No, it’s not a spelling error. It’s a DELIBERATE VERB, I tell you. Because it does.
The clink of teacups, the wind in the trees, the scrape and clash of sword blades. A book without them would be like a silent movie, but without even the piano soundtrack. The thing is, though, I want to hear them in my head, evoked by words. Books! Don’t SHOUT at me!
I’m a big fan of ebooks (despite the fabulous rudeness of their advocate Terry Deary on Woman’s Hour today, Friday). I’m a bigger fan of paper books but I DO like ebooks. And I can see the potential for added value, extra features, fun quirks… but in the case of sound effects, I’m unreconstructed. I fling up my hands in maidenly horror.
There’s this proposal, as you may have heard, to add the genteel tinkle of porcelain to Jane Austen novels. And a rumour that Salman Rushdie plans to have sound effects included in his ebooks. The trouble is, it strikes me as the aural equivalent of the author casting the story’s characters for you, and having actors play it out on the page.
Not, of course, that I don’t cast my books. It’s half the fun. I can’t begin to detail the happy hours I’ve spent googling photos of Alexander Skarsgard, Billy Crudup, David Tennant and Gabriel Byrne. And, of course, Christina Ricci, Halle Berry and Christy Turlington. And it’s sometimes nice to know who the author had in mind (assuming it was anybody). But I don’t want another author’s choice there, on the page, acting it out in front of me, because I think half the fun of other people’s books, too, is casting them yourself.
I’m always intrigued to know who people visualise (if anyone) when they read my books. I may not agree. I may inwardly shout ‘Seth does NOT look like David Boreanaz!’ But if somebody sees him that way, that is fine, that is fun, that is the whole point of reading a book instead of watching a movie.
The same goes for sound. I bet my thunderstorm sounds a bit different from yours, and I bet the murmur of the women in my tea shop (so to speak) isn’t quite the same either. I want to hear it through the words. In my latest manuscript I’m quite pleased with my description of a herd of bullocks stampeding across a field. I don’t want to take a microphone up the road and record the nearest herd and embed it in the book. I hope the reader will be able to hear it anyway.
I know book covers have been imposing their images of characters on us since the year dot, but I dunno, I think those are somehow ignore-able. You can put them out of your head as soon as you turn to page one. I don’t think I could do that if the book was actually shouting at me. And don’t get me started on the scratch-n-sniff possibilities.
Sound, smell, vision, whatever. I just think it’s what the words are for.