I have so many thoughtful comments to my last post about writers' voices that I've come back to it - I've obviously stuck a chord.
I hadn't realised that the concept of 'voice' is used across the arts - so sculptors, photographers, knitters, are all encouraged to think about what makes them distinctive - to look at the way their work reflects them and what they are trying to say. (Thank you, Mark - I never knew that.) I'd not thought of it in terms of 'voice' but I can recognise a Henry Moore or a Barbara Hepworth, a Modigliani or an Ansell Adams, and will go out of my way to see them. They have a distinctive way of expressing themselves that speaks to me - and I'm not sure I can put that into words except to say that they make me feel good; they are satisfying on a deep level (if that makes any sense).
But in writing - does this familiarity extend to writing? I take Carol's point about Dickens (thank you, Carol) - his work is instantly recognisable. But modern writers - Bring Up the Bodies and Wolf Hall could only have been written by Hilary Mantel. But Beyond Black - that's a completely different book, written in a different style and with a different use of language, with no hint of drowning in wonderful historical detail, and also written by Hilary Mantel. Crime writers have their pet detectives - but they, too, spread their writing wings from time to time. I've not read Kate Atkinson's Life after Life but understand that the contrast with her crime novels couldn't be stronger.
I'm probably thinking round in circles - I'm not sure I'm any closer to a definition than I was three weeks ago, when I decided 'voice' is something to do with the dialogue between what we are trying to say and the medium (whether that is words or paint or plaster) we use to tell it.
And then I wonder - and this might be a heretical idea so please, those of you who know better, do shout me down - maybe the concept of 'voice' is an academic construct, used to promote discussion among students and give them headaches when they have essays to write, but of limited use to anyone with a blank screen in front of them, or paintbrush in hand. What do you think?
(It's hard work, all this thinking - I think it's time to go and burn soup!)