How to convey accents in fiction writing: Beyond phonetic spelling – by Louise Harnby…

My own Scottish accent is an almost hourly amusement for the Americans I now live among. Mostly it’s a good ice breaker with strangers, sometimes an irritant when I have to repeat everything a couple of times, and occasionally it’s a test of my self-control when certain people mock it (and thus me) on a regular basis.

I’ve written stories based both here in the States as well as back in Scotland and the only accent I’ve ever made obvious is the Scots one in my first novel. I used the sparing ‘dropped consonant’ as described in the blog, for instance no’ instead of not, or the occasional Scots spelling of contractions such as couldnae in place of couldn’t. Otherwise I stuck to normal English.

This is a good blog to read and it shows that with a little thought you can show an accent in many ways.

As an aside, as a Scot in pastures new the one phrase I teach Americans to say which automatically gives them a Scottish accent without trying is for them to say ‘space ghetto’ in their normal voice. Most of the time an American saying that will sound like they are using a Scottish accent to say ‘Spice Girls’.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

This article offers guidance on how to self-edit your fiction writing so that accents don’t become the primary story.
Do your characters speak with an accent? All of us speak in ways that are distinctive; we just don’t notice our own accents because they’re ours and we’re used to them.

Oxford Dictionaries defines accent as ‘A distinctive way of pronouncing a language, especially one associated with a particular country, area, or social class.’

Authors who are inexperienced at writing accented language can be tempted to use phonetic spelling. But writing accents is difficult; so is reading them. Most experienced authors and editors will therefore caution against this approach.

Furthermore, spelling and pronunciation are two different things. Says Beth Hill in The Magic of Fiction (pp. 409, 394):

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The Proofreader #amwriting

Life in the Realm of Fantasy

I see the process of getting a manuscript ready for publication as a four-part process.

  1. Writing the first draft.
  2. Beta Reading and revising the manuscript to your satisfaction.
  3. Sending it to the editor and making suggested revisions.
  4. Having the edited manuscript proofread.

Proofreading is done after the final revisions have been made. Even though an editor has combed your manuscript and you have made thousands of corrections, both large and small, there will be places where the reader’s eye will stop.

It is best if this task is done by someone who has not seen the manuscript before. That way, they will see it through new eyes, and the small things hiding in your otherwise-perfect manuscript will stand out.

Some things your proofreader must understand:

  • The proofreader should not try to hijack the process and derail an author’s launch date by nitpicking his/her genrestyle, and phrasing.
  • The…

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Finding the elusive mojo

As we leave 2018 behind I find myself in these first few days of the new year trying desperately to find my sneakily-elusive creative mojo. It’s there, it’s just rusty, and needs stuck up on the ramps for an oiling and a tuning. It’s been idle and left to rot for a long time out in that old barn with the holes in the roof and the odd chicken roosting by the spare tire. *scratches the winter belly.

Since the Bells struck midnight for the last time in one year and the first in a new I have tried to jumpstart my mojo by starting to edit my novel and fill the gaps when I’m not typing by holding a brush. A couple of nights ago I broke out the watercolors and gouache, returning to an unfinished sketch I’d started sometime last Fall with a mixed bag of eureka and oh shit moments. Meanwhile, in the edit, I changed the tense of a whole chapter, rewrote parts of it, and messed around with the grammar only to realize at the end of a couple of hours that I preferred it the way it was before I’d fucked about with it. Beep…beep… reversing… reversing.

Today (the 3rd) was a productive day of procrastination. I didn’t write but, I designed and ordered business cards so that I can look like a right dick in pubs and at social gatherings when people say “Oh, you wrote a book?” Whereby I reply with the flourish of a hand from my inside pocket and accompany it with the smug phrase of “Here’s my card.” It’ll either leave me standing alone at the bar or, get me laid – the real intention is to sell books. Though, getting laid will do on the odd occasion.

After I’d pressed purchase on my new dickish accessory I intended to re-edit the chapter I’d messed up but, instead I worked on my personal budget Excel spreadsheet. I now know when my cell and internet will be paid for the next eighteen months – which is impressive as I don’t even know if I’ll be allowed to stay on this continent in fourteen months time. I put it down to unusual optimism that my next visa is in the bag. My optimism on that subject fluctuates on a daily basis.

Tonight, between episodes of The Office (brilliant) I tinkered with the painting. Poppies are bloody difficult! You’ll maybe see it in a week or two if it doesn’t end up in the trash. As I lay in bed now the still far from finished artwork is under a pile of books and a 25lb dumbbell in a bid to flatten the water warped paper.

Being a writer and a painter is frustrating in lots of ways however, one of those is nothing to do with the actual tasks. It happens when you tell people what you do.

“Oh, yeah, I heard you were writing a book. Not done yet?” Or, “Weren’t you writing that a couple of months back?”

Yeah, fucker! It takes time! At least when the cards come I can just smile and hand them one in the hope that they’ll get a paper cut… and of course also have my blog address so they know when to buy the novel that amazingly doesn’t take just three weeks to write.

It’s the same with painting.

“What did you do last night?”

I reply, “I was painting.”

“Doesn’t your landlord do that?”

Then the look I get as I explain I wasn’t up a stepladder with a roller and a gallon of emulsion makes me think it would’ve been easier to just say I was having trouble edging around the light switches.

Being creative can be frustrating. It can be tedious, laborious, frustrating, and often soul-destroying. For those of us that “waste” away our days and nights trying to put some words or brushstrokes on a page the getting made to feel silly for our efforts can be enough to stop us dead in our stuttering, insecure tracks. Meanwhile the detractors wander off chuckling to themselves about the loser wasting their time on fanciful dreams. “Get a life.” they’ll maybe think as they sit down to read a book, watch an episode of the gripping new Netflix series, book tickets to a show or movie, maybe even go out shopping for some new artwork for their freshly decorated lounge. While we can all be guilty of doing that remember the loser that’s trying desperately to feel motivated to write, draw, paint, and create all the distractions that make our lives feel better.

And, for all the damage the detractors do to the confidence of us arty types we really do appreciate the support, kindness, purchases, reviews, and plain old honest interest that people give us. Folk like that are the ones that get two business cards, one for themselves and one to pass on.

New Year, new me… yeah, right.

It’s 2019 and as per usual everyone is full of this new year resolution nonsense. We all do it, even if it’s only subconsciously rather than proclaiming it from the rooftops.

For me 2018 was an odd mix. It was my first full year in the USA and included a lot of rather large negatives. My health hasn’t been great but, though so far, not majorly bad, I split up from my American wife and subsequently got divorced, and financially it’s been a struggle finding a safe and convenient existence here in what is still a relatively strange environment for me. On the positive side I started a great job working with friendly and kind people, I’ve made a few friends, had a few brief romantic altercations, and finished the first draft of the latest novel. It’s been an odd soup of emotions during 2018.

I don’t do resolutions. Well, not out loud anyway. This time next year I’ll be awaiting the decision on whether I’m going to receive my next visa. In the meantime that gives me another full year to improve my social circle, get healthier, finish the novel, and create my stories and paintings. I plan on 2019 being a better and happier year than 2018. If that’s a resolution then okay I’m just as bad as all the folk trying on Lycra and running shoes for the first time today. I hope they’re successful.

Here’s to a wonderful 2019 for all of us (apart from the candy floss haired orangutan in the White House).

Christmas Hangover

Here we are in the middle of the holiday season. A lot of us are back at work for the few days between the gift giving festivities and the New Year, New Me, resolutions that will last days, if not just hours, and it’s got that strange vibe of no-one wanting to actually do anything but, with everyone going through the motions nonetheless. Alongside everything hangs that unspoken feeling that it would be rude to actually achieve anything while a good chunk of the planet over-eats and binge watches Netflix in their new PJs.

It’s my second Christmas in the U.S. with the first having been spent exclusively with my ex-wife. This year I’m single, working, and now know more than one American, thankfully. I had a nice Christmas Day with a friend and his family, sharing booze and stories of the differences between my old home and my new one.

I’ve been asked a few times lately how Scotland celebrates Christmas and I keep having to say it’s really no different from here in the heart of America. It’s just endless weeks of spending every spare cent (and not spare) on things that you think will either put a smile on someone’s face or at least look as though it wasn’t a last minute gas station buy. Across the pond we do the same things, spend money, overeat, watch TV, spend time with loved ones, wish we had more time off work, and forget to buy batteries for the kids new toys – then hide the batteries of the really annoying toys. Oh, and we hunt haggis in the morning and feed them to Nessie in the afternoon to a soundtrack of The Proclaimers before watching Braveheart until we’re hoarse from shouting Freedom! It’s true, honestly.

The holiday season for me is never an easy time. I don’t have a big family, and most have been gone permanently from my life for the past couple of decades. Being a loner and a multiple-divorcee, also means I’ve spent quite a few Christmases sitting in front of the TV on my own watching The Sound of Music and munching on a huge mound of chocolate I had bought just in case there was anyone to share it with (Yes, The Sound of Music is a Christmas movie in the UK, just like Die Hard). Through the years both my children spent Christmas with their moms, and in the twenty-eight years of being a parent I’ve had my children with me on four Christmas mornings for present opening (all of those while I hadn’t yet become the ex). A lot of that is my fault. That has meant it is difficult for me to get excited about the big fat guy coming down the chimney as Christmas is all about the kids. Seeing the nervous excitement in the days leading up to it, getting the cookies and milk out, maybe even putting out some fake “snowy” boot-prints on the living room rug is what it’s really all about. When you know that you should be doing that but can’t, it takes a huge amount of the joy away.

These past two years I’ve had a granddaughter to miss too. I wish I could have shared the moments when her wee face lit up on seeing piles of boxes left by Santa but, I’m three and a half thousand miles away instead. Again that’s my fault, I made the choice to move to another continent and miss out on another generation of my bloodline being delighted by the magic of Christmas. I would probably spoil it anyway by letting my OCD kick in and constantly be shoveling up the discarded paper and bows before they hit the floor.

I’m used to being on my own at this time of year when most folk are moaning or stressing about sharing the little time off work they have with family they rarely see. I both miss it, and don’t miss it. I remember that stress, the anxiety of spending a day with parents, siblings, and more who would all be taking passive aggressive shots at each other (in a time when no-one knew what passive aggressive meant) and wishing it was the twenty-sixth already. I remember my dad and big brothers having to borrow tables and chairs from the church to allow us to seat all the grandparents, aunts and uncles in our tiny living room. I recall the cooked for hours sprouts, the dry turkey, the well-done roast beef that had to be drowned in gravy to be chewable, and the deep layered trifle that needed a huge silver spoon to scoop out squelching portions. However, all that had to wait on the habitual reverence when at three o’clock we all stopped talking to watch the Queen’s speech on the telly – even though it was hard to see the huge 21-inch bulbous tube behind all the borrowed furniture, paper tablecloths, assorted relatives, and Christmas crackers. It was a simpler time when my small hometown seemed endless and my brothers were marrying girls that lived within a stone’s throw, dad painted his tires black each weekend between alcoholic episodes, and mom wasn’t quite a cancer ridden shell yet. I miss it.

On a couple of occasions through the years I’ve been the hostess-with-the-mostest, I enjoy that in a frantic, sweaty way and at Christmas time I sometimes hanker for the opportunity to squeeze extra tables into a tiny room, muster up enough wine glasses, juggle the cooking times, and decide who should end up on the short seat that means their plate will be at the same level as their forehead. I haven’t had that chance for a very long time and don’t see that changing any time soon. I miss the opportunity.

So, instead I’ve spent this holiday season in the same way I’ve grown accustomed to – keeping my head down, buying presents for a few people that mean something to me, and eating chocolate that I don’t really like but that we all buy because it comes in festive packaging. I enjoyed my surprise invite to Christmas dinner this year. I chatted to nice people, had good food, done just right but which my mom would have said was still capable of mooing before throwing it in a hot oven for another four hours until it was the proper shade of grey. I also sampled a few deep glasses of bourbon that went down well – that is always a bonus. I was grateful for that day, and grateful to the people who allowed the stranger from across the water to join them on their special day. I thank them again.

I have a party to go to on New Year’s Eve where I won’t know most of the folk and I’ll spend all night explaining that I’m wearing a kilt and not a skirt, that a sporran isn’t a purse, and that Scotland owns the patent to Hogmanay just like most of the good things in this world ;). I’ll then need to explain what Hogmanay is and that when they start singing Auld Lang Syne that they’re singing a Scottish song. I’ll be told by half of them that they’re Scottish (they’re not), be expected to know all their distant clan connections (I won’t), and be asked what my favorite whisky is while I sip at some Jim Beam. I’ll also explain that most Scots hate the term Scotch (it’s derogatory), Scotch eggs are English, and Scotch tape is one of the few things we didn’t invent. It’ll be fun, I’ll enjoy the chat, the company, and the hours passing by without the usual feeling of being a misfit loner – even if I am one.

The following morning I’ll be back in my own apartment eating the last of the festive chocolate, watching Star Trek reruns (why hasn’t a Scot played Scottie yet?) and finding ways to procrastinate rather than paint or write. And, at some point there will be the melancholy moments, the moments when I wish I had family close by, wish I had one of my many exes sitting next to me irritating me with their flaws (I’m flawless obviously), and wondering if I’ll make it through another week without… well without wondering some shit.

I’m a loner. It’s my personality but, I’m more an extroverted introvert. I like to be at the party, I like to socialize, I like to have company but like many people I dread the thought of doing those things too. I don’t want the attention that I crave. Don’t want the intrusion into my loneliness. Don’t want the depressing seclusion shattered by constant companionship. Yet, I do. Yet I really don’t. Yet I do.

Christmas is the epitome of all the holidays that people love to hate without owning up to it. It’s the epicenter of joy and sadness. We celebrate whatever is relevant to each of us and share that with whoever we can, whoever allows us in, whoever is still left. Some of us do it a lot on our own and stick our heads above the parapets occasionally to be shot in the face with some tinsel and a turkey leg. Us loners are not all bah humbug, we still smile at kids with wonder in their eyes but, we also grin in relief at the exasperated parents hauling mountains of junk through the cash registers. I love Christmas though I hate the way I spend it most years. I long for some version of my childhood memories of waiting on aunts and uncles turning up at the door, the fright of a cracker snapping as I nearly fall off my seat into my papa’s lap, the surprise of opening boxes with no clue as to what’s inside, and just all the lashings of magic. Adult lives lack magic sadly, and in the brief moments when they do it normally involves a child. I want those first few moments of wandering half asleep through to the living room to find my own pile of toys or, in those later years seeing a toddling child explode in delight that Santa has been in the night.

Christmas can be a lonely and depressing time for those of us that are single, or far away from family and friends. That’s not a cry for sympathy it’s just a fact and it’s one that is self-inflicted or, is purely circumstantial so, we don’t want or need that sympathy. I’d rather feel lonely for a week because I’m on my own than feel alone in a relationship fifty-two weeks of the year just so I have someone to sit across from while I eat turkey wearing novelty socks that I hate. I at least get to be myself on these festive days. I don’t need to pretend like the millions of women who wonder if they’ll get through the day without a black eye. The millions of spouses silently batting away the snide remarks from the in-laws who hate them for no reason. The millions of kids living a lie because they can’t tell their parents they’d rather have a pair of Doc Martins than the Hello Kitty nightie or, really wanted that little tight dress in Kohl’s window rather than a new football jock-strap. Those people are lonely every day and Christmas brings them no joy, just more pressure to conform or belittle themselves for the sake of others, the sake of not spoiling the fun for everyone else while they die inside.

Lots of people have helped me in this past year, and in this past week. My needs have been plain to see. My isolation apparent. Being alone is easy to see and I’m thankful that those people around me have reached out to help me, give me a few hours away from the seclusion when it was needed (remember some of us hate constant company). What I’d ask is that you all look around the overflowing table or the crowded room strewn in ripped wrapping paper and look into the eyes of those beside you. Look for the loneliness in the crowd. Look for the person who just needs a hand to hold or an understanding ear. The person surrounded by family and friends who can’t actually be themselves. A kind word or welcome touch from you may be enough to get them through this time of year, may be enough to make sure they are still around this time next year when they can be the person they want to be. Bring people into your fold, extend your family, show kindness to the stranger but, most of all, know, understand, and accept those already close to you. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Happy Holidays. Share the love.  

First Stumble

I started this blog last week with the strong intention of it helping me be creative on a daily basis. In some ways it has. I have written a few posts, shared some of my old art, and plugged my book(s). However, over the last few days that creative edge has been a little blunted again. It’s probably the time of year. I have mild SAD (seasonal adjustment disorder) and like many folk the dark cold months of winter aren’t good for my mood or creativity. Instead of using all that time productively while stuck indoors trying to stay warm I instead resort to what most people do, which is turn on Netflix and sit binge watching Daredevil with a pile of candy and salted nuts.

There’s nothing wrong with doing that. It’s just that I should be finishing a novel, or getting back to a painting I started four months ago and when I don’t then the sullen mood creeps back in slowly. To combat procrastination I try to get out of the house. Back in Scotland I had a routine where being out of the house often involved going to write in a café or pub. I haven’t quite got into that routine here. I don’t like writing at home, there’s too many distractions like laundry, TV, and the fridge, and I haven’t found that ‘special spot’ where I feel comfortable working yet and so, days pass without me writing a word. A lot of that has had to do with having routines that involved other people first and foremost, like the ex-wife and recent girlfriends rather than just myself. That isn’t the case now and while that isn’t the ideal long-term situation I do need to find my own way of life first and build on that. So, hopefully I’ll get my head around what I should be doing, and where I should be going each day to get some words down on the page.

Low mood and anxiety are my two major enemies. Anyone out there who is affected by either, or both, will know how difficult they can be individually, and how crippling they can be in combination. In my case they show themselves in a few different ways. Fatigue is a major symptom. sleep doesn’t ease it and the constant tiredness isn’t conducive to being creative either. It’s hard to concentrate on a hundred-thousand word piece of work when you can’t keep your eyes open – funnily enough, I usually can when It comes to watching hours of back to back episodes of whatever has caught my attention on my Netflix ‘to watch list’. If I get outside it’s usually to go wander around the shops – Target is a favorite at the moment, mostly because it’s right next to the cinema that I frequent two or three times a week. Going to the movies isn’t a waste of my time as far as I’m concerned, it helps with my creative process, gives me ideas, and shows me what not to do. Target on the other hand just empties my wallet. The other symptom is doubt. That in itself isn’t a bad thing. Doubting whether your story or painting is good enough for other people to buy or enjoy is, in many ways, a good buffer between vanity and throwing any old shit out there with your name attached to it. It happens, I know people who seem to have zero awareness of just how poor quality the work they are doing is, and because of that their work doesn’t improve. However, doubt in too big a dose can stop you in your tracks. Make you leave every page blank, every idea gathering dust. That’s how doubt works on me.  

So, anyway. The last few days has been another procrastination stumble. Though, in fairness to myself, I have been writing another long rambling post that isn’t finished yet. I can only hope that the money I’ve spent in these last few days will help get me up and running again. The Firestick probably will not (nine more Daredevil episodes to go), the Amazon Echo possibly will as I can have a hairband soundtrack playing beside me now and ask Alexa to tell me jokes occasionally, and the one purchase which should help is the desk chair which means I can’t say I don’t have anything to sit on now. If I can stay awake, find a comfy café, and stop walking the aisles of Target then I may just manage to finish (with all the edits) the latest novel on time. Easter penciled in. Maybe I should use ink to push me forward (note to self: look for pens at Target). 

The Rocky Horror Years

When I first started painting about ten years ago I was using oils, specifically the Bob Ross stuff that you would normally associate with mountains, trees with friends, and happy accidents. After a couple of weeks of experiemnting with landscapes I tried my hand at portraits, and as my partner at the time was a huge RHPS fan I decided to recreate some of the cast.

The Denton Deviants painting was used as (still is currently as far as I am aware) the logo for the RHPS Denton Deviants shadow cast based in Glasgow.