Thursday, 11 June 2009

The Brown Stuff

Do you like the new look of the blog? I was thinking I needed to get rid of the brown stuff and I was too scared to do anything about it. I worried if I changed something everything would vanish. But it didn’t. Go me. (And thanks to Marley for the prompt.)

Talking about the brown stuff, Gordon Ramsay’s up to his gonads in it, isn’t he. Personally I don’t hold with all this bad language. It shows a lack of breeding, poor vocabulary and is just fucking disgusting.

Actually, as a writer this whole issue fascinates me. These are just words, aren’t they? And words are our tools. If it creates an affect we should use it, right?

Over the years of being a member of and running creative writing classes there are a number of subjects that regularly come up for debate. We’ve already looked at one of these earlier on in this blog – what’s wrong with writing poetry in rhyme - other issues that arise with metronomic regularity (eesh, a four syllable word, I’m going to have to sleep that one off) include; Should We Use Swear Words in our Writing, and Who’s Making the Tea?

The answer to the question of the tea is normally whoever feels an overriding need to please everyone else.

The answer to the swearing question? It depends.

Emotive little syllables “fuck” and “cunt”, aren’t they? Particularly the latter. As you read them just now, you would have had some sort of response. Were you shocked? Horrified? Did you laugh? Did you feel like giving me a lecture to desist, refrain, gonnae no?
Being a writer, a User of Words, should we not harness that effect?

Stephen King in his excellent book “On Writing” (if you want to publish in popular fiction you should read this) argues that there is a contract between the writer and the reader and if the writer doesn’t write in a way that is true to their character they are breaking said contract. This means that if Jimmy the joiner hits his thumb with a hammer, he exclaims in a manner suitable to his character. Already you have a mental image of who Jimmy the joiner is, don’t you? Would he say, ‘damn and blast, that jolly well hurt?’ Or would he give out a yell along the lines of ‘Ya fuckin’ basturt!’

Some writers I know manage to go through whole careers while avoiding the F word. Me? I can’t help myself. While speaking I rarely use expletives. When I do it’s either for a laugh, or when I’m furious – and in that situation nothing quite cuts it like a good swearie word. However, get me writing and the F words flow like champagne in a UK Member of Parliament’s second home.

I recently sent one of my brothers an email in which I was lamenting various publishers who’ve recently shown incredibly bad taste to turn my novels down. In this email to my younger brother I used the F word. Just one solitary, itsy-bitsy “fuck” escaped the internal editor. My brother replied saying that my use of this one word had quite an impact. He has hardly ever heard me swear, while every other (male) member of my family uses “fuck” like it’s the only qualifier that works. In effect, when they swear it’s like verbal wallpaper. But when I do, my brother says, it has power. (I’m liking that. MM the power swearer)

The first time I met my agent was in the restaurant in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. She’d come over from Amsterdam and this was one place in Glasgow she could find her way to without getting lost. By way of setting the scene...she’s a real lady, my agent. Classy. We were discussing my crime novels and potential publishers, but first she had gone through both books very carefully and wanted to edit certain things. She moved from discussing one scene she felt needed to be cut to saying, ‘...and here, there’s too much fucking.’

Dear reader, I nearly choked on my Earl Grey (what can I say, I was pretending to have some class). We decided that it worked to give my main character such a verbal tic, but everyone else should leave it the fuck alone.

As a wee sidebar, while I was typing this my son (aged 11 and newly fascinated with all things to do with bodily functions/ bad language/ boobs) was looking over by shoulder. He pointed at a line and said – you spelled that wrong, dad. Bastard isn’t spelled like that. His hand shot to cover his mouth as if I was going to throw soap in it. Now, I would have been quite the hypocrite if I had given him a row, wouldn’t I? (But we are, aren’t we – parents - and that’s a whole other blog.) Then followed yet another debate about how kids shouldn’t use bad language we think they are better than that and if adults wanted to use it then that was up to them and stop asking me that same bloody question every day I’m tired of this debate gotoyourbedrightnowyoungman.

To swear or not to swear? What I’ve taken a long time to say is that less is more...more or less.


  1. The blog looks good, though I liked the brown stuff. Redheads like earth tones, lol. I agree completely; less is more. I save my swearie - i like that - words for times when I want that extra impact. If your everyday language is peppered heavily with them, what are you left with for impact? Hand gestures? Body gestures? Hmm, that might work.

  2. Us humans are designed not to like change. I liked the brown stuff. But the Celtic colours are a good alternative!

    I swear in my blog from time to time. A little does no harm. Swear away!