Escritora Errante 17: Se Abre Una Puerta.

Las puertas del infinito

Este año no está siendo fácil. Decidí quedarme en el norte de inglaterra por mi sueño de vivir de la escritura, pero la verdad es que desde que empecé el doctorado escribir no ha sido tan divertido como siempre. ¿Qué anda por mi cabeza?

¿Cómo ganar dinero mientras escribo?

¿Cómo encontrar lo más parecido a un hogar en la Pérfida Albión?

¿Es el doctorado en inglés el camino adecuado?

Tras haber conseguido un trabajo me pasé la Semana Santa currando (y recordando por qué quiero ser escritora y no tener un trabajo de oficina para mantener mi salud mental). Luego me fui de vacaciones a España, pero esos días empezaron teñidos de angustia. Primero porque, como buena escritora, me gustan los dramas (e interpretarlos). Mi dos principales preocupaciones:

  1. Solo dan 10 días de vacaciones al año en el trabajo. (Osea… condiciones dickensianas).
  2. La beca del doctorado. No me la dieron el año pasado y me la jugué invirtiendo mis ahorros para pagarme el primer año, cruzando los dedos para que me la dieran los dos años siguientes.

 

En esos días agridulces en los que me planteaba qué camino tomar si se me cerraban las puertas del doctorado (y la verdad, no se me ocurría nada, porque no me veo trabajando de nueve a cinco en una oficina y escribiendo por las tardes) llegó a mis manos un libro qué precísamente hablaba de puertas: la nueva publicación de José Antonio Cotrina con Víctor Conde.

Cotrina es mi escritor favorito en lengua castellana. Sus palabras me transportan a lugares imposibles y me hacen ver cosas que probablemente solo podría alcanzar bajo los efectos de algún hongo alucinógeno. Su manera de escribir es detallada sin ser barroca (como a mí me gusta) y sus argumentos tienen siempre ese giro oscuro e inesperado que logra afianzarlos en mi memoria. Todos sus libros y personajes (el Conde Sagrada, el Demiurgo, Rocavarancolia…) siguen conmigo aun meses (y años) después de haberlos leído.

Así que en estos días en los que no escribí ni una palabra ni pensaba que iba a leer, su nuevo libro fue como un soplo de aire fresco. Empecé con la primera página y ya no lo pude dejar hasta terminarlo. La historia es una locura: hay magia, acertijos, monjas, números, sueños, paranoias, crueldad, putas, dragones, el Londres victoriano, morsas verdes, ciudades imposibles, dioses e ídolos de la fertilidad…

Fue leerlo y recordad por qué quiero ser escritora. Por qué estoy dispuesta a sacrificar tantas cosas solon por el placer de crear algo parecido.

Las Puertas del Infinito tiene mucho de Cotrina. Una protagonista femenina que no me da arcadas (para variar), sino con la que me siento indentificada. Unas descripciones que podrían ser cuadros de El Bosco. Un final que quiero discutir con los demás lectores (y con el propio autor, ¡ojalá!) Pero quizás, lo más importante es la manera en que te atrapa. Sus frases son como virus malévolos que te devoran el cerebro para controlarte y que sigas leyendo hasta la última página. Y eso, he de decir, es la maestría en el arte de contar historias. Te pueden convencer más o menos ciertos aspectos, pero si al final te quedaste escuchando hasta el final entonces ese barco ha llegado a un puerto.

Hace tiempo que no escribo por diversión. Últimamente todo son fechas de entrega y un número máximo de palabras a cumplir. Pero gracias a Cotrina y a Conde (que no he leído nada suyo pero con ganas estoy después de esto) vuelvo a mirar el arte con otros ojos. Y estoy dispuesta a comer un poco menos y a ser un pelín más pobre solo por seguir creando.

Por cierto, que al final sí terminaré esa trilogía de novelas cortas en la que estoy trabajando. Porque algunas personas en la Pérfida Albión piensan que merecen la pena y han decidido pagarme la matrícula del doctorado los dos años que me quedan. Si hubiera sido inglesa, la gran noticia habría venido con un dinero mensual para mantenerme, pero como nací en un país con sol me toca seguir haciendo malabares para comer/contar con un refugio. Pero… ¡qué importa! Cómo los aperimantes del libro de Cotrina y Conde, he descifrado la clave de esta puerta y estoy más que dispuesta a cruzar el umbral.

¿Qué puertas habéis abierto vosotros?

¡Nos seguimos leyendo! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Carol and spelling your name

 

Carol

I went to watch Carol last December in York. I had great expectations with this movie and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightlest.

The price of Salt – the novel in which the film is based –  is way more than a classic lesbian story to me. When I found myself in love with another woman I was really lost. I had so many questions, so many emotions, fears and doubts boiling inside. Then I came to read this book and it reafirmed what I was feeling. To me, it was also important that it was written by one of my literary idols, Patricia Highsmith. Her stories are dark and twisted, like The Talented Mister Ripley – many of you will know at least the film adaptation. The price of Salt is not spooky but still powerful, one of these novels I cannot forget.

The is told from Therese’s point of view. She’s a young woman working in a shopping Center at Christmas time, where she meets  Carol, who is looking for a toy for her daughter. Carol is definitely the protagonist of both the novel and the film – Cate Blanchett is simply superb, anyone would fall in love with her. However, Carol herself cannot resist Therese’s mysterious aura.

Therese.

There is a scene in which Carol asks Therese about the strange spelling of her name – while both are flirting. ‘Therese’ has, for sure, the resonance from distant lands and that is because her parents are from Czech Republic. Can language or spelling make someone even more attractive? I wish so, as I always have to spell my name wherever I go these days.

Therese is not a common girl. She has a strong, non-apologetic personality, she’s one of these people who knows what she wants and simply goes there and takes it, no matter the price. I admire people like her because it’s so easy to sucumb to ease and laziness in life.

We do so many things a day – we wake up, we go to work or study, we switch on thousand devices, we spend money… – but do we do what we really want to do? No, because it’s complicated. There are so many things that provide instant relief – checking  emails, social media, or buying a sweet – that we have forgotten that the most important things are those difficult to get. We must endure suffering before embracing happiness, it’s always a cycle – I like to think this when things are not going that well.

Therese falls in love and she dares to do so – it is so challenging to open oneself to a stranger, to offer all that we are in exchange of nothing. She ends an unsatisfying relationship with her boyfriend – you also have to be strong to get rid of people who waste your energy instead of enriching it.  And she leaves her part-time job to pursue her dream of being a set designer – or photograph in the movie.

Therese comes a foreign background. I wonder why Patricia Highsmith did this. Perhaps because she knew that when you are from another country you feel like dancing between two worlds: the here and there. Languages and rites are separated and things don’t feel as they should sometimes. You know that no matter how hard you try, you’d never feel what’s to ‘fit in’.

That’s the same I felt when I started writing in English. I know I’m never going to write as well as a native, so I may as well have fun and do it shamelessly and just for the sake of it.

Therese sees in Carol’s love and – spoiler here – rejection a way of finding her own freedom. When you had it all and then lose it all and you discover you are still alive, then I guess everything seems simpler. Since the first second we stepped on this life we walked towards our own end – unavoidably. We should remember that more often to keep trying new things, meeting new people, travelling to distant places.

And those like Therese who are dancing between worlds… sometimes it is a bit sad when you cannot feel completely connected anywhere. But then, I always tell myself, because we are strange, strange things will happen to us. And I like that adjective, beacause strange means not boring. And boring… that’s death in life.

Writing like a Hindi God… Congregation of Innocents

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Congregation of Innocents

 

Writing with several hands, is it possible?

I’m not only a writer, but also a pianist. And I know that playing four hands it’s incredibly difficult. There are so many things that can go wrong – the rhythm, the time… even physically, your fingers can just run over the other person’s! It can be a dissaster because it requires perfect communication with your partner – yes, you need to be soulmates to grant success, basically.

In writing should be easier because there is not the stress of the immediate performance – you have more time to discuss, argue and scream at each other hoping that the final product doesn’t come out drenched in blood.

I have experience on that: I wrote with my father, who’s also a writer. How was it? Well, it was writing with my father

We see things so differently. For him there is LITERATURE –  this includes all the books he likes, which are mainly Literary Fiction – and then that commercial crap that is not any better than a hamburguer at McDonalds – and this includes almost all genre fiction and the books he just doesn’t personally like.

Yes. We argued a lot.

Also, he thinks that what is told is always more important than how it’s told. And that anything you write has to be based on experience. I write about doctors who mummify children and perform c-sections without anesthesics in a lost mansion in the Highlands – did myself experienced all that…? Well, you might not want to hear the answer…

Of course for him is easier to talk about experiences – he has travelled all over the world. He’s also an amazing writer, and he’s funny, and satirical, and critical, and socially-engaged – all things that I admire and I wish my writing had – at least in a stronger way.

Our experience writing together was enriching but in the end, when the book came out everyone thought that the serious, literary parts were his and the funny comical bits were mine – because of the age, I assume. They got it wrong.

Today I want to talk about another book wirtten by multiple hands: Congregation of Innocents, edited by Curious Tales. It contains four short stories by Emma Unsworth, Richard Hirst, Jenn Ashworth and Tom Fletcher plus a graphic short story by Ian Williams. It also has the illustrations, photos and cover design by the artist Beth Ward.

I was lucky that this was the book read in our Gothic Reading Group at Lancaster University and Jenn Ashworth came to talk about the process. She mentioned very interesting things. First of all, the four writers are all friends and work all together editing each other’s texts. I can see here the challenge of having friends and giving them feedback and still being friends after that. We all have such big egoes – I do, at least, although I was partially cured since I started writing in English and I became really humble about it because it’s not my first language… Also, I’d also feel a lot of preassure if continuously giving feedback to my friends just in case I don’t like some of the stuff they do – even if I love them as people, obviously. Art is such a subjective thing… For example, Jenn pointed out that it too her quite a long time to understand Tom‘s short story whereas I fell in love with it immediately.

These people are not just professional writers, they also funded a publishing houseCurious Tales – and have done a trilogy of short story collections called Five Curious Tales. It all started when they decided to exchange ghost stories as a Christmas present. I think this is a such a genial idea.

How do they unifiy their collections, though?

They dedicate their volume to a writer and then gather inspiration fom him or her to write their short stories – as a response to the work of this particular author.

For example the second collection was called Poor Souls’ Light and it was inspired by Robert Aickman, whereas the third one, Congregation of Innocents,  – which I have in my hands – is inspired in the short stories by Shirley Jackson.

The illustrations are, in my opinion, what brings the stories all together. Jenn explained how Beth acts as the core of the project. She gives feedback to everyone, she decides how the illustrations will complement everyone’s story, she does the artwork from the cover  – and that picture is like the essence of the collection itself, not an easy thing to do, I imagine! She even decides the order of the short stories.

I think this is very wise. First because words can come together through other media – in this case visual images. And third because someone from another media may be more able to see the whole picture.

This volume – we all agreed in the Gothic Reading Group – it’s about endings. All the stories are drenched in the bittersweet essence of farewells. And the cover irself represents – as it couldn’t be other way – a detail from a pink and purple cherry blossom. It looks so Japanese and delicate… and the green colour from the title letters is ghostly and unsettling –as if it was whispering to us that this is a horror story collection nonetheless, so we should be prepared. The first pages also have details from the cherry blossom branches in black. It looked like a sort of radiography so again, even if cherry flowers are beautiful and delicate, it was as if they were already dead.

Preceeding each of the stories there are black and white rows of three photographs – without titles or any word indeed, just the naked image. In The Festival the images show what it seems a piece of embroidery (complexity? a hard work? women?), some round glasses reflecting two boats on the sea (travelling?) and white petals on the ground (death of someone who is young?)

In Do You Know How To Waltz? the photographs are difficult to see because there is something that reflects on them – like the light through the blinds over a dark room. What we can see are the silouettes of flowers and trees. (Nature? Something that is hidden? Danger? Vulnerability?)

The Women’s Union Relief has the image of an isolated park, then a mug filled with tea or coffe, and then another mug but from a different perspective. (Home? Comfort? Lost childhood?)

Desert Stories has – in my opinion – the most unsettling set of images – and this was the story I found more unsettling too among all of them. We have some small hands  closed as if praying (a child’s?) a seed that has just started to grow and an empty room with an open door and an empty chair. (Abscence? Infancy? Lose? Revival?)

Now that I have read all the stories I can interpret better the photographs and see how much they are linked to the story. I think it has a wonderful idea to have another medium – photography, in this case – to express another part of a story. We live in a culture where images are very important, why shouldn’t literature nurture from them? The images don’t just reflect what is said by words but also open new paths to the interpretation of these. It is as if images where an integral part of the story, another organ in the whole body. The fact that they are in black and white adds to the atmosphere – we tend to relate black and white with the past, from where ghosts come to haunt us. There are organised in three shots, and this makes the piece cinematic. The details in the photos talk to each other and tell a story by themselves. I think the plastic artist’s work was magnificent because she managed to create a decadent universe where all the stories in this collection can co-exist.

Another visual feature I want to praise was the inclusion of a short story but told in the form of a graphic piece. It’s written by Ian Williams and it’s called The Brood of Desire. The first image occupies the first page and it shows a key with an intrincate design in its hanger. When I saw it for the  first time I felt as if the author was invinting me to his world by offering me the key – but it looked like a key made to hide dark things, so I knew that taking it would bring consequences. The graphic short story is also in black and white and what stroke me the most is the way its simple pictures transmit me so much repugnance – in the best way, because when I read horror I want to feel repugnance, and fear, and shock.

To sum up, I believe that Congregations of Innocents is a rare not to be missed piece. It is a collection of short stories set in a dark, dangerous universe. You would not necessarely want to inhabit it – or to meet its people – but when Christmas comes and you’re sick of sweets and Christmas songs and blinking lights and you feel you need something to balance it… this is your thing! Winter is not just about warm fires and hot chocolate but also about naked sharp trees and never ending nights. And there is so much art and talent in this little book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story of a return – Persepolis

Persepolis

I read Persepolis when I was 14. I lived in Spain and I went to my first Comic-Con – after begging my parents during days. Finally my father agreed to take my sister, my best friend and I to the place of the event. To be fair, it was quite far away from home, and he thought we wouldn’t  be safe in a place full of thousands of friquis – that’s how we call in Spain the people who like reading comics and manga, play videogames and watch Japanese animation.

We arrived and all that I wanted was merchandasing from Naruto or Death Note – back then, my favourite mangas. My dad picked Persepolis for me and bought it as a present thinking that if I wanted to read comincs at least should read a true graphic novel – the fancy word for comics for adults who don’t like to say they read comics.

I read it and loved. But I hadn’t understood it properly until last week, when I got the English translation – I bought the paperback version for 3 pounds in a charity shop.

This is the story of a young girl who recieves a liberal education – because educations one can have many, and some of them intend to send the brain to sleep instead of awake it – and lives in Iran after the Islamic Revoluti0n. What is this? Well, basically consists in closing universities, separating boys and girls in schools, making the veil compulsory… to sum up, applying all the –human interpreted – religious principles of Islam to the every day lives of Iran citizens.

Majarne – that is the name of the author and the main character, because Persepolis is a memoir – grows up reading Simone de Beauvoir, so you can imagine it’s very hard for her to accept the principles from the Islamic Revolution. Because she’s bilingual in French she can move out from the country during the war against Iraq to study her secondary education in the Licée Français in Vienna. Afterwards, she moves to Strasbourg at 23 to study graphic design. She never comes back to Iran.

French saved Majarne and allowed her to find a home in a place where her values and beliefs were not questioned. But, how many languages can one find in Persepolis?

Persian: A very ancient and unique language. It’s spoken in Iran and it’s Majarne’s first language. We can just find it when the characters curse each other. It’s as if she was suggesting that the visceral feelings of anger they are experienced cannot be translated – these feelings that are indeed a consequence of war and discrimination.

For instance, in a chapter called Pasta, a nun in the Catholic student accomodation where Majarne is staying suggests that she’s a thief as every other Iranian. She replies something in Persian – and for the way she’s screaming at the nun we can be sure it’s not something nice.

French: Majarne goes to a bilingual school as a child until the government shuts them all down saying that they promote a decadent education. Later she goes to the Licée Français is Vienna where she studies French culture. She currently lives in France and sometimes call herself a French artist.

German: In her years in Vienna – from 14 to 18 – Majarne has to learn German to communicate in her every day life. When she goes on holidays to the Tyrol – her roomate is from there – she encounters a special difficult accent.

English: Majarne’s teenage idols are all from the English speaking world – from Bruce Lee to Kim Wilde. As many of us, she cannot detach herself from the English speaking culture – music, cinema and so on. I feel English is a lingua franca because one can gain much more freedom by speaking it. English brings you access to a wider culture while allows you to communicate with people from all over the world. How could a language like this be out from Persepolis, which is indeed a story about gaining freedom?

Arabic: Iranian people have to study the religious texts in Arabic instead of in Persian. This is very demanding, and I guess not everyone undertands the prayers if they haven’t had time to study the language. It reminded me to those times when  mass was given in Latin in Spain. People had to seat in church for a long time – this was at the beginning to the 20th century, they listened to something that they knew it was important yet they couldn’t understand it. Is this a hidden form of opression? For some people, getting the bread home each day is a full-time task – they don’t necessarily have time to educate themselves. And learning a new language – as you probably now – is not easy. Acquiring another tongue is like planting a very rare kind of flower. Unless you take proper care of it it’s going to die. Almost everything can kill this flower so you’ve to make sure you are there to prevent it – everyday. Also, religion is suppose to create a sense of communion and bring people together. But a language one cannot understand can be the strongest barrier. Then, teaching people religion in another language might be a contradiction in itself…

persepolis-veil

Persepolis is a very good graphic novel. If you have left your home pursuing more freedom in life and choices, then you’re going to be identified with it. It’s also an iteresting story if you actually want to know more about Iran and its culture. And even if nothing of these specially appeals to you still go and read it, because this is a piece that will make you laugh even if talks about really dark stuff. I think it should be a classic…

Have you read it? Or watched the film? What do you think about it? Have you ever felt like a foreigner – even in your own country?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘In a Pig’s Ear, Sweet Pie!’ – why Idiolects are great fun.

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‘You look fantastic!’ she said when she finished. ‘I could eat you!’

And then: ‘I’m going to miss you, Pat Puss, you know! So much.’

‘I love you, Charlie. I’ll write every day, I promise.’

‘Kiss me! Even if I’m Irvin’s and always be forever, I still want you to kiss me!’

Yummy breasts of all time as little tongue goes travelling down belly-town! And other secret places!
Such squelch and sweat the world has never seen! God! – Why couldest not invent a sweeter way to melt and merge? Dickies which might squirt Chanel, or weenies which secrete rosewater?

Breakfast on Pluto, by Patrick McCAbe

This is probably my favourite quote from Breakfast on Pluto, a book I read a few weeks ago. I haven’t watched the film adaptation yet – although I find Cillian Murphy very attractive as a woman, I’ve to say. I’ve read the book is more explicit than the movie so I don’t think I’m going to enjoy the movie that much. Specially because what I’ve loved most in this book is Pussy’s nerve, if you take that from the story, what else is left?

In this blog I’ve talked a lot about different languages, but what about idiolects? An idiolect is a way of speaking associated with an individual. Because yes, we all have our own way to speak. You might not have realised that, but if you’re a writer then you probably know how challenging – and fun, and frustrating – is to give your character a voice. That’s the idiolect. And it’s unique, and sometimes recreating it on the page might be as difficult as learning a foreign language.

Pussy Braden was born as an orphan – he might have been the son of a Catholic priest and his teenager servant – and grew up in the fictional city of Tyreelin. He has always known he’s a woman and also that he wants to find her mother – wherever she is, or whoever she might be.

Horrible things happen to our poor Pussy – the IRA and the Catholicism happen to him, I must say – but she narrates everything with a delicious insolence. Sometimes she seems too optimistic, other times her happiness feels like fresh make-up covering a ninety-year-old face. It’s all pure comedy, because the sadness is there, and the loneliness, they never left.

Her way of speaking is very peculiar. In this quote she explains how she was in the newspaper after being in a disco where the IRA put a bomb – and now the police thinks she’s a member of the IRA as well just because she’s Irish.

To this day I regret that I didn’t keep the Daily Mirror and the Sun, for I didn’t look at all bad either! (…) I’d see the bold black type: ‘Sweet Smile of a Killer!’, which was hilarious, it really was, particularly with the glazy look I had in my eyes and my clothes ripped to shreds. Especiallt as I say, my Christian Diors! Which they had arrows pointing to so you could see my hairy legs (I’m afraid I hadn’t bothered to shave them that night!)

Breakfast on Pluto, by Patrick McCAbe

Exclamations: She doesn’t spare these. She uses them as some people use salt or sugar on everything. This made – to me – her language artificially happy. Like if she pretended to narrate her story all excited, bouncing up and down with bright eyes.

Dashes and brakets: Those are also used a lot to allow Pussy digression. These are mostly anecdotes and funny impressions that contribute to the comedy in the narrative.

Dialogues: Pussy tells us at the beginning she’s writing her story as a sort of therapy for her psychiatrist, who is encouraging her as he seems to think she’s a good writer. Yet she introduces dialogues now and then. As a writer, I always struggle with this. Is it realistically enough? When I write my diary I just ramble, and I never quote what other people have said to me – I think. But my diary is not something readers would find interesting and a book has to be of some interest. So in this case I think we can ‘forgive’ Pussy. The dialogues are also embedded inside the text instead of being separated in different paragraphs, which made them look more casual and part of Pussy’s own voice.

Chapters’ titles: I absolutely loved the fact that each chapter had its own funny titlel. Pussy’s personality shines through these. Some of the best ones:

  • Hysterical Jokes and Greeting Visitors in a Skyblue Negligee!
  • In a Pig’s Ear, Sweet Pie!
  • Vicky likes Salmon!!

Vignettes: The story is narrated in very short chapters – vignettes – which correspond to a single scene. I found the same in another Irish book – Reading in the Dark – and wondered if it might be considered a feature in Irish prose. I’ve to say I like books with short chapters. It makes me feel I read quicker and everything flows more pleasant. I’m fan of the old ‘lo bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno’ which basically means that if something is good and short is better. At least, as a writer, I like to keep my things ‘short’ – so no 100000 pages novels for me, thanks.

What is real?: The fictional ‘vignettes’ were written by Pussy as a therapy. But along with these there are also pages that preceed and also act as an interlude for these. There Pussy’s voice is the same – slightly more contended, perhaps? – but presumably narrates the real current events that are happening in her life. However, these ‘real’ interludes stop appearing when Pussy tells us how she set fire to the church in Tyreelin and the story finishes in vignettes. I think this subtle game is very interesting as it makes the character more real and less of a caricature  – she might have been ended up by being so if we only had the vignettes. Mixing formats, also, is something I find very original and it also allows the writer to play with different registers and times.

The Irish narrator: Is there such a thing? Apparently what defines ‘the Irish narrator’ is his/her needless eloquence… At least that’s what my supervisor, Eoghan Walls, told me. Pussy is definitely needless eloquent and also quite strident. Yet instead of disliking him I grew fond of him chapter by chapter.

The IRA and the church: These are two things that make Pussy’s life worse. The IRA is always around, killing, and they are violent against the British but also to those Irish who they think disloyal. This is not a sympathetic portrairt. The church, on the other hand, also symbolises Pussy’s struggles. First because he might have been orphaned because he was born from a Catholic priest. Second, because being a transexual woman doesn’t set well with Catholicism anyways. Abortion is also discussed in the book as something that needs to be more accesible for Irish women. Sadly, Pussy knows that he’s orphan also because his mother never wanted him thus she abandoned him. And that feeling of neglect is his curse in life.

Secondary characters: Pussy is telling us her life in first person, and her voice is so intense that there’s little room for more characters. I don’t think the reader minds this, because she’s very engaging. The other characters are just secondary, mere shadows appearing now and then, although she manages to describe them very well and offer the reader a glimpse of their personality – like her childhood friends, Irwin and Charlie. Although, considering that Pussy is an unreliable narrator, you always wonder until what point her perception can be – or not – accurate.

I want to finish with the end of the book, in which Pussy expresses her most impossible wish – to become a mother. I found it weirdly tender.

(…) to wake up in the hospital with my family all around me, exhausted after my ordeal maybe, but with a bloom like roses in my cheeks, as I stroke his soft and tender head, my little baby, watching them as they beam with pride, in their eyes perhaps a tear or two – who cares! – hardly able to speak as they wipe it away and say: ‘He’s ours.’

Breakfast on Pluto, by Patrick McCAbe

‘Have you read it? Have you ever attempted to create an idiolect for your characters?