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Sunday, 23 January 2011

Twisting the Standards

I'm currently listening to Alfie Boe's latest album. It's a selection of show tunes and, truth be known, there's not a bad track included. From 'On The Street Where You Live' to 'Tell Me It's Not True' to 'Some Enchanted Evening', all the songs are deservedly standards.

Now, whenever somebody releases an album like this I'm immediately sceptical. In many cases I consider the original to be the best. That includes any track by Judy Garland, Angela Lansbury or Robert Preston. In the same way that I would not want to see the central premise of The Woman in White highjacked and ruined, I would hate for somebody to take 'The Man That Got Away' by Judy and actually believe they were emulating the most famous version.

However, as writers we are frequently reminded there are only so many different stories in the world. We work around the same themes, use the same plot progressions. In fact, the only weapon we have in reserve is how we tell the story, not what the story actually is. It's very tempting to stick to a prescribed route and tell a story the way it's been told before. After all, that was successful. But that doesn't mean anything. You can turn a Lord of the Rings style quest into something completely different if you're only prepared to look at it in an alternative way.

Take this album by Alfie Boe. It could easily be another drab collection of musical theatre standards but it isn't. What Alfie brings to the music is his opera training and the passion that training inevitably instils in a voice. Every note is crystal clear and sung with such warmth. He is so like the original or famous recordings yet so different. His rendition of 'If I Loved You', for example, is outstanding. For the three minutes I'm listening to it I can easily forget all other versions I've ever heard.

And that's what we need to do as writers. Don't try to emulate your favourite authors; find your own voice and discover what you can bring to your writing. There is something in your history or your way of perceiving the world which makes you different to everyone else. Find it and you open countless doors.

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