A way with words Karyn Hay

KARYN HAY writes about her pur­suit of the per­fect word and the suf­fer­ing that went into her new novel.

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The wind does not whis­tle around the Michael King Writ­ers’ Cen­tre on Mt Vic­to­ria in Devon­port. Whistling is cre­ated around build­ings where there are small spa­ces for the wind to travel through at speed: gaps, holes in the walls, that sort of thing.

Be­sides that, the wind hasn’t got time for whistling tonight. It has far more im­por­tant busi­ness to do: it’s on its way to throw boats up onto rocks and rip branches off trees.

Although it might be sim­ple to write “the wind whis­tles”, when I stop to lis­ten, it’s quite ob­vi­ous that it doesn’t. And, for me, that’s pre­cisely what writ­ing is about. Choos­ing the right word.

Some­times, if you wait for a bit, the word will find you. It’ll just ap­pear, ta-dah! It’s a won­der­ful game and one I never tire of, be­cause it’s easy (un­like other sports, most of which I’m use­less at).

If some­one asked me to name one book I would take to a desert is­land, it would be the dic­tionary – the Ox­ford, as I’m a dic­tionary snob with a dis­tinct Bri­tish bias. But, some­times, even the Ox­ford is an­noy­ing; it’s too pedan­tic, and I like to play a lit­tle loose with words.

How­ever, I don’t think it’s wise try­ing to be too clever and have read­ers feel in­ad­e­quate be­cause they don’t know what the word you’ve cho­sen means (and you didn’t ei­ther, be­fore you looked it up).

Although a per­son’s writ­ing is ob­vi­ously an ex­ten­sion of them­selves, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily a re­flec­tion. I think a lot of peo­ple make the mis­take of think­ing that fic­tion writ­ers write from truth. We are skilled liars more than any­thing; fab­ri­ca­tors and twisters of re­al­ity.

My new novel, Winged Hel­met, White Horse, is about il­lu­sion and who’s re­ally pulling the strings. It’s been a long time in the mak­ing, hav­ing sat on a shelf like an un­fin­ished piece of knit­ting, slowly go­ing out of fash­ion. I de­cided to pick it up and com­plete it this year and it nearly killed me.

Hav­ing re­cently moved house, the box with my lap­top stand in it (I’m usu­ally very er­gonom­i­cally re­spon­si­ble) mis­tak­enly ended up in stor­age, so I sat – cor­rec­tion: lay – for hours scrunched up on the bed in the worst pos­si­ble po­si­tion for writ­ing, with noth­ing mov­ing ex­cept my fingers and wrists. Un­for­tu­nately, I now have RSI. Ten­nis el­bow, if I’m be­ing less dra­matic. My cav­a­lier self thinks it’s a small price to pay, but my sen­si­ble self is ac­tively seek­ing to put it right be­cause, as a writer, you do not want to have RSI.

Now, as I’m fix­ing my RSI and start­ing work on a new project, the book that was at the back of my mind for so long is on book­store shelves, al­beit in a dif­fer­ent form. It’s a won­der­ful sense of sat­is­fac­tion to know it’s com­plete.

Broad­caster-writer Karyn Hay’s third novel, Winged Hel­met, White Horse, is de­scribed as “a darkly comic psy­cho­log­i­cal drama”, which is set in con­tem­po­rary Lon­don. It is out now.

Un­for­tu­nately, I now have RSI. My cav­a­lier self thinks it’s a small price to pay, but my sen­si­ble self is ac­tively seek­ing to put it right.

A sense of sat­is­fac­tion: Karyn Hay.

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