The puritanical and the righteous might think sentences should not include ‘swear’ words, be them in the opening sentence or embedded somewhere deep inside the novel: used either in prose or dialogue. But if that word did appear in an opening sentence then, I for one, would become very curious indeed as to where the story was going. And it was after reading a fellow author’s blog, that made me look back at the opening sentences of my own novels and the language used in them.
My debut novel, TALE OF TWO WOMEN began: I never experienced that all-consuming love a mother should feel when seeing her child for the first time.
Nothing offensive here: but human situations, emotions and feelings are the back-bone of my stories, and that said, the language used has to fit-in with the content. In this book I graphically describe mutual masturbation on the front seat of a van; lady-parts as ‘cunts’, and ‘fucking’ for pleasure, not love.
My second novel, TO THE EDGE AND BACK begins: Born in 1944, I was brought up in Tredegar, a South Wales mining town where fine slag-dust permeated every inch of soil.
The only word anyone could take exception to here is possibly the word ‘slag’. The main character appeared in my debut novel as an adult sex-machine, but this story starts where he is a young boy of 16 who loses his virginity to an older woman. The young character behaves like any teenage boy: masturbating to porno-mags stuffed under his mattress and forever trying to get the girls to drop their knickers. It’s life: it’s exploring ones sexuality, whether we are straight or gay: it’s normal. The story then goes on to tell of his life in the army. The dialogue, especially, had to be convincing and the ‘f’ and ‘c’ words are used, along with the odd ‘twat’, and as I was dealing with military men the word ‘wank’ or variations thereof, obviously appeared.
My third novel, published only a few weeks ago, was totally different. It began: Thirty one year old Thomas Friedrich Schmidt sat alone in a small room at the hospital, the wait and the silence had been excruciating.
Nothing here to take offence at, unless the word ‘small’ hits a raw nerve with some male readers, or, for that matter, female readers with Barnes Wallis’s the size of ping-pong balls that couldn’t breach a tissue-paper wall ne’er mind a Ruhr dam. As you’ve probably guessed the back-drop for this work is WW11 and its about the journey of a German Doctor who enlists in the Wehrmacht, even though he’s a pacifist at heart. He’s depressed and celibate. He eventually has an afternoon fling with a married woman, but the one explicit sex scene is when he takes the virginity of the woman he loves. In this context I use language that depicts an era: a time, and, of course, the circumstances. The novel also glides over the spread of VD, and how soldiers, who, during respite from battle, thought the next woman or drink they had might be their last, so they often didn’t protect themselves with the condoms issued, or use one of the many army operated brothels which were so strictly and clinically regulated they preferred to seek out the clandestine instead of the prostitute.
My fourth novel – a follow on from the third, is finished and will be published in a few weeks time. It is entitled: A NEW BEGINNING. The opening sentence reads: Thomas felt nervous as he walked into the lecture theatre, even though it was a lecture theatre he was familiar with.
Quite an innocent sentence really, unless the term ‘familiar with’ induces flashbacks of moments in your youth. This story covers the year 1946 where Thomas has settled in London with his lover/mistress and their three children. Note I say ‘lover/mistress’ because the authorities didn’t allow mixed-marriages during the war, and the British authorities were wary of giving consent to any British women wanting to marry German men afterwards. This book is about life in the aftermath of WW11 and how the main character tries to bring about change by breaking down barriers. Remember, 1946 was not a world away from Victorian times when righteous and God-fearing parents actually tied their children’s hands to the bedpost to stop them masturbating.
The book I am working on at the moment – my fifth – is a follow-on from To The Edge and Back. It’s title is: UNFINISHED BUSINESS. The prologue begins: Only three weeks before, John Rhys Thomas had undertaken Para-military training and was immediately seconded to the SIS – MI6 – or the ‘Increment’ as it was known.
Nothing untoward in that sentence: if there is, let me know. The two main characters in this book have now appeared in three of my novels. They are living together with their two year old daughter. John is still the highly-sexed love-machine that appeared in my first novel and there are three sex scenes already and I’m only 40,000 words in. I’m satiated already.
I am very fortunate to have such a wealth of English words to choose from. Other languages do not have such a rich choice. The Swedish word ‘bra’ – good – is one word that is used in a variety of contexts. I can think of about 24 English words I could use including the slang words ‘dope’ or ‘sick’. So when you next read ‘bad-language’ just remember most authors have integrity and are only portraying a time, a place, a character: and the narrator is not always the author. Now I really do sound as though I’m right up my own back passage.