I really am pretty hopeless with accents – I was trying to do a Scottish accent as we were out today; I was looking at a map of Aberdeenshire and was trying to say something with a Scottish accent… My attempts veered from Scotland to Ireland to Somerset, all within a couple of words, and none of them very convincing. I’m just not very good at doing accents; my husband only has to speak to someone from Liverpool on the phone for a few minutes and he is a Liverpudlian, he sees something minutes later on the TV about Birmingham and he becomes a Brummie, strolls down to the pub and could have any accent from Weston, to Bristol, to Somerset… he does it quite unconsciously, he just has an ear and a tongue for it!
I moved from the east of England to the west, did I pick up a Somerset accent? Do I roll my ‘r’s and stretch my vowels? No. I moved to Manchester and lived in the north of England for a very long time; did I shorten my vowels and change their sounds, did ‘th’ become ‘t’? No. I’m back in the west again and I think my accent is as unchanged now as it was when I was sixteen and left Cambridge and East Anglia. The only slight change is I have a hard ‘g’ at the end of ‘ing’ words.
Accents fascinate me, for example, the classic Bristolian way of add ‘l’ to words ending in a vowel – area becomes areal, idea becomes ideal, Monica even becomes Monical! The city itself was originally Bristow, but got Bristolised to Bristol. Instead of saying ‘where did you get that from‘, Bristolians say ‘where did you get that to?’
So how do I manage accents when I write? When I’m writing I can tell my readers that a character has an accent, and pretty much leave it up to them to ‘hear’ it in their heads, although I might leave ‘h’s off the beginnings of words or ‘t’s off the end, or change the verb tense but otherwise I let my readers hear their own Yorkshire, Cornish or Manchester accent…
…or so I thought until in ‘Night Vision’ I have an American character, and it is not just accent, is it? Its words and phrases and ways of saying things. I can mange to use ‘jelly’ instead of ‘jam’ and ‘purse’ instead of ‘handbag’, ‘pants’ instead of trousers, and take care not to use typically English words like buns, fags or suspenders because they really do mean something entirely different!
I don’t want to try and mimic what I hear on TV or n films because it is much more subtle than that. I think I must find an American friend who will look at my story and check out that my character sounds as if he comes from the right side of the Atlantic!
To see if I managed to be convincing with my character, here is a link to ‘night vision’: