I set my novel on my doorstep.

It’s been an exciting few weeks. The Kindle version of my novel has been released on Amazon and I’ve been getting reviews. After years spent writing in isolation, getting feedback, good or bad, is a wonderful thing. I can’t tell you how heart warming it is to hear someone talking about characters that have only ever lived in a room in my head.

A few of the reviews have talked about my depiction of Chorlton, the south Manchester suburb where most of the novel is set and where I live. A review in the Manchester Evening News even had the title Annette’s sideways view of Chorlton. Anyway this got me thinking about the role that Chorlton plays in the story and a sense of place in novels in general.

picture of chorlton
The Relative Harmony of Julie O Hagan is set in Chorlton between 2007 and 2008. Moneyed bohemian types have moved in and gentrified the once ordinary suburb. They wear Birkenstocks, eat hummus and shop locally for eco friendly cleaning products. This contrasts with the world of the main characters, Julie and Billy, a working class couple. He is an Irish immigrant, she was brought up on the local estate and they bought their terraced house before the house prices rocketed. She wears pink velour track suits, they let their kids eat Haribos, they drink boxes of Blossom Hill wine, and nether possesses a bike. Julie and Billy observe the changes around them with scepticism, fascination and envy. The contrast of the two worlds makes for moments of humour but also conflict. This conflict leads them to act and do things they might not have done had they lived elsewhere. In this way the setting has a direct influence on their motivation and narrative.

Some places I have visited in fiction have stayed with me more than others. One is the fictional town of Maycomb in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Set in the years of the Great Depression, the town’s oppressive poverty, insularity and racially segregated community is wonderfully drawn. When Tom Robinson goes on trial in the courthouse it seems there could never be any verdict other than guilty in such a setting.

Another is the post- apocalyptic world of Cormac MaCarthy’s The Road. Everything is abandoned and covered in grey ash and colour only appears when the boy and his father have flashbacks of their former life.

“Dark of the invisible moon. The nights now only slightly less black. By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.”

McCarthy’s setting is often seen as as a commentary on a post 9/11 world where mass terrorism, genocide and weapons of mass destruction are real possibilities.
the road
Some might say that without setting there is no story. Samuel Beckett would disagree. I remember spending hours as a student struggling through a couple of his novels that have no setting, fictional or real. Molloy, for example, is made up entirely of the two interior monologues of two characters set in an indeterminate place.

One of the Amazon reviews of my book said, “A knowledge of Manchester is not needed to enjoy the book and relate to the characters as there is a Chorlton in all parts of the country.”  I was delighted with this. It suggests that the reader sees Julie and Billy’s predicament is a general one, that there are people all over the country being  pushed out of or struggling to live in neighbourhoods where they were brought up because of house prices. And this is something I wanted to get across in the story.
My second novel is also based in Chorlton. I sometimes wonder if I’ve just been lazy and I should have packed up and moved on somewhere else. I admit to taking a swipe at the place but it’s an affectionate swipe.  I love Chorlton and I wouldn’t live anywhere else. Besides, it has endless scope for satire. I just hope I don’t end up having to wear a blonde wig and large sunglasses whenever I go out.

wig and glasses

Interview with Anneliese Mackintosh, author of Any Other Mouth.

I’m delighted to have Anneliese Mackintosh as a guest on my blog this week. Her book Any Other Mouth was my favourite read of recent months.  It deals with pretty brutal stuff, addiction, mental health and sexuality but it is also extremely funny and tender.  It was in the Readers’ Ten Best Books of the Year so far in the Guardian and Anneliese has also been longlisted for the prestigious Frank O’Connor Short Story Award.

She is appearing at the Manchester Literary Festival with David Gaffney and Socrates Adams on 9th October at the launch of Alison Erika Forde’s exhibition at John Rylands Library and then at Canongate Lates on 10th October.

 

any other mouth

 

Hi Anneliese. Thanks for joining me.

What is the first thing you ever wrote?

I’ve written fiction for as long as I can remember. Creative writing was always my favourite subject at school. I remember writing a poem about ‘waking up on the ceiling’ when I was about five. I think that was inspired by The Twits by Roald Dahl. I loved the idea of the monkeys sticking furniture to Mr. and Mrs. Twits’ ceiling.

The first proper short story I remember writing was when I was about seven. It was about a gang of garden gnomes trying to escape from a factory, possibly inspired by Terry Pratchett’s Truckers, which my dad lent me around that time.

I started my first novel then too. It was about a girl who gets into a lift at the supermarket, and when she gets out, she’s in the Jurassic Period. I’m not sure what inspired that. A psychic pre-empting of Jurassic Park?

How and when do you write, in short bursts or regular chunks of time?

Short bursts.

I’ve spent periods of my life writing in regular chunks – getting up at a certain time, writing for x number of hours, taking a break, writing again, etc. And while it’s a great method for producing a vast quantity of writing, I’ve never been that happy with anything I’ve come up with using that method.

The pieces of writing I’m proudest of are the ones that have crept up on me, that I’ve been forced to get out of my system when I’ve been least expecting it. They’ve often been propelled by anger, or pain, or another extreme emotion, and they’ve been the most meaningful to me.

I think a mixture of both methods is most helpful though. I try to write something at least every couple of weeks, so I don’t get out of the habit. But I’ll only get really stuck into something once the right emotions take hold of me. At those times, I’ll binge-write, at the expense of just about everything else. Of course, it doesn’t matter how quick the initial burst of creativity is, though. I’ll still edit, edit, edit, for hours, weeks and months on end.

Your book has had great reviews so far. How do you react to bad reviews?

I’ve been absolutely delighted with the reviews Any Other Mouth has received so far. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from reviewers, given that the work is so intimate, and the format is quite experimental.

I’ve had bad reactions to plenty of things I’ve written, though. I wrote and directed a play that people walked out of; the novel I wrote for my PhD was described by my examiner as ‘not as clever as the author likes to think it is’ (yikes); I had a couple of stories I put up online, just for fun, given one-star reviews. One of the reviews was labelled ‘simply awful’.

I guess I obsess about bad reviews for about an hour after reading them, learning every word in them off by heart, announcing to myself and to anyone who’s unfortunate enough to be listening that I’m going to quit writing forever. And then shortly afterwards I forget all about it and carry on just as before.

Sometimes a bad reaction to my work can even spur me on to write something new. That’s what happened with my PhD. I ended up writing a story, which ended up in Any Other Mouth, based on my experience. It involves someone doing a PhD who is trying so hard to be clever that she fails. It was therapy, I suppose.

As horrible as bad reviews are, though, it’s important to get reviews. Much better to be provoking some sort of reaction than no reaction at all. I think I deal with reviews a lot better than I used to, as well. Before my book came out, I looked online at my favourite books, and how they’ve been reviewed. Some of their reviews are scathing! And it’s okay. Everyone has different opinions. Thank goodness we’re not all the same.

anneliese reading

 

The stories in your book are separate yet interconnected, not quite short story collection, not quite novel. Have you ever written any novels or do you plan to do so?

To be honest, I view my book as both a novel and a short story collection. I think it could be seen as either. I had a long chat with my publisher about it, and we decided to call it a short story collection [that felt like a novel], which we decided sounded better than a novel [that felt like a short story collection]. It also allows me to put out a debut novel next, which is nice!

I am writing something at the moment that I view more as a novel than a short story collection. I have written other novels in the past. I wrote one about a girl who has a heart transplant, another about a guy who hates wearing glasses. I’ve written a lot of novellas too. But I’ve always loved short stories the most. I find they speak to me more than any other form. I view my life as a string of short stories, rather than a novel with a clear narrative arc. I think that’s why I found it easiest to write about my own life in Any Other Mouth in that format.

Your writing style and subject matter comes across as very personal. How have your nearest and dearest reacted since publication?

I spoke to my mum and sister about the book before it came out. They gave me their blessing to get it published, but both of them have said they will probably never read it. I started the book just after my dad died, so obviously I couldn’t discuss it with him.

My boyfriend is pleased for me and happy about the book. He doesn’t have a problem with the content, or with knowing so many intimate details that may or may not have happened in my past. He’s been really supportive, and helped me through it all.

There are other family members who are not so happy about the book. I think they’d been waiting to read one of my books in print for years, and my style has changed a lot since the stories of mine that they used to read. I guess they’re disappointed that the book is not to their taste, and that it’s so personal. I know that a few of them have read it, but none of them have spoken to me about it. I have just heard this second-hand. I think some of them are upset that I had such a happy childhood, and yet now I’ve written something that they view as disparaging towards my upbringing and even my family. It’s a shame they view it that way. The book was written from a place of love. I love my family to bits and don’t blame any of them for anything they’ve done. But I had to write the book – it helped me keep going when nothing else could. And getting it out there, getting it published, was an important step in admitting to myself that I’m not ashamed of anything that I’ve done, or that’s happened to me. In fact, I’m really proud of myself. I’ve never liked keeping secrets, and this book contains everything that was inside me, out in the open. I needed to do it.

It’s important to state, though, that the book is a work of fiction – not everything in it is true, by any stretch. I feel like the whole thing is emotionally true, but I’ve changed some of the facts, either to protect people or to make the story run smoother, or to make it more interesting. The book is about a character called Gretchen. It is not an autobiography, but rather an interpretation of my own memories, played out in the life of a character that is not me. Gretchen’s mum is not my mum. Her dad is not my dad.

Do you enjoy publicising your work?

No! I find it awkward, draining and difficult. I feel like it’s got harder as I get older too. I’ve become very private since I quit drinking. I don’t enjoy going out to the pub, and I find reading onstage – in a room full of people drinking alcohol – very emotionally demanding. I get more nervous now that there’s more at stake too – now that I have a book that I’m trying to sell.

I find asking people to vote for me for various online competitions really awkward. I don’t like having to ask people over and over again for their support. But if you don’t do it you don’t stand much of a chance, and it can help your career so much if you do win. The Edinburgh International Book Festival’s First Book Award (https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/first-book-award/vote?book=4655) is currently open for votes – if anyone out there enjoyed my book enough to vote for me, I’d be really grateful!

Oops, okay, I just did some publicity in the middle of telling you how much I hate doing it. In all honesty, I do find it tough. I don’t know that people realise how hard I find it, given that I appear quite confident in my videos and onstage. I get really shaky, can’t eat, and can barely talk in the hours leading up to a performance. I put a lot of energy into it. It takes me ages to relax again afterwards.

The odd Tweet and website update are the most manageable methods of publicity for me. The most introverted forms of publicity are the best!

But I do recognise that without publicising my work, without telling people about what I’m doing, nobody would find out about it. The times when the publicity has worked – when someone has come across my stuff and really connected with it – that’s when it all feels like it’s been worth it. I don’t want to try and convince anyone to buy my work who doesn’t want it. But being able to find the people that want to read it, and who really get something from it, is important to me. I’ve had some amazing emails from people over the years. I have had people share some really personal things about themselves with me too – I think because they appreciate how open I am in my writing. That means a lot. There are good people out there. Hello and love to you all.

Many thanks and good luck with the book.

Am I in your book?

I have just spent the last weekend with my wonderful extended Irish family at a reunion. We get together every five years in various parts of the world. Stories, love, conflict and colourful characters abound at our gatherings. It’s a writer’s paradise and as my friends often remind me, I really have no need write fiction with all this material at my fingertips.

I was asked a few times about my novel and the inevitable question ensued.

“Are we in your book?” .

I suppose the most truthful answer is yes and no. Most writers of fiction don’t base their characters entirely on family and friends but like magpies, they are attracted to the shiny stuff, the interesting bits of different people, physical traits, aspects of personality, ways of speaking and gestures They steal these characteristics and make fictional composites, characters with their own identity, an identity that is intrinsic to the story being told.

And yet, writers only have their own worlds and experiences to steal from so it’s inevitable that friends and family who read their work will think they see people they know. It’s a bit like being on the dodgems. People are close and you can’t always avoid them.
However there are a number of good reasons not to base characters in fiction entirely on real people.

Who wants to hurt people’s feelings? If a character is drawn well they will have flaws and no one wants to see their bad points in print.

Writers would rather not be sued. They make hardly any money as it is and a defamation law suit would bankrupt most. It does seem that lawsuits against writers of fiction are relatively rare (sighs with relief) as it is hard to prove whether a fictional character is based on a real character or not.

judge

It happens more with public figures. Take the recent example involving Scarlett Johansson who won a defamation case against the French novelist Gregoire Delacourt for creating a fictional character that is her double. Her character represented an ideal of modern beauty in his story, but she put it about a bit, something Scarlett said damaged her own reputation and so she sued.

angry scarlett

Delacourt was incredulous at her reaction, saying he thought the lovely Scarlett might have invited him for a coffee or sent him flowers for putting her in his work and he insisted,

“I wrote a work of fiction. My character was not Scarlet Johannson.”

Tony Blair wasn’t happy about his own appearance in fiction either. In his novel The Ghost, Robert Harris portrayed him as a superficial former P.M. who couldn’t even write his own memoirs and Blair called his old friend “a cheeky fuck.” Blair then went on to prove Harris wrong when he wrote his bestseller, Tony Blair, A Journey, all by himself.

There are some great books out there that have fictionalised real people.  My favourites are Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde, which chronicles the internal life of Marlyn Monroe, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and which looks at Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power and Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn a wonderful story of Irish emigration which is based on a true story he heard as a child.

Sebastain Faulks’ A week in December is another. When it first came out, rumours abounded that the character of the embittered literary critic R Tranter was based on the Private Eye literary journalist DJ Taylor. Faulks denied it profusely saying,

“I can’t describe the measure of desperation with which this question fills me. This is the complete opposite of what I’m trying to do: create a freestanding, fictional world, true to itself and umbilically connected to the real world.”

Taylor did not react but a creepy detective did turn up in one of his own novels later with the name Faulks, so it looks like they both might have been having a bit of a laugh.

In his novel The Godfather Mario Puzo based his crooner character Johnny Fontane on Frank Sinatra who was always rumoured to have connections with the Mafia.  According to Puzo, Sinatra was incensed and when they met in a restaurant Sinatra went for him, yelling at him and calling him a pimp.

At least he didn’t end up with a horse’s head in his bed. When my book comes out in September I hope I don’t either.

horse's head

My favourite top ten put-downs

Ever been slighted by someone and wished you had a killer response at the ready? Something so sharp it sliced the legs from underneath the offending party, leaving them squirming on the ground begging for forgiveness? It happened to me recently though I wasn’t present when the dirty deed was done. At first I shrugged the episode off. It was nothing, I told myself. It didn’t matter.

Until the inner rage started to escape and I found myself batting away the smoke bellowing from my nostrils and muttering ‘ bastard’ over and over as I made the tea.

ac

I spent the following days trying to formulate the perfect put- down. It was going to be witty, concise and deadly in preparation for the showdown.

“Yes, well,” I practised aloud, “I may be  fat but in six months time I could be slim whereas you will always be short.”

(It has to be said that the person in question hadn’t actually referred to my weight but I thought I’d better have this one up my sleeve in case they did).

I also had “Fuck off, tosspot.” at the ready if the meeting was a fleeting one.

As you can see I wasn’t getting very far so I decided to look to books for inspiration.  I know from experience that writers can be vicious tongue- lashing types. And I was right. There’s a plethora of magnificent insults out there just waiting to be recycled.

Here are my top ten.


1.  Russel Brand – My Booky Wooky
“I couldn’t possibly have sex with someone with such a slender grasp on grammar.”

 

2.  Anthony Burgess – A Clockwork Orange
“Well, well, well, well. If it isn’t fat, stinking billygoat Billy-Boy in poison. How art thou, thy globby bottle of cheap, stinking chip-oil? Come and get one in the yarbles, if you have any yarbles, you eunuch jelly thou.”

 

3.  Kurt Vonnegurt – Timequake
“If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.”

 

4.  Nick Hornby – High Fidelity
“Barry, you’re over thirty years old. You owe it to your mum and dad not to sing in a group called Sonic Death Monkey.”

 

5.   Kingsley Amis – Lucky Jim
“You bloody old towser-faced boot-faced totem-pole on a crap reservation.”

 

6.   Martin Amis on Don Quixote
“Reading Don Quixote can be compared to an indefinite visit from your most impossible senior relative, with all his pranks, dirty habits, unstoppable reminiscences, and terrible cronies. When the experience is over, and the old boy checks out at last (on page 846 — the prose wedged tight, with no breaks for dialogue), you will shed tears all right; not tears of relief or regret but tears of pride. You made it.

 

7.   Earnest Hemingway on William Faulkner
“Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes — and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one.”

wf

 

8.   Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises
“I misjudged you… You’re not a moron. You’re only a case of arrested development.”

 

9.  Bret Easton Ellis –  American Psycho
“She placed the file on top of the desk before asking, ‘Doin’ the crossword?’ dropping the g in ‘doing’ – a pathetic gesture of intimacy, an irritating stab at forced friendliness.”

 

10.  Katie Price – Being Jordan
“I did meet David Beckham, though. He held my hand while Posh wasn’t looking. She’s really rough without make-up.”


How about you? Have you got any to share?

Guest blog – Four authors tell me what inspired their novels.

Where do writers get their inspiration? An image, a story or snippet of conversation they’ve heard, or a song or a particular location perhaps?

Rumour has it that George Orwell wrote Animal Farm after seeing a young boy steering a large cart horse along a narrow path. He started to ask himself what would happen if animals realized their own strength, an idea which developed into an allegorical story about animals taking over a farm.

Steven King often gets his inspiration from dreams. He once had one on a plane about a young girl kidnapping a famous author and was so excited about the idea it he ran into the airport when the plane landed, sat down and wrote down the first fifty pages of his novel Misery which went on to become a phenomenal best-seller.
man running from plane

The idea for my own novel wasn’t quite as dramatic. My husband and I were looking for a primary school for my eldest child and I heard a story about one mother who was going to spectacular lengths to get her child into a particular school. I started to ask myself about this person and wondered if  her obsessive behaviour had anything to do with her own experience of school. I wrote a short story with this idea in mind. It then developed into my novel which is essentially about the struggle of the two main characters to come to terms with traumatic events that happened to them in their school days.

This week four very different authors were kind enough to tell me what inspired them to write their own novels.


Chris Hill is the author of the literary novel Song of the Sea God.

My book is a about a man who comes to a small island off the coast of northern England and tries to convince the locals he is a god.
Song of the Sea God visual
In some ways I suppose it’s a book about the nature of religion – what it means to people, how it works. I suppose the basic thing which inspired me to write it was I felt a need to explore the issue of religion. I’m not particularly religious myself, I suppose I’d call myself agnostic, but saying you don’t know the mysteries of the universe is very different from saying there are no mysteries. I wanted to look at that god-shaped hole in people’s lives.
I did a lot of research around ancient religions and myths and I think the idea for the book evolved over time, during the process of writing. So for me inspiration doesn’t appear like a light bulb over a cartoon character’s head, it blooms slowly like a flower would.
http://songoftheseagod.wordpress.com/

Katrina Jack is the author of two Young Adult Urban fantasy novels, Land of Midnight Days   and Through the Gloaming  published by Ecanus Publishing.

The story of my Young Adult Urban fantasy novel, Land of Midnight Days, was first inspired when I worked in a call centre that had large windows. My desk was right next to one of these and through it I could see the iconic, art deco tower of the Littlewoods building on Edge Lane, in Liverpool. I remember thinking it would make a great location for a story and the seed of an idea was born.

The next inspiration came to me when I was listening to a Jethro Tull CD in my car, and so the name of my main protagonist, Jeremiah Tully, came to me.

The above inspirations, coupled with various locations in my home town of Liverpool, melded and merged, and so the book was eventually created.

https://www.facebook.com/katrina.jack1.


Robert Graham is the author of a number of short story collections and the novel Holy Joe published by Salt Publishing.

I’ve just finished what I hope will be a late draft of my new novel, The Fabulous Girl. The inspiration is the not unusual experience of first love, the first broken heart and the related experience of wanting to bring the past back. I’ve also been inspired by re-reading fiction that deals with a similar theme: Le Grand Meaulnes and The Great Gatsby, especially, but Great Expectations, too.

The theme might have been what drew me back to these and other novels, but in the end it was the language that was most striking, the repetitions of colours and sounds, times of the day and weather, for example, and the style, the rhythm of the words. It wasn’t for nothing that Hemingway said he redrafted and redrafted in order to get the words right.

I last read Fitzgerald half a lifetime ago and in those days I’m sure his elegant sentences passed by unnoticed. Coming back to Gatsby, (and The Last Tycoon and six or seven stories) that’s what I studied, though. I’ve been teaching fiction writing for a long time now and in the last few years I have more and more thought that if the sentences are good enough, narrative craft isn’t the be all and end all I have always thought it.

Fitzgerald, Alain-Fournier and Dickens all turn a mean sentence, but they also know how to keep you reading. As I studied them, I couldn’t help thinking that having models who were so far beyond most of what I read might have been daunting, but it couldn’t hurt.

Amazon Robert Graham


Laura Wilkinson has published two novels, BloodMining, with Bridge House in 2011, and Public Battles, Private Wars with Accent Press in 2014. Her short stories have been published in a number of magazines and anthologies.

My novel Public Battles, Private Wars came about by accident. I was researching another story idea when I came across an image of a group of women marching down a suburban street. They carried a banner: Barnsley Women Against Pit Closures, though initially it wasn’t the banner that caught my attention – it was the expressions on the women’s faces. Broad smiles, sparkly eyes; they walked with a spring (and a half) in their steps. With purpose. From the clothes and terrible haircuts – all Princess Diana bangs and frizzy perms – I realised it must have been taken during the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike. I was gripped. There is a mountain of writing on the strike, but it’s nearly all non-fiction, and it’s a subject that’s under-explored in fiction, particularly the role of the women. The urge to explore this transformative time in recent history was irresistible.

Laura Wilkinson:    Web Site   FaceBook     Twitter


My favourite example of writing inspiration has to be the story of how the novel Anna Karenina came into being. As Leo Tolstoy lay on a sofa one night after dinner he had a vision of an elbow, an image which expanded into a melancholy woman in a ball gown. The woman haunted Tolstoy until he eventually wrote her story. How wonderful to think that one of the greatest books of all time was inspired by an elbow.
anna karennina

Logout – A button I find hard to press.

At the end of last year my novel had received enough rejections for me to start forgetting about being published, accept the dull pain inside me and get on writing the next one.

But I was getting easily distracted. My new smart phone didn’t help. Facebook was the main culprit and time flew by as I logged in up to fifteen times a day, poring over photos of third cousins’ children’s communions, neighbours’ dogs, websites called The Bastard Weather and videos of entire wedding parties falling into a lake.

I found myself getting sucked into the relentless exchange of social interaction and its feel-good factor. Who doesn’t feel loved at the sight of five or more notifications on their news feed and who doesn’t die a momentary death when no one ‘likes’ their dazzlingly witty post, photo or personal blog?

But the minutes I was spending on social networking were starting to add up. It was quality time that should have been spent with family, reading or writing my new novel.

say-goodbye-to-distractions

 

In his book The Klaus Project, the writer Jonathan Cranzen criticised the frenzied need to interact with others instead of spending time with our own thoughts.

“Who has time to read literature when there are so many blogs to keep up with, so many food fights to follow on Twitter?” he asked.

Zadie Smith has spoken about her problem with online distraction too.  In the acknowledgements page of her novel NW, alongside her thanks to her family and friends, she also mentioned Freedom and SelfControl,  two software programmes that she uses to block internet access.

So as the New Year dawned I started to think about regaining control, about reaching for the deactivate button. But then in January I found a publisher for my book and my relationship with social media changed from near divorce back to passionate honeymoon period.

As well as Facebook, I’m now on Goodreads, Twitter, I have my own website and I’m on a number of writing websites as well. It’s exhausting. My book isn’t out until September but I’m zipping around in cyberspace finding ways to promote it. Gone are the days when marketing was the sole domain of the publisher. Now the writer has to be involved.  I’m enjoying most of the promotional stuff at the moment but like most writers, what I really want to do is shut myself away and write my next book.

While I can’t ignore social media I can control my intake. So I’ve decided to switch off during the day. I’m leaving the internet phone at home when I go to the library to write and I’ve cancelled my internet registration there. I’ve gone back to a not so smart phone on which only family members can reach me in emergencies and I try to limit my online access to a couple of times in the evening.

It feels good to be free again. My skin has improved and the hand tremors have gone. But it’s only been a short while. Like they say in the twelve step programme, I’ll just have to take it one day at a time.

facebook pills

Obscenity splattered.

Vladimir Putin recently introduced a law that will implement a ban on explicit language in plays and films which will result in a fine. Books that contain swearing are to be sold in sealed packages with explicit-language warnings.

I’m glad I don’t live in Russia. I’d be carrying around a lot of plastic. Done well, I quite like a bit of profanity in the books I read. There’s a reasonable amount in my own novel too. When my story Terry Taliban was short-listed in a competition last year, the judge gave it an X rating.

Note: This story contains some swearing but we feel that it is acceptable and realistic within the context of the piece.

Most of the swearing comes from the main character Terry, a homeless refugee with a limited command of English. Terry is based on a real person who used to frequent my local library and he actually spoke like that. He is responsible for seven fucks and two bitches which he uses to express his desperation with life. The other two fucks occur during an impassioned argument between the narrator and her depressed husband. Seeing my story described as “obscenity splattered” got me thinking about the role of swearing in fiction.

“ But is it really necessary?”

Anne Widdicombe / Mary Whitehouse types will always twiddle their pearls and ask this question.

anne widdicombe
I’m not sure what it means though. Lengthy descriptions of thunderstorms or sex scenes between couples in their seventies aren’t necessary in books either but if they add something to plot, character or themes, then surely they have a place? In the correct context, swearing can say a lot about a character and can make for naturalistic dialogue.

I recently read Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim, an extremely funny book, where swearing is used to represent the main character Jim Dixon’s frustration and unhappiness in his job as a lecturer. Jim’s thoughts are peppered with insults about his boss and his colleagues.

“You wordy old turdy old scum, you griping old piping old bum…”

“The bloody old towser-faced boot-faced totem-pole on a crap reservation”

Words like turdy, bloody, bum and crap seem very mild nowadays but were considered fairly naughty when it was first published in 1954. For me the above are excellent illustrations of playful and creative use of swearing. They are examples of good, not bad language use.

Swearing for Effect.
Effing and blinding in books in order to shock or to be funny or to create hip and cool characters can sound forced and grate on the reader if over done. I did this myself in the early drafts of my novel until a good editor pointed it out to me then I cleaned up my act.

Does it depend on genre?
It could be argued that some genres of fiction, for example modern crime and horror, justify swearing more as these novels paint worlds that are gritty and life- like. I’d go along with that but then there are exceptions, the crime writer PD James for example. Her books are pretty much swearing free but if I remember well her murderers tend to be upper class.

Young adult novels are an interesting one. Teenagers have a prolific and experimental interest in swearing but if a YA writer represents that in their work how does it get past the gatekeepers before it gets to the reader, i.e. the librarians, the booksellers and ultimately the parents who hold the purse strings to buy the books?

Does it depend on class?
Traditionally it’s thought that the working classes are the most prolific cussers, but an article in Time magazine last year found that the upper class are equally as foul-mouthed.

Interestingly, it seems the lower middle classes swear the least because as social strivers they need to maintain a respectable moral facade to get on, but the upper classes, having already secured their place in society, swear all day for Queen and country. But then I’ve been wracking my brain to think of any depictions of foul-mouthed upper class characters in modern fiction and I can’t come up with any.

People who object to swearing in fiction usually object to swearing in life. The ones I have come across often tend to be older or religious and often both. Stephen Fry has interesting things to say on the subject. Here’s a clip of him  luxuriating in the joys of swearing.  Have a look. He’s fucking funny.

Two Top Cussers.

“The fact that you use the term “cunt” in the same breath as “sexist”, shows that you display the same muddled, fucked-up thinking oan this issue as you do oan everything else.”

 Irvin Welsh, Trainspotting

 

big trainspotting
DH Lawrence
Dirty Herbert was a main man when it came to liberating the swear word in fiction. Lady Chatterly’s Lover was put on trial for obscenity in 1960 thirty years after it was written. It contained a number of fucks and cunts but escaped a not guilty verdict and was a landmark in terms of censorship for sex and swearing in novels.

DH Lawrence

My novel, The Relative Harmony of Julie O’Hagan is currently available on Amazon on Kindle promotion at 99p. http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CCIQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.co.uk%2FThe-Relative-Harmony-Julie-OHagan%2Fdp%2F1781331227&ei=HctuVd3EJ7GP7AbW-ICQDQ&usg=AFQjCNGkjw-O6ffZIQCwndOyV7sYWLDrOQ&bvm=bv.94911696,d.ZGU