Allan Mayer’s Weblog


Posted on: May 20, 2009


I’m no longer a member of a church- I did try, but having failed to settle into groups as varied as Plymouth Brethren and Church of England I eventually decided to give up and call myself an agnostic.

My wife is an active member of a local methodist church, and I go with her occasionally. I sometimes feel like I’ve been adopted (not proselytised, which sounds like something that the cybermen might do to you) but accepted, and although I occasionally join in some of the social events no one has ever tried to convert me- which is often an embarrassing feature of casual contact with other brands of christianity.

I was even approached by a couple of elderly ladies who had seen my press releases and wanted to buy my book.

This was due to the fact that they had been to the local W.H. Smiths and come away without being able to order. Not everyone has access to the internet, and the inability of some bookshops and the loss of sales that this has led to has been very disappointing.

So last Sunday I picked my wife up from church armed with three copies of Tasting the Wind. Two were for the ladies who had asked. The third was a ‘just in case’ and as it happened I sold that too.

But not without a little pang of contextual discomfort.

As I handed each copy over I was aware that these elderly churchgoing ladies were going to be reading a book packed with F-words, rude jokes and descriptions of abuse and bodily functions. So with each one I felt obliged to mention that the story was, well… not exactly Mills and Boon.

And in each case I got the same look- the one that people of my generation give to teenagers who think that they invented sex.

It’s a funny thing, ‘language’ in novels. Within my lifetime it has gone from the first novel to use the F-word being the subject of a court case to that and even stronger words becoming the norm. Not only that, but books aren’t subject to the same censorship as other media. As far back as the nineteen-seventies I couldn’t get into the cinema to see ‘the Exorcist’ as I was about thirteen, but I had no trouble getting the book from the local bookstore.

My view is that ‘bad language’ is fine within context- and is often demanded if an author is representing real life. I quite happily presented the people who proof-read for me a manuscript packed with words that I would never utter in their presence.

One scene in particular demonstrates the whole issue.

Martin, who has entered care work after spending his working life so far in a factory is confronted by a girl with a severe learning disability who habitually tears off her clothes. There was no way that in referring to her genitalia Martin would use polite or scientifically correct language.

Having said this, more than one of my proof readers objected to my use of the word c***, but were happier with f****.  Why should this be?  And why, whan we all know what I’m saying here, do I use asterisks? Well this is a blog and not a novel and… well I wouldn’t feel comfortable, in the same way that a bed in a bedroom is different to a bed in a shop window… if you know what I mean.

If what a writer seeks to do between the covers is to entertain and to educate, and not to offend for the sake of it- then surely there can be nothing wrong with that?

Having said this, I still await with some trepidation the responses of my elderly churchgoing readers…


1 Response to "Language!"

I dislike bad language in any shape or form – but when it comes to writing about “real life” in books it’s incredibly hard to avoid it especially if your character is a petty criminal with a drug habit! But I bet those old ladies weren’t as innocent in their youth as they appear in their dotage!
So, did you get any feed back from them?

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