A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
When I was a teenager, I went on a creative writing course. One of the exercises we were given was to write a short story, and when we came to read them out it emerged that while the rest of the group had written thoughtful, emotionally connected meditations on life, I had written a story about a man who turned into a mouse. I locked myself into the bathroom and sobbed. I realised that I could never become a real, serious writer because I was simply not interested in the right sorts of things. I made stupid jokes. I put murders in everything, usually quite inappropriately. Most of my main characters were children. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just grow up?
Ten years later, I’m so glad I didn’t. The important lesson I’ve learned since that writing course fiasco is it’s fine to be interested in children and murder. I’m always going to want to write that kind of book, and that’s totally valid.
Just like everything, voice is partly learned. You can listen, and read, and experiment, and by putting in the work you will become a better and better writer. But (just like everything) voice is also partly innate. It’s you, on a page, and so a huge part of finding your voice is learning to trust yourself. There are certain things that just interest you, and certain things that just don’t.
For all an author can write about lots of different subjects, everyone has an underlying style that’s as subtly unique as their fingerprints. To an extent, I don’t think that there’s really even a ‘decision’ to make about whether you write dark, or funny, or YA or MG. It’s just what comes out when you begin putting words on the page. Whatever I try to do, there are certain themes and ideas that seem to turn up into my writing again and again. There will be a murder and a mystery surrounding it. There will be a large, nutty family (or large family substitute, like the boarding school culture in Murder Most Unladylike). There will be an attractive young uncle. There will probably be a dog. I’ve learned that there’s not really any point fighting it.
If I try to write a book without jokes, everything takes on the air of bad melodrama. If I try to write a gentle romance (I did this once) a dead body will pop up in the middle of it like a jack-in-the-box. Whenever I try to write YA, I end up just writing middle-grade fiction. I’ve spoken to YA writers who tell me that they have the opposite problem – every MG they write ends up YA. But that’s fine. We need MG and YA and picture books and books that make you laugh and books that make you cry and books about dragons and books about cancer and books about sheep and Italy and 1066. I can’t write them all – no author can. So be grateful that you’re not the only author in the world and get on with doing what you want to do.
It’s important to remember that there isn’t one type of literature that’s better than the others. Certain books are better than certain other books, but that’s where it ends. You can always get better at doing what you do, so it’s important never to stop listening to your readers, but it’s also important to write what interests you, instead of what you think you should write. If you want to write it, then it deserves to be written, and if you enjoy writing it then someone will most likely enjoy reading it. So don’t worry about looking for your voice. You’ve already got it. You just need to sit down and put it on a page.