Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Thursday, 6 March 2008

The Ranfurly Review

I’m pleased to inform you that two of my short stories appear in Issue #2 of The Ranfurly Review, a relatively new Scottish literary journal. You can download a PDF on their site. The Ranfurly Review is the brain-child of Scottish author and poet, Colin Galbraith, an Associate Editor at the well established Scruffy Dog Review.

The two stories appearing in this edition have a particularly Scottish flavour. Both, at least in my mind, are set in Glasgow although you will notice a distinct difference in the voices used. That’s the thing about Glasgow; there are so many kinds of accents here. The Govan accent is one of the roughest, like gargling gravel. Billy Connolly’s accent is from the other side of the river, Partick and here is a wonderful example of him discussing the Glaswegian’s propensity for swearing.

In Disintegration the woman's accent is subtle – she says ‘no’ instead of ‘not’ and ‘weans’ instead of kids – but in Just Thinking the accents are full-on. There’s a reason for that. In Disintegration I wanted to give the piece a flavour of Glasgow but it was important that the woman starts off talking properly; she’s not common-as-muck. This is a woman who has allowed herself to get caught up in the craze for buying Lottery tickets and it’s now taken over her life. If you want a voice to go with it have a listen to actress Elaine C Smith talking about Scottish poet Liz Lochhead.

You can see her in character playing the wife of Rab C Nesbitt in a YouTube clip which provides a nice segue from this story to Just Thinking:

There is a school of thought that lottery tickets should carry addiction warnings along the lines of "Warning: Gambling can lead to a dangerous addiction that can harm your relationships, work and finances." The National Lottery is the United Kingdom's largest lottery. It is operated by Camelot Group, to whom the licence was first granted in 1994. The Sunday Mail reported in February that Scots lost around £350million in bookmakers' shops and on online accounts last year and that sum does not even include the amounts staked in bingo halls, casinos and on the National Lottery. An here we thoucht the drink wiz goan t be oor doonfa. Whidja know!

The couple in Just Thinking are right at the bottom of the social ladder. They will fritter away their money on having as good a time as they can and to hell with the consequences. This pair run into each other in a club, get paralytic (i.e. very very drunk) and somehow make it into in her bed. The entire story takes place in the heads of the two of them as they lie in bed not wanting to acknowledge the other. If you want to get a whiff of the level of their accents take a shuftie at this redubbing of some Dolmio pasta sauce adverts. This is not exaggerated even though it is played for laughs. This is how real people talk. Of course, the scenario is not unique to Glasgow but I'd have more problems faking Brummie or Scouse accents. When I wrote my last novel, which was set in Ireland, I struggled getting the accent right; I really need to get a native to give it the once over.

There is something else that’s quite important about these stories and that is the fact that they illustrate how one can write completely out of character and personal experience: I’m not a woman, I don’t gamble, I'm more salt-of-the-earth than common-as-muck and I’ve never ended up in stranger's bed with a hangover; that said I have suffered a hangover or two in my life till I realised drink was not my friend. Oh, and I barely have a Scottish accent at all despite living all my life here. I’ve never cared much for the whole write-about-what-you-know school of writing. Writers have imaginations. It's how we cleverly avoid the need to have lives.

When filming the Marathon Man Dustin Hoffman stayed up for several days to play a character who was exhausted. Upon arriving on the set, Laurence Olivier asked him why he looked so fatigued. Hoffman told him he had stayed up for days, to which Olivier reportedly replied: "Why not just try acting? It's easier." It's the same with writers. I don't need to be a woman to write from a female perspective, I've been around women all my life, all kinds. Or how about writing about love that dare not speak its name? I'm not gay and I've only met one or two individuals who I knew definitely batted for the other team but I can read and I've seen enough films and television programmes but the simple answer is that love is love – I know what love feels like.

Both these stories were written about the same time in a flurry of writing. I was churning out a story a day at the time and each one was so different: one day I was writing about a serial killer's take on modern art, the next day a closet lesbian is having an imaginary conversation about dress sense to a woman she fancies on the bus, the following day a guy is taking photos of his dead mother. I wrote them in the first person, third person, even one in the second person. I wrote some in accents, some not, some dark, most not. It was probably the most creative period of my life. These stories followed a long dry spell. I was stuck on my third novel and then out of the blue all these great ideas started coming but nothing I could use in the book. It just shows you that it never hurts to go with the flow. I'm having a similar problem with my current novel but I'm writing poetry on almost a daily basis. I'm not complaining.

For the benefit of my non-British readers I guess it might help to have a wee glossary:

  • A Giro is a benefit cheque – they used to be Girobank cheques.

  • The Buroo is the Labour Exchange Bureau (nowadays Jobcentre Plus).

  • If you're scunnered you've been sickened. It's equivalent to 'pissed off'.

  • A wean is a young child.

  • Boots is Boots the Chemists.

  • If you're in Fourth Year that's the fourth year of Secondary School (equivalent of High School).

  • Patrick Moore is the presenter of The Sky at Night – a long running astronomy show. Moore has earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's longest serving television presenter.

  • A tube is an idiot (pronounced more like 'choob' and less like 'toob').

  • If you shout out, "Game’s a bogey," then play is suspended or stopped completely. You are calling attention to some infraction of the rules the game is stopped. It's a playground term.

  • If someone shops you then you've been informed on.

  • To punce is to kick.

  • Michael Parkinson is a veteran chat show host, just retired.


Catherine said...

Interestingly, scunnered in my bit of Northern Ireland (Tyrone/Derry/Donegal borders) means tired in the sense of being worn out (or knackered, another nice bit of vernacular!).
Due to the Scotland-NI connection, we have a lot of slang in common, definitely (weans being another word used a lot here, and often, to my amusement, as 'wee weans') - though clearly not all things mean the same!

Jim Murdoch said...

Interesting comment, Catherine.

There is another definition for scunner and that is: 'A strong dislike; an aversion' which is probably closer to the word's origin:

From Middle English skunner, to shrink back in disgust, from scurnen, to flinch.

The Urban Dictionary lists a few others which, assuming they're all correct, shows how the word is still evolving.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Congratulations on the publications, Jim.

Interesting post, especially about accents and writing as a different sex. I've just begun the first pages of my new w.i.p. which has a teenager as the main character. I'm working on creating a teenager's voice. Difficult because I'm not sure I ever was one as I went off to college at 15.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thank you for that, Conda. Always nice to see something make it into print. As for being a teenager, I never had much time for being a teenager either. I have written a couple of stories where the protagonists were young but I've never tried to give them modern accents. I would have no idea how to use 'innit' for example other than to stick it at the end of a sentence whether it goes or not.

Allen Taylor said...

Congrats, Jim.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thank you, Allen, always nice to hear from you.

Catherine said...

Hmmph. Well, my beloved has informed me that scunnered means fed up rather than tired, so I thought I'd better correct myself. Although the only time I ever hear him use it is when he's tired, so it wasn't an unrealistic conclusion for me!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Jim. I look forward to reading them.

Writing Nag said...

Congrats Jim, I'm very happy for you. Like Conda, I've been experimenting in the young adult genre but I'm afraid I have to do a lot of research to get the vocab right. I know they say "like" a lot "like every other word".

Ken said...

'Just Thinking'- really enjoyed it. Loved the deferred reference to the guys glasses, 'guess Mr Tattoo got away :)

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for the feedback, Ken. Always appreciated. You know, I had to go back to the story to find out what you were on about. It's been a while since I wrote it.

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