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.
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.