I’ve been thinking about this for a while. But when I saw an article in The Guardian about the growth of swearing in books, I knew it was time to go public.
Confession time: in real life, apart from the occasional ‘bloody hell’ or ‘bugger’, I don’t swear.Yes, I know – at this point, those of you who’ve read an advance copy of ‘Shadow Man’ are either spluttering into their coffee or clutching their sides laughing. But it’s true!
Mostly, it’s down to conditioning, I suspect. I don’t think my mother ever swore in her life, and if my father used fruity language sometimes, he left it outside the house. Somehow the words just can’t make it past my lips, no matter what the provocation. And I admit, a lot of swearing sounds ugly to my ears, even now.
So when I started writing what seems to be my brand of dark and twisted tales, I ran into a problem: my characters, good, bad and somewhere in between, were not as a rule in very good places. Things were happening to them that called forth strong emotions – and with them, strong language. And unless I abandoned the contemporary setting, scooped them up and put them down in a period drama, I couldn’t see a way of making them seem authentic.
So I tried asterisks. Seriously, I did. Every ‘f’ word acquired a queue of little asterisks – which was sort of okay for the characters who only used it occasionally, like Iain ‘Fergie’ Ferguson, crisp addict, possessor of a truly vile Audi and DI Mahler’s (mostly) faithful sidekick. But what about Donnie Stewart, the kitchen porter at the murder hotel, whose life takes some … unexpected … turns? Donnie swears. A lot. By the time I’d written one of his scenes, the page looked like I was writing in code. Which, of course, I sort of was.
Time to stop messing about. In ‘Shadow Man’, people swear. Quite a bit, some of them. So I took a deep breath, located the ‘u’ ‘c’ and ‘k’ keys, and got on with finishing the book.
Do I feel more relaxed about swearing, now I’ve done it? Not in the slightest. And I’m seriously thinking about having ‘Warning – Sweary Bits!’ stickers printed before I let Donnie et el loose upon the world! But I do think the book reflects a more accurate reality than if I’d written it any other way, and I’m okay with that.
Now all I have to do is make sure I get those stickers onto the author copies some people have asked me for …