Pride or Prejudice?

By Lorraine Jenkin

The great thing about being a published author is that at least some people have read the work that you have spent months, weeks, days and hours toiling over. Hopefully they will have enjoyed it. One of the less favourable aspects about it is that they might believe that they now know everything about you – about your dreams, your hopes and your fears. And sometimes they will and sometimes they won’t.

As an author who has recently grappled with a (very) long list of editor’s notes for my second novel, Eating Blackbirds, I am coming to terms with the fact that I am finally seeing my own likes and prejudices paraded in front of me.

It struck me recently as I read a book and was jolted by a statement completely unrelated to the story. A woman was sat, contemplating, on a bus and listened into another conversation in which a younger woman was saying what a wonderful husband and father he really was, despite being sat there with a black eye from him. The author obviously had feelings about women who stick with their aggressors and had wanted it to get inside her novel. Fair enough, it’s her novel, but it made me think: what are the things that I’ve put in mine that make me read like an open-book?

The process of editing is very revealing. My editor, Caroline Oakley of Honno, is fantastic: sharp, objective, blunt and, despite a few mumblings, I realise that she is usually right. Her editing process is therefore rigorous and exposes all my foibles and (as I prefer to call them) my eccentricities.

The first cull is usually my foul language. Expletives are removed and it makes me cringe as I realise (as she has done) that most were gratuitous and, therefore, pretty childish. The second cull is my lewdness. Less is usually more, I am told. Therefore references to wind, burping and cat-sick are removed. These culls make me question my own spoken language and I am ashamed to sometimes find it crass and lacking in sophistication.

The other jolt has been my ingrained stereotyping of people at certain ages. I recently wrote about two forty-five-year-olds who really shouldn’t be having any kind of intimacy, rolling around like hippos, squelching and slobbering with a lack of sexual prowess and a large pair of beige pants. It came as a shock to me when it dawned that, at thirty-nine, they were only six years older than me! These scenes were views of people that I had had when I was fifteen and they hadn’t matured, as I should have done. Am I, therefore, a slobbering, squelching hippo? Quite probably.

As I am battling with novel number three, I am debating the dilemma: if I remove my own feelings and prejudices, will I make it better or will it become bland and impersonal? Should I analyse what my thoughts actually are and review them to make sure that I am still happy that they are current? Or should I just move the ages of my characters forward ten years and worry about it another day?

Author Profile Lorraine Jenkin quit her job and went off round the world to write her novel, Chocolate Mousse and Two Spoons. She has written a variety of pieces for newspapers and magazines, including The Guardian and The Times. Her second novel, Eating Blackbirds, is released this July by Honno. Catch up with Lorraine on her blog,

Picture of hippo: Jennifer Jordan


Vivienne said...

It's funny how we all use expletives, talk about wind & co and most of us are quite prejudiced even when people we're prejudiced about are just a few years older than us, yet when we read we can become extremely upset by the author's use of expletives (especially to a great extent), mentions of winds and being prejudiced, even if it's not the author just one of his or her characters who's based upon someone else.
So as a prejudiced reader I think expletives and the rest are not crucial parts of your voice. You're just as authentic without them. :)

Stella said...

First off, let me say - I admire your honesty!

I think it's very important to remove as much of your own prejudices, preferences, etc. each time you write a different project It helps you develop in new directions and actually keeps your "voice" unique. Inevitably, we have grammatical tendencies that usually can't be helped much, but in terms of theme and perspective, I think it's great that you're forcing yourself to reexamine your specific point of view on things.

Unknown said...

Then, too, you can always indulge in a nasty character, and perhaps find your pirate voice.