A big welcome to my guest, Melissa Barker-Simpson. Check out her blog by clicking on the name. Now off to the fun:
It goes without saying that writers are observant by nature, though this varies in terms of conscious awareness. I have a friend who takes in every detail of their surroundings. If asked a question, he can describe in detail the colour, texture, and mood of the environment. The kind of skills which, I imagine, would make a good detective – he doesn’t miss a trick!
I, on the other hand, observe in a less subtle way. It’s an unconscious awareness and, truth be told, I’m prone to daydreaming my way through a given situation. Unless I’m working, and I’ll get to that in a minute. What I rarely miss, is body language, tone, or even facial expression. I’m sensitive to how people communicate and interact with one another – the meaning they wish to convey.
This is, in part, because my second language is British Sign Language (BSL). This post isn’t about the language itself, though it’s worth mentioning that BSL has its own syntax and grammar. It is a complex, rich, visual language, which has an entirely different structure to English. For me, it’s poetry in motion and, even after over twenty years of exposure, I never fail to see the beauty.
The language influences me in a variety of ways; the way I process information, the way I see the world, and even my ability to tell a story. Being a visual, spatial language, BSL utilises the whole body in order to build a picture. This includes facial expression, which is used to show emotion, add emphasis, intent, and meaning.
Often, I find myself signing when it’s not completely necessary, because it comes naturally; it’s an unconscious part of my everyday life. If I forget a word (which happens more often than I would like), I can always recall the sign. This is due to the visual nature of the word, which ultimately kicks in. I’m sure you know how it feels to have a word on the tip of your tongue. You can see it; in fact, you can practically taste it – you just can’t vocalise it! At those times it’s great to have another way to express the point you’re trying to make, though, granted, if you’re with someone who doesn’t understand the language…well, let’s just say, it can get a little awkward! Not only are you stumbling over a word like someone in the midst of a brain freeze, you’re also flapping like a fool and adding insult to injury.
But, all joking aside. In addition to everything BSL has taught me about reading people, being an interpreter has also proved beneficial when it comes to my writing life. I get to work in a variety of settings, with professionals who, luckily, don’t mind talking about their job. I’ve got the nosey side of being a writer down pat, and I don’t mind asking questions. I’ve been behind the scenes in theatres, cinemas, conferences, and concerts; inside a variety of courts, police stations, hospitals and educational establishments. It’s never boring!
I’ve also met a diverse number of people, some who stay with me and undoubtedly lend their experiences to the characters in my head. I’m inspired on a daily basis and the relationships I form, the situations I find myself in – they all find their way into my stories.