Thursday, October 21, 2021

Taking my Lumps, by Catriona

Cringe – Is there any of your published writing that you’re not particularly proud of any more? Give us an example of something you’ve written that made you cringe. Why does it make you feel that way and what have you learned since you wrote it?

There are two sides to this: the mistakes - mostly anachronisms - that will never stop bugging me but don't matter; and the decisions that I wouldn't make again but do matter. Here's one of the first and some of the other.

In Come To Harm I wrote a Japanese protagonist. This was actually the first thing I ever wrote, back in 2000. It wasn't even a crime novel. (It was called The Hook and The Slab back then.) Keiko Nishisato was based on the experiences (not the personality) of my friend Etsuko Oishi, with whom I shared an office in Edinburgh when we were both studying for our PhDs. 

Now, when I was done, I ran some of my Rumsfeld Bs past another Japanese friend, Mariko Kondo, to make sure I hadn't made any daft errors.

Rumsfeld Bs, you ask. I mean the known unknowns. The things you know you don't know. Like, for me, some bits of Japanese culture. (As opposed to Runsfeld As - the known knowns. e.g. other bits of Japanese culture. And the fascinating, but irrelevant for writing, Rumsfeld Cs - unknown knowns. Plus the dread Rumsfeld Ds - unknown unknowns. The stuff you don't know you don't know. These are what lead you to make mistakes you only find out about when the book's out and you get emails.)

The only way to avoid RDs is to get an expert to read the whole book. It's a good idea that's now widespread practice. I didn't do that in 2001. And so I still don't know for sure how cliched, offensive, risible, heart-sinking and wide of the mark in ten other ways Keiko Nishisato is. I suspect she is enormously A Japanese Character written by A Brit.

The next step should be lump-taking, same as with anything else you get wrong in a book. But that's where I've run into a problem. I know that some Japanese and Japanese American friends have read (tried to anyway) Come To Harm, but I've never heard their thoughts.This might be because they are all lovely and don't want to scold me. Or it might be that they are sick fed up of trying to tell stuff to white people, who then weep and faint and argue. The weaponised tears of white women are a real thing. Also, it's no Japanese person's job to tell me anything about my book unless I'm paying them.

So. I'm not not proud of Come To Harm. I just don't know whether I should be. I've got a case of Schrodinger's Rumfelds. 

And that's Cringe Type A. It matters.

Cringe Type B is just funny and embarassing. The first time I did this was in my very first published novel AFTER THE ARMISTICE BALL, the last time I did it was in my latest book, THE MIRROR DANCE, and the next time I do it, no doubt, will be in my new book SCOT MIST. Whatcha gonna do?

In ATAB, I had Dandy Gilver listening to a BBC radio station that hadn't yet hit the air in 1922. I also had her wearing a "cocktail dress", years before the OED's first citation of that phrase. She might conceivably have been wearing "a little dress to go to a cocktail party". But in the depths of Perthshire, she should really ahve been wearing "a little dress to go and drink nasty cocktails before dinner". Oh well.

In THE MIRROR DANCE, I really screwed up. It's 1938 and Dandy and Alec drive over a bridge that wasn't built until the 1960s. AAARRRRRrrrrgggghhhhh. I even went to Dundee and drove over it. It looked older than that to me. And I went to the library and studied things - includng the fact that the new bridge was built in Edwardian times. But that was for trains. AAARRRRRrrrrrrggggghhhhh. I got the first letter within days of the UK publication. (We fixed it for the paperback.)

I don't yet know what I've got wrong in SCOT MIST. It's not out until January in the UK and February in the US.. I wait with interest to hear all about it.



Susan C Shea said...

I've decided I'm going to pay a French friend who teaches bi-lingually English and French to read any new French village mystery I may write. What gets me tangled is French slang. At least you're Scottish, so you know how to sling Scottish slang! (Say that three times...)

Ann Mason said...

I don't mind finding an anachronism or whatever else the error in a book might be -- I'm under the misconception that finding one makes me look smart. And I'm pretty sure there is one in everything I've ever read, even if I don't recognize it. Shakespeare's clocks and all that.

So don't beat yourself up.
Everyone's a critic.
Even Homer nods.

Love, Me