Thursday, June 2, 2016

Beverly, Stuttering and Me

About a year ago I went to a writers' talk on social media and book promotion. A woman I've become friends with through these events was there too and I made my way over to her after the talk, as she is always, what my English friends would call good value and my Irish friends would call good craic. For the sake of this blog post, we'll call her Tallulah.

As writers do, we greeted each other with writing progress reports. Tallulah is working on a romance/whodunnit. It's shamefully flowery, she says, with a dismissive wave of her hand. And me? I'm working on a book about a woman who has a falling out with her best friend over a guy. She also happens to have a stutter.

"Oh, wow," Tallulah replies, like I have ignited her interest. I should point out here that what Tallulah doesn't know is that I have a stutter too. The reason she doesn't know this is because:

a) My stutter is very mild; it was strong when I was young but since adulthood it has faded each year so by now it's only occasionally problematic.

b) I'm what we refer to as a 'covert' stutterer (as apposed to an 'overt' stutterer). A covert stutterer can anticipate when they will come to a word they're going to get stuck on, and swap it out for another 'easier' word. Sometimes this happens smoothly and you would never know such lexical acrobatics were going on behind the eyes. Other times an alternative word can't be found quickly and a pause is in order - so there'll be some "Er.. what I mean is..." and there might even be some feigning of forgetfulness, until an appropriate word can be found.

This is why Tallulah feels free to continue along these lines:

"I went out with a guy with a stutter once. Moaned about it all the time. He was really self-pitying, you know?" She's making a painful face. "I mean, put it in perspective. It's just how you speak, right? It's not like a real problem..."

As Tallulah expanded on how this chump couldn't get himself together, I was thinking, how can I make someone with this point of view sympathise with Beverly? When she has no experience of what it's like to not be able to express herself and to constantly fear humiliation, how can I show her how that feels? She became my target audience and in subsequent edits of Beverly I carefully went through scenes trying to capture this discomfort, show Beverly's focus on her speech and its dominance over her identity.

That is why it has been hugely gratifying to receive early reviews with these comments:

"I could feel myself holding my breath with Beverly every time she struggled to say a certain word."
Go Book Yourself review...

"I was worried with the main character having a stutter that it might affect the formatting and readability of the book, but it actually flows pretty well, and allows you to get a strong sense of the character and her struggles."
Awesome Indies review...

I know Beverly will not be for everyone, of course, but it's beginning to feel like I have reached my goal, of bringing the reader into this obscure world. So thanks, book reviewers, you make it worth while for us writers. And thanks, Tallulah. I hope you have found a man of courage.