Tag Archives: The Blood Miracles

From the old box: Don’t tell me that working-class people can’t be articulate

Don’t tell me that working-class people can’t be articulate

Lisa McInerney, Guardian, 5 May 2017 wrote:

Last summer, about a year after my first novel The Glorious Heresies was published, I led a workshop for aspiring writers. In the session, we referred to my experience writing Heresies – lessons I’d learned or techniques I found useful. One of the attendees had read the book in preparation for the session and had an issue with my take on dialogue. He believed my characters’ speech, and each narrative voice I employed, was far too complex. He maintained that a writer writing a working-class story should not use sophisticated words or inventive phrasing, even in third person. He was adamant my vernacular wasn’t the vernacular: a working-class story should be told through simple prose and working-class characters should have a limited vocabulary, or else they are not authentic.

I was finishing the last round of edits of The Blood Miracles at the time, and so was (very sensibly) sensitive to criticism. I went back through the text, looking for phrases unsuited to its characters. Its protagonist, Ryan, is a 20-year-old drug dealer from a council estate who did not finish second-level education. He swears habitually and doesn’t make time to read. On that basis he sounds like the kind of young man most likely to communicate in grunts, but then, he has managed to make a comfortable living selling drugs, something that’s next to impossible if you can only express yourself through expectorating and blasphemy. Wait, I told myself. Cop on. The more I thought about it, the more indignant I became. Why shouldn’t Ryan be eloquent? Is eloquence not actually a necessity for disadvantaged dealers who don’t want to end up doing 10-year stretches, or quietly decomposing in some remote patch of Irish forestry?

Yet I’m sometimes asked if it’s terribly difficult writing dialogue for working-class characters because working-class people, particularly men, don’t converse. It’s galling the number of people who buy into this idea of class determining articulacy, a Blytonesque estimation that patois is intrinsically moronic and that the working classes communicate in dropped syllables, slang and scratching. That we are thick-tongued as Wuthering Heights’ Joseph, or stubbornly simple as Animal Farm’s Boxer, or as proud of our savagery as Lionel Asbo himself. I’ve seen people who should be angered by this theory subscribe to it instead, and how frustrating it is watching people react defensively to others’ knowledge – to the very idea of knowledge – without recognising their own.

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