EVENTS Kate Mallinder talks 'voice'

Kate Mallinder's Birmingham workshop on Voice at the end of February 2020 was an inspiration to everyone who attended, including Elton McKenna, who created some new characters to tell us all about it.

“Soooo, what did you think of the workshop then?!” she asked with a barely contained squeal.


Okaaaayy, she said to herself.

“Oh. Come. Onnn,” she purred. “It was better than that, don’t you think?”

“It vos wery gud.”

She quickly looked around for help, her eyes darting round the table as she left a frozen smile cracking in his face.“Well, I thought it was really inspiring and engaging. It’s given me so many ideas and made me think so differently about my characters — I can’t wait to get home and try it out!”

“Ya. It vos wery informativ.”

“Tea?” the voice asked.

Thank God for that. “Yes! Here!” she cried. “Oh thank you sooo much, I’m gaaasping!” Only took you 45 minutes but hey, she thought a little too loudly.

The chuckling from across the table caught her by surprise. He was beaming at her now.

Kate Mallinder leading her Voice Workshop in Birmingham.
(Picture credit: Elton McKenna.)

“The service here's rubbish isn’t it? They make you buy a coffee every hour, then take an hour ten to bring it!”

She looked at him blankly.

“You look confused. Sorry. I’m not really German.” He laughed a bit harder. “I was just practising a new voice.”

“Oh.” She looked down.

“Yes they’re hopeless aren’t they,” the new girl said as she whisked a breath of fresh air into the chair next to him. “I can tell by the look on this poor girl's face you’ve been working your magic again Stephen.” Stretching a hand across, “I’m Sophie, and this is Stephen. He thinks he’s funny. Ignore him.”

“I am funny – how dare you!” he said in mock pain. “We were just discussing the workshop, weren’t we… err, sorry, I didn’t get your name?”


“Emily… nice name… yeah err, I thought it was brilliant. Must admit I didn’t really know what to expect so I was surprised how quickly it got complicated. I mean, fair enough, there’s two types of voice — the author’s and the character’s — and part of getting the voice right is down to the words you choose and how you edit.

Lovely SCBWIs listening intently. (Picture credit Elton McKenna.)

“But when it got into how you have to analyse each character and think about where they live, who’s in their family, what GCSEs they’re doin’, and even what their parents do, I thought there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye. And that was just in the first hour!”

“That’s all to get the realness on the page, Stephen. But she gave us good examples though,” Sophie offered.

“Two of my absolute favourites!’ Emily squeaked. “The Book Thief and A Series of Unfortunate Events – I-love-those-books!”

Outside by Sarah Ann Juckes — that sounded pretty good.”

“Oh yeeees, where the whole thing is set in one room and the girl’s entire vocabulary is only from the books she’s read in that room. Brilliant!”

“I liked the sound of that Scavenger with its ‘Wooflings’,” Stephen said with a chuckle. “Who wrote that again?”

“Darren Simpson,” Sophie clipped.

Je ne regrette rien: Kate Mallinder.
(Picture credit:

“That’s right, yeah. I mean, from the slides, some of it seemed quite simple as well though, like – use long words, short words, slang words and accents – and I found myself thinking I can do that…”

“Started thinking in German again did we?” Sophie shot a glance at Emily and whispered, “He loves being German. Boy thing.”

Emily’s shoulders chuckled as she bowed her head.

“Alright, alright… But when we started gettin’ into how voice isn’t constant and it’ll change with the character's mood, I started thinking, how you supposed to do that? You’re gonna have to know your characters really well to know how they’re gonna change. Not easy stuff.”

“That’s. What. I was thinking! I loved that quote from Mary Kole, how voice is ‘the je ne sais quoi of writing’. But surely you saw how Kate neatly broke it down into bite-sized chunks…”

“Debunking the mysteries of voice…" Sophie chipped in.

“… and that she…”

“Unveiled top secret information? On a vital subject for writers?”

“… well, yes…”

“I did indeed. She did make a difficult subject seem quite easy I have to say. And she did it in such a chatty, accessible way as well.”

“She did! And didn’t you luurrv that example she you remember… how, when she was writing Summer Of No Regrets, she took each of her four characters and walked them down the school corridor towards a boy they fancied? A-mazing!”

“Oh yeees… it was, wasn’t it. I remember wondering how Stephen would react when faced with the boy he fancies. All alone. Just the two of them. Walking towards each other down a dark corridor.”

 “Oh yu had to spoil it, didn’t yu!” Slowly going scarlet, he pushed his chair back, folded his arms and legs and shot a worried glance at Emily, “She loves doing this, don’t yu!”

He turned, glaring at Sophie.

“Touched a nerve Stephen?” she asked, stifling a grin.

“How many times do ah need to tell yu!” He stared into space then a wry smile came across his face,

“Yeah, but you’d be that tarty one in her high heels and her shades on INDOORS, strutting your stuff, going work it baby, work it, as you clicked your way along – wouldn’t you!”

Sophie burst out laughing now. Jackpot, she thought to herself.

Kate signs copies of her debut novel Summer of No Regrets. (Picture credit:

“And who ordered the toasted sandwich?”

“Mee,” Stephen grumbled, pulling his chair back in. “Only an hour and forty five this time,” he muttered to no one in particular. “And oh look, an actual bag of crisps this time, not just a piddly handful of soft ones with green bits on.”

Emily found herself gazing at Sophie. The Multiple Points of View section, she thought. Think about your character’s biggest desire or fear… Sophie winked at her and Emily smiled. “Clever,” she said, “Well done. That was another good bit as well wasn’t it.”

“It was yes. That writing exercise was particularly good. The one where we had to…”

“Write the same scene from two different points of view?”


“and try to develop our characters to make them stand out?”

“I see what you’re doing…” They both laughed at each other as Stephen noisily licked barbeque sauce off the side of his hand.

“And those Top Tips!” Emily almost shouted.

“Be simple!
 Avoid being passive!
 Be direct!
And avoid speaking like a grown-up!” they rattled off between them.

“Avoid what?” Stephen mumbled.

“Speaking like a grown-up, Stephen. Something you never learned to do in the first place!” Sophie said, watching him negotiate a tricky bit of filling.

“And you might want to give up the German thing as well,” Emily added. “It really isn’t funny.”

*Header image: Kate Mallinder, (Picture credit:


Hello, my name is Elton McKenna and when I’m not making space crafts, fighter pilot’s helmets or wiggly things that go in your body, I can be found throwing golf clubs around in a tantrum and trying to write silly things. But don’t worry, I’d never throw a pen around… pens are precious... especially when they’re made of Apples.


Fran Price is Events Editor for Words & Pictures, the online magazine for SCBWI_BI. Contact her at

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