I can’t believe that it’s the last day of #BookWeeKScotland today.
Wow what a week that has been! I hope everyone has had a great “Book Week Scotland” and you have all being doing things all #Bookish and #Scottish
Well for my last event of the week I have a double bill – and what a double bill it is too! I have the devilishly handsome duo, the deboinair and delectable, the stylish and suave (right enough guys!) I have two brilliant Scottish writers, Alan Jones and Douglas Skelton join me on my sofa…well not really…they are joining me here on my blog for a final whirl! Alan is going to give us his take on the use of local dialect or Scottish slang in books and Douglas will be discussing his views on the label “Tartan Noir”
Up first of all is Alan Jones:-
Alan Jones – well actually Alan is a bit of a mystery man therefore anything I say may or may not be true! Alan is 35(ish) years old and is partial to the odd chocolate ginger snap and a night out on the tiles with #Twinnes Sharon (moi) and Noelle (aka Crimebookjunkie); or he is respected businessman working in the animal health industry and married to a (very patient) lady with 4 grown up children and in his spare time he writes some damn good books! His cover has been partially blown at Bloody Scotland this year when we persuaded him to show his face to the world! Unfortunately all the pics I have seem to involve some alcohol – so here’s one of Alan hiding in the corner with myself, #Twinnie and Graham Smith (the morning after Bloody Scotland!)
My love affair with Scottish urban dialects. Alan Jones
Nearly everyone living in the West of Scotland will instantly recognise this as a valid and rational conversation that could take place in Glasgow. For me it sums up the economy and humour of Glasgow’s own iconic language, but I’ll come back to it later.
When I decided to have many of the characters in my first two crime novels, The Cabinetmaker and Blue Wicked, speak in a strong Glasgow vernacular, it was with a bit of trepidation. Would it put readers off? Would it make by books very ‘niche’?
There were many reasons for including slang in the books. I don’t know how other authors write dialogue, but I find myself acting out each conversation in my head, taking the part of each character in turn until I’m happy that I’ve caught the way these characters would talk to each other in real life. When I was writing characters like the members of the gang who killed Francis Hare’s son in the Cabinetmaker, and Jacko, the sadistic killer in Blue Wicked, I couldn’t hear their voices in anything other than thick Glasgwegian dialects.
My gran lived in the notorious Red Road high flat scheme in Glasgow, and I spent a lot of time there as a boy, coming in contact with other kids who spoke Glaswegian, or ‘Weegie’ for short. Woe betide me if any of this wonderful new language crept into my own speech; I’d get a slap or two from my mum, but even at a very young age, I had a fascination for what, to me, was a new and utterly compelling language.
But mu decision to use slang in my books was not new or ground-breaking. There were a number of great books I’d read featuring real Scottish urban dialect, and a few, like William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw that I’d heard of but hadn’t got round to reading. Until I’d written Blue Wicked, I’d never read any Scottish crime and I’ve always wondered if this was subconsciously deliberate on my part, knowing that I had a few Glasgow Crime stories in my head and not wanting to be over-influenced by all the great Scottish crime writers we have up here.
I’d read the Booker prize winning ‘How late it was, how late’ by James Kelman, which I’ll admit was tough going in places, but the language his characters used was so raw and real and, as soon as decided to write about Glasgow, I knew that I had to write in the city’s dialect. Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting was even more influential because, although he was using a strong Leith dialect, from the other side of the country, his dialogue had even more immediacy and no topic was taboo, very much in tune with the characters he was writing about.
What is so appealing about Glasgow’s native tongue?
Going back to M’urnae, it’s a contraction of the English phrase ‘I am not’, and it manages to trim that unnecessary syllable from the statement without losing its emphasis. Y’ur is equally frugal rebuttal – ‘You are.’ In real life, the two phrases would commonly be heard repeated for an indeterminate amount of time until one of the protagonists would lose patience and resort to violence or an expletive filled insult to terminate the deadlock.
As well as being economical, Glasgow slang can also be innately funny, but often intimidating at the same time. ‘Sqerr go’, an invitation to fight, sounds hilarious unless you are the victim being invited to make preparations for an impending bout of violence. Its roots are from the English word ‘square’ and it may derive from ‘squaring up’ to someone.
To help out readers of The Cabinetmaker and Blue Wicked, I included slang dictionaries at the end of each of the books, with audio versions of both on the website. Here are a few examples:
|Boufin’||Smelly or disgusting||Yer feet ur boufin’|
|Tanned||Drank \ beat up \ break into||We tanned two boattles o’ buckie last night|
|He got chibbed walkin hame frae the pub
You can see and hear more like these at http://www.alanjonesbooks.co.uk.
The humour indigenous to Glasgow slang is borne out by the success of the Scottish TV classics Chewin’ the Fat and Still Game. Phrases like ‘Gonnae no dae that, just gonnae no’ have become part of Scottish culture. Readers from outside Scotland could do worse than look up clips on You-tube from both these programs to fully appreciate the depth of humour that ‘Weegie’ can convey.
So was I sorry that I made the decision to write my characters with a broad Glasgow accent? The answer has to be no. I feel that the books are written as they should be, but occasionally wonder if they would have been higher up the Amazon rankings if I’d left out most of the slang.
Wow, thank you Alan – that was brilliant! Personally I love the use of slang in a book; I love to read it in the voice of the character inside of my head! To me it lends itself to the book, gives it a sense of reality and makes the characters stand out!
What are other folk’s thoughts on the slang used in books?
Douglas is one of my all time favourite Scottish Crime Authors and seriously if you haven’t read his Davie McCall series then you are “aff yer nut” (i.e. rather silly) He likes to pretend that he is a shy and retiring kinda guy but believe me – I have seen his acting debut and let’s just say that #Shy doesn’t fit the bill Douglas!
“I’ve been a bank clerk, tax officer, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), journalist and investigator. I’ve written 11 true crime and Scottish criminal history books but now I’m concentrating on fiction. Doesn’t mean I won’t, some day, come up with another factual piece – there are a couple of old cases I’d love to get into – but for now I’m making stuff up. I’ve been on the telly often, which is a scary experience but more so for the viewer.”
Tartan Noir – just a label?
READER: So you’re a Scottish writer?
ME: That’s correct.
READER: And you write crime, right?
ME: That’s also correct.
READER: So, it’ll be Tartan Noir you write, then?
I may smile on the outside but inside I’m wincing, just a little.
It’s a handy label to be sure but I think it’s unfair to lump everything together written in the crime and mystery genre in Scotland, or by Scots.
Yes, I’m Scottish. Yes, what I’m writing at the moment could be termed noir. But there’s not a trace of tartan. There’s no shortbread, haggis or bagpipes, either. Although both Davie McCall and Dominic Queste are partial to some square sausage and potato scones.
The crime genre is vast and Scottish writers run the gamut of police procedurals, domestic noir, thrillers, mysteries, cosy crime and black comedy – themselves handy labels which can cover an array of sub-genres.
We write stories that are set in Scotland with a distinct Caledonian background and often with a dark Celtic sensibility.
But here’s the thing –
The majority of them could be set anywhere.
Yes, it’s the strong background that can give them their edge, although not all Scottish crime is edgy, but you could take the plotlines, plonk them down beyond Hadrian’s Wall, create a similarly strong background and they would still have an edge.
My stories, for instance, would work just as well in Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool or London, had I the local knowledge to make them breathe.
Sure it’s just a label but such labelling shouldn’t be necessary. It’s all crime, no matter what accent the characters use.
It can lead to us being viewed as a niche market, like cat detective fiction. Don’t worry, I’m not going to treat you to any of my classic feline puns.
We’re not niche. We’re mainstream, mostly. Look at Graeme Macrae Burnet’s recent, and richly deserved, success. Even when praising him there were slightly arch comments about Scottish crime fiction, as if it is somehow less deserving and surprising that a Man Booker shortlister would originate in that dusty out of the way corner of fiction.
Oh, hell – maybe I should write CSI: Meowmi. (I lied about the cat pun).
Douglas, brilliant article *scrambling brain frantically trying to remember if I ever referred to the Davie McCall series as #TartanNoir 😉
What do others think of the term? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Guys thank you so much for joining me for the last day of the week that was! And what a week it has been – huge thanks to all the brilliant authors who helped me make this happen! I hope you have all enjoyed the posts and that you have discovered some new Scottish Authors along the way!
To read my review on Bloq by Alan Jones then click below:
To read my review on The Dead Don’t Boogie by Douglas then click below:
To buy Douglas or Alan’s books then take yourself over to Amazon and you can fill your trolley!