Ts&Cs apply


So Much Noise

Posted on 1st September 2016 by Sally Campbell
Our Waterstones Loves title for September is Annabel Pitcher's Silence is Goldfish, her hilarious and deeply moving follow-up to Waterstones Children's Prize-winning Ketchup Clouds. In the novel, protagonist Tessa chooses to stop speaking. Here, in an article written for Waterstones Online, Pitcher explains where she got the idea and why teenager Tessa chooses silence over noise.

Two conversations sparked the idea for Silence Is Goldfish. I wasn’t involved in the conversations. I was doing what I do best: listening.

Okay, listening in might be a better description here, given that both conversations happened on public transport while I was sitting a few seats behind the chatty passengers, straining my ears as I jotted down what they were saying in a notepad. But don’t judge me. Earwigging constitutes research when you’re a writer.  

The first conversation was between two smart-looking men in their twenties, working on their laptops on the train to Manchester:

Man 1: ‘That new lad, Jamie, seems like a good laugh.’
Man 2: ‘Yeah, yeah. He does.’
Man 1: ‘He’s got good banter too.’
Man 2: ‘All the banter!’
Man 1: ‘Bants!’ 
[Both men chortle]

A few days later, I eavesdropped on overheard something similar, this time between two girls in their late teens while I was drinking bad train coffee on a very long journey:

Girl 1: ‘So, what’s he like then?’
Girl 2: ‘Who?’
Girl 1: ‘Barack Obama. Who do you think?’
Girl 2: ‘He’s nice. We went out last night.’
Girl 1: ‘Fit nice or too nice?’
Girl 2: ‘Fit nice. He’s a bit of a bastard, in a good way.’
Girl 1: ‘I love that. Good chat?’
Girl 2: ‘Great chat. Really great, actually. That’s how he gets his nickname. Always giving it all of this.’

At this point, Girl 2 made a mouth out of her hand and opened and closed it to suggest the never-ending stream of jokes, LOLs, bants and chat generated by the man I later discovered was known to his intimates as ‘The Gobfather’ (I’m not even kidding). Girl 1 nodded approvingly: ‘That’s awesome. It’s non-negotiable, really. A man needs Chat.’

The way she said it made it sound as if it had a capital C, like it was bigger and better than the ability to simply have a chat: a performance, not a conversation, which involves listening, reflecting and responding, and maybe even the odd pause or silence too. And it might just have been the long train journey, or the really bad coffee, but I felt suddenly morose. We live in a world of noise. So much NOISE – and I don’t just mean the literal kind. Headlines scream at us from newspapers, the more sensational the better. Adverts clamour for our attention, telling us we’re not thin enough, or pretty enough, or young enough to be acceptable. On TV, people sell their souls for a shot at fame as live audiences boo – actually BOO! – anyone considered ‘boring’. Extroversion is prized above all else.

And we’re all guilty of it, to a greater or lesser degree. In this loud, brash world of ours, we have to yell to make ourselves known. We shout about our lives on social media, screaming ourselves hoarse in cyberspace, not really communicating save for the odd ‘like’ on a friend’s photo of their newborn, or salade nicoise. We have no filter. We let it all hang out, blurting our innermost thoughts on Twitter, needing to be heard without ever stopping to listen. We pick up our phones, not to call a friend, but to check if our #banter has been favourited by a stranger staring at their iPad screen rather than speaking with their spouse. 

It’s all so . . . exhausting. We bombard, and we’re bombarded, every minute of every day. So, yes, sitting there on the train, dreg ends of coffee sloshing about in the bottom of my polystyrene cup, I felt depressed and overwhelmed and overstimulated. I attempted to zone out, to be still and at peace, but to no avail. Girl 1 was banging on about ‘The Gobfather’ while my heart longed for quiet. And then my phone beeped with a notification or five as the train screeched to a stop at my station. I climbed onto the platform to have my attention caught by some horrific headline in the Metro while celebrities cried out for love on the front pages of magazines and last year’s X Factor winner bellowed from an unseen speaker. 

Noise. So much noise. So I decided to write about silence.    



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