Yesterday I happened to hear one of my favourite authors, Tracy Chevalier, on BBC Radio 3. She was the guest on a programme called Private Passions, which is a bit similar to Desert Island Discs. A famous person discusses their life, and chooses a selection of music that has been significant to them in some way.
I learnt a lot about Tracy Chevalier during the show. She spoke about her most recent novel, Remarkable Creatures, based on the true story of fossil hunter Mary Anning. Tracy compared the process of hunting for fossils to that of writing - slowing yourself down into the right mental state, until you can pick out the things you are searching for. I also learnt that Tracy played clarinet from the age of eight, back home in Washington where she grew up. For a time she was even a member of the D.C Youth Orchestra. The thing I found most interesting was that she described how, in almost every novel she writes, she has a female character with a "woody, clear, straightforward sound", like a clarinet. This 'clarinet character' is always the one most like Tracy herself - the one whose voice is most akin to her own.
Tracy's musical choices played during the programme included Schubert, Brahms, Bernstein, and Talking Heads. If you want to hear the programme in full, it is available on the BBC iPlayer until next Sunday morning at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00t6ttk - there are a few moments of talking before it actually starts, but just let it run and you will find yourself at the correct place. If you are outside the U.K I'm unsure whether this link will work, but I think there is still some process that does allow you to listen. It's well worth investigating!
By coincidence, soon after hearing this programme, I read an excellent blog post called How Writers Found Their Voice: Real Examples, by Margo Berendsen at Writing at High Altitude. I won't try to summarise it, as Margo has already covered the subject so well that you're better off reading it for yourself. There are lots of links to other writers' ideas about what voice is and what we can do to develop it.
My own opinion is that we only find our voice by writing lots. The more we write, the closer we get to arriving at that distinctive feel that makes our work our own. As I commented on Margo's blog, the stories that do well for me are usually the ones that I write totally as myself - not aiming to please or impress. Often they are also the ones most rooted in my own memories, or in my experience of working in mental health. Voice is such an elusive thing, and hard to define, but sometimes I know I am getting near to it even if I am not quite there yet. For me, discovering that voice is one of the joys of writing.