Voice, Voices, Voiceless ~ Outside the Margins with KJ Charles

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I started singing lessons recently. This is not, as you might think, because I am a talented amateur looking to refine my skills. Far, far from it. Suffice to say, when we had school end of term concerts, I always gave out the programmes. My own children asked me to stop singing to them.

All my life I’ve wanted to be able to sing, and I really can’t. I can’t even join a pub singalong or a choir concert without cringing at my own awfulness and inadequacy. But my friend the speech therapist insists that anyone can be taught to sing, and I really wanted to, and we only have so much time on the planet, so I went for a sample lesson.

‘Could you teach me to sing, you know, a bit?’ I asked.

‘Oh, yes, of course,’ the teacher said with jawdropping assurance. ‘No question I can teach you to sing. What I can’t do is give you any voice you want. If there’s a voice you have in your head, a soaring soprano or Ella Fitzgerald or whatever, I can’t do that. But I can teach you to make the most of the voice you have.’

And he is. I’ve learned that the reason my voice sounds basically like a funeral march while singing Happy Birthday is it’s extremely ‘dark’ by nature (due in part to my habitual scowl) and I’ve learned to lighten it. I’ve learned that singing is trained muscle movements, not magic: it’s about breathing, and mouth position. (My teacher describes singing as ‘refined screaming while yawning’ which, as I observed on Twitter, makes it exactly like my last job.) I’ve learned that, while I have the voice I have, it’s possible to train it and extend its range.

I’ve learned that a big part of the reason my voice sounded awful was that I was scared to use it. The nature of singing is open spaces in your mouth; if you’re so afraid of getting a sound wrong that you clamp your lips together and barely breathe, then the noise you make will indeed be as wrong as it gets. Self-fulfilling prophecy. My teacher gets me to raise my brows and open my mouth wide and plaster on a smile (while facing a mirror) and it looks ridiculous but the difference in sound is incredible.

I’ve learned to sing. My kids listened to me the other day, looked at each other, and agreed with some amazement, “That sounded proper.” I nearly cried.

One of the things editors talk a lot about is ‘voice’. It’s a hard thing to define, of course. (Let’s say, if you were going to write a parody of an author, their voice = the things you’d pick on to make your parody recognisable.) If you haven’t found your voice your writing may well be featureless, stilted, or clunky. If you’re desperately trying to achieve someone else’s voice because you wish you could write like them, it will be strained or derivative because it’s not your voice.

And if you keep your mouth tight and your scowl on because you don’t want to look ridiculous, or get it wrong, or you’re afraid, you won’t have a voice at all. That applies whether you are singing or speaking or writing, whether your writing is the lushest romance or the toughest review or a blog post you weren’t sure how to begin. Take a deep breath and go for it. Don’t silence yourself, because the world is already full of people who can do that for you.

We-All-Need-Stories-badge-300x300Queer Romance Month is going on at the moment. The theme this year is We All Need Stories, and I keep seeing the same principles coming up: how to tell the stories we want and need. Find the story you want to tell. Write the story you want to read. You have to work, yes: research, train your voice, do it properly. That’s not negotiable, and believe me, all those people who seem to be doing it effortlessly aren’t. But go for it. (Authors might want to read this post and this one and this one.)

Queer Romance Month is about giving people a space to sing out and an audience who want to listen. It’s about encouraging authors and readers to broaden their range, train their ears and their voices, sing different stories and sing them better. It’s a choir, and I’m proud to be part of it. Come and sing with us.


~KJ Charles


Title: The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh
Author: KJ Charles
Publisher: Loveswept
Publication Date: 10/27/2015
Cover Artist:
Genre: Historical


The youngest son and the blackest sheep in his family, Lord Gabriel Ashleigh never imagined he could sink so low. Though he’s a notoriously bad gambler, he takes on the formidable but strangely alluring Francis Webster, only to lose everything: all his money, the lovely estate he inherited from his aunt, and any hope of future happiness. So it’s a shock when Webster summons him to a private game for a chance to win back his possessions. The stake? If he fails, Ash must surrender his body.

Francis has been waiting years for this moment. At Eton, Ash’s elder brother harassed him relentlessly. Now, consumed by lust and rage, Francis is only too happy to exploit Ash’s foolish indiscretions. But as Francis strips the magnificently built youth—first of his family assets, then his clothes—he begins to wonder whether he’s been plotting revenge . . . or exquisite seduction.

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Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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7 thoughts on “Voice, Voices, Voiceless ~ Outside the Margins with KJ Charles

  1. I love this post so hard! Because you’re right – singing is a learned skill, like playing guitar or playing rugby. I’m glad you’re having fun with your lessons!

  2. I joined a Gospel choir ten years ago because I had an instinct that finding my singing voice and standing up and using it in front of audiences might help me feel more comfortable doing speaking events and teaching, and it so did!

  3. Liking the sound of the new book – mainly because Francis Webster is a name in the our family tree (and is actually 2/3 of my sons names!!). Definitely one to get

  4. Thank you for the post! I am a terrible singer…in fact when I was a kid I was sent to speech therapy because the school powers-at-be thought my voice was “wrong.” My voice never did “improve,” but I have learned it is good to use it regardless. 🙂

  5. Great post!

    Like you I had always wanted to sing, but never dared to properly use my voice. I went to audition for a local choir hoping that I could sing well enough to join, even though it was difficult for me to sing out even in a room by myself to rehearse. Have been a happy member for five years now, and I’ve learned so much about singing and singing techniques. It also makes me believe that everyone can learn to sing.

    Funnily enough the most common reaction I get when I tell someone I sing in a choir is for the person to emphatically state that they absolutely cannot sing at all. I think many people are afraid to use their voices, like I was, and to learn to sing you have to go through what you describe, open up, and not hold back in a way that tightens the wrong muscles in your throat. Which is too bad, because lots of studies show positive health benefits from singing in a choir. I’ve found that no music moves me more than a cappella singing. And there is so much beauty to be found in all the different kinds of voices. It amazes me how unique every persons singing voice is and how they’re each beautiful in their own way. I love that singing in a choir have given me the chance to experience that. And to discover that I too have a singing voice.

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