Dot writes: it’s strangely hard to write short stories as an English person in Ireland. Stories do best with a rich sense of context. The author at least, if not the readers, needs to know where everything is and what it looks like and how it fits together. For me that’s most easily done in Dublin, where I live, so my characters tend to walk down the roads I know and stare at the views I stare at. Their commutes take them to Tara Street and when they go to the beach it’s Dollymount Strand.
But the problems start when they open their mouths. It’s not that I don’t know any Irish expressions now. I know plenty. I know my characters will “bring” their children shopping, ask “will I put it in the press?” not “shall I put it in the cupboard?”, have a “nasty dose” when they’re ill, say it’s “Baltic” when it’s cold, bravely face the drizzle of a “grand soft day”, and fear “losing the run of themselves” or “getting notions”. If someone apologises for being a nuisance they’ll reply “ah no, you’re grand”, and they might stick “so” on the end of their sentences: “I’ll see you then so”. They probably won’t say “howyeh” when they meet their friends as they’re all painfully middle class, and nor will they say “I’m after making the dinner” because the “I’m after” construction is one of the few I knew before I got here and that makes it seems corny, even though I’ve often heard people use it.
However, this is of limited use when the topic I actually need my characters to discuss is, say, their feelings about meeting someone they’ve seen on television or the embarrassing dream they had about their mother. (Who might be their “mam” but might equally be their “mum”, and using “mum” makes me feel less as though I’m hanging a huge flashing sign over their heads saying “look how Irish I’m being”.) How do they talk when they’re not talking about Baltic weather or nasty doses? When they’re just talking English, but as Irish people?
My problem is that I know how to make the characters, where it fits, signal their Irishness, but I don’t know how to avoid signalling my Englishness. Well, I know not to have them refer to a man as a “chap” or use obscure words of Norfolk dialect, but that’s about as far as it goes. Where is the part of the Venn diagram where the overlap in the middle between things any Irish person would say and things I would say stops, and it’s just the British part on its own?
It would be so much easier to write about this country if I spoke the language.
P.S. Earlier in March this blog quietly passed its tenth anniversary. A whole decade of blogging! Happy anniversary to us.