The Birds That Never Flew – Pure Dead Brilliant!

I’m chuffed to bits at the prospect of being published by ThunderPoint later in the year and it’s an honour to be in the company of one of their other writers, Margot McCuaig.

Margot with the great new cover featuring a metaphor from the novel.

Margot with the shiny new cover featuring a metaphor from the novel.

As well as being a novelist, the multi-talented Margot is highly successful at writing, producing and directing documentary films. She also freely shares her knowledge and skills with other women writers as a mentor in the fantastic WoMentoring Project. Before I signed my publishing contract, she graciously offered me advice and guidance and her thought provoking blog posts never fail to make me reflect on what it means to be a writer.

I couldn’t wait to read Margot’s novel, The Birds That Never Flew (TBTNF),  the contemporary Scottish dialect used throughout, the exploration of dark themes and the use of dry humour is the same style of writing I enjoy reading and writing. TBTNF was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012 and longlisted for the Polari First Book Prize in 2014 and has been relaunched at Waterstones in Argyle Street,  at an event hosted by the bestselling Scottish writer Sara Sheridan.

Margot signing my copy of her book.

Margot signing my copy of her book.

It was great to hear Margot discuss her work and as a feminist, her desire to write about strong female characters. I was also interested in her use of Glasgwegian dialect which she feels, like me, is essential to make the dialogue sound authentic. The writer, Naomi  Fribsy wrote an excellent article on the issue of using regional and cultural accents in writing and I’d advise anyone interested to read this piece. (beware, Naomi recommends her favourite novels written in non-standard accents and this meant I added to my tbr pile again!)

Buddha Da by Anne Donovan is one of my favourite books and I can’t imagine it written in any other way and another book that I also rate highly is Push by Sapphire, a stunning credible voice.

When I was looking for a publisher, this was the response from one publisher, ironically based in Edinburgh.

“The Scottish dialect in your novel flows effortlessly and was appreciated and understood by the Scottish members of the team. But readers unfamiliar with Scottish dialect found the novel too demanding and challenging.
We suggest that you submit your novel to a publisher more focused on publishing Scottish novels.”

I LOVE books that make the characters sound real and don’t know how that would that be possible if the writer didn’t use their natural speech? Do you agree?

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19 thoughts on “The Birds That Never Flew – Pure Dead Brilliant!

  1. Thanks for this Helen, really glad you enjoyed the night, I really wasn’t sure how it would go! Narrative voice is so important to me and I love writing authentic characters with authentic voices, and of course writing about women who are so often left behind in every walk of life.

  2. Thanks for the link to my article, Helen. Great piece. I’m looking forward to reading both Margot’s and your books and am thrilled that people are writing in regional accents/using dialect, and as (maybe more) importantly being published.

    Am gobsmacked at the quote from the publisher there, what a sorry state of affairs. I’ve heard it too often though – an editor once told me they thought Trainspotting was ‘unreadable’. Now to me, unreadable means you can’t physically read it, so I was surprised at that.

    I didn’t realise Push was written in the vernacular. I’ll be getting a copy now – I struggled to come up with novels by writers of colour for the piece that used more than one characters dialogue, so I’d be thrilled to read more.

    • Sad isn’t it? Why is that there’s an assumption that readers aren’t willing to engage with regional accents? What a dull world it would be if all books were written in standard English. We need vibrant voices heard but I don’t think that response from the publisher I quoted is unusual – just very narrow-minded and disappointing.

  3. Definitely agree Helen… extremely difficult to make truly authentic characters if that character’s speech doesn’t represent their true voice & cultural background.

    Find the response from the publisher rather disheartening to say the least!

    Will be adding TBTNF, Buddha Da & Push to my wishlist & really look forward to yours too.

    • I wasn’t entirely shocked by the publisher’s response as I’ve experienced similar feedback from other sources about ‘toning it down’ and ‘less is more’. I ignored that advice and wrote dialogue which sounded natural. Thankfully, ThunderPoint love the authenticity of my writing!

  4. Coming from the North East(doric speaker) I might as well come from Mars to an Aberdonian.But yes there is more passion and feeling in one’s own tongue.”Gee ‘er laldy hen. btw scunner?, prefer ferfochan #spellchecknightmare

  5. One book that helped convince me to use authentic voices was written in Doric, Amande’s Bed by John Aberdein. As a Glaswegian it took me a wee while to get into it but as soon as I did I knew there was no way the narrative could have been written in any other voice. It was an enlightening experience and it, along with the likes of James Kelman, Irvine Welsh and Ann Donovan, gave me the courage of my convictions. As to publishers, when I had finished the earliest version of the novel (The Elizabeth and Mary Chain) I was told by one very big publishing house that Scottish writers were too prominent at the time and another Scottish narrative would have been unfair to everyone else!

    • Thanks for the book recommendation Margot, I’ll definitely check out John Aberdein’s work. Unbelievable to hear of the negative reaction to another “Scottish narrative” as if there’s an acceptable limit! Argh!!!

  6. I enjoyed Buddha Da very much. Although it was in dialect, it was still accessible to me. And I suppose that’s the trick, or the rather the art, to writing in dialogue – find the balance between authenticity and accessibility for the reader. I’ve never tried writing in dialect – I don’t think I could – but I’m not put off reading it at all.

    Doric’s a whole other thing. My husband is an Aberdonian and I remember being at a Hogmanay party in his friend’s house. I didn’t understand a word the host’s grandmother said to me, but I’ve picked bits and pieces in the years since.

    • I think you’re right Anne, it’s getting the flavour of the setting/characters without the spelling being so phonetic that it becomes too difficult to read. I find it harder to write the body of text in Scots but dialogue comes easy. When I write a whole piece in Scots I need to write it in standard English first then translate the words as my brain is hard wired to spell in English.
      I do a lot of work in Aberdeen but haven’t come across anyone who speaks broad Doric so I’m not sure how I’d get on with it.

  7. Further to the Doris question, a Prof Peter Reid from RGU will deliver a lecture this week in Aberdeen all in Doric discussing local culture & heritage in the North East. The event is a sellout.

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