Sure you know yourself…

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.

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The woe of Brexit

Dot writes: it’s been a whole month since I last posted. In that time I’ve written and given a conference paper, the boys have finished school for the year, Frank has learned to ride a bike (go Frank!), Ken has made a huge amount of beer, the UK has voted to leave the EU, and I’ve listened to some more records. I started to write a post partly about Brexit and partly about the records. It’s getting so long I’ve decided to publish it in two parts – so here’s the miserable political part.

I’ve chewed over the Brexit vote so relentlessly and extensively on social media and in conversation – it’s been a big topic both at work and at the conference I attended – I feel exhausted. I can’t go back over it all again here. But I will say that I started, when the referendum was announced, as a mild Remainer – generally thinking the European project was, on balance, a force for good, a force against insularity, and the only way small European countries could have a voice loud enough to shout against super-powers like the US and China. I was very unhappy with the brutal economic policies enforced against Ireland and Greece in the wake of the global financial crisis, but I still felt that it was better to be part of the EU than not.

As the campaign progressed my views sharpened. I registered for a postal vote, which I hadn’t done for UK general elections. I wanted my voice to be heard on this: it was about not just economic welfare and international power, but values of inclusiveness and co-operation, and indeed my own identity as a British person living in an EU country. I also became more acutely aware that Brexit could have grave consequences for Ireland. The Irish economy is closely linked to the British one; more seriously, the open border between the North and the Republic, and heavy EU investment in the North, are two of the lynchpins of the Northern Irish peace process. Northern Ireland has receded from British consciousness, I think, but there are still bomb scares, there are still marches: this is a place with an incredibly painful history in recent memory. I can imagine people saying that Ireland shouldn’t be able to blackmail Britain with its history of violence. Well, Britain bears a heavy responsibility for that history and will have to continue to deal with its consequences.

When I saw the news on the morning after the referendum, it was with a sinking feeling of inevitability, the same depressed, believing disbelief I felt on the day after the general election that returned the Conservative Party to government. Of course. Of bloody course. I should have known that this would happen. I should have known that the majority of people in Britain would not be like me; that I don’t share their assumptions, their approach, their prejudices (I have my own prejudices); that I just don’t get it; that I don’t belong, or rather that I belong to a minority – leftwing educated people with an international outlook. I had thought carefully, read up extensively, and voted in accordance with my convictions and my understanding of the issues. Other people had – well, they’d come to a conclusion that just seemed wrong. I knew many of them had thought about it at length and were not simply racist or casting a frivolous protest vote, but to me their conclusions were, clearly, wrong. Then I felt increasingly angry. Because now we all have to try to clean up the mess. And it is a mess, a dreary stupid mess. It is the fault of the politicians who should never have submitted such an insanely complex issue to a brute plebiscite; they have been atrociously irresponsible.

No, the sky hasn’t fallen. The pound has fallen a long way, the major UK political parties have fallen to ugly squabbling, Britain has fallen in reputation in the eyes of the world, but the world turns on (getting rapidly hotter, of course, and that’s another thing everyone is going to ignore again while they try to work out the endless legal, political and economic ramifications of this idiotic event). Nonetheless everything has got that bit meaner, that bit more depressing. Ugly fissures of hostility are exposed. And I feel decreasing hope that we will tackle any of the truly huge and urgent issues we face – global warming above all, but also inequality both within countries and internationally. It is ironic that what was surely in large part a gesture of anger from the poor within Britain will probably result in further austerity visited on the poor.

 

 

Get lost

Damn, that road to the left must have been the one he wanted. He’s been driving for eight hours and he’s going 130kph in the wrong direction as the sun starts to sink. He needs to make a u-turn. He slows, then slows even more, because a girl is coming round the corner on a horse. She catches his eye, she waves. He can’t u-turn now. She’ll think he’s following her. So he drives a bit further, seeing no good place to turn around, and he keeps going on as the dusk gathers, till he finds himself at the end of his energy in a town so small it’s no more than a whistle-stop, but with one hotel that must serve as bar and shop and emergency roadhouse for the whole empty country for miles around. And then

the locals are unfriendly, he’s a city boy, his car is vandalised, he goes for a walk unwisely, sees things he shouldn’t, horrible stains, guns and chainsaws, they’re after him, heart pumping panic in the dark

heard it before, try something else Continue reading “Get lost”