Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Slightly Disaffected Ranting

I‘ve just started a book which doesn’t follow my normal choice of reading material.

It’s historical fiction. I have read and enjoyed some (Sarah Waters) but really I’d rather read something written in that period. I love Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth and Testament of Experience; and Robert Graves’ Goodbye to All That, and Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man and Memoirs of an Infantry Officer. There’s plenty of other great material to choose from too.

I picked up this historical fiction with a view to taking it to the beach. It covers early 20th century London with a young woman who qualifies as a doctor. So I’m fascinated by the period, I’m interested in and have studied the women’s movement and various members of my family are doctors, so medicine appeals to me too.

Just about instantly I knew I’d made a mistake, but having paid good money for it, and wanting something that let me relax and didn’t demand to much, I persevered. (And I feel a strong obligation to finish any book I start.) The whole thing has an anachronistic flavour and I find myself stopping and thinking ‘would they actually have said that then?’ Cursed with the ‘look it up’ gene, I’ve gone and checked out the date of origin for some phrases and they are just about okay. For example one character says something ‘boggles the mind’ each individual word of which is fine and was easily in use at that time; but ‘mind boggling’ wasn’t in use until 1960-5. Did we call policemen ‘cops’ in the early 20th century (coppers, yes, but cops?) Or is that an Americanism?

I am sure I am begging and praying to be criticized and found fault with; undoubtedly people will leave comments correcting my grammar and finding all sorts of errors in my writing. I don’t wish this to be personal or some kind of witch hunt. I am in awe of anyone who finishes writing a book, let alone gets it published, but I think I have learned to stick to work published in that period.

Maybe I haven't just got the 'look it up' gene - maybe I've also got the 'nit-picking' gene too.

Damn it; that means son's got the 'splitting hairs' gene from me and not husband.

Blast, perhaps I'd just better quit now, while I'm ahead. Am I ahead? Or is that the 'competitive' gene kicking in?


Pinky Rocko said...

I think the word "cops" is an American word, my American cohorts and I use it all the time. Don't let the frustration deter you from writing, it's a natural reaction in any profession.

BEAST said...

1. Bin it. When there's great material out there like Quincunx and Fingersmith, why waste the effort.

2. He did get the splitting hairs gene from you. He got the staring at a computer screen for hours with a vacant expression on his face gene from me.

3. Are you sure you mean disaffected, wouldn't discontented be a more apt choice here. Disaffected implies books govern your behaviour (well maybe they do!) - is that hair divided well enough for you? ;-)

sheepish said...

I know what you mean about not finishing a book once started. Since I have started writing I have found that I am more critical of the books I read. Not sure if that is a good thing but I can't stop now.

My WIP is not progressing very fast at the moment, so we just have to hang on in there.

Nobody ever said writing was easy!!!!

JJ said...

Hi Pinky

Yes, I don't think we use or have ever used the word cops here unless we're alluding to it as an Americanism. The other thing she did was to have a woman say something like 'I'm just kind, I guess' and used in that way is American. The English 'guess' an answer, and maybe now we say 'I guess it's this or that' as in an American influenced way, but it wasn't used in 1900.

What it makes me decide Pinky, is that I won't ever write something set in a period I don't know everything about. I've never wanted to write historical novels anyway.

I'm still struggling through it here at the beach, though, and it's still irritating the hell out of me! Oh well.

Stop reading or stop whining is my advice to myself!

JJ said...


1. I hated Quincunx and am still harbouring a grudge against you and the High Priestess of Punk chew ashon for telling me to persevere. I wasted 1400 pages of my life on persevering with it. I did love the Fingersmith though, that wonderful 'Oh My God' moment half way through.

2. Okay, accepted.

3. No, you're a scientist. what do you know? Leave the words to me, and I'll leave the potassium pomanganate to you!

JJ said...

Hi Sheepish

Well, I think it's a good thing to be more critical about reading while you're trying to write. After all most of us want to have readers for our books (eventually) and maybe it's important for me as a reader to see that it's important to get things correctly. I shouldn't forget that lesson.

Don't worry about going slow, Sheepish: you have lots on your plate. Even if it's slow, it's still progress!


BEAST said...


is that a fruit?

JJ said...

Ha ha ha, Beastie.

Very funny.