Saturday, 28 November 2015

Bad Language

I don't know when some words got to be 'bad language' and I've never understood that people think cursing has power. Words of course can have more power than anything else but it's strange that people get so upset about the use of cursing in novels.
My mother was a farmer's daughter so we were used to 'bugger', 'damn and blast' and 'hell' when we were small children. We didn't know what any of it meant, all we knew was that she was having a bad day and that was her way of letting rip without losing her temper. My father  never swore. I heard him say 'hell' once when he was driving me across the fell to school. It icy and some bloke nearly drove into us.
The first time I heard the word 'fuck' was  when I was about nine. I went to private school and one of the other girls said it. I was rather taken aback but she thought she was very clever.
Most newspapers delete words that they think their readers might find offensive though considering the difficult lives people lead it seems odd they have time to feel offended about such trivia. I worry when I don't have onions in the house.
When I was writing my first books for Hodder and Stoughton, this was 1995 onwards and I had a character, very upper middle class, who was inclined to swear a lot so I put a great deal of it in figuring that my editors would probably object and call for half of it to be taken out, in which I would get what I wanted. Alas, such open minded women, I don't think they even  noticed.
It's like sex. If you are being told a good story and the sex is important then why would you not put it in?  Or violence. But if necessary. Anything gratuitous defeats the object, surely.
I went to the cinema twice last week and saw what I think are the only two films available at the moment which are not full of killing people.  Then the games which people play on Xboxes and whatever. Why is killing people so exciting?  And why on earth do people exquate sex and violence as being something that goes together. Consensual sex is not violent in that both parties are agreeable to whatever is taking place. So it should be rape and violence, shouldn't it?
I do think a good story, all of the best stories, have neither sex nor much violence. If you take the classics, Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Lawrence, Dickens. They wrote the best stories and therefore they didn't require sex or violence or anything else which seems to excite people in the worst way.  Implication is everything. Think of Brief Encounter. It's all about time and loneliness and missed opportunities and people trying to choose between what they want and what they think they want and what the consequences will be. Isn't that more exciting than watching a whole load of paper figures being mown down on screen?  It's watching people making a mess of things or trying so hard to lead decent lives that you bleed for them because that's what life is like. Everybody is out there having a difficult time and they need stories where they empathise, characters they care for and an out come which makes them laugh or makes them cry, or both.
There is a lovely saying among frustrated writers which goes something like 'We write songs for bears to dance to, while all the time we're longing to move the stars to pity.' And because so few of us manage this we go on trying to make people believe in what we write and to care as much as we do about the people in our stories.


  1. oh yes I fully agree with you! I'm 22 years old, in my mind a grown woman, and people still think they can tell me off for swearing! I tell them ,politely, to sod off ;) at the end of the day,some situations just call for a good swear word to express yourself clearly .
    on the side of sex and violence, sometimes one follows the other,not necessarily violence in the extreme sense of the word, but,for example a heated argument with your husband, if you don't great sulky silences afterwards, sex tends to follow instead.

    if that makes any sense whatsoever? :)

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  3. also, I have just discovered your books, and am very pleased I did, I've just finished Mrs Applebys Academy and it was amazing! I kept thinking to myself towards the end "come on Mick, just tell her you love her you fool! "
    we have recently moved to Tow Law so I was walking up the streets with Emma (in my head) and imagining where places used to be :)

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  5. Liz I love this: "watching people make a mess of things or trying so hard to lead decent lives that you bleed for them".
    That is exactly it!