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Writing The Scots I Know
Thank you so much, Anne for letting me visit your blog today! For your readers who don't know me, my name is Jane Richardson and I live in the south-east of England. I write contemporary stories with a delicious dollop of romance in them, and let me see, what else? Oh, yes, there's one more thing - I'm Scottish.
Why did I hesitate, you ask? What's wrong with being Scottish?? Well, nothing of course!! Except maybe....well, look. Let me explain.
My latest publication is a story called Edinburgh Fog. It's a story I almost didn't submit. Why? Because I'm aware that when the words 'Scottish' and 'romance' are used in the same sentence, certain expectations are - shall we say! - aroused.
There’s an enormous market for 'Scottish romance,' particularly with the Highlander-type stories - they're hugely popular. In recent years I've also seen a move towards more contemporary Scottish stories, very often with an American heroine and Scottish hero, or vice versa. Nothing wrong with that at all, I know many people adore them, and I've written a novel myself in the past with an American hero and UK heroine. There's something about that old 'special relationship' between Britain and the UK that carries beautifully into romance stories. We are two nations divided by a common language, and it seems we love noting better than making that division just a little smaller, while still highlighting our wonderful differences. That's great with me!
When it comes to me being Scottish, however, that often raises another issue - the way we Scots actually speak. There does seem to be a generally accepted Scottish-romance-speak, and it's very genre-specific. Again, there's nothing wrong with that. Readers know what they like, and I'm full of admiration for authors who are savvy enough to give readers exactly what they want. But the way the characters in those novels speak is not how I speak at all. All the characters but one in Edinburgh Fog are Scots, and so naturally, they speak with Scottish accents. That's where my difficulties began! Do I write in this universally-accepted Scottish romantic fiction language, or do I stay true to myself and write what I'm familiar with and know to be true, while still keeping as much Scottish flavour as I could?
Well, of course, dear reader, I went with what I know. I could have 'translated' my characters' speech into 'book Scottish' - instead I tried to keep the flow and the rhythm of the way Edinburgh people speak, without using too many dialect words or trying to write out an accent. The key is to try and make the speech as understandable as possible while still keeping it Scottish. I personally don't like it when I have to slow down my reading speed just to try and make sense of what a character is saying, and I'm sure I'm not alone. That has to be the major consideration for any writer who's thinking about employing dialect or characters' accents in their writing - first and foremost, the reader has to understand it.
Here's an example from Edinburgh Fog - Ben Hardie is a big, tough, beer-swilling, rugby-playing, typical Edinburgh lad. Here he is expressing his disgust at the male companion of a couple of women Ben's got his eye on.
“Look at him! Manky wee ginger git, and he’s got those gorgeous babes with him. What’s he got that I haven’t?”
Now, if I'd written Ben in storybook-Scottish, he might have sounded a little more like this:
"Tak' a gaunder at him, manky wee ginger git, and they gorgeous babes wi' him. Whit’s he goat that I hivnae?"
I don't know about you, but I find the second example pretty hard to read - and I wrote it! The first example is of course the one you’ll find in Edinburgh Fog. Does Ben sound any less Scottish in that example? I don't think so. The inclusion of just a few understandable dialect words - 'manky wee ginger git' - helps to underline Ben's Scottish-ness without rendering him unintelligible.
Here's another longer example of three of the main characters in conversation.
"It’s frickin’ freezing out there. Frickin’ Edinburgh.” Ben’s muffled voice emerged from the coils of the scarf wound around his chin. “Freezing fog everywhere, ice all over the pavements. They’ve stopped the buses going down Hanover Street in case they can’t stop and tip right into Princes Street Gardens. I had to walk in to work. Did it warm me up? Did it heckuzlike. Slid all the way, fell over three times and dented more than my pride, I’ll tell you that for nothing. I’m no’ taking anything off till I thaw out.” His shivering, grateful hands took the coffee from Greg. “Thanks, boss. Feels like it’s been winter forever.”
Greg laughed. “I thought you rugby players were tough. Out in all weathers, rain or shine.”
“That’s merely a myth we perpetuate to make us look macho. Only a certified headcase would get down to his shorts in this weather.”
“Wimp,” Chrissie called from the other end of the bar.
“Oh, aye, right,” Ben retorted, “coming from someone who got a taxi to work. I saw you going past like Lady Muck. You might have given me a lift.”
Chrissie grinned, screwing the pourer into the top of a new bottle of vodka. “Don’t take your coat off yet, big man. I need a crate of bitter lemon up from the cellar, and if you think it’s cold outside, you wait till you get down there. It’d freeze the funny-shaped balls off a rugby team.”
Ben and Greg exchanged looks. “Do you actually employ her for real money,” Ben asked, “or was she a free gift with the beer delivery?”
Greg laughed. “Nothing but the top staff for Tellers’.”
Here it's the rhythm of the speech that marks them out as Edinburgh natives. I hope you'll agree that exchange doesn't make them sound any less Scottish than they actually are!
But of course, it's more than just the way characters speak, isn't it? I hope in Edinburgh Fog, I've managed to convey everything I love about a city that was my home for many years; not only the people and the wonderful, idiosyncratic way they speak, but also their wit and humour - and of course, beautiful, extraordinary Edinburgh itself.
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Edinburgh Fog is available in all e-book formats from MuseItUp Publishing. Click here.
You can visit Jane Richardson at her blog, Home Is Where the Heart Is.