Last year I picked up a Vintage Classic two-for-one special: Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Trainspotting formed one pack but cost the price of one book. Cool. I must admit that I only wanted Oliver Twist and would have been perfectly happy purchasing that one when my ever self-righteous mind told me what a smashing idea it would be to read Scotland’s most talked about novel of the 90’s. I mean, you watched the movie a good couple of times; would it kill you to read the book? Didn’t you always say that the book is ALWAYS better than the movie? Why was Ewan Macgregor running down Princes’ Street so fast for anyway?
All these thoughts rushed through my head and I walked out the store feeling quite pleased and content with my purchase. Surprisingly I placed Dickens aside in favour of the Scottish classic. I expected a great read from the beginning. I expected fall-off-your-chair humour. I expected deep, philosophical meaning to seep through to me from within the wretchedness that is a drug addict’s life. I expected…
I could not get past the first page. That was how much my eyes were hurting.
The entire text was written in the Scottish dialect. Almost every word was not spelt as how it should have been spelt but rather as it would have been spoken. To amuse myself, I read a paragraph out aloud and as sure as day, I was quite convinced that if a stranger was listening to me, they would assume I was born in Leith and lived there all my life (you would like to know that it had not occurred to me that certain Scots from Edinburgh sounded like that even though I had interacted with them for almost two years. Thinking about some of my Scottish friends however, I did realize that their accents are pretty accentuated. My ears had obviously become accustomed to it so that in the end I couldn’t tell. Strange but true).
Needless to say I didn’t bother reading anymore and chucked the book into a top cupboard, where it exacted its revenge many months later. And I’m glad it did. It was in this little novel that I found the answer. The answer to what I like to call, in true Conan Doyle style, The Problem of the Scottish Dialect.
Now you might ask yourself that if Trainspotting was set in the present day, how will it help my story that is set 200 years ago? Well, let me tell you that if you ever get a chance to read Welsh’s Trainspotting or perhaps have a glance at the text, to the untrained eye it will look like something out of a medieval text. Chaucer himself might try to dig his way out of his own grave to take a look.
When I compared it to certain quotes from the collection of Edinburgh tales (refer to my previous blog Part 1), I saw no remarkable difference. In any case it was authenticity I was going for, not naturalism. I will off course be diluting the dialogue a little bit- a mixture of English and Scottish lest you be inflicted with eyestrain.
In the end, does a character’s accent make a difference? I think it does. It enhances individuality and if done right, can make a text that much more enjoyable to read.
I am happy to announce that I am more than halfway to completing Old Mason’s Close. I like to think I have overcome this hurdle. Whether the result is worth the effort is an entirely different story. If it isn’t, you will find me in the pub with a double Scotch in hand. Neat, off course.