Monday, 24 September 2012

Dropping the C Bomb

I've been having a debate with myself, not out loud of course, that would be considered strange.  Even in the Fens.  It’s about swearing.  I’m sure the words you sound out when you stub your toe is, “Oh damn and blast!  That flipping sofa!”  Because you are a polite and God fearing person who wouldn’t dream of using naughty words; even when experiencing the excruciating pain of a broken limb, giving birth or even worse, a paper cut.

The other day, I got to a point where I needed to use that most profane of words.  Now I’m not afraid of a good swear.  In fact, I can be described as being quite Anglo-Saxon at times.  But being a lady, I’m not that keen on using the ‘C word’ out loud.  Oh I’ll F and blind, b*gg@r, w&nk and c%ck till the cows come home but for some reason, I just don’t like saying ‘See You Next Tuesday’ out loud.  And let’s face it, there’s nothing like a good b@ll*cks when the moment requires.

This event coincided with the return of one of my favourite comedy programmes, ‘The Thick of It’.  Malcolm Tucker is one of my workplace heroes.  He can swear like no other can. The writers have created a character of Machiavellian proportions.  The level of swearing is poetic.  He knows just the right words for just the right moment, such as finishing a phone call with ‘f*ck@ty bye’ or whilst shut in a small cupboard with another ministerial lackey, ‘What is this, Tinker Tailor Soldier C*nt?’ See, I’ve managed it.  I’ve dropped the ‘C’ bomb, even though I’m quoting and it is strictly necessary - and I’ve used little keyboard characters as bleeps, just in case you read this post before the watershed.

I’ve been writing the sequel to The Ghost Hunters Club: ‘The Ghost Hunters Return’.  Our heroine Linda and her friend Chaz thought they were finally at a posh school where they could enjoy teaching until they retired.  No such luck.  As a ‘televisual social experiment’ just like that education horror ‘Jamie’s Dream School’ - the headteacher decides to volunteer his private school to take on six of Edinburgh’s toughest students.  Needless to say, it is Linda and Chaz who have to take on the little darlings.  Now these types of students have been chucked out of state school for a reason.  It is very hard to get yourself permanently excluded from school these days; you have to make quite a long and determined effort of abuse and wrong doing to get chucked out.  So when these students want to insult you, they will not pull their punches.  They will use the worst possible words at their teachers, the film crew and at each other.  And that means dropping the C-bomb.  It has to be used; otherwise the characters will lose their credibility.

It was the same situation when I created by character ‘Dave’ in my novel ‘The Policemen Who Was Afraid of the Dark’.  He swears quite a lot.  But it is necessary for his character.  Sometimes he says the string of expletives to shock, sometimes for humour but if he didn’t swear, he would lose his charm.  Besides, I’ve been assured by my policeman friend that a lot of officers in CID have mouths like drains.  People swear.  It’s life.

The thing is, I need to retain a certain amount of modern realism in my stories.  One poster said on a forum recently that she would forgo downloading a novel if it featured a warning of strong language.  Fair enough, that’s her choice.  But to take out the swearing in my stories would mean that the characters would lose their voice, and that is something I can’t allow.

There’s a time and a place for swearing.  It can be used to insult a dastardly person, for humour or even pain relief but it must be used in the right context.  Not all of my stories contain profanities and not all of my characters swear but when they do, they really mean it!

My freshly edited ghost story The Listening Post will be free to download from Thursday 27th until 30th September.  It hasn’t got any swearing but don’t let that put you off.


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4 comments:

  1. Great post! And a hugely debated issue. When we had Scott the Zombie's first 300 critiqued in Writing Magazine, the opening line was 'oh shit. You ate Alicia.' James McCreet LOVED it. But then Sweargate kicked off. A guy wrote in complaining about the offensive word & said he wouldn't read a book with swearing in it. We pointed out 'botheration' didn't convey the character's horror. The debate raged for several issues.
    Swearing is a part of life. Some people swear every other word, others hardly at all. But it's realistic and therefore SHOULD feature in books. If you don't want to read swear words, read a children's book. Adults swear. And if we stub a toe, we swear a lot.

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  2. This is a good point to make. A lot of people would be put off by swearing in a novel. It's something I struggled with myself, but it's the way the characters would speak, so why not? I agree with clraven that if you don't want to read swearing in a novel, buy a kiddie's book. It's a part of everyday life, and as your characters in the sequel are going to be Edinburgh's toughest students, and I assume are therefore Scottish, they will most definitely swear. We're on a whole different level of swearing up here, and the C word, to those adolescents, will be almost every second word. The other word being the F bomb. I guarantee it. (If you haven't already read them, Irvine Welsh's novels might be worth checking out for confirmation/guidance of the way the locals would speak) Obviously, you don't want that much swearing to appear in your book, but a few choice comedic appearances, or soundalikes, would make it authentic. At the end of the day though, it's YOUR novel, and if you want to leave it out/put it in, it's entirely your decision, and if a prior warning puts a potential reader off, that can only be a good thing. After all, it's better to lose a sale than gain a sale and an angry review.

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  3. I was going to write a response here, having operated at both ends of the swearing scale over the course of two books, so I wrote a blog entry - http://kj-bennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/swearing-not-bldy-likely.html

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  4. People swear. It's a fact of life. Even me, and I'm pretty mild-mannered most of the time. Besides, there are occasions when nothing can add eloquence and potency to an utterance quite like a well-chosen, well-placed expletive.

    A group of tough, disadvantaged schoolkids would hardly restrict themselves to the occasional 'Fiddlesticks!' so I think you're entirely justified in including swearing. Hope the sequel is going well, profanities and all!

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