Thursday, 8 April 2010

Never mind the bollocks.

‘Well, dear, I’m in tears,’ said my great aunt after reading the extract from The C-Word in last weekend’s You magazine. (T-minus seven days to release! Did I mention that all the cool kids pre-order their copies online?)
‘Oh no, don’t cry!’ I pleaded.
‘It just made me realise how many little things there were that neither of us talked about at the time.’ (This aunt, if you recall, is the one who was receiving treatment for a different cancer at the same time as me.)
‘I know,’ I said. ‘And it’s the little details that make you remember it all more acutely.’
‘But it’s a wonderful piece,’ she added. ‘Is that what the book is like, then?’
‘Now there’s a question,’ I thought. ‘Do I pretend my book is in the vein of the squeaky-clean Mail on Sunday extract she’s just read, or do I come clean that it’s more along the lines of Viz?’ I opted for the latter.
‘Well, no, not really,’ I admitted.
‘Oh? How so?’
‘Well, um, let’s just say that the language in the book isn’t exactly Daily Mail appropriate.’
‘Ah. Of course,’ she said. ‘Don’t worry, dear, I’ve warned everyone.’ (Everyone, I assume, meaning her soon-to-be-offended WI friends.)

I had a similar exchange with my 11-year-old niece on Facebook, after she updated her status to read: ‘Just read Auntie Lisa's article in the Mail on Sunday! Her book looks brilliant! I'm gonna make Mummy buy a copy!’
Ooh heck. Time for Auntie Lisa to step in.
‘Aw, that’s ace!’ I commented. ‘I'd better forewarn you about the book though – my language isn't always becoming of a lady…’
‘That’s ok,’ she replied. ‘Mummy is gonna read it before I do to make sure it’s suitable.’
‘Yup. It definitely ain’t,’ I thought.

I chewed over the swearing issue a lot over the weekend as I sat, cerveza in hand, reading my Stephen Fry book in the Spanish sunshine. Would people be offended by the liberal peppering of expletives in my story? Might it detract from people’s enjoyment? Should it come with an 18 certificate or a parental advisory sticker, like a Trainspotting DVD or a Wu-Tang album? And then, like a shining beacon of profanity hurtling excitedly over a well-mannered plain, leapt the following words from the page before me: 'arse-mothering, fuck-nosed, bugger-sucking wank’. Wow.

‘Bollocks,’ I thought. ‘I’ve been out-expletived. Here I was worrying about whether I’d offend readers with the occasional “motherfucker” when all the while I should have been more concerned that my small-fry swearing is positively Watch With Mother when compared with “arse-mothering, fuck-nosed, bugger-sucking wank”.’ You see, I pride myself on my swearing. But after reading those glorious, composite, Fry-penned curses, it was time to admit gracious defeat.

It should be said that I don’t come from a sweary upbringing. The most that Jamie or I could get away with at home was the odd ‘bugger it’ or ‘sod off’ or the McFarlane-family-patented ‘buddy owl’ (thanks to my mishearing of ‘bloody hell’ as a toddler). Even a sneaky V-sign would elicit one of those looks. And so this, I guess, is the post that my parents never wanted to read. (That said, both Jamie and I did our work experience at Dad’s company where, on separate occasions, it was revealed to each of us that our old man’s office-confined alter-ego had the potential to be crowned the Jedi Grand Master Of Swearing. Let’s just say that our work experience taught us a lot more than how to use a fax machine.)

See, I happen to think that swearing isn’t a flaw, but a skill. (I don’t care how prim you are – you can’t read ‘arse-mothering, fuck-nosed, bugger-sucking wank’ and not be impressed.) Hell, I don’t see why it shouldn’t even be on your CV, if it’s something you particularly excel at. Funnily enough, a magazine job interview I once had ended with the following exchange:
‘You swear, right? Cos here, we swear a lot.’
‘Ha, you ain’t seen shit yet,’ I said tentatively.
‘Fucking brilliant. The job’s yours,’ said my new editor.

Having honed my swearing skills during a career in journalism, I refute the oft-stated argument that swearing is no more than a lazy vehicle for those whose vocabularies are lacking. Because, to me, writing is about moving people. And writers – at least in my case – write in a way that would move them if they were the reader. That’s not to say that I’m moved by swearing in all its forms. (A childhood spent on Derby County terraces taught me that. Let it be said, ‘fookssake, refer-fookin-ee, are you fookin blind or fookin sommat’ does not a quality swearer make.) No, I’m moved by appropriate context; by clever timing; by punchy emphasis. And whether or not that involves an expletive is, to a large extent, beside the point.

I’m not, of course, suggesting that the odd piss, wank or fuckshitbollocks somehow makes my writing better. Just that sometimes, there is simply no better word. Like this post from June 2008. When I got the second stage of my diagnosis, discovering that my cancer was stage two and invasive, I didn’t call the subsequent post ‘Fuck’ because I couldn’t think of anything else to say. (Believe me, I can ALWAYS think of something else to say.) I did it because, at that time, nothing said it better. (So imagine the shitstorm of expletives when I found out that my cancer was, in fact, stage three.)

And so, making excuses for my potty-mouth with the people I know it might offend is one thing. But my official line – to anyone other than my great aunt or 11-year-old niece – is that I make absolutely no apology for the swearing in my book. Especially given its subject matter. Because, shit, when a cancer diagnosis suddenly lands in your lap like a giant, steaming, life-changing turd, what else is there to do but drop a few F-bombs?

When my auntie was diagnosed with The Bullshit earlier this year, she asked if I had any tips on getting through it.
‘Yep,’ I answered blithely. ‘We’re going to need to teach you how to swear.’
‘Well I do just want to scream “oh bloody hell!”,’ she replied.
‘Nope. Not good enough,’ I said.
The next day I posted her a card to accompany all the other get-well messages on her windowsill. Except the greeting on mine wasn’t ‘Get Better Soon’, but ‘Fuck It’. Which, when it comes to the arse-mothering, fuck-nosed, bugger-sucking wank of The Bullshit, is – I think you’ll agree – a fuckload more appropriate.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

i've been lurking here for almost a year now and you just keem em coming! thank you for your honesty and your ability to look beyond the here and now. you deserve to be a super star, and to us, you already are x

Anonymous said...

I had high regards for you, until I read your mention of the Daily Mail. Oh well nobody is perfect.

MBNAD woman said...

Wonderful. But I go with the comment that I'd rather the cursing than the Daily Mail.

Mad x

Anonymous said...

I think it's kind of irresponsible allowing an 11-year-old to be exposed to such filth. (I mean the Mail on Sunday of course.) But maybe with appropriate parental guidance it could be OK :o)

JansMan said...

I must admit that when I read the Daily Mail extract I was a bit disappointed (having following your blog for a while). After I read the rest of the post, though, it all became clear. Brilliant.

Paula said...

Ha ha!! You are starting to haunt me! Picked up the MoS mag at a friend's house (is nobody going to admit to buying it?!) and the lack of expletives made me laugh!! Enjoyed the article in the latest edition of Glamour more!! You are looking in great in the pics - a real inspiration for someone who is still nursing bum-fluff!

Fingers crossed for the book launch ... lots of bubbly I hope!

P xox

Claire xx said...

Just read your story in Glamour and thought I would find your blog. I love your honesty and great use of expletives!!
Claire xx

Doesn't Sweat Much For A Fat Lass said...

In agreement with you, I see it as my job, as a good Mum, to teach my 11 year old. When it's good to let the occasional 'fuck' out, on stubbing your toe. But not, when you dont like the weather, or the music on the radio.

WhispersAndNews said...

Very interesting blog and witty writing. Will come back for more :)

helenriley said...

So how does one go about getting a signed (including expletives!) copy? A girl after my own heart with the swearing.... there are many, many worse things one can do in life than use so called bad language. I try to teach my 13 year old to use language appropriate to the situation, but it kills me that she hates bad language. A changeling child!
helenxx

billy said...

Personally I like it when you use Meh.
Cancer, Meh.
Good Luck with the book. x

lilianavonk said...

Just one more sodding reason why you're so bloody fucking awesome. *smooch*

Lilith said...

I'm sure you've seen it already, but if not: search youtube for "Stephen Fry on swearing"
Whenever he makes statements like that, I just want to marry him ;)
(Also, I've been following your blog for over a year now, you are amazing. Period. Will buy the book when I'm next in the UK. xx)