Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Text , Sound and Cultural Taboos.

Putting your head above the parapet is often proscribed by powerful cultural taboos.  This is particularly so in the regions of the English working class from where I emerge. The old childhood maxim of not ‘making a show’ of yourself or drawing attention to yourself can bite deep into quite mature  personalities.

As a child and young woman I was achingly shy, didn’t like encountering strangers or being at a crowded gathering. In those early days, not ‘making a show’ of myself suited me fine. But it seems to me now that underneath the surface self of this watchful, tongue-tied girl, a raging exhibitionist was hiding.

It was hidden well. When I first went to college I lost my voice for a week before things normalised, But the inhibitions stayed. When I first started teaching I lost my voice for two weeks. I had this very boisterous class of twelve year olds in my first school. So I had to write QUIET!! in very large letters on the board quite a few times in those two weeks. They were great kids, though.

All that time,  though,  the exhibitionist was at work - writing articles, stories, mapping novels. It was a secret  nobody knew about. Writing was a perfect medium for this shy tongue-tied girl. She could say, imagine, invent what she liked without drawing attention to herself.

But the fact is that in teaching it only works if you do draw attention to yourself. Teaching children taught me not to hide behind my shyness, to let the exhibitionist inside have her airing.  She could be funny, daring, expressive. She could be herself. The children loved her, They didn’t know you shouldn’t put your head above the parapet or make a show of yourself so it was OK. That was a comfort.l

After that  working with adults in large groups was a very big leap for this shy girl, But she’d learned in school that there was something in her that could really teach people, really do this thing,  as long as she became her other, more exhibitionist self.

Then, when the books and stories began to be published it seemed that I was not just looking over the parapet , I’d leapt onto it. But now  I had the book to protect me. Or the books. It was not really me, it was them. They were the things  ‘making the show’. The shy, embarrassed  person that is still me was only holding them.

And now we have the crazy situation of the community radio programme. This voice that repeatedly let me down in the early days is put to work, up there to be judged.  I hear my voice on the tapes and think how strange it is, how thin and nervous I sound. But I’m pleased now that I’ve learned the basics of sound editing. Editing sound means that I can nip and tuck the excesses of the reluctant voice.  Just as I nip and tuck the texts of my novels and the stories, making them their best selves, I can begin to nip and tuck my voice so its becomes its best self for the programme. Which best self it expresses, the shy girl or the exhibitionist, I’m not quite sure.

I’m loving the creativity of putting The Writing Game together, and talking to and listening to these great writers and readers. Still though, the shy girl and the exhibitionist live on in me side by side and I have to deal with them.

The learning curve continues.



  1. Hi Wendy

    I know so well what you mean when you talk about not 'making a show of yourself' - yes it was part of my cultural/class origins too, and also it strikes a chord with me for other personal reasons. I understand too how teaching and success at work force you to confront and liberate the exhibitionist inside. But is she an exhibitionist? Or is she just the best, most confident and true self we own, the self that writes books, hosts radio programmes, takes risks and puts her head above the parapet to be shot down, the self we should never apologise for- in fact the talented and inspiring Wendy Robertson self, that I know!

    Congratulations on the programme - a resounding success

    A x

  2. What a lovely, kind comment. Thank you A.



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