Thank heavens for those who mangle the English language. The likes of the Reverend William Archibald Spooner and Sheridan’s Mrs Malaprop bring to the language a sparkle and a sense of humour that, if it doesn’t drive you to distraction, invigorates and amuses. In A Decapitated Coffee, Please, author Des MacHale has collected a whole book of malapropisms. It should be on every writer’s bookshelf. (Quote: “General Rommel commanded Hitler’s Pansy Division...” Now, where can I use that?)
Over the years, I have created a couple of characters whose personalities are moulded by their, shall we say, unique approach to the English language.
In my book The Indigo Kid, Stella Goodstar runs the Sixty-Nine Club, a porn-slash-spiritual store (she didn’t know which end to cater for, so she combines the two). Stella has decided to dispense with posters in her store as someone has promised to ‘paint a nice Muriel on the wall’ for her. And discussing a charismatic evangelist: “That Peter Shepherd...A real fox in the penthouse, that one.”
In Rusty and Slasher and the Circus from Hell the priest, Father Shamus Appelbaum, follows in the splendid footsteps of Rev Spooner by urging his congregation to ‘hollow their fart’. Slasher is not averse to mangling the language either. “Maybe that’s because wriggle mortis had set in.” Slasher gave a theatrical shudder. “Now I know why they call them stiffs. He was like a cardboard box with legs.”
Creating such characters is fun. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? This writing lark. Having fun. Creating characters you like, that are maybe a little spark of your own inner, hidden, self. Characters you wouldn’t mind having a cuppa with. (Which says something about Nana Naills and me – she is naughty and not-so-nice and she needs adult diapers before going on a heist.)
Comparisons are odorous, I know. I will never write a spy novel, like John le Carré, about a Soviet agent who defecated to the West. I will never write a classic like Lame is Rob by Victor Hugo or Don Coyote by Servants. I may never win the Pullet Surprise with my novels but, boy, I’ve had fun.
(Malapropisms are thanks to Mr MacHale.)