Virginia Woolf asserted that for a woman to create fiction she needed a room of her own and an income of £500 per year. This would allow her the freedom to write what she wanted, what lived in her heart and her mind, in spite of society’s consideration that the products of these were largely irrelevant. This seemed an impossible dream for most women who could not carve out a physical space of their own in which to create nor expect the comfort of an income that would keep body and mind working while the act of creation took place. By contrast the Bronte sisters took to writing in order to save themselves from a poverty threatened by their father’s illness and their brother’s wayward nature.
So why did they succeed where other, more privileged women did not?
Last year I was fortunate enough to create a room of my own. It is my office, reading space and recording studio nestled into the bottom of my garden. From here I can see the house I share with my husband and children but I am separated from it. As a voiceover and actor it allows me space to work while also allowing me to lock the door and leave work, something many home workers don’t have. It was something I didn’t have for the first few years of freelance home working. During that time I recorded in my wardrobe, the doors opened and the clothes used to baffle the sound while a couple of screens created a makeshift booth. This worked pretty well as long as the neighbours didn’t mow their lawns, the dogs didn’t bark, the planes hung silently in the sky, the cars paused on their journey around the bend in the road, the local children played soundlessly in their gardens and my own family held their breath.
There was something a little romantic about it, the creation of my own private Narnia in the land of War-drobe, where I had the chance to create vocal magic and where my desire to work in this industry was tested. That time was full of dreams and questions. Did I want to be a voiceover? Could I make it work? Would I find work? What would be my ideal recording space? Could this be a way to create a business that allowed me still to be fully connected to my children’s lives? Would I ever work out all the technical stuff?
I stumbled and made mistakes. I spent one frustrating two hour recording session where the playback sounded as if I was at the bottom of a well. First it was the error of not switching away from the laptop’s internal microphone and then accidentally hitting the -10dB button on the condenser microphone, mistakes I haven’t made since, though I still make plenty of others. It was a voyage into the unknown, a modern middle class hero’s journey. I learned and I challenged myself to keep going, when my middle aged mind and body wondered if a more comfortable form of torture wouldn’t be easier. I reached out for help and found a supportive community in The Voiceover Network, a generous and kind group of people I am privileged to call friends and colleagues.
It wasn’t easy. I had been in a senior position in an investment bank. The role brought with it automatic authority, status and salary that were hard won and hard to give up. But now I have the chance to create something new, something of my own, something made of love. Because it has been a labour of love and continues to be so. Not a romantic love that lives in fairy tales or on the front of Valentine cards but the one that keeps you moving when every cell wants to give up and lie down. The love that drags me out of bed with flu to care for my child, the love that drives me to overcome my assumptions about myself and how my life “should” be, the love that makes me take responsibility for the life I make for myself and my family. This love looks a lot like duty and service.
There are aspects of this that also seem selfish, based on what I want and how I want to live. But I am the guide to two young people and I want my children to learn to care for themselves as well as the world. The world clamours, now more than I can ever remember, for our attention, our outrage, our position on any particular topic. There is so much information thrown at us that it is hard to decipher what the truth is. We all need a room of our own in which to digest all of this and consciously create our lives. Not necessarily a physical room but a space carved out for ourselves in our minds that allows us the freedom to choose what we believe, what we mean and what we do.
But we also need each other. The Bronte’s shared a physical space but respected each other’s individual minds and supported each other’s creations. They loved each other and thrived in their endeavours because of it. The Voiceover Network, made up of people who make their living talking alone into microphones in silent boxes, is much more than a business organisation to me. I joined because I loved the idea of being a voice actor and I wanted to learn how, I stay because I love the reality of it and I feel stronger as part of a creative community than I ever would in a room on my own.