You are not alone: Write in the language you want!

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Some people ask me why I write in English, when I know it’s going to be twice as difficult to have a writing career in a language that – I don’t have a problem to admit this – I’m still learning and ‘conquering’.

Well… There are many reasons and none at all, but summarising:

  1. I love travelling and I wanted to get out of my country (and English is a lingua franca).
  2. Publishing/getting a writing career in Spain was getting too complicated and depressing.

Truth is, sometimes I feel alone, as if I was a painter using some colours that just I can see – so for other people they are invisible, and artists have to live for their audience as well, so that’s a problem.

Thousands of times I’ve been told that my setences are awckward or that I’m not using grammar in the conventional way. Those are the moments when I feel that writing in another language has challenges I won´t ever overcome because I cannot see these kind of things unless someone (a native, usually) points them out for me.

But… I’m happy, because I’m not alone. When I was doing a Creative Writing MA I used to feel I was the only one struggling in this second tongue to tell stories, and it was pretty frustrating. Thank God, I met other people along the way who were in my same position and inspired me. I seem to be the only one who feels so apologetic (and even an impostor sometimes) because I write in a second language. Whenever I meet other ‘wandering writers’ they seem to be proud of choosing this path and – what is more – usually they maintain they feel more confident writing in English than in their mother togue, something that doesn’t happen to me (so far).

For those of you struggling (or enjoying) writing in English even if it’s not the first language you learned I wanted to bring a compilation of all the interviews we made so far in our radio programme to wandering writers from all over the world. There are tons of valuable advice… Enjoy!

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Yamuna Venugopal

She’s a very intense writer who always manages to reach your heart with her simple – yet powerful – prose. She was born in India but came to Lancaster to study Creative Writing. She was my writing pal there and taught me a lot of things about writing. People liked a lot the way she blended Indian English with her writing – in dialogues and descriptions – as well as words from different Indian languages. Reading her stories was like having a free plane ticket for one of the most fascinating countries in the world. I think from her I learned to bring things from my own culture into my writing.

 

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Leonor Macedo

She’s a Portuguese writer who likes fantasy and YA. She grew up reading English writers such as Neil Gaiman, so that´s why she finds natural to write her dystopian novel in this language. Also, she points out the publishing sector in Portugal is very small. If English is going to give you more chances to write and live doing what you love, go for it!

 

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Monica Guerrasio

What I loved about Monica it’s how easily she talked about writing in both languages, English and Italian (her mother tongue). Since I started writing in English (almost two years ago now) I had felt the need to surround myslef with English books, English cinema, English friends… you could almost say I’m afraid of Spanish as if it was going to ‘pollute’ my English! But sometimes I feel sad about it (hey, Spanish is also cool…) Monica made me think that perhaps switching between different languages just depending the country you’re in can be done. She was also very convinced about translating her own stuff from English to Italian and vice versa. Definitely, something that inspired me a lot, because I can stop seeing languages as ‘enemies’ and start using them in a more complementary way in my art, just as I (try to) do in this blog.

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Oscar Delgado Chinchilla.

Oscar was my other writing pal from the MA. What can I see? He’s an amazing Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Steam-punk writer. Check out his stuff there and you’ll get what I mean. He said that writing in English he felt he could be more honest. I also feel I approach writing in different ways depending on the language I write in. Perhaps in English I can be more distant from what I write so I can see the picture and its mechanics better so the final result it’s better (or I feel so). Oscar is also a model to follow because he’s a uni professor (my current goal) and he has this easy way to explain and transmit things in a way that is useful but honest, so you can trust each piece of advice he gives.

We are not alone! These four people really inspired me to continue this journey. They might be the next big name out there, but in any case I’d say that someone who’s so brave as to try writing in another language and sometimes travelling thousand of miles leaving families and friends behind just for the sake of a dream it’s pretty serious about it… Go you!

Have you ever tried to write in a second language? Can you be creative in English? Let’s share experiences!

 

 

 

‘Elk Tongue’ and The Revenant

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“The main character, his name was Elk Tongue. I went to the director and said, ‘What parent in their right mind would name their kid Elk Tongue? It’s like naming your kid ‘dumb ass’ (…)”

Leonardo DiCabrio has earned his Oscar. Not only because he ate raw bison liver but he also learned two new languages for his role: Pawnee and Arikara – spoken by Native Americans in Oklahoma and Dakota.

This was something I liked a lot in The Revenant – apart from the beautiful landscapes and its intensity. I think the reason behind it is that Alejandro Iñárritu is its director. He’s not American, but Mexican, so he had to learn English first to be where he’s now – in one of the highest postions in Hollywood, I’d say.

Iñárritu is a multilingual director – yey, we’re an increasing number! He has made films both in Spanish – Amores Perros, Biutiful – and English – Birdman and Babel, a film that has much to do with languages and communication.

We’ve lots of languages in this film, including French and Hardy’s own personal dialect – seriously, I could barely understand his character, John Figtzerald.

In The Revenant   US is no man’s land, where invasors – French and English – figh their way, massacring the Native American’s tribes, who in turn attack back the best they can. In this not very welcoming place Hugh Glass – who apparently existed back in the time – stands out as a man who married a  Pawnee woman and is taking care of their son – although nothing of this seems to be historically accurated.

At the beginning he’s attacked my a bear protecting her two cubs – wonderful CGI, for a change. To me this violent attack was a metaphor of the North American’s invasion. Can be blame the bear that is trying to protect her offsprings? Native Americans were protrayed as the bad guys in so many US Westerns – I think it’s outrageous. At least Iñárritu is giving them a much decent role in his story.

Coming back to Hugh Glass, he’s a very literate man: he speaks Pawnee, and it’s this language precisely – and not his native English – the one that  brings him encouragement in his darkest moments – he imagines his wife talking to him. He also speaks Arikara which, arguibly, brings him his much desired revenge.

Alejandro Iñárritu took special care of the accuracy of Native American languages in the film. Here it is an interview made to one of his advisors, who explained to him why calling his main character ‘Elk Tongue’ was not the brightest idea.

So there you go. If you go to a foreign, dangerous land, bring with yourself a conversational phrase book. You never know when you have to scream for help or ask permision to share a raw bison recently hunted…

Have you watched The Revenant? Could you understand Tom Hardy?

 

 

Droog’s language in A Clockwork Orange

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‘What’s going to be then, eh?’

There was me, tht is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus pesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skhorry these days and everybody were quick to forget, newspapaers not being read much neither.

Some of you will recognise these opening sentences – Stanley Kubric made them inmortal, although they were first written in a novella by Arthur Burges, A Clockwork Orange.

Burges wanted his teenage narrator to speak like real teenagers do. I’m sure you will remember that your rebel years came with a fancy and special way to communicate. The abbreviations we used to write to each other texts, emails, chats… At the time I thought it was the coolest thing, and they were million of them, so  you ended up with this line that didn’t look like Spanish or English any more, and that was the best thing of all. Nowadays, of course, I stopped using them because I care about language. I’m a writer.

Why was Burges so interested in language? Well, because he had to convince his readers that  A Clockwork Orange is set in the future. World-building is the key to get  readers’ attention… But, how to make a city from the future believable? You describe the landscape, the buildings… but with globalisation is getting quite challenging. Think about cities you know, are not they almost the same? Cities copy things from one another – Tokyo has an Eiffel Tower, Madrid an Egiptian Temple… – and are often built in a similar way and with similar spaces. How can you know you are in a foreign city?

That’s easy, Close your eyes and open your ears.

Language. Cities might look the same, but as soon as we see different people speaking in different languages we know we are in another country.

Burges knew that language was an indispensable feature of his futuristic world. He could have copied the way teenagers talked around him, but that would have outdated in a few years – or even months. And believe me, you don’t want to put anything that goes off quickly in a novella. Literature is all about making things that matter last, not the opposite. So he decided to invent his own dialect based in Russian – a language non-related to English and he called  it Nadsat. Why Russian? Burges had gone on holidays to the URSS and perhaps he decided to give further use to his Russian-English dictionary…

It’s true that for the first few pages I was completely lost because of this particular vocabulary. But I already knew the majority of the terms by  heart when I finished. Sometimes it’s by context, other by repetition. The system Burges invented to insert these weird terms into his character’s speech is good, because the novella is still a classic.

Inventing a complet new language? That’s way more difficult, although it has already been done, you can ask Tolkien about it…

Have you read A Clockwork Orange? Or watched the film? Did you ever wanted to create your own language for your character?

‘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?