* I wrote this almost eight years ago. I’ve read all of the Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse novels, and loved them up to about book eight. As for the TV series, Joe Magna-man-ello kept my interest to season five, and then I gave up. As for Twilight, I don’t get it. Just don’t get it.
My sister vowed that it would change my life. Not regular gym outings or learning how to program the VCR, but reading the Twilight series of novels. She handed me her copies with the prophecy, “You are going to just love these. The longing, the yearning, the passion... the best romantic novels ever.” I’m always wary when someone feels the need to reassure me that I am just going to love something. That’s the reason most of my blind dates have failed. Nevertheless, I allocated some spare time, curled up on my duvet and was prepared to be blown away by the passionate love of Bella and Edward.
Is it really necessary for the author to continually point out how incredibly hot Edward is? Pages and pages of Bella’s gawping at this demi-God. We get it. Now move on please. And what is so great about having a boyfriend who’s dead? Cold dead? Descriptions about her brushing her cheek against his cold one? Brrr. To imagine any further kind of bodily contact, oh hell no. Bad enough if someone puts his cold toes anywhere near mine, let alone cold anything else.
The love affair seems pointless, creepy even – she’ll age, he’ll remain hot, she’ll have to go to college, he’ll remain stuck at school over and over again, she’s deadly dull, he’s marginally less so, and so on and so forth.
Then there’s the whole thing about how he really wants to suck her blood. Hmm. Euphemism anyone? The key angst in the books revolves around Edward’s supernatural strength in holding back from devouring Bella. As he struggles to control his physical urges (apparently Bella’s blood is particularly alluring to our young sucker), so the angst levels increase, and with that the teenage kitchen sink dramas play out. Just bite her goddamn it, I feel like screaming, Get it over with!
Now I’ve nothing against vampire stories. As a young teen I was fascinated by Gary Oldman’s splitting open his chest to allow the pre-shoplifting days Winona Ryder a hefty swig in Coppola’s take on the Dracula story. Interview with a Vampire was even better - Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise and Antonio Banderas. Vampires were scary, but sexy as hell. But for all of its allusions to sex, Twilight is more sex-lite. More teen dream than teen scream. Where had the sleazy vampires gone to?
Slogging through the third in the Twilight saga, I was alerted to the twangs of Jace Everett that heralded the beginning of True Blood.
Now this is more my kind of vampire story. Set in the deep South, Sookie, the telepathic waitress has fallen in love with Bill, the mainstreaming vampire. Vampires have come out into the open since the introduction of synthetic blood, but this is the South, and prejudice and bigotry lie alongside the uneasy truce between vampires and humans. Yet, unlike Bella and Edward, Bill’s not about to model for Italian Vogue anytime soon. He hangs with other vampires who frequent dodgy vampire bars with names like Fangtasia, and is always on hand to protect his Sookie who is always dressed in virginal white. Corny? Oh yes, but it gets better.
Whereas the pull with Twilight is the lack of sex, in True Blood the sleaze-o-meter runs high. Fang bangers cruise around picking up vampires to have sex with, or to donate blood or both. And someone’s picking them off one by one, deepening the divide of mistrust. Where Twilight dodges the issue of feeding, True Blood bares its teeth so to speak.
Even the supporting cast have more bite. There’s Sookie’s manwhore older brother Jason whose becoming addicted to ‘V’ – vampire blood that gives mortals the high of their lives. The best friend Tara, a foul mouthed, straight-talking, adult child of an alcoholic whose supposed lack of social skills keep her from further emotional pain. And then there’s Sam, in love with Sookie, shagging Tara, and want to transform into a dog to protect his beloved from her vampire boyfriend. I don’t think we’ll see Jacob the werewolf shacking up with any of Bella’s good mates anytime soon. Oh wait, hang on, that’s right, Bella doesn’t really have any human friends, only vampire ones.
No, I don’t think the Twilight series will change my life, except perhaps to think twice about following abnormally beautiful women tour guides around Italy. I will be watching the next movie in the series though. As the author keeps pointing out, the guy who plays Edward is like, really hot, and that might just sustain my attention long enough to find out what happens next.
For a brief period in 1989, English class was my favourite favourite. Why? Because we were doing Jane Eyre, a novel that hadn’t quite captured my attention, probably because I hadn’t much bothered to read it. Every week, during one of the lessons, we’d head off to the AV room, a dank, dingy wannabee-amphitheatre that stank of damp and mouldy furnishings. Mrs. Douglas had unearthed the 1983 BBC version for our viewing pleasure. So far, so dull. And then, he roared onto the screen, knocking over the erstwhile Jane with his blazing horsemanship. Mr. Rochester. Or, more to the point, Timothy Dalton. And my little schoolgirl heart flutter-fluttered. I dashed home, and finished Jane Eyre. The whole thing in one go.
Twas not the first time I’d encountered that Welsh lilt, those narrowed green eyes, that dark, sleek hair. Ohno. A Flash Gordon fan of note, I remembered him in his green spandex suit as he faced off against blondie on a revolving, spiky turntable suspended over thin air, got jerked about by that bitch-emperor’s daughter (I would have been so much nicer), and challenged Ming the Merciless for his throne. My Prince Barin had shown up in English class. The gods were clearly smiling.
Every Tuesday, I think it was a Tuesday, I got to watch my crush up on that plastered screen, as the romance played out. (Tip: maybe if Mrs. D had mentioned it was a romance, I would have actually read it first). I imagined I was Jane. Heck, I wished I was Jane. Me, in my billowing skirt, having my palm read by TIMOTHY DALTON, being wooed in Thornfield Hall’s grounds by TIMOTHY DALTON, me getting married to TIMOTHY DALTON. I do acknowledge that the whole bit about the wife-in-the-attic got me a little upset. When Jane vanishes off into the night, leaving him, leaving TIMOTHY DALTON, I was yelling inwardly, turn back, turn back. (With the hindsight of experience, blah, blah, blah, I would never suggest such a thing now. I’d help her pack, and hand her the name of an excellent therapist.) And then of course, he was Bond too. Swoon.
You’d think that the years would cool this ardour. You would, wouldn’t you? I had other crushes. Crushes that will remain nameless. Crushes of the what-the-hell-were-you-thinking kind. But not our Timothy. Ohno. “Have you watched Penny Dreadful?”, was the question. “No/I’ll get round to it/Just now”, was my response. But, had someone asked this, “Have you watched Penny Dreadful? It’s got Timothy Dalton in it”, I would have bargained away my soul to get my hands on a copy. And he’s seventy-ish. Seventy-ish. I love that series. It’s got TIMOTHY DALTON in it. And witches, and werewolves and Frankenstein and his monster - really, go watch that series.
Why do I mention this schoolgirl crush that seems to have persisted? Well, turns out it’s his birthday today. Happy birthday Timothy (I wonder if he’s a Tim or a Timmy? Happy birthday our Timmy? Nah.) If it wasn’t for you I doubt I’d have read Jane Eyre more than once over the years. During that time, the words, that relationship has shaped my idea of romance. See teachers, dragging us off to watch the movie can sometimes be a good thing.
I don’t set goals anymore. Haven’t for years. Instead, I tend to work towards what feels right, find the flow, and go from there. So far it seems to be working.
This year, I had a couple of projects I wanted to finish, the first of them was an erotic short. For something that was supposed to be a ‘quickie’, it’s morphed and moulded into something longer, more complex, and, what-do-you-know, my ‘disposable’ character has decided to have her own voice, own story and own character arc.
I’m not so much writing this novel, as ambling about with words and structure, and seeing what happens. It’s taking way much longer than I thought. That’s okay, because…
… there’s this little ‘project’ which appeared from nowhere. Well, not nowhere. It appeared from a deeply excavated pain-logged crag. The girl in the red raincoat.
It’s not erotic. It’s not romance. It’s not a novel. I’m not sure what it is. The girl in the red raincoat. This title certainly has to be changed, because it makes me think of Daphne Du Maurier’s most excellent, spine-chilling short story, ‘Don’t Look Now’, and it’s equally compellingly brilliant screen adaption. That the ‘girl in the red raincoat’ should never, ever have been followed in that particular story does occasionally occur to me, but this one’s different. For one thing, she’s been speaking to me in pictures.
There’s a narrative, yes, but I have no idea how it resolves, or how it ends. But I do know that the more I sit down and draw, the more the story starts to reveal itself, one picture at a time. It’s not a pretty story. But it’s mine.
If I’d stuck to my goals, and mapped my timelines, I’m not sure she would have come to find me. I’m not sure that my erotica character would have started speaking to me either. I’d have been too focused on my goals, my goals, my goals, first-quarter-nearly-done, what-have-I-to-show-for-it in completed work, word count, pages scrawled, outlines completed.
No space for creativity to get in the cracks. Ah, but look what’s happening when I let the whole thing go.
Okay, so this is a rant. Warning or whatever.
I keep reading manuscripts with sentences that read as follows: “His answers were not as acceptable as what his are.” This passed muster. Really, why? Should it not read, “his answers were not as acceptable as his”? End of story, or to use the vernacular ‘finish en klaar’. And then I see an advert pasted bold as Donald Trump’s exhorts to reach out for feline euphemisms - “I am a English editor”. I stared at that line, and stared. The next paragraph explained that said editor was also an Afrikaans editor. Never would have guessed. Would I trust an ‘editor’ who fails to use ‘an’ rather than ‘a’ in front of a vowel sound? No, decidedly not. But, it’s becoming common practice to just sommer write English, warts and all, then hand it to someone equally unversed to ‘clean it up’. I’ve had my corrections incorrectly corrected - “three rooms were on on offer”, to now read “three room’s was on offer”. I’m sorry, but, WTF?
Yes, we all know that social media is rife with no punctuation, limited grammar, and incorrectly chosen homophones. Don't know about you, but there are an awful lot of people who are ‘exited’ out there. Probably after there/they’re amazing ‘desert’.
But I’m talking about people who claim themselves to be ‘writers’, ‘authors’, ‘wordsmiths’, even ‘editors’ and ‘publishers’. In English.
Does standard English matter?
There are any number of erudite English second or third language speakers who put native warblers to shame. What about everybody else? If you’re going to publish in English, particularly to an international audience, and let’s face it, that’s where you’re going to want to be marketing your books, then your English best be ‘standardised’. That means, in lay terms, that an English speaker in Sydney, Cornwall, Paris and Tokyo can understand, thanks to the rules of grammar and syntax, what it is you’re trying to say. As simply as possible.
Yes, but we speak Seffrican English
Ja, we do. When it comes to dialogue, well, there’s an opportunity to go wild with your South African dialect. Gooi in as many jas and ag nee mans as you like. We go kueir in our bakkies, stopping at robots on the way to have a quick dop or two. Is it? S’truth. We’re gonna be there just now, just now, hey?. It’s English, ja, but like the way Souff Efffrikens speak it. Flet eksent and all. But, shit me, can the rest of the sentence be grammatically sound? Go read some Lauren Beukes Zoo City…did you spot the grammatical eff-ups in the prose? Me neither.
That’s what editors are for…
Sure, you’re a writer not an editor. But as a writer, don't you want to get the most out of your basic building blocks? Words, sentences, paragraphs? How they use rhythm and rhyme to create pace?
And yet, I’ve read author bios, blurbs, web copy, and extracts from self-published works that are riddled in errors. Riddled. “She rattled off two bullets in quick concession.” FML. A chronic case of grammaritis. And I’m not talking innocent typos here. Heck, those happen to all of us. Yes, I know some people don't mind, they’re more interested in the ‘story’. But I think it smacks of a certain arrogance to not bother. To consider yourself above the rules of the language. Particularly when the carelessness displayed is not confused with a clever adaption of the language. It’s just sheer shoddiness. Sure, lots of your readers won’t care, lots will though…
But English keeps changing…
So the question I posed my BEd students was: which is more important - conforming to a set of rules about the English language or accommodating pupils who come from a varied language background that doesn't include English as a first language. Both. Hence the reason that particular course was compulsory. The sad reality is that English is widely-spoken, seen as the language of commerce and science, and so long as that American juggernaut Hollywood exists (amongst other economic and social drivers), English will continue to be a language that is thought to promise access to upward mobility. That thinking in English is not the same as thinking in French or German or Swahili is more of an education debate/concern and is not going to be discussed here. Being able to write and speak English, good English, is important at this moment of writing. Yes, dialects absorb regional influences on the language, and in spoken English, these changes are noticeable. But written? Some of those rules haven't changed in a long while. If you're a writer, best you’re slightly familiar.
What’s wrong with writing in your first language anyway?
I speak three languages. I write in one of them. I could start a romance novel in French…but why the hell would I? If I wanted a novel in French, I’d take one of my English novels, save up a small fortune, and have the thing translated. Eh, voila! Pas d’embarassement (pretty sure I got the grammar wrong there). Truth of the matter is, you think in, and are most expressive in, your first language. That mother tongue. So why the hell would you write, and charge money for, something not written in the language you’re most fluent?