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Thursday, 11 February 2016

Impersonation - or, finding that voice.

Over the past few years my writing has required me to adopt a number of new voices. No problem there: even as a youngster I enjoyed copying accents. First it was of our Cockney neighbours, for which I incurred huge parental wrath: we were better than them, and we would NOT drop our aitches, thankyou very much. That soon gave way to the laconic utterances of American cowboys - as heard on TV westerns, which seemed to pop up most nights of the week in the 1950s and 60s. Our western drawls didn't go down too well with a father who had fought the Germans in North Africa and constantly railed against American troops who came along when we'd done all the hard work and claimed the glory for the Allies' victory over Rommel.

We'd barely cured ourselves of that affliction - imitating Rowdy Yates, Wishbone, et al - when along came the Fab Four. Suddenly we were talking about 'fab gear', calling each other 'pal' or 'wack' and combing our 'hur' forwards. By my late teens my interest in old films - fuelled by BBC2's Midnight Movie on a Saturday night, which broadcast a whole series of 1930s and 40s classics, had me flirting with the 1930s gangster slang of Edward G Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney. 'You dirty rat', and all that. 'Nobody leaves Key Largo till I say so.' Happy days.

My recent writing has required me to think as  - and to deliver lines befitting - a Yorkshire copper, an American anarchist hippy, a Canadian drug-smuggler a Yorkshire brewer (although he actually came from rural Leicestershire) and sundry other characters. Knowing these people, meeting them, interviewing them, I soon picked up key phrases - and in particular each one's view of life. Now I face a new challenge: a man from the south Midlands who spent twenty years in the USA as a bounty hunter. The accent's not a problem: he sounds like all the kids I grew up with on the other side of London. No, it's the imaginative leap. It's one thing creating a scene wherein a first-person narrator is on the high seas with a boat-load of dope; or facing down a mad axe-man in a North Yorkshire cottage. What I'm struggling with just now is a series of confrontations with drug-crazed psycho killers hiding out in derelict houses deep in the woods of Appalachia, or up in the Rockies. Good job I have my guns loaded and ready...

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