I am going to an Author Craft event this evening at the IOD, in London. Normally it is relaxing but today I have been volunteered to take part in one of the sessions as the subject of media training. The format is simple. In front of everyone, I am asked a difficult question. First, I answer it badly, then we go through the training steps and I return with brilliance.
My advantage over the audience is that I have been thinking about this for a couple of days and working on my answers. The second and brilliant answer is easier but trying to be bad is far more difficult. As I said to Michael Dodd, the tutor for this session, mediocrity is always far easier.
In the session, we are looking at the book, Alexandra which as you know is a collection of over 60 female sensuous fantasies pulled together by Sasha’s friend, Ukrainian psychologist, Alexandra.
A writer’s hardest task is to find the characters and the start. Then it gets easier as he can watch them get up to all sorts of mischief in his fictional playground. For me, anyway, all I have to do is watch what happens and write it down.
But with Alexandra more than half the task had been taken away. I was given all the places and the characters, and my role was to pull them together into a cohesive and entertaining story. That means giving all these women a personality and voice. This is what Michael picked up on very quickly asking the both simple yet terrifyingly difficult question: As a man, how can you write with an authentic female voice?
The first thing to say is that I have not acquired those mythical skills blessed on Mel Gibson in the film, What Women Want, where he can read women’s minds and craft perfect advertising campaigns.
When we kicked off this project there were big logistical problems but as it progressed we came to recognise the subtlety of this issue. It started when I tried to exclude a fantasy saying that a man, however much he loved her, would never do that for a woman,
My friends in Kiev reminded me that these weren’t my fantasies but a woman’s and in her fantasies a man would do exactly as he is told!
As the book took shape the voice and feelings of the character became important and there was an informal reading group of Sasha’s and Alexandra’s friends who would meet at the Carpaccio restaurant on the right bank in Kiev. They gave me feedback when I had the wrong emphasis.
It won’t be right all the time, but we are aware of this problem and have done our very best.
Over the weekend I wrote to Alexandra telling her about this event and asking for comments. Her view? Even if I had been replaced by a female writer the same problem would have arisen. Just as I can’t speak for women, so another female writer can’t speak for all women.
Finally, the proof of this collaboration will come from the readers. Women will quickly tell us if they recognise themselves and men will say if they understand the needs of their partners any better.
I doubt we have caught all my male prejudices, but we understand the problem and have done the best we can.
Thank you for staying with me as I rehearse for this evening and as always time will tell, and I will see if it is accepted by an always critical audience.
That is the thing about the media. It is not what you have done but it is how the argument is presented. But, that is why we have training!