Experiments in the multi-vocal: Excerpts of 5 voices from a novel-in-progress titled Babilon Falling

by Billy Kahora, writer-in-residence for our March 2024 ‘Heritage’ season

During my time as Quay Words writer-in-residence, I wanted to bring my writing, teaching and research practices together through a long-held major preoccupation I’ve had as a writer – developing narration in the novel, short form and essay primarily centred around spoken voices and verbal art.

My Wednesdays at the month-long residency were a miracle of sunny days along the River Exe and it was hard to stay indoors at the Exeter Custom House and work. But that wasn’t a problem when I ran a workshop at Exeter Custom House titled ‘Writing Voice: Enhancing Speech Forms In Your Work’ in which I worked with ten participants to think through the value of verbal forms in their writing on a wet Saturday afternoon.

I used the period of the residency to further explore what place – in particular my current location in North Somerset – might mean to the creation of a verbal art in my novel-in-progress titled Babilon Falling which is mostly set in far-off Nairobi. I collaborated with South African poet Olive Olusegun who works both on stage and from the page on a public event and as part of this read from work-in-progress that illustrated my attempt to enhance verbal forms in the narration of Babilon Falling. The residency allowed me to integrate the teaching from the workshop (and discussions emerging from it), and my conversations with Olive about literary form and orality with, my ongoing research on spoken forms, bringing each to bear on the process of rewriting Babilon Falling. I can now hear Nairobi and its sounds of speech on the page of this novel, and believe that its voices can still connect to literary communities in South West England.

Here are 4 different excerpts from Babilon Falling that I hope illustrate the possibilities of bringing about a sense of the spoken in the novel form.