or a whispering in your heard when you’re alone. Or imaginary sounds from the late, lamented shop in Oxford Street. When you read a book or a magazine, do you skim the words in silence or do you hear someone reading them to you?
I wondered this after someone asked me if there’d be a talking book of Homeward Bound. (There is an eBook but a talking book’s not anticipated at the moment.) But it started me wondering. Do I imagine a voice when I read, giving them accents and mannerisms? And are they different from the non-speech narrative?
I was reading something written by Stephen Fry and I know I put it in his voice and with his intonation. The same for newspaper columns by Piers Morgan and Jeremy Clarkson and a Twitter message from Danny Baker. Is that just me or does everyone? So whose voice do I hear when I read back my novel? Mine? Bill Nighy, who people have suggested should play George in a film version? Or Phil Daniels, the voice I always default to when I want a voice of the people?
I know that in writing these sentences, I’m speaking them to myself, rising and falling as the sentence progresses, lifting it if I pose a question and falling as the full stop approaches. And I assume it’s my own voice. I also read out loud what I’ve written as it seems to help, though it does get funny looks when I do it on the top deck of a bus.
Thinking of funny looks – when I wrote about the ones I get on buses, did you visualise expressions people give me? Did it make you think of things you’ve done that resulted in a reaction you weren’t expecting? Does description is a novel lead you to picture it in your head? In Homeward Bound, George has a room full of records. Would you imagine a room in your house filled with shelves and create your own geography of where the door is, where the light is coming from? Does light creep in from the windows or is it a lit by a single pendant light – perhaps a naked bulb . . . or does it have a shade?
I suppose I ask all this as – having been a film maker – the Director, the art department and the cast all have to bring descriptions to life for the camera. Maybe that’s why some film adaptations don’t work, each viewer having already designed the set and cast it in their head.
So back to my original question – when you read, do you hear voices?
Richard’s novel Homeward Bound is out now, at good bookshops and online