Finding a voice in the African bush

DSCN0589Aspirant writers are told to find their ‘voice’. One of the ways to do this, one is told, is to read widely. Discover the way other people write; find styles that resonate, ways of writing that appeal to you. Try different styles and eventually you will find your own.

Jen and I are spending a week in the dune forests on the northern shore of Lake St Lucia. I picked up a delightful book about the quirky travel experiences of a couple of intrepid wildlife explorers. Chris and Jo Meintjes met on a trip to the Amazon which culminated in a visit to the fabulous Galapagos Islands of Darwinian fame. I call it a “trip”; for you and me it would be an expedition, an adventure. For them, simply a trip, like you and I might take to the shopping mall. The book is called, The Borneo Head Hunters Cuckoo-Clock: Travails in Transit. The cuckoo-clock refers to a visit to a long hut in the middle of an Indonesian rain forest. In the night a clock struck midnight. It wasn’t an ordinary clock; there in darkest Indonesia, where human skulls, if not still harvested, are still used in decorative hanging baskets around the home, a cuckoo called the time.

Chris’s writing style appeals to me no end. He has a deliciously dry humour (without any effort) and an ability to share the bare bones of a story while enabling one to imagine all the wonders and scary bits in between. That’s my preferred style. I would love to write as he does and write about the wonderful places they have seen. There is a minor difficulty. I haven’t been anywhere. It is a bit of a disadvantage for an aspirant travel writer not to have travelled much—well, not much beyond the local mall and the coffee shops of the more secure locations of the world. Hot chocolate in Christchurch, anyone? Milkshake in Montana? Coffee in Cape Town, London, Edinburgh?

DSCN0613Having started writing so late in life, I have the disadvantage of trying to catch up. To travel enough, to read enough, to experience enough, to have enough to write about. To have lived a safe, secluded, boring life has its advantages, such as arriving alive at the end of it, but not when you want to plumb its depths for writing material. Fiction writers have an advantage here. They can travel in their minds, experience places vicariously, and write great stories set in places they have never visited. For now at least I’m not drawn to fiction; I don’t have a story in me.

DSCN0676At least I can say that I read Chris Meintjes’ stories of ‘travails in transit’ while sitting in the middle of the African bush with, for the most part, no other human in sight. But that’s about as wild as it gets. Other humans did wander down the boardwalk to the main lodge with its bar, TV lounge and restaurant. We could also hear guests by the swimming pool 100 metres or so below us. But for the rest we were ensconced in a delightful thatched cabin with views into and over the surrounding bush with Lake St Lucia in the far distance. The lake is not meant to be in the far distance. The end of the jetty was just a few hundred metres below us but the drought is so severe that the lake is a strip of blue on the far horizon with dry sand between us. There is an abandoned boat wedged in the sand. It’s been there since 2004, with the additional insult of grass growing around it.

Perhaps the boat is a metaphor for writing.  But I’ll leave that to you.


Filed under General Writing, Odds & Ends

5 responses to “Finding a voice in the African bush

  1. Finding a voice is more difficult than it sounds. When I wrote my first unpublished novel, I unconsciously tried to emulate my favorite writers. It took several rounds of editing before I discovered what was ‘off’ about it – I finally noticed the parts of the book where I broke away from the authors I aspired to be like. Those were the only parts that felt right to me. I guess my point is, just write how you would write a letter to a friend and you’ll find your voice. (I’m speaking from a fiction perspective, so this may mean absolutely nothing – except wasted space on your blog – when it comes to non-fiction.)

    Good luck finding your voice – if it’s anything like this post, you’ll do just fine!


  2. Thanks Crystal,
    You are very kind. Jen would say “NO!” But she writes the most beautiful letters to the children in her class each year (first grade) focusing on their strengths and especially for the little acts of kindness that they have shown towards other children (Jen keeps a notebook for the purpose). She is an encourager of note!
    Take care.


  3. Crystal

    It’s all in the perspective. Your ‘safe,’ local vacation sounded far away and exotic to me. 🙂
    I relate very well to your thoughts about writing. I am also just stepping out into this area and have little interest in fiction. My radar is always scanning other’s writings for content and style inspiration.
    May I say that even if your writing is in its developing stages (and really, shouldn’t it always be?), it is very good?
    Terrible thing for a blogger to say, but I haven’t come across very many blogs that I consistently enjoy reading…yours, however, is one of those.
    It sounded like you both packed in writing supplies to your hut…does your lovely Jen write too?


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