How do you write in an accent? There are so many of them, but unless you’re familiar with the way they sound, reading someone’s else’s interpretation can make the speech hard work. I played around with this when I was writing my first novel, attempting to use the Geordie accent of my home town of Newcastle upon Tyne. There are a number of famous Geordies I could name for you to give you some idea of what it is meant to sound like… Sting, Mark Knopfler, Rowan Atkinson, Eric Idle, and more recently people might remember Charlie Hunnam who was almost Christian Grey. I had mixed feedback; the Brits got it, the Canadians struggled. So I decided to just use terms of endearment and specific words that are commonly used within Geordie-English. This felt more natural to write, but then I stuck a Glaswegian in the story and had the whole dilemma again! However, the Scottish accent is known world wide, though specific regional dialects are probably not so widely known, but that didn’t matter for this character. As long as the reader knows he is Scottish, most people will have a good idea of what he sounds like, so for his speech I felt I was able to write the words exactly the way you would hear him say them. I’m presuming it worked because my editor didn’t raise any questions, or make any comments about the speech containing these ‘accents’.
I am now a short way through writing my third novel and find myself in a similar situation. My main male character is an Aussie, an accent which is not unfamiliar to me. There is an Aussie in my first two novels, and her speech came very naturally as I have two very good friends from Down Under. However, this cheeky male character is quite the joker and he needs to sound like a ‘bloke’. So I turned to the great god Google to teach myself some Aussie slang. Why didn’t I just ask my friends, I hear you say? Well, one lives in another province and the other one has an 8 month-old baby – the last thing she wants is me bugging her about translating my book.
It turns out that Google is an old-fashioned Aussie, and doesn’t really say the same things that my 30 year-old hot bloke would say. Although I wanted to get further through this novel before I let my Albertan Aussie friend read it, there were parts of the speech that just weren’t sitting right with me. Having been one of my readers for the first two, she was more than happy to have another excuse to avoid the housework. She was very quick to pick up on my old school Aussie-isms. It was quite interesting and very amusing to understand the real meanings of some of their lingo. She has now sharpened her ears to pay more attention to the little gems that her charming husband periodically comes out with. After reading my most recent chapter, she reassured me that I was finally starting to get it right. So now, among my many pages of notes, I have a hand written dictionary… of Aussie slang!