A Happy Marriage by Indyana Schneider.

In my debut novel, 28 Questions, the narrator is a wannabe opera singer who tells a stranger on the tube, “I need to marry a writer”. I can attest to the fact that it is a brilliant match, not because I am married myself, but because I am fortunate enough to lead a double life as a novelist (by day) and opera singer (by night) – a marriage within, if you like.

Opera came first – years of technical / repertoire / language study. A dramatic story of first love all on its own – passion, excitement, heartbreak, rejection, reconnection, moving towards a gentler, more compassionate love, more passion, more excitement, more rejection and so on. Along the way, I fell in love with writing fiction, and now the three of us – opera, fiction, and myself – co-exist pretty peacefully.

The marriage logistics work well – opera singers live quite nomadic, on-again-off-again lifestyles and you can write from anywhere, anytime. (I am currently on a train from Germany to France). As an opera singer, you’re constantly in new places, meeting new people and hearing their stories – amazingly fertile fiction soil. But more than this, I feel my first love prepared me for my new love.

  1. I am very familiar with the terrifying side of making art for an audience:
  2. you spend most of your waking hours thinking about your art
  3. you give everything to your performance, to the extent that you feel physically dazed and empty at the end of a show
  4. you want people to love what you do in a vicious, primal way

Writing a novel is no different. And when they don’t love what you do? Yes it hurts, but it’s okay. It’s inevitable. After years of rejection and success, criticism and praise, I feel confident in the subjectivity of reactions/reviews (on most days).

  • Opera singing also takes a lot out of the body physically – you can only really sing healthily for a few hours a day – and rest / sleep is non-negotiable, so I have learnt to feel content with good work over long work.
  • I’ve spent a lot of time considering and discussing the difference between singing for yourself and singing for an audience. Some singer friends of mine cite a kind of polluting of art in order to “appeal to the masses”, but right now, I disagree. I believe that certain changes and sacrifices are necessary in making public art – I take my audience into account with my creative choices and have a kind of empathy for the auditorium experience of my performance above my own internal experience. I approach writing in much the same way. While as a writer, one might be tempted to kill a character or break up a relationship or write a terribly tragic, gut-wrenching ending, I want to approach my plot, asking: how would I feel as a reader when presented with this? (Obviously art for the sake of art / an artist is fine, too, just not my style at present).
  • My approach to writing is also infused with my theatre background. I plan a novel with a kind of ‘vision’ in mind: I sketch characters’ costumes, imagine settings like a ‘set’, and graphically map characters’ emotional high and low points, as if I were in a show. Writing dialogue from a first-person perspective is almost an exercise in improvisation. For example, my therapist grandma and I spent some time together digging into the depths of my protagonist’s psyche – I ‘acted’ as my protagonist and my gran therapised me. It was dramatic and fun and extremely useful.

I’ll not share whether my protagonist ends up with a writer, as per her tube confession, but as for this marriage within? We’re very happy and soon celebrating our second anniversary.

Indyana Schneider is the author of one and a half novels, an opera libretto and many unrequited love letters. She grew up in sunny Sydney, before moving to the UK to study Music at Oxford University. After a few years working in the charity sector in London, Indyana moved to Vienna to sing opera professionally. She now lives, sings and writes around the world.
She is a keen and clumsy salsa dancer, messy cook and short-distance runner.

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