Friday, March 20, 2009

Diver Down

It's consistently making me happy when the Forgotten English calendar that my dear husband bought for me for Christmas coincides with my writing life. And this week was no exception.

A word coming up was "diver" and it wasn't used for boards or underwater swimming. No, it was slang for a pickpocket.

Now, I happen to have a pickpocket as the main character in my current work in progress. So I knew the word already, based on research. What I hadn't known was that one of England's most innovative thieves and master of disguise...well...should have been called the mistress of disguise.

Mary Young, aka Jenny Diver, was quite the pickpocket and conwoman. Her most famous technique was to wear an ornate outfit with two artificial arms and "pregnancy bump", go to church, sit with the rich folks, and pick the pockets of those praying around her.

She was caught eventually, and hanged, but she had a measure of fame. And not just in her time. In addition to being included in John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera", she was also referred to in the Bobby Darin hit, "Mack the Knife". What a fascinating woman.

It's taking a great deal of self-control for me not to read ahead in the calendar. But it's probably better to come upon these little gems one at a time. After all, too much greed can get a girl hanged.

J.M. Grant

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Language Barriers

As a writer of historical fiction, one of the more important areas to 'get right' is that of language. How the characters speak and what they say is vital to transporting the reader to the time and place.

I love this portion of the process, but it makes for slow going in many cases. My current protagonist uses a great deal of underworld slang of his day. Those around him use different language of the day, depending on their place in society. And it needs to be right or it rings untrue to the reader's mental ear. Too much dialect can be tricky to read, too little and you have no real sense of the characters. It's a slippery slope to traverse.

So, I tend to write the dialog as close as I can to the time period, and then go back and replace it with the appropriate wording and cadence for the character and the time. The wrong word can create a barrier to belief for the reader. Too many wrong ones and the reader's lost interest, at best.

Of course, getting it right requires research. As I've said before, I love the research portion, too. But, my goodness, the time it takes. One page can and does take me what many days seems like hours to get completed. And this is just for the first draft.

Ah well. If I wasn't doing this, what would I be doing with my time?

I'll tell you. I'd be reading books and cruising websites looking for interesting facts, that's what I'd be doing. It's an addiction, this love of language and writing, it really is.

J.M. Grant

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