Monday, 5 October 2015

The Authenticity Conundrum

A few very kind souls who’ve said nice things about The Lazarus Gate have referenced its ‘authenticity’. That’s a peculiar word when talking about a 21st century book set in the 19th century, but it’s rather gratifying to know that the book feels authentic, as I put an inordinate amount of work into making it that way.

Victorian Google. AKA, about 1/4
of my collection of reference books.
I need help...
I’ve blogged previously on my love of Victorian reference material, and my collection of history, topographical, sociological and political books, not to mention maps, has grown considerably since then. I also found it really important to visit many of the locations I wrote about, particularly those parts of London that have remained largely unchanged for the last couple of centuries, such as Pall Mall.

But knowing the difference between a growler and a hansom, or a bowler and a homburg, isn’t quite enough to make a Victorian tale convincing. For the two years I spent writing the first draft of The Lazarus Gate, I read Victorian literature almost exclusively – novelists such as Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arnold Bennett, as well as a host of short ghost stories – all in an attempt to capture the Victorian literary ‘voice’. In fact, when asked by both my agent and editor about certain word choices and archaic language, I replied that the book is as close to Victorian language as possible without alienating the modern reader. (Seriously, I learned to love the semi-colon during the writing of this book, although I just can’t summon a run-on sentence quite like Dickens). In the end, there was a fair bit of compromise on the subject, and I hope the balance we’ve struck is to the liking of my gentle readers. (Incidentally, there are a few literary ‘easter eggs’ in the prose, some of which are obscure, some just truly nerdy – I’ll do a blog on those in the future for anyone interested. See what you can spot in the meantime).

The Lazarus Gate is by no stretch a historical novel, but it’s close – I wanted to conjure the idea that, if you removed the supernatural and sci-fi elements, you’d end up with a fairly authentic-feeling Victorian thriller. To this end I set aside specific stages of the editing process to remove anachronistic language, and to check for Americanisms and idioms that have changed meaning between then and now.

Lastly, one thing that didn’t quite make the final edit was the glossary of terms that I’d originally intended for the back of the book. This might be of some use to my readers, or at least of academic interest, so I figured I’d make it available here.

Victorian Vernacular: A Glossary of Terms

Afflictions: Black mourning clothes.
Air one’s heels, to: To loiter/ dawdle about.
Apothecary: A chemist. In Victorian times, apothecaries often carried out unofficial, rudimentary medical care to those who could not afford to visit a physician or surgeon.
Back-to-backs: Rows of terraced houses, literally built back-to-back. Originally built for industrial workers, and found mainly in impoverished areas.
Black-coach: A hearse.
Black Maria: A police coach, used either to transport police constables to a crime scene, or to transport prisoners to the police station.
Bobby: a police constable.
Bog-trotter: Disrespectful/vulgar slang for an Irishman.
Chiv: slang – a blade. Also used as a verb ‘to stab’.
Chive: slang – to stab.
Clubmen: Paid-up members of a gentlemen’s club.
Coffee Houses: Popular meeting places for men of various social levels to drink exotic coffee and exchange ideas.
Collar: Police slang for arrest.
Costermonger: A street seller, usually specialising in fruit and vegetables.
Dilettante: A person of independent means pursuing a specialist interest for leisure rather than occupation; usually a patron of the arts.
Down-at-heel: an unfortunate man, lacking funds; scruffy. Often applied to destitute gamblers.
Fence: receiver of stolen goods.
Fenian(s): Common name of members of the Fenian Brotherhood and Irish Republican Brotherhood, who believed that Ireland had a right to independence from British rule, and that right should be secured by means of an armed revolution.
Frowst: A smoky or ‘concentrated’ atmosphere, as in a smoking room or thick smog.
Gentlemen’s Clubs: Social meeting places for gentlemen of means, usually exclusive in their membership and restricted to particular careers, political affiliations or interests.
Gig: A two-wheeled, one-horse cart, usually for two passengers.
Growler: Colloquial term for a Clarence or Brougham carriage; a four-wheeled, two-horse carriage seating up to four passengers.
Hansom Cab: A light, single-horse carriage seating two passengers.
Ha’penny: Half a penny, or two farthings.
Ha’penny Bumper: Slang for a two-farthing omnibus ride.
Home Rule: The idea of Irish independence through a self-governing body within the greater organisation of the British government.
Illustrateds, the: One of the many illustrated newspapers available in Victorian Britain, such as the Illustrated Daily News, the Police Gazette and the Pictorial Times.
Jack-tar: a sailor.
Jigger-gin: a potent alcoholic drink; quite lethal in large quantities. Jigger is also used to describe a measure of gin.
Lamplighters/Lampmen: Men whose job is light the gaslights of the city at dusk, and put out the lights at dawn.
Long Peace, the: ‘Pax Britannica’ – referring to Britain’s peaceful relations with Europe 1815-1914. A misnomer, as Britain was engaged in many wars against non-European powers at this time.
Muckworm: Vulgar slang for a miser.
Mudlark: A scavenger, particularly of the mud-banks of the Thames.
Neck or Nothing: slang – a desperate gambit; also used to mean 'swift'. Possibly has origins in steeplechase.
Neddy: slang – blackjack; cosh.
Omnibus: A horse-drawn bus or wagonette – affordable and somewhat crowded public transportation.
Penny Dreadful: A novella of dubious quality, usually containing sensational or unsavoury content. Purchased for the cover price of one penny, hence the name.
Penny-a-liners: Derogative term for a jobbing journalist, paid pittance for his work on the gossip columns.
Pinch of the game, the: Crucial moment, the crux of the matter. Colonial slang.
Punch: A popular satirical magazine, formerly ‘Punchinello’.
Quod: slang – prison.
Rag-and-famish: The Army & Navy Club. Coined by Captain Willliam Higginson Duff when offered the infamously Spartan food at the club.
Rum/ a ‘rum do’: slang – an unsavoury or suspicious turn of events.
Sharpish: slang – quickly. also Quick-sharpish: Make haste.
Smug: slang – to arrest a crook.
Table-rapper: A medium who conducts a séance by means of ‘table-tipping’ or ‘table-rapping’, whereby the legs of the table lift from the floor and bang out a yes-or-no answer to a question.
Tokay: A sweet, Hungarian wine, often consumed in the evenings after dinner by gentlemen.

3 comments:

  1. Damn shame they didn't include the glossary in the book. It's a great bit of flavour - as well as practical usage as well!

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    1. Where's my book, btw? Can I collect one when I pop over? ;-)

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    2. Cor blimey, guv, the brass neck o' it.

      Bring me a complimentary copy of Warhammer: Total War and we'll talk ;)

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