The Way We Speak Now (in 2019)

@Copyright Commons. Pixabay.

Have you thought about those phrases we use which mean the complete opposite to what they seem?

If you don’t mind me saying this...  In other words, ‘I’m going to say this anyway, whether you like it or not.’

With all due respect…  In other words, ‘No Respect At All.’

Even Thank you very much can sound very rude if said in a particular tone, as in.  “I’ll let you know thank you very much.”

The American expression Have a nice day can, in some situations, means ‘Just go away.  I don’t want to talk to you anymore.’

In addition, some words have adopted meanings which Dr Johnson, OED and all the other dictionaries never intended.

Sad – Outside what most teenagers do and wear.  See also weird.

Cool – How teenagers would like to be.

Sick – Very much how teenagers would like to be.

Well ill – what other generations termed ‘sick’.

Also consider some common contemporary greetings.  ‘You all right?’  ‘I’m good, yeah.’

If you write historical fiction, you carry out a lot of research, clothes, buildings, politics, social history… and how people speak.  If you’re writing about a period in the distant past, you can’t use contemporary language in conversation, because the modern reader can’t cope with it, although you can pepper your dialogue with a few well-chosen period words.  In Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien, set in turn of fourteenth and fifteen centuries, which I read recently, the characters spoke in modern idiom, with the odd late medieval word dropped in.

However, if you’re writing about the recent past, you can indulge in as much contemporary language as you like, but it’s difficult to remember what people were saying when… and where.  Records of ways of speaking either don’t exist, are American or just don’t fit the situation you need.  What all not-so-historical novelists require are records of what people said when, and where.

So here it is, then, my little record of modes of speech in England in 2019.


What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?

Insecure Writers Support Group logoDear Reader, let me share with you my secret fear?  That all my characters, whatever character traits I award them at the start, will roll into me?  There, I’ve said it.  Getting into a character is one of the more difficult things writers do.  Keeping the character in character is about the most difficult thing.

When I wrote my last novel, set largely during the Solidarity period in Poland, I created Marya who was – quite deliberately – as unlike me as possible.  She was forceful.  She didn’t take no for an answer.  She was so used to getting her own way that she didn’t really bother about what people thought about her.  And she was motor-mouth.  Whereas I have no self-confidence.  I’m always worrying about being fair, getting things right and what people will think about me, so I usually end up just steaming when someone upsets me.  Occasionally, I burst, though.  I can do motor-mouth, and I know all about  bitter regrets afterwards.   Yet I did have to watch ‘character creep’ as the chapters rolled on.  Was Marya becoming too emollient?

My next books are going to be about milder characters.  Yes, definitely.  It wasn’t a strain keeping sparky Marya going, actually quite fun writing someone doing things I would never dare to attempt, but I must move on.

For my (face-to-face) writing group, I wrote a piece about Prince Charles and Princess Diana during the period their marriage was breaking down, in the form of letters (supposedly) written by Prince Charles to Camilla (now his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall).  It was exciting and illuminating getting inside real characters, but still I felt that character creep.  (I would never attempt to place this piece, in either a print publication or ezine by the way.)

Yes, it’s the first Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers Support Group day for July.  If you write, do join us.  We post every month, read each other’s posts and  generally support each other.  What writer does NOT feel insecure?  (Actually, I can think of a few, but not ones whose books you’d want to read.)

Favourite Genres for Reading and Writing

Insecure Writers Support Group logoFirst Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers Support Group day.  Not a good couple of months for me, because, as regular readers will know, I broke my arm before Easter, which meant, for a time, I couldn’t type.  The plaster came off eight days ago, but it’s still very sore (actually sore-er than when the plaster was on).  On the plus side, I can have a bath/shower without wearing a surgical bag/cover over it, but typing is still uncomfortable and I really CANNOT drive my car.  I tried, Dear Reader, I tried,  but (I think) the repetitive action of changing the gears  has made wrist very painful again.

Ford Fiesta, red.
Blogger’s poor, lonely car.

This month, we IWSG-ers are asked Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?  I read crime fiction avidly.  Currently, I’m into Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series.  Wonderful stuff.  I love warm and caring and intuitively curious Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez , so different from your average hard-nosed TV cop, and now I want to visit the Shetland Islands.  I love crime fiction because I enjoy working out the puzzle, but I could never write it.  I could never devise a crime plot that worked and never get my head around all that police procedure.

Another genre I really enjoy is Christian fiction, Catherine Fox, in particular.   I would consider writing Christian fiction.  The trick, I understand, is not to lay on the religion with a trowel.

My favourite genre to write in is – definitely – historical, although I’m  ashamed of how little historical fiction I read.  My excuse is I’m a history graduate.  I like writing historical because I want to inhabit the period of my story, out of myself and my world.  The period I find myself focusing on most frequently is on the very edge of historical and contemporary.   My novel is set in 1980s Poland and, most recently, I’ve written for my writing group about a shorthand and typing teacher in 1970.  Has anyone branded a fiction genre called nostalgia? 



Early Experiences of the Power of Language

Insecure Writers Support Group logoFirst Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers’ Support Group day.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that this writer is struggling with a broken arm, which makes typing very difficult, so she is not doing very much. Yesterday, at the hospital, I was given a new plaster, which is lighter than the old one, but unfortunately it has to remain in place for another four weeks.  I am dictating this post using speech recognition software – hopefully the words won’t come out too strange.

This month the IWSG optional question is: what was an early experience where you learned that language had power? My very first experiences of the power of language were, when I was very small, having Winnie the Pooh stories read to me by my parents. (You expected to hear about Keats or Wordsworth? Sorry. I was asked about my early experiences, so I’m telling you. )  I loved hearing the rhythm and the metre, in A A Milne’s poems and stories. Nowadays I read aloud to my grandchildren, stories such as the Gruffalo (by Julia Donaldson), and we all of us feel the rhythm in the repetitions in modern children’s stories too.   Reading aloud, and being read aloud to, brings words alive in a way that reading silently that can never do.

Later, my father would read to me Stanley Holloway monologues, such as these:

'Sam, Sam, pick oop tha' musket,'
The Sergeant exclaimed with a roar,
Sam said 'Tha' knocked it doon, reet! then tha'll pick it oop,
Or it'll stay where it is on't floor


What made the monologues even funnier was that my dad was very good at mimicking a north country accent. I love the power of language to make me laugh. A howler or typo can have me chuckling for days.

As a child, words of pop songs probably had a greater impact on me than they should’ve done. Music always enhances the impact of mere words. Listen to the way Julie Covvington wrings every drop of emotion out of her lyrics, by raising and lowering her voice, in Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.  Watch teenagers singing away to the music on their headphones and see the expressions pass through their faces as they get in touch with the words they’re hearing.

I have never been much of a one for poetry or fine words. The reason I read fiction is to get into a scene and to follow the story, and I suppose I write in the same way.

From The Broken Arm

cherry_blossom300It’s now ten days since my accident, and, ever since, I’ve been trying to convince myself that today is the day when things get back to normal, except that they don’t.

Who would have ever thought that a small thing like having part of my arm (wrist to elbow) encased in plaster could affect the way I live so much? There is some progress: my fingers are no longer dark blue and I can move them without pain. I can also wriggle the forearm itself inside the plaster, although I’m due to have it new, tighter, plaster next Tuesday.    I no longer have constant indigestion—this was caused by the codeine, prescribed by the hospital. When I stopped taking it, my stomach settled down and I could eat again. The chest infection, which I acquired at the same time and which sat on my chest like superglue, has been subdued, but not totally vanquished, by antibiotics, so I can sleep again.

The temptation is to use the fingers and, to an extent, the arm as if nothing had happened, but then you pay for it, because it starts to ache and hurt.  The other temptation is to attempt to do everything with your good hand – I have managed to strain a muscle under my right arm, and this is almost as painful as the bad arm.

It’s amazing what you struggle with when you don’t have two working upper limbs.

  • Bathing – as you can’t get the plaster wet, you have to buy a special plastic cover, with a very strong seal, which you need someone else to help you with. If you live alone, or if your husband is away attending his mother’s funeral (as mine is), you are reduced to plastic Sainsbury’s bags and rubber bands.
  • You can’t drive – obviously.
  • You can’t open tops and jars in the kitchen, which is very irritating, so you’re tempted to give them that little extra twist which does all the damage.
  • Typing is a problem. I’m dictating all this using speech recognition software, which seems to have a mind of its own. I apologise for any typos and strange turns of phrase.  I don’t think I could write fiction using it, as it doesn’t ‘hear’ accurately enough, and I’d spend all my time correcting the speech recognition software’s mistakes, and lose my flow. The alternatives are to type one-handed, or to wreck the broken wrist completely by trying to use it normally with the keyboard… or I could write longhand, I suppose. Now there’s a thought.

Meanwhile my phone keeps pinging with tasks and appointments which I cannot do or keep. The cherry blossom outside is laden with a heavy pink flowers, something I always used to miss when I was working full time. The spring has come very early to the UK this year, and I’m able to enjoy it.

And Things Just Got A Whole Lot Worse

Last Tuesday I set off on a country walk with two friends/ex-colleagues. Lovely day. Wearing walking boots. What could be more innocent? We had walked less than a quarter of a mile when I fell over something (not sure what) and fell forwards, my left wrist taking all of my weight. I knew that I had done serious damage because of the intense pain, like a band around my lower arm. It turned out that I had broken several bones and my arm is now inside a heavy plaster cast and a sling. I’m signed off work for four weeks (which is ok if you’re working full-time and entitled to your full salary, but not if, like me, you work a few hours here for this organisation, a few hours for another and so on). I can’t drive (and I live in a village with just one bus per week).

I have also had the worst possible reaction to the anaesthetic, feeling lethargic, nauseous and gagging on my food. I’m mentioning this because it’s not what’s supposed to happen, according to Google, and I’m wondering if anyone has suffered in the same way. Additionally, although I can now move the fingers on my left hand without pain, they are unsightly dark blue through bruising.

I am so bored. All these years I’ve wished for free time, now I have nothing to do. I have spent a lot of time reading, but you can’t read all the time. I feel as if my life has stalled and my world has suddenly shrunk. The house is a mess, and that is very annoying when you have to sit in it, day in and day out. Writing is difficult because my concentration is so poor and typing is a problem. I can’t take walks. I’m very cross with myself, bitterly regretting taking the walk last Tuesday, which was only fixed up at the last minute.

When I take a bath, I have to put a plastic protector over my plaster cast, which works fine, but, as it’s difficult to force the seal open to get my arm into it, my husband has to do this for me. Currently, I’m learning to get dressed one-handed, prepare food and clear it away one-handed, eat one-handed, iron one-handed, and type one-handed, etc, etc.

I know this is only temporary, that I’ll be out the cast soon, and other people have far worse problems… so Happy Easter. Hope your Easter has been better.

(No photos. I don’t have the dexterity. )

A Funny Old Week

At the beginning of this week, I thought I knew what I was doing during the rest of it.  We had the grandchildren until Wednesday morning, then, after one frantic day of washing and clearing up, we would set off for a short break in Amsterdam.   I was thinking about adding some more posts to this one’s sister-blog, travelon_graphicTravel On.  (As you can see, it needs sprucing up a bit.)  So, we were driving down the A12, on Thursday morning, when my sister-in-law called my husband’s mobile, to tell us that my mother-in-law had died.  The car did an about turn at Ingatestone and, now, on Saturday, I’m at home and my husband is on the Isle of Man, comforting father-in-law.

I have taken on the business of cancelling the holiday and seeking reimbursement from our travel insurers, unpacking cases, standing down cat-sitters, and shopping for food (which I hadn’t expect to need).  In one of our first conversations with him after it happened, father-in-law said to my husband, “Life must go on.”

bottle100My post, for the Association of Christian Writers More Than Writers blog, on writing descriptions and how we writers can learn from visual artists, which I had composed last weekend and scheduled on the Blogger schedule, appeared today.  It seems to have touched a nerve, with ACW members discussing, on the ACW Facebook page, the value of descriptions in fiction-writing.

A flash story, Water in Exam Room, which I wrote some time ago and which I knew was going to be published soon, suddenly appeared on 101 Words yesterday (Friday) and today (Saturday).  Do read it.  It’s not long – just 101 words.  It required a lot of intense editing.  Writing to that exact length is not easy.

Today, I have been using my time to edit – for which understand, almost completely rewrite – a story about the fall of Ceausescu in Romania in 1989.  I’m sure that all types of fiction bring their own challenges, but writing historical fiction – sticking to what actually happened, tuning into the real emotions of excitement and horror at that time, then expressing them in words on the page – can be bloody hard.   Hopefully, it will be worth it.  I’m looking for new markets for historical fiction all the time.

Hope everyone else had a better week.

A Wish to Help You Write Just ONE Scene/Chapter

Insecure Writers Support Group logoFirst Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers Support Group day.   And here I am as insecure as ever.  My novel is being beta-read – well scary!  My short story, Not a Proper Evacuee appeared on The Copperfield Review on Monday, but I missed my writers’ group – again – on Tuesday, because I was at work.  Sorry, sorry, sorry… Naomi, Carol and Geraldine.

This month we IWSG members are asked to write about is: If you could use a wish to help you write just ONE scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be?  IWSG prompts are always challenging (which is fine) but this one I’m not sure about at all.

Routemaster Bus (London bus) in 1940s
Routemaster Bus (London bus) in 1940s attrib

My one wish to help me write one scene/chapter?  I wish I had had the opportunity to return to Poland to check up on things last year, as I was editing The Novel (which is about Poland during the Solidarity period).  New novelists like me find it difficult to predict what we need to know about when we’re site-visiting.  As an alternative, I wish I had read The Oaken Heart by Margery Allingham (or even known it existed) while I was editing Not a Proper Evacuee.   There was I writing about evacuees in Essex and there was she writing about evacuees, and her village’s response to war in general, describing it as it happened.

Hope this is what the IWSG co-hosts have in mind.

Winston Churchill – the Writer

Telephone system developed by one of Dukes of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace.
Telephone system developed by one of Dukes of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace.

You knew, of course, that Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize?  Well, if you didn’t exactly know it, you probably suspected that he might have.  But were you aware that he won it for literature in 1953?  To quote the citation, he attained it for “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”  I didn’t know it either, until we visited Blenheim Palace today.   I actually learned a lot of new things about our greatest Prime Minister (probably), even though children of my generation grew up with second-hand stories of wartime and I remember his funeral being broadcast on television.

Blenheim Palace is, of course, the stately pile of the Dukes of Marlborough.  Winston, although born at Blenheim (in a ladies’ cloakroom, so the legend goes), was born to a younger son of the Marlborough family and therefore not destined to inherit.   He may have had wealthy relatives, but he himself was broke, and many of the society beauties he fell in love with turned him down because of it.  After having fought in the Boer War, he left the army to write, because, he explained in a letter, he would be able to live more cheaply as a writer and have more money at his disposal.  Oh, those were the days, my friend!

Manuscript written by Winston Churchill, on display at Blenheim Palace. Animation activated by touch screen for turning the page, virtually.
Manuscript written by Winston Churchill, on display at Blenheim Palace. Animation activated by touch screen for turning the page, virtually.

According to the International Churchill Society, he went on to write 72 books in all – as well as being a good painter and one of the greatest orators ever lived – and he continued to regard his writing as a source of income all his life.  I have also visited Chartwell (National Trust property), where he lived his adult life, with his wife Clementine, and seen his reference books laid out across his study, from when he wrote The History of the English Speaking Peoples.   His technique in those later days was to dictate to an amanuensis, but his earlier works he wrote by hand.  It was so reinforcing to see, on one of his manuscripts on display at Blenheim today,  the crossings out and rewritten bits on his drafts.   My techie side was also thrilled to observe the animation for turning the page virtually, using a finger on the touchscreen – see photo.  (The finger is my husband’s, by the way.)

I love seeing stately homes and other places of historic interest.  At the moment, I’m reading The Oaken Heart by Margery Allingham, in which she documents how her village (in Essex, quite close to where I live) coped with the first couple of years in the Second World War.   Intimate, honest and revealing.  Ironically, I had just reached the point where Churchill took over as PM; Margery is all in favour of Winnie, although, as a Tory, sad and disappointed at the failure of Neville Chamberlain to come to grips with the situation.  I wish I had read The Oaken Heart before I wrote my story Not a Proper Evacuee – inspired by photos of  red London Routemaster buses rolling the high street in a town even closer to my home – which is coming up in The Copperfield Review next week.

Never, never, never give up is one of Churchill’s most famous sayings.  He must have been speaking to us writers.

The Novel on the Table – Is It the Only Holy Grail?

Not a bad week, last week.  I managed to place two stories, ‘Not a Proper Evacuee’ with The Copperfield Review, a ‘Water Bottles in the Exam Room’ with 101 Words.  Both will go live in April. Right now, I’m feeling quite chuffed with myself, but not complacent.  Oh yes, Dear Reader, I know there will be rejections soon.

Open book
Attrib Pixabay. Copyright Commons.

At the weekend, I attended the Association of Christian Writers Bath Writers Day.   Serving tea and coffee in the foyer, I found myself standing next to the members’ bookstall.  They started off with one table… then two… then three… church trestle tables, groaning with novels, devotionals and children’s books written by ACW members.  This was making feel me very small, not a proper writer, but then a friend knocked some sense into me.   I’ve had stories published in ezines and anthologies, and in Christian Writer and Together, and in other places.   I would love to have a novel published, but the novel is not the only holy grail.

short_story_comp_graphicOne good way of getting your work out there is to enter competitions.  The Association of Christian Writers’ Any Short Story Competition is still open, and will be until Sunday, 31 March 2019 (Mothering Sunday).  1000 words, please – more information on the ACW website.  Do consider it.  A Christian slant is not a requirement, but do bear it in mind that the winning entry must be suitable for a magazine for gentle, well-meaning souls like Christian writers.