Writing always accrues detritus so here’s some bits and pieces from Glitterland.
- Alternative titles for Ash’s first novel
- Extended chapter three
- Original cover
- Musings on the phonetic Essex dialect
- Assorted blog posts and interviews
Or if you use Spotify you can get the link here.
There are a few references to Ash’s first book scattered through Glitterland – a horribly pretentious little piece of magical realism, which was probably about being gay and a genius in the early 2000s. I ended up calling it The Smoke is Briars. But there was a pretty hefty short-list of potential titles. To be honest, I probably spent longer pondering the name of Ash’s imaginary book than the real book I actually wrote. But I knew Glitterland was going to be called Glitterland pretty much before I knew anything else about it (which was really odd because normally I’m running around in circles shrieking that I need a name, any name).
Anyway, I’ve dug them out my notes, and I present them here for your entertainment. I should write one of these. For sure. I would totally win the Booker.
Lead and Gold
The Leaden Echo, and the Gold
Beauty in the Ghost
Fell of Dark
The Sights My Heart Saw
Longer Light’s Delay
Bitter Would Have Me Taste
Our Sweating Selves
Only in Time
The Stillness of the Violin
Sudden In A Shaft Of Sunlight
Figured In A Drift Of Stars
The Stillness and the Dancing
The Smoke is Briars
A More Complicated Pattern
The Sea Has Many Voices
The Wild Thyme Unseen
The Spectre Of A [The] Rose.
Prayers To Broken Stone
The Valley of Dying Stars
Like To A Little Kingdom
The Violet Hour
Red and Gold, the Gilded Shell
All the Devils
The Root Of All Heartache
A Brittle Glory
In chapter 3, Ash meets up with Amy on his way to his book signing. I like Amy, so I was inclined to give her more page time than she actually needed. This conversation ended up dragging on a bit, and I’m glad I cut it … but here it is anyway, full-length, for them as care:
I met Amy, as arranged, at the Three Crowns. It claimed to be a traditional English pub, which meant dark wood and warm beer. Not that I would be drinking. Not after Brighton.
Stitch on, lunatic.
Amy was sitting at a table in the dingiest corner, sipping a pint and reading on her iPad. I had a terrible record for showing up to things, but she still hadn’t given up on me. I couldn’t tell if that made her stubborn, foolish, or . . . nice.
“Hey you,” she said, jumping up and hugging me. I gave her an awkward squeeze. “Extravagant air kiss . . . mwah, darling . . . mwah. . .”
This was another fossil of a joke. I couldn’t remember where it’d come from. I had a horrible feeling it might have been me.
Leaning in, I went through the motions. Mwah. Mwah. Sigh.
“And I bought you a drink. Full-fat Coke, not diet, on the rocks, with lime not lemon.”
“Thank you.” I sat down, unbuttoning my coat and unwinding my scarf.
“It’s okay.” She smiled at me. “You’re a cheap date. It’s one of the things I like about you.”
“What about my swashbuckling charm and pretty face?”
“Went without saying, sweetie.”
I took a sip of my Coke to hide a smile. Amy was the sort of woman who occasionally made me wish I weren’t gay and clinically insane. She was pretty in what I thought was probably an Elizabeth Bennet sort of way: lively eyes, wicked smile.
“It’s colder than Satan’s arsecrack out there,” she went on cheerfully. “Where’s the bloody spring gone? How’ve you been?”
I hesitated, weighing fact and fiction, pride and friendship. “Well, truthfully, not entirely great. But I’m okay now.”
“Yeah, I heard about Brighton.”
Well, this was likely to be awkward. “Oh?” I adopted what I hoped was a neutral tone.
She nodded. “Max told me.” There was a pause. “Everything.”
Yes, this was definitely awkward, and there was only so much mileage I could get out of “oh.”
She ruffled a hand through her hair. “I’m sorry, I don’t want to dump shit on you. Shall we talk about how everyone loves the new Rik Glass instead?”
“God, no.” I recoiled in revulsion. “You know I hate talking about my books. Also, you can dump shit on me. Figurative shit, anyway.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’ll tell you straight away if my mental health starts to buckle under the weight of your emo.”
“Don’t be an arse.” She rapped the table in a manner that suggested it was substituting for my head. “I didn’t mean it like that. Even non-depressed people have a right not be whinged at.”
“I’m consenting, meaningfully, to be a whinge recipient.”
Maybe this was why I liked Amy. She was very good at making me feel like I might be salvageable. That I could be something other than a burden to someone. That I might be . . . all right.
“Okay.” She folded her elbows on the table and took a deep breath. “It’s, well, it’s about Niall. I mean, trying to shag Max on his stag night was kind of not okay with me. But, equally, I know you guys all go way back and I don’t want to be some kind of evil-bitch, straight-girl stereotype.”
“I think,” I said slowly, “it’s pretty reasonable to prefer that your partner isn’t, uh, fucking someone else, regardless of gender and sexual orientation.”
She shrugged. “Well. Max is a grownup. I mean, he wasn’t lying there thinking of Brighton. But the way I see it, if he wanted to be with Niall, he’d be with Niall.”
Sometimes the simplest truths could be the most difficult. I suppose it depended which side of them you were on. “I’m pretty sure he wants to be with you, Amy.”
She nodded. “Yeah, me too. It’s just Niall makes him miserable about it.”
“Couldn’t you set up some kind of, uh—” I made a distinctly ill-advised gesture with my straw. “—timeshare arrangement?”
“Hah, we talked about it years ago,” she said, grinning. “But Max isn’t up for it. And it’s not because he’s stuck in conventional notions of relationship blah, he’s just not in love with Niall.”
“I know that. You know that. Max knows that. The only person who doesn’t know that is Niall.”
“So.” She huffed out a sigh. “I don’t know what to do. There’s no point being cross about it, but I don’t like seeing Max unhappy and I certainly don’t like him sleeping with other people out of a sense of guilt and obligation. I mean,” she added thoughtfully, “if he’s going to cheat on me it ought to be fun, right?”
“You raise a . . . a . . . point.”
She laughed. “Is that the best you can do?”
“Possibly.” I shrugged. “It’s a mess.”
Amy was quiet for a moment or two, her finger tracing a succession of fading abstracts in a puddle of spilled beer, while I tried to come up with something useful and/or comforting to say to her and failed on both counts. I couldn’t tell if it was because the problem was complicated and insoluble, or if I was just hopeless. Some friend. Some lover. I couldn’t even indulge in a one-night stand without having a panic attack. And here I was thinking about myself, as usual.
Amy looked up and sighed. “It just feels like whatever happens, someone is going to get hurt. I’m not mad keen on that.”
“No, but that’s just the way it is, sometimes.”
We stared moodily into our drinks.
“Did happiness always used to be this complicated?” Amy asked after a bit.
I shrugged. “I have no idea. Happiness and I are barely on speaking terms these days.”
Her eyes held mine for a moment. There was pity there, which of course I hated, but also warmth. I waited for the clumsy platitude, but I had, as ever, underestimated Amy.
“Oooh, I’ll show you some happiness.” She slid her phone over the table. “Look. My wedding dress!”
I spared it a brief glance. “Yes, that’s definitely a dress.”
“Such a curmudgeon.” She glared at me in mock displeasure.
With an exasperated noise, I reached out, took the phone, and looked at the photograph. A smiling woman in a white frock; seen one, you’ve seen them all. Except, no, it was different. It was Amy.
“You look pretty. And happy.”
“Not half as happy as the sales assistant standing next to me. You wouldn’t believe what a wedding dress costs.”
“No,” I said firmly. “I wouldn’t.”
She laughed. “Curmudgeon.” She pulled her phone out of my hands and stuffed it back into her pocket, signalling that I was relieved of my wedding-related conversational duties. “Anyway, what happened to you in Brighton? Max said you pulled.”
“Oh . . . err . . .” An absolutely scalding blush burst across my face. As far as I was concerned, what happened in Brighton stayed in Brighton. “I didn’t think he’d seen. I barely spoke to him, actually. I’m shitty like that.”
If Amy noticed my inept attempt to deflect the topic of conversation back to Max, she still let me get away with it. “He’s more perceptive than he lets on. And he does care about you.”
“I know he does.” I hesitated, wondering how best to articulate something awkward. “It’s just, Niall is sort of the lynchpin. He’s the thing we have in common. Not that he’s a thing. But Max is almost like a . . . a . . . friend-in-law. Or something.”
She grinned at me over her pint of John Smiths. “Also, he’s really scary.”
“God, he is! Why are you marrying such a disgustingly perfect specimen of manhood?”
“I have really terrible taste. I should find some kind of broken, insecure, miserable weasel-type man with a tiny cock, right?”
I spread my hands. “Look no further. Um, except for the cock part. I’m phenomenally well-endowed.”
Her smile vanished. “Ash,” she said softly. My hands were resting on the table top, carefully placed so my cuffs didn’t drag in any beer rings, and Amy covered them with hers. It was nice, for about half a second, and then it was too much, even from Amy, so I shook her off. “You’re not broken. And everybody’s insecure. Even Max, would you believe it.” She paused. “You do have a touch of the weasel though.”
“I think it’s that intent, curious, dark-eyed look you have. It’s a bit musteline.”
I gaped at her, speechless, and she burst out laughing. Her laugh was nothing like my glitter pirate’s laugh, but the easy joy in it made my memories chime like bells. I felt a sudden, sharp pang of something almost like loss.
Before I had to wonder about it, my phone beeped a warning.
“Well.” I finished the watery dregs of my Coke and stood. “You may give thanks that you’re spared my withering and soul-destroying retort because I need to go.”
Amy gave me the “Be seeing you” wave. “Best of luck. And try to have fun.”
“Fun?” I gave a fastidious shudder. “Reading one of my own books? Why don’t you put me down for a colonic irrigation at the same time?”
I struggled into my coat, wound myself into my scarf, and headed out into the cold.
While it wasn’t the first book I wrote, Glitterland was the first novel I had published. I wasn’t sure what it would lead to, or what would be possible, so–while I had ideas and hopes for a series–it was initially published as a standalone.
‘Spires’ has quite a distinct look and the original cover of Glitterland didn’t match that, hence the re-cover.
But for those who miss it, here it is, in all its shiny, big-haired glory:
“I’m not really from arand ’ere,” he volunteered. No shit. Brighton was the gay capital of England. No one here was from around here. Besides, with the spray tan and the accent, he might as well have been wearing a sticker that read I’m from Essex, ask me how. “I’m staying wif a mate.”
He seemed to know where we were going, at least. We crossed the road and cut through a park, Brighton’s pale Georgian buildings gleaming on all sides.
“You don’t say a lot,” he observed.
“I have nothing to say.”
“Pity, you sahnd well nice.” Oh, that glottal stop. Pih-e.
“You said I sounded like the Queen ten minutes ago.”
“Yeah, but like,” a thoughtful pause, “sexy wif it.”
One of the elements of Glitterland that attracted the most comment (both positive and negative) was Darian’s dialect. Because the book was so resolutely narrated from Ash’s perspective, I felt that it was very important to give Darian his own distinctive voice, and a big part of that was to try to capture the patterns and rhythms of his Essex accent.
I was aware from the outset that this was going to present me with problems. There were logistical issues to think about – like making sure that an audience which would predominantly consist of non-Brits would actually be able to understand what was being said – but at least as important to me were what you might call the social issues. Language is profoundly political and it’s very easy, when portraying a non-standard accent, to think of it as just being a layer of “mistakes” applied over the top of standard pronunciation, rather than as a something complete and self-consistent.
There’s a nasty tendency to assume that people who speak with an accent (particularly an accent that is denigrated or associated with a class of people widely considered to be uneducated or shallow) do so out of simple ignorance and that their deviations from standard pronunciation are merely errors. Starting from this assumption, it becomes very tempting to try to represent the accent by simply spelling words incorrectly. Bad spelling = bad writing = bad speech = regional accent. Job done. Obviously I don’t actually think like that on a conscious level, but linguistic prejudice is a deeply ingrained part of my culture, and it took me a couple of passes of the text to weed out all of the examples of what I came to think of as the “wrong = wrong” school of accent transcription.
For example, Darian would almost certainly pronounce the word “what” with a glottal-stop. Now the glottal-stop is actually a very common part of the English language, even Standard British English and even, in some contexts, Standard American English this edition of SMBC points out) but because our spelling system was inherited from the Phoenecians via the Ancient Greeks via the Romans, it isn’t easy to represent in print. For several drafts, I had Darian saying “wot” but eventually I realised that this was absurd. The standard spelling of the word “what” in no way reflects its modern pronunciation in pretty much any dialect (I understand that it’s a holdover from the Anglo-Saxon “Hwæt” in which the “h” would have been sounded and the “æ” would have been pronounced as the short “a” in “cat”). Conversely the “wot” spelling reflects modern received pronunciation perfectly (or at least as perfectly as can be given the English language’s notoriously non-phonetic spelling system). The “wot” spelling didn’t convey any information at all about the way Darian’s accent actually sounded. It just indicated that Darian was uneducated (because “wrong” spelling means “wrong” speaking means “wrong” accent). So I went back to the standard spelling.
Obviously there were some things I did keep. I kept “f” for “th” in a number of places because it’s quite iconic of the accent – it’s also quite a deprecated pronunciation. I remember a discussion with a group of colleagues over lunch in which they expressed – in the same conversation – their outrage at a Yorkshire headmaster who had tried to teach his students to pronounce the word “bath” with a long “a” and their despair at parents in Essex who teach their children to pronounce the word “Thursday” with an initial “f”.
I kept “ahwight” which again I thought was iconic, and as much a dialect term as a variant spelling. I also kept “evva” for “ever” which, again, I felt was strangely important even though – like “wot” – the standard spelling doesn’t really reflect standard pronunciation. I think I thought “evva” and “nevva” were important because Darian uses them a lot when he’s talking about things which are important to him (things he’s “nevva” done or that are the best “evva”), and so I thought it grounded key elements of the dialogue in Darian’s voice and dialect without adding so much non-standard spelling as to be distracting.
This is probably a slightly spurious analogy, but I recently rewatched The Empire Strikes Back, and I was surprised at how straightforward Yoda’s speech is. Most of the things he says to Luke are actually in perfectly standard English, but the script gives him just enough variation to make his speech patterns distinctive so that, in retrospect, it feels like he every line in the wrong order delivered. I think I was aiming for something similar with Darian (although that isn’t to suggest that being from Essex is the same as being from Dagobah) – to use just enough non-standard vocabulary and spelling that it created a real sense of identity, while leaving the majority of his dialogue in completely standard English.
I have no idea if I actually succeeded – and ultimately that’s a call for the individual reader.
- Book Chick City: Interview
- Nerine Dorman’s Blog (review and interview originally published in The Pink Tongue): Interview
- Swept Away by Romance (this one includes a glittery banner!): a celebration of dilettetante-ism and writing
- Love Affair with a E-Reader: Interview
- Jessica Scott’s blog: Roofless Ducks: the notorious duck scene
- The Book Pushers Alexis’ Adventures in Writerland: another post about the process of writing, and publishing, Glitterland
- Fiction Vixen: Falling in Love in a Few Bright Moments: clubbing, dancing, and the meaningful transience of love
- Pants Off Reviews: Love Reveals Us: talking about editings and endings
- Book Reviews & More by Kathy: All about Ash: why I chose to write such an arsehole of a protagonist
- That’s What I’m Talking About: The Least Dangerous Game: everything you never wanted to know about Nabble
- Sid Love: Author & Character Interview (omg, this was far too much fun)
- Joyfully Jay: Music & Lyrics: The Glitterland playlist