Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Gift of Gab

by Kathryn Miller Haines

I spent a large part of October in the UK, babysitting my three-year old niece, 18 month old nephew, and two eight week old Spaniel puppies so that my sister and brother-in-law could globe-trot to Africa for a little R&R. Not long before I left, I received news that Harper was reupping me for two more Rosie Winter mysteries. Knowing I’d be in the middle of nowhere with no means of transportation and with my evenings wide open (the kids are in bed by seven), I hauled my laptop and a suitcase full of research materials across the Atlantic, prepared to start writing book III of the series.

I’m going to pause here for laughter.

Normally, I can write anywhere: buses, planes, underground lairs. But at my sister’s picaresque country home I ran into several problems right off the bat. The first, and most obvious, are the exhausting little time-suckers that my sister unleashed upon the world. I had no idea how drained I’d be after a day of playing with the wee people (and corralling their canine counterparts). There’s a reason they go to bed at seven: so you can go to bed at eight. The only thing I had the energy to do after the sun set was to raid my brother-in-law’s wine collection and stare, slack-jawed, at the meager offerings provided by BBC 1, 2 & 3 while the puppies dozed in my lap.


This was to be expected. What I didn’t anticipate was how quickly I’d lose language. Obviously, I was in an English-speaking nation, but I very quickly found myself dotting my speech with those charming little Britishisms that populate Ruth Rendell novels. I lost my grasp of 1940’s American speak, so vital to my series, as I spent my days imploring my niece and nephew to turn off the telly, take off their wellies, and finish the courgette fry up I’d made on the Aga, otherwise there’d be no pudding for either of them.

I tried to counter this by reading American mysteries, but every character in my mind became British. Tough guys aren’t so tough when they sound Oxford-educated.

Worse, since my conversation was limited to the three and under set, and my sister’s Czech au pair whose English skills are…er…on par with my Czech fluency, I found I was using only about 100 unique words a day, three of which were poop, pee, and nappy. By the time my mother arrived to relieve me after two weeks of solitary confinement, I was speaking English like a non-native speaker, choosing the simplest way to say whatever I could, phrasing every sentence like a question, and wildly gesturing to make sure I could get my point across.

This didn’t help my writing.

I’m home now and after a few weeks of assimilating back into my deliciously verbal circle of friends, I feel like I’m recapturing the language I lost and no longer fighting the urge to have Rosie order takeaway at the local pub, dodge a runaway lorry, or debate the merits of still versus fizzy water.

I’ve also stopped talking so freely about bowel movements.

So what about you? Are there environments that you’ve found aren't conducive to your writing?


Anonymous said...

Really funny post, Kathryn!
Maybe Rosie needs a trip across the Atlantic?

Anything that involves a lot of people, talking, and bustle really cuts into my concentration. Maybe it's living alone with two cats that has led me to losing my ability to screen these things out?

Annette said...

Welcome back, Kathryn! While you may have had difficulty writing on this trip, I bet the experience provided a ton of material for future stories.

I wish I could say I can write anywhere, but the truth is, I can only focus on my novel when I'm in my office with all my notes, research and photos stacked around me.