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Monday, 18 October 2010

Bad language in books: need it or not?

What are your thoughts on the f-word on the page? Or even something stronger. Or is "God" blasphemous enough for you?

Is it time for books to be classified like films?

As swearing before watershed on TV seems to become the norm, surely bad language in books ought to be something to be shrugged at? But after talking to several people it does seem that reading a swear word is worse than hearing it.

Why is that? I think I can answer. It's because you can breeze over a heard word, yet the word you're reading has to be spelled out and logged in your head. It's almost intrusive.

Surely everyone remembers when Jacqueline Wilson hit the news in 2008 because the superstore Asda forced her publisher to substitute "twit" for "twat" in her book, My Sister Jodie.

The book is aimed from ten years and above - how different from yesterday's Enid Blyton's Famous Five books when the strongest word was "gosh"!
I'm really torn for classification in children's books. I'm part writer and part mother, so I can see both sides. I don't want my seven year old reading "twat" (he's an excellent reader, and finds books his age too easy), yet I don't want more restrictions imposed on authors.

Generally, I find bad language in adult books hard to stay clear from - especially if you want your dialogue to sound natural. Parts of A Proper Charlie is on the streets of London in the red-light areas, and although I've managed to stay away from stronger language I've had to put in the odd p-word for authenticity.

So I'm impressed when I can read a book without gutter language and come away thinking how real and fresh it felt. In my eyes, the author did their job well in making me believe in the story without resorting to cursing like a bricklayer.

What do you think? Can swearing add that final ingredient to your novel, or does resorting to it make it sound amateurish?
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