Following my previous brief foray into the dark and sordid world of politics, current affairs and crimes against humanity, this post sees a welcome return to the more palatable subject of fiction writing. It also accompanies the long-overdue upload of a further instalment of my children’s novel, The Door to Caellfyon.
In Chapters Nine and Ten, following much rumour and uncertainty, the dreadful consequence of an unfolding bloody conflict finally reaches the sleepy village of Skenmarris … and difficult decisions must be made.
But first, a few words on the subject of ‘voice’.
A few years ago I ran my own editorial business. One of the major challenges I faced when proofreading the work of other writers was recognising when the best option was to simply leave it alone. This difficulty arose from the fact that I too was a writer, and no two writers express themselves in the same way. There was, therefore, the temptation for me change the text in line with how I would have written it. To do so would have been to replace the author’s unique voice with my own.
To avoid such a tendency I bore in mind these simple questions: Does the text make sense? Does it adequately express the subject matter? Will the reader understand it? If the answer to all three was ‘yes’, then the work was best left untouched.
Clearly, there remained a need for the piece to be grammatically correct, but in the case of fiction or work having a conversational tone, some rules are best broken. For example, we’re told to never begin a sentence with the word ‘but’. But I’m guilty of doing so. We’re also urged to avoid starting a sentence with the word ‘and’. And I’m guilty of that, too.
Every writer has a distinctive means of articulating what they wish to say. Equally, in the case of story writers, they should also strive to imbue each fictional character with their own distinctive voice. This was something I sought to achieve when writing The Door to Caellfyon.
My story contains a large and diverse cast. Alongside my main, human characters – Levi, his sister Poppy and their uncle, Seymour – there are badgers, polecats, stoats, weasels and others pulled from all areas of the fictional land – and indeed beyond.
Whereas I chose to give Levi, Poppy and Seymour undefinable ‘middle-England’ manners of speech, I opted for more distinct and rustic tones for Caellfyon’s native population.
Following their introduction to badger Barkstripe and his family, one of the first characters the children meet is Skenmarris’s oldest inhabitant, Bullyrag, also a badger. Levi and Poppy meet him when they are taken to his cottage by Barkstripe’s son, Whitespike. In addition to a rural dialect, I also elected to give down-to-earth Bullyrag a stutter.
‘What’s this, young Whitespike? A social call is it?’ he said as he sidestepped around the young badger and ambled into the gloom. ‘Thy’ll be wuh-wanting biscuits then. Sit thyselves down on yon bench and I’ll ber-be right out.’
I quickly warmed to Bullyrag when writing him into the tale and wished him to be an endearing character with a hint of humour:
‘Last of me pup-poppy seed cookies,’ he said. ‘Figured I’d save ‘em for visitors. Don’t care for ‘em much meself.’ He tossed one quickly into his mouth as Whitespike and Berrysap exchanged grins.
It was to be Bullyrag who first recognises the latent strength in Levi’s own character:
With the introductions over Bullyrag turned to Levi.
‘I understand you caused a buh-bit of a rumpus with that upstart Rankwolf.’
Levi shrugged and glanced down at his hands. Poppy sighed impatiently, before speaking up for him.
‘Levi can’t understand why Rasse has such a downer on him. Seems to have hated him from the start.’
Bullyrag muttered something under his breath, leaned forward and surprised Levi by taking his right hand into his gnarled paws. Levi could feel the callouses on the old badger’s pads. Behind him, a blackbird darted into a thorn thicket, chattering madly.
‘I can tell you, young feller-me-lad,’ began Bullyrag forcing Levi to look at him, ‘he’s afraid of you. He’s not exactly the buh-brightest gem in the casket but them polecats are quite sharp fellers at times. Mark what I say now – he sees in you something you maybe ain’t seen yourself. And it’s worried ‘im.’
Two of my favourite characters, and ones I enjoyed writing about perhaps most of all, were Lapblud and Nipper, two stolid and tenacious stoats brought in by ranger Deepdale to track and surveil the treasonous Rasse Rankwolf. I opted to give both characters a Yorkshire dialect – Lapblud being the most vocal of the pair, whilst Nipper refrains from using two words when one will suffice.
Here, Deepdale and Levi are engaged in trailing Rasse to a suspected rendezvous with a notorious enemy:
Once there, Lapblud – chosen by Deepdale for his tracking abilities – picked up the polecat’s spoor with ease.
‘Ee, the clumsy beggars’ve left a trail a furlong wide. Could track ‘em in’t dark.’
Ahead, Lapblud stumbled on, wheezing raggedly. ‘We’re at the bridge, loves – mind tha feet.’
The following exchange occurs during the same scene:
‘What is it?’ Levi asked Nipper.
The gruff stoat squinted towards the ranger. ‘Dunno.’ He rubbed his grizzled jaw, thoughtfully. ‘Unless ‘cats’ve left the trail.’
Nipper had guessed well, and Deepdale returned announcing that Rasse and his followers had indeed left the trail, heading south towards the river. ‘Lapblud tells me you know this area well,’ added the ranger, addressing Nipper. ‘Where’re they headed?’
The stoat sniffed and chewed on the stem of his pipe before replying. ‘Nowt ‘tween here an’ yon river. But it ain’t no more’n a dribble there – dead easy t’cross.’
‘Go on, Nipp,’ pushed Lapblud, returning to the group. ‘What else?’
‘Yon side’s jus’ marsh – except for a patch o’ high ground.’
‘What’s there, anything?’ asked Deepdale, his interest suddenly aroused.
Nipper sniffed and shook his head. ‘Used to be a hermit’s shack – old boy catched eels an’ sold ‘em for beer money.’
‘And what’s round it?’ asked Levi, drawing an approving nod from the ranger.
‘Nothin’ – nowt but black bog.’
‘There must be a path,’ said Deepdale.
‘And black bog you say. Reeds?’
Nipper shook his head, grimly. ‘Nowt.’
Throughout the entirety of The Door to Caellfyon I’ve endeavoured to make each of its many and varied characters unique. Chapters Nine and Ten are now available on this site. The latter introduces several newcomers to the tale, including badger Diggle Bristlesides, polecat Foulsom Fleck and timid stoat, Wanbib. Each possesses a distinctive appearance, character and voice.
Access the chapters via the menu or, to download free PDF copies, click here.