Ruth tells us about her approach to dialect in the Jiddy Vardy books…
There is a great deal of talk about people ‘seeing’ themselves in books. When writing Jiddy Vardy, I felt that people should also ‘hear’ themselves in books too.
With this in mind, I not only wrote Jiddy Vardy’s Yorkshire characters speaking with a suggestion of Yorkshire dialect, but I made the voice of the entire novel have the same tone. This was because I wanted readers with a similar voice, to feel they were fully represented in the book. They would hear their voice.
However, from feedback, this was not entirely successful or accepted. I understand this, I read a couple of pages of a YA novel by a famous author several years ago, and struggled with the prose. I also thought, ‘I’m not sure I want my daughters to read a book that isn’t in ‘proper English!’ I’m paraphrasing here! I’m also not proud of thinking this; at the time, I was thinking as a parent.
So, when a parent said the same comment when she read a chapter of Jiddy Vardy – High Tide, the second instalment in the smuggling trilogy, whilst still in its early stages, I decided to take the dialect out of the prose and use it only in the characters’ voices.
A Japanese friend also said she’d struggled and this made me think about the difficulty for international readers as well as translators.
It was still, to my ears, only a suggestion of a northern voice, but it felt more the accepted way to contain it to the dialogue.
My publisher at ZunTold, who brought out Jiddy Vardy in 2018, and I, of course, had had a discussion about the dialect in the prose and in the end, we had decided at the time, to keep it in.
It was a fine line between the book being in Jiddy’s voice and that of the narrator. It was a complicated process deciding on how much was in Jiddy’s voice: she dominates the book. Reading the prose aloud, for me, born in Yorkshire, not having a strong accent, but recognising it, it felt natural. We kept it in.
Now, three years later, in retrospect, if I could re-edit Jiddy Vardy, I would take it out. I would reinstate ‘the’ before nouns and keep the reader more comfortable. This is not a cop-out, I’m an unknown writer, I’m being pragmatic.
So. Jiddy Vardy – High Tide. ‘The’ appears before nouns, the dialect is in the speech and I have to admit, it makes for a smoother read. Early readers and reviewers have liked the book, so my choice seems to have been the right one. I will be writing the third and final instalment in the same way.
However, I’d be interested to hear other writers’ views on the use of dialect, if they use it, how much they use it, and if they know of any books where the narrator’s voice is heard with its accent intact.
Feedback for Jiddy Vardy – High Tide:
‘Beautifully written love letters to the North Yorkshire coast…’
Bob Stone (The Beat Trilogy, Write Blend Bookshop)
‘Estevez’ writing is wonderful here.’
The Pages of Mrs D
‘Through pinpoint characterisation we hear Jiddy’s voice, her impulsiveness, passion and fears.’
The Reading Jackdaw
‘A compelling, moving story, expertly told.’
Andrew Michael Hurley (The Loney, Devil’s Day, Starve Acre)