Thursday, 21 February 2013

Do we write with an accent?

As frequently happens, attending a meeting of The Renegade Writers has got me thinking, this time about accents. Not so much about the way we speak - although I'm sure just about everyone thinks that their own accent is neutral and that its everyone else who speaks funny - just that the way we write betrays the place and, more importantly, time we are from just as much as the short 'a' ain the words path and bath mark me down as being from the north of England whenever I open my mouth.
The reason why a short discussion at The Renegades got me thinking about this is due to the fact that, in my reading habits, I mix contemporary novels with some classic books, some drawn from the popular end of the reading spectrum. I am currently reading Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, which I had never read before. Even before the meeting I found it to be like a visit to a grandma; slightly old-fashioned, a bit eccentric, quite amusing and casually racist! The latter really made me wince in places but it has to be expected because Verne was writing in and about his time. He could not know attitudes and beliefs would change.
This took me back to another discussion at the Renegades. I mentioned my love of John Wyndham, how brilliant his ideas were but Jan Edwards commented how she didn't like him because he was so sexist. As a youth I'd never really seen it, but going back and reading a couple of novels again I can see what she means. But again, Wyndham was of his time; it was natural for him to write from a male dominated context because that was his life experiences. I went back and thought about some of my other favourite books and could see just the same biases - Erskine Childers' The Riddle of the Sands for example, a book I loved as a youth and widely accepted as being the first spy novel, projects the Germans as being very one dimensional scheming Huns; in 1905 that was what was expected; The 39 Steps, very similar.
I could go on but the key reason why this has got me thinking is about us as writers. What 'accent' does our writing have now, in the first part of the 21st century? What quirks and prejudices in our society will date us, make people who might read us in the future wince. Before others say, 'No, surely not, we are a balanced, educated society' remember none of us are accentless except to ourselves. Of course we are biased. That is a problem in itself but what happens when we set our stories in the past? Although we can mimic the way of talking of the past, do the research so our historical framework is accurate but should we also mimic the prejudices and sometimes unpleasant attitudes of the past in creating the characters who populate our world? Or do we put a more modern set of principles in our characters because the consumers of our words are of today and tomorrow and not of yesteryear? Tricky, and, as someone who has written two novels set in the 1950's, worrying because I do not have an answer. I just know it's a problem.javascript:void(0);

1 comment:

  1. completely agree, so I'm going to reblog this on my wordpress blog

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