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American Writers! Let me solve the problems you don’t even know you have!

April 7, 2021

I started this with the intent of calling this diatribe “The pleasures of reading trash” and blaming myself for my tendency to find a cluster of not brilliant, but not demanding fantasy works on the Internet and dipping my toes into them. I always think I can give up after one if I think it’s too trashy but my standards reset a little lower every time and the next thing I know it’s several days later and I’ve not only completed all the works so far but I’m having dream sequences in which I point out to the major character how much their lives are screwed by their Author.

(“I’m afraid Doctor that now you are officially the Ruler of the Demon Realms, The Blue Eyed Lady, Wearer of the Iron Crown, you and your pet/lover the half-succubus can no longer moonlight as waitresses at the sleazy club owned by your best friend’s lover the ex-diabolist. Remember that it is immensely selfish of you to put your elite draconic bodyguard to all the trouble that you having a regular twice weekly spot in which you parade around in semi-fetishistic uniforms involves. Your regular as full moonlight howling and improvisational orgy with the werewolf pack in Battersea that the other part of your love triangle, your teenage boyfriend, belongs to is putting enough strain on their scaly souls already if you ask me.”)

I said it was trash didn’t I? I was embarrassed to awaken with that monologue still going through my head.

Anyway, after I finished that one I looked around for something else to keep me amused and I found something at the recommendation of my cohort Roger Bell_West in his series of occasional reviews on his blog site specifically his review on the 5th April for the latest in a series called Lady Sherlock.

Now, Roger has his own low tastes and he does have an ability to pick up things in the Romance section with covers that tend towards the floofy and deeply furbellowed. (I have a similarly robust immunity to feeling embarassed if the cover of my current enthusiasm bends towards the demi-pornographic.) If he finds one (as here) which combines romantic but independent heroines longing after Men They Can Never Have with classical detective tropes he’s happy.

And so too was I by and large. I read the series through over a couple of days and enjoyed its revisionist version of the Holmes and Watson stories in which Sherlock Holmes, like Remington Steele, was the cover for a female detective protagonist who is not only generally perceived as A Mere Woman but who has (in order to never be married to anyone) deliberately chosen to make herself A Fallen Woman too. I’m sort of impressed by the high degree of seriousness with which (it would seem) romantic fiction takes High Victorian Moral Bollocks.

But that’s not the point I wanted to make either, though it’s true that both Roger and I are not typical readers of anything and what we like is going to missfire for many readers. We’re not as neuro-atypical as the protagonist Charlotte Holmes but we both find what most people seem to like a bit incomprehensible.

What I’m going to say is how little it takes to precipitate a reader out of their imersion in the fictional world and the flow of the narrative, especially when the setting is Britain, doubly when the setting is historical Britain and even more so when you are suddenly struck by the realisation that the author is an American and living in the 21st century. Not only are you abruptly reminded that they have never visited the 19th Century but you are willing to entertain the possibility that they have never visited the British Isles at all, at all.

Which is not to say that only Americans offend in this manner. The author of the trashy Blue-Eyed Sorceress novels I mentioned above had a tendency to wildly guess what a word he had only heard looked like when written down and go for it, self-publishing without a wisp of a proofreading. I can’t recall how exactly he mangled the Latin for ‘Sweet mother’ but I know his version of alma mater caused me to wince and would have caused my old Latin master, Mister Greenhaulgh to burst into improvisational violence with the nearest lacrosse stick.

Among the problems with the Lady Sherlock series was the moment when Charlotte Holmes’ sister apologised for hugging her saying that she knew that it made the Great Detective ‘antsy’.

‘Antsy’, I ask you. There were two or three of equal wrongness in each of the five volumes and I ask each and every American working in this field whether they have any actual idea that there is any culture in the world other than their own and whether the idea of asking an Actual British Person their opinion of their pretend historical narrative had ever occurred to them.

(Roger says he’s found references to ‘antsy’ back as far as 1838 and I must accept that even though I get pointless internet citations that take it only as far back as ‘early 20th century’ or even ‘1950’. My Compact OED (text 1933) (See illustration) doesn’t even seem to notice the word.)

So, let me throw this offer open to the world, which will probably ignore it and spare me much labour. Bring me your sub-Jane Austen or sub-Bram Stoker or sub-Conan Doyle stories yearning to be British and I will give them the once over. You may not care that British people are reading the Stuff What You Wrote and going “Oh dear god….” at them but in case you do you had best let a Genuine Oxford English Graduate have a gander first. A shufti. Lay my mince pies on it. No charge. For now.

  1. Oh, I think we can do even better than that! Between us we can cover not only the English language as spoken in England (perhaps a relatively minor point if an American author is writing primarily for Americans, though “sailboat” always throws me) but many other matters of detail which can readily be fixed at the draft stage. For example (naming no award-winning authors):

    – Central London is actually quite small; it doesn’t take many hours to walk from one named bit to another.
    – There have never been garter snakes here, though an enterprising boy might keep a pet slowworm.
    – A pillar box is a thing into which you put letters, not a thing at which you make a telephone call.
    – The London Underground map has changed over time.

    We know about many other things too; both of us have enquiring minds and like to get stuff right.

    • I can’t disagree with that. It occurs to me looking back on the rant I wrote on the subject of My First University Essay that the inevitable intersection of language, history and culture was what my tutor was trying to get me to see (Shock News: I didn’t) by dropping me into CULTURE & ANARCHY by Matthew Arnold without the aid of a decent edition possessed of historical notes..

      And it occurs to me that it is only years later after continuing to educate myself that I can pull (in a few specialised areas) the trick of the wine con… the wine snob and say “Ah, yes! A lovely little wine from the south side of the valley…”

      Or in the areas that I actually know something about: “No, look it up. The famous arrangement of JERUSALEM isn’t until the latter part of the First World War.” I knew it was wrong (when I heard it in a NuWho episode) because of the matrix of knowledge operating at a subconscious level, not because I’ve memorised the dates of famous British hymns. I was going to say that I don’t have a trainspotter’s sort of mind but I am pulled back from that snobbish statement both by the memory of a friend of my childhood (Stuart… was it Frood? Where are you now?) who was very much a trainspotter as well as my current friend Rob who is a compulsive expert on early motorcycle engines.

      The trainspotter bits of my brain are taken up with early RPG trivia, especially Tekumel and Glorantha related.

      All of which is a long winded way to say: Roger, we can offer all forms of cultural and linguistic advice but I’m still not convinced of your case for 1835 as the first use of ‘antsy’.

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