When I write I think I know what I mean… but do my readers? Even if I think I’m being very clear, it is possible that someone reading what I’ve written might either misread it, misinterpret it, misunderstand it or have a  reason for having their own perspective. I might also subconsciously put a certain slant on something or use imagery and words which have a particular connotation for someone which I could not even imagine. This is why in literature classes we all sit round discussing and having different opinions on the meaning of the text, the motivation of the character, the symbolism of the setting. I remember my cousin very kindly reading ‘A Strong Hand From Above’ for me and commenting on all the watery imagery in it… which I hadn’t even realised I’d included.

I thought about this when I was discussing the meaning of a lyric from a song by Raul Malo with a fellow fan. The song is ‘Call Me When You Get To Heaven’ and it is extremely powerful and dramatic, almost operatic; we both agreed that it was a tremendous piece of music with an  interesting lyric open to different interpretation. I understood it to be the story of two people who love each other but for whatever reason cannot be together in this life time, maybe they are married to other people, maybe they have family commitments, or are living in different countries, but whatever their situation they can never be together. I may have understood it in this way because that is exactly the situation of two characters in my novel ‘Night Vision’. At the same time I wondered if ‘heaven’ might not be meant literally, as in when they die they go to heaven, but metaphorical, if they are ever free to be together then they will be ‘in heaven’.

My friend had a very different opinion; she thought the song was an intention to commit suicide! The way the lyric worked, the way it was orchestrated with Raul’s voice gradually fading away, the stronger ‘angelic’ voices driving the song, she thought it told a very different story. I was intrigued and astonished by this, and now every time I listen to it, I can’t help but remember what she said. However, she also talked to Raul about it, asked him whether she was right, and he was amazed, he had never thought of this at all… which just shows, as a writer you never know how your reader (or listener) is going to understand or interpret your work.


  1. Peter Bull

    Very interesting post, Lois. My son’s philosophy PhD thesis is attempting to construct a new metaethical error theory which accounts for the impossibility of ever defining what moral statements mean (which is mostly what metaethicists do), because of the inherent plasticity of language itself, and the fact that the communicative intentions of the maker of a moral statement can never be fully known. The same problem applies to all statements, in fact, including song lyrics, which makes me wonder how any of us manage to communicate anything at all, sometimes.


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