"I hid for a while, a satisfied Gollum, behind my precious pen."
Writer and erstwhile actress Eloise Williams has always hated the sound of her voice. She has gone out of her way to hide it, choosing a literary career where she thought she was safe...
A funny, lovely piece about learning how to make people listen, however you sound.
Eloise used to be an actress but she’s alright now. Leaving behind the scars of her appearance as part of a fence at the Minack in Cornwall (where everyone skinny-dipped and she wore pants and vest). Eloise has moved as far West in West Wales as it is possible to be. Ensconced in Pembrokeshire, she studied for an MA in Creative and Media Writing at Swansea University and this time she got a 'D' for Distinction, instead of the 'D's she was more accustomed to at school.
Now holed up in the teeniest, tiniest cottage by the sea that she could find, Eloise lives with her long-suffering artist husband and her loyal (when-on-a-lead) dog, Watson Jones. Eloise’s life is made up of writing, salt and strange vowel sounds. She collects sea glass, sagely pretends to know about the tides and accidentally sings Welsh songs out loud on the beach. GASLIGHT her second novel for young people fought off some seriously strong competition to be named Wales Arts Review - Young People’s Book of the Year 2017.
I have a terrible voice.
I’ve always known it.
From my first ‘goo gah’ as a baby to the moment these words exit my mouth.
I’ve always been crippled by shyness and social anxiety.
When I was a child I was afraid of the dark, school. Monday mornings, the theme tune to ‘Last of the Summer wine’, everything. When I was an adult I was even more afraid.
Of saying the wrong thing, of people not liking me, of having a voice.
I went to Drama College eventually to find some confidence, to hide behind dramatized versions of people who only said witty, erudite, applaudable things.
It reinforced just how bad my voice was.
‘There’s always one…’ the teacher said. Shaking head. Disapproving looks. ‘Nasal. Awful. Do you want to play character parts your entire life?’
Clam up. I said to myself. Shut up. Stop. I know - smile instead.
‘Some people hide insecurity behind a smile.’ the teacher said.
Caught out. I wasn’t even safe inside my head anymore. He could see right through me as if I was a pane of glass. As if I was invisible. As if I was never really there at all.
So, I found another way to speak. A more private way. Through my writing. Through this I could release all the thoughts I couldn’t say. Spin words in different colours. Say outrageous things, funny things, things, things, things, all the things.
I hid there for a while, a satisfied Gollum, behind my precious pen.
Until I found that authors are expected to read their work to people. To share it with the people they write for. Even worse to talk about it and the inspirations behind it. To give opinions, discuss, and my most dreaded word - chat.
So, I’ve had to accept my terrible voice as I’ve had to accept my sticky-out ears and my ever-growing nose. I had to use my voice and think about the words I was saying rather than the voice that was saying them.
I’m forty-six now. Years of insecurity and worry behind me. Swathes of silence. Thoughts never shared. Friends never made. Opportunities missed.
I have a lot of speaking to catch up on. And I practise this through public readings of my books. Through chatting to the young people I write for, who are always interested in what I’m saying and have never once criticised me for the voice with which I say it.
I’m not complaining. My life has made me able to write and imagine and feel, and for that I’m eternally grateful. But gone are the silent years and now that I am much more of a speak up kind of woman I can help others who have debilitating shyness and that makes me happier than almost anything else.
I still have the heart palpitations when I’m called on to speak. I still doubt what I’m saying. I still panic when I have to give an opinion. But I’m honest about it and with honesty comes connection and kindness. Friendships, relationships and honesty from others.
‘I’ll say what I like.’ A young colleague said to me recently. ‘I’ll say what I like.’
And I thought. Well there’s a thing…