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Artful Cursing?

When I wrote my YA novel Girl Friends several years ago, I used my experience of working in the Probation Service and in child protection / safeguarding to ensure the storyline rang true. I also used a lot of the language used by many of the children and adults I had worked with. This again rang true, but a more experienced writer pointed out to me that too many swear words per line got a bit boring for the reader. Also, although we all know children, especially teenagers, use bad language, many publishers of YA novels don’t like it. They have the parents in mind as potential customers as much as the young people themselves. So the final version of Girl Friends went out several hundred words shorter than the original, and was accepted by the first publisher I sent the revised version to. Whether it was the milder language, or other revisions to the manuscript that was the clincher, I’ll never know. But I do know that in some books I have started to read – Roddy Doyle’s The Van for instance – I have found the copious swearing so tedious I have given up before half way through.

So, it is probably a good idea not to go for reality with the effing and blinding: set the scene and then imply the bad language rather than keep returning to a rather limited stock of cursing.

The Times theatre critic, Ann Treneman, says she now regularly receives emails requesting her to come and review plays in which the titles, are littered with expletives, like The Motherfucker With the Hat. Thescripts themselves are even worse. The Mother.. etc. happened to be an award winning play, but most are just trying to grab people’s attention by being shocking, rather than working on a quality product. It works for some (it helps if you are already famous, and are known to write well). But, often, the result is predictable and boring. Most of us are probably best advised to go easy on the expletive count and concentrate on a more varied and subtle use of vocabulary. After all, as Ms Treneman says, there are 171,476 words in common use according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Only about 20 of them are deemed offensive. Which leaves 171,456 for us to choose from.

Sadly (for me anyway) Girl Friends is now out of print, though I am thinking of revising it to bring it more up to date, and possibly trying my hand at self-publishing later this year. Links to my other books are below.


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