To Swear or not to Swear...That is the Question

May 7, 2018

 

OK... we admit it. There's a lot of swearing in our books, and some readers don’t like it. Criticism of our use of expletives generally goes along one of three lines; 1) it's 'gratuitous and unnecessary'; 2) 'it makes you sound illiterate'; 3) and most frequently, 'other authors can write suspenseful novels without resorting to swear words, why can't the Robson brothers?'
 
But we’re not alone. Plenty of other authors, many of them far more exalted than ourselves, have used swearing liberally.  For example:
 
I will sodomize you and face-fuck you, 
Cocksucking Aurelius and anus-busting Furius.'

  • Catullus, 60BC

'Is it for you would have my cunt alone?'

  • Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, 1478

 
They fuck you up, your mum and dad. 
They may not mean to, but they do. 
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

  • Philip Larkin, This Be The Verse, 1971


Ach it was hopeless. That was what ye felt. These bastards. What can ye do but. Except start again so he started again. That was what he did he started again … ye just plough on, ye plough on, ye just fucking plough on … ye just fucking push ahead, ye get fucking on with it.

  • James Kelman, How Late It Was, How Late, 1994

And Irving Welsh’s Trainspotting we won’t even mention…...

Anyway, the list is long. Take, for example, the latest Michael Connolly novel, The Late Show, which includes a reasonable smattering of the F-word, though we haven't seen any reviews objecting to its use. Maybe it has something to do with the amount of swearing, or perhaps the way swearing is integrated into a book. 

In the Connelly novel the F-word is generally spoken by low-life characters and is used, as far as we can tell, to highlight their stupidity. In our novels swearing is used by Harry Hawkins and his associates, many of whom are far from stupid. We use swearing to make this point: in the working-class south-east London Harry Hawkins, and we, emerged from swearing was integrated into the fabric of everyday life - especially for men - and thus it is integrated into the fabric of our books.
 
We write London Large to entertain and thrill our readers, and because we love crime fiction – and we pride ourselves on not being too pretentious about it all. But there are a couple of serious points to be made about the way some of our characters speak: first, the way of speaking of the people on whom they’re based has been more frequently bastardised than accurately rendered – these were and are real people, and we think have a right to exist on the page; and two, the old ‘Cockney’ vernacular speech is disappearing fast and will soon be gone, so we are doing our part to record it.

The desire to capture and illuminate the impact on H of his local culture was one of the reasons we wrote Sharp and Short, our collection of stories about H’s development in context. Click on the link or image to learn more. 
 
Anyway, we'd be really interested in our readers’ opinions on the subject, so we started a thread on the London Large Facebook page

All views, pro- or anti-swearing, welcome.

 

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