Across the Silent Sea – finding my voice

Across the Silent Sea, Gabrielle Barnby, book launch, Kirkwall, Orkney, Hurrah! The book has been launched with tea and scones. It was a sultry afternoon, but folk fought through the humid Orcadian air and assembled in the MacGillivray Room to listen to some readings from Across the Silent Sea.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Sara Bailey who hosted the even for asking such interesting questions about the writing of the book.

She observed that I seemed to have really found my ‘voice’ in this novel. It struck me as interesting to hear this from who knows me and has seen my writing develop. Perhaps this is the novel I ‘needed’ to write, and would have written one way or the other regardless of the things I label as ‘inspirational’. Do we end up writing the things that we need to write? Are they simply things that need to out?

I’m not sure. There is all the effort of crafting, all the research, all the discarded lonely ideas, all the dead ends and deleted sentences, so it seems utterly defeating to say, well I was going to write this anyway, no matter what. Perhaps I am being too dogmatic. Perhaps it is not so much about the exact words or narrative structure, or even character that acts as a mouthpiece (or not in Esther’s case – read the novel to know more) but about the core of an idea that forces itself to be examined and fully imagined.

I think of Esther as a forceful character, she certainly is complex and determined and did not always play ball with what I thought was going to happen in the narrative. Behind her though there is a deeper idea, so deep it took me back hundreds of years to the parallels of the witch craft trials in Orkney (there were more here than Pendle) where women were not permitted to speak in legal proceedings. This silencing, mediated through institutions and accepted by the community was one of deep violence. To not speak for oneself, even in mortal jeopardy seems an ancient and grim position.

And yet. The voiceless remain legion in society, and violence both brutal and subtle continues. Perhaps that is the story behind the writing of the story. It was a great observation, and one I will continue to think about.


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Gabrielle Barnby