“Read my ‘tory?” my now-grown daughter, Katie, would ask when she was little, toddling up to me with book in hand. One of her favourites was The Squirrel Twins’ Ride, a Tiny Elf book in which Chipper and Chatter board a train to see their Aunt Maria. On the way they meet various characters, including an old owl. When I read it to her, I did all the voices—Chipper’s and Chatter’s were high and fast, Old Mr. Owl’s deep and slow. When a character whispered or shouted, I whispered or shouted. If I slipped up on one of the voices, Katie would let me know.
Since we enjoy such expressive reading when we’re children, why do so many authors read to us in muffled monotone? Before I launched Silent Girl this past May, the only book readings I’d attended were torture. Performance poetry events, on the other hand, were often electrifying. I had the opportunity to see Sheri-D Wilson last year and could have listened until her voice ran out. Wanting to not bore the pants off of my audiences, I enlisted the help of my writing group before the launch of Silent Girl. I asked them which passages from various stories I should read. And I asked them to listen to me practice.
Don’t hurry through your words, they said. Don’t drop your voice at the end of a sentence. The title story includes a character called Maw-Maw. “What does she sound like to you?” Diana asked after I read from that story. Both intimidating and injured, I replied. A woman whose “flesh as spongy as dumpling dough spilled from the sleeveless arms of her dress, trembling with each plop of the spoon.” A woman with a smoker’s voice.
I got to work trying to replicate that voice. It set off a small coughing fit at my first reading, so I tempered it to protect my throat. My editor wants me to project Maw-Maw more loudly, but my friend Suzie says she finds the softer tone more sinister.
I’ve been told my words are big, but my voice is small. When I asked another woman for advice—Victoria’s petite performance poet Missie Peters who doesn’t need a microphone in the fullest of rooms—she said, “Speak from your diaphragm and your heart.” (I resisted the temptation to tell her that, at my age, I haven’t needed a diaphragm for years, but I can still find my heart.)
Anyway, right now, please listen to my ‘tory, Silent Girl. The first five minutes of it, anyway. Click on the link below. Any suggestions for how I might read it better the next time?