Friday, 9 December 2011

Yarrow Nudens

Good morning, I can't wait any longer ... yesterday I wrote nearly 4,000 words and am so excited to share the first scene of the new book with you!! I'd like to chat about a few things at the end, so I hope you'll post a comment with your thoughts. 

Misfortune Cookie (with a great tagline that we still need to decide on :-))
'Yarrow nudens?' The squat old woman at my elbow screeches again.
‘What?’
'Yarrow nudens?!'
‘I'm sorry, I still don't understand.’ My pleading look to the Chinese girl sharing my table elicits a hearty smirk as she pretends to ignore me. I wonder if the word for bitch is hard to pronounce in Cantonese.
'Yarrow nudens yarrow nudens!’ She’s bobbing up and down with the effort of her exclamations.
‘No, no thanks.’ What the hell are yarrow nudens?
'No yarrow nudens?' she murmurs in a tiny voice. Clearly I’ve hurt her with my refusal.
‘No,’ I say again, ‘just the soup please.’ The last time I let a waitress bully me into an order I was served what looked like brains on a plate. Discretion is the better part of dining in Asia.

She strides to the kitchen to make sure the cook adds a little extra, off-menu flavour to my order. I can hear her in there, shouting in what sounds like tortured cat.

… There aren’t any noodles in my noodle soup. Not a one. Only three sad won tons and a mass of yellowish-pink meat floating in broth. The broth is delicious, if meagre. The meat is as repulsive as it is plentiful – greasy and gamey and unquestionably domesticated. I’ve just slurped Whiskers from my spoon.

The squat old shrew redoubles her efforts, this time to make a grab for my bowl. There’s at least an inch of broth left. I’m still hungry. I’ve made my peace with the pet issue, and I’m not giving it up. She’s surprisingly strong for a septuagenarian, but desperation to finish my sad supper gives me the upper hand. She tugs. I tug harder. If forks were the cultural norm here I promise I’d use one now in soup-defence. ‘No!’ I scowl, ‘I want to finish this.’

She gives up the fight in a fit of muttering. It’s hard to be dignified with the entire restaurant now staring at me. By “entire restaurant” I mean the five other tables, arranged close enough for the diners to inspect each other’s pores. Mustering an upper lip that would have made the Queen proud during the Blitz, I sip my last two mouthfuls and go to the counter to pay. Waiting for the change, my eye falls again on the sparse English menu …

Not yarrow nudens. And the waitress wasn’t trying to steal my dinner. She was just trying to give me some yellow noodles in my soup.

Welcome to Hong Kong Hannah. 

* * * * *

First, how's that for an opening scene? Does it engage and make you want to read on? For those of you who don't yet know Hannah, do you get a sense of her personality? 

Second, I'd like your advice about writing dialog for a Chinese character. Later on there will be a tailor, Mr Chang, who will make Hannah's clothes. Mr Chang is very hard for Hannah to understand because of his Chinese accent. So my question is, should I write him with a Chinese accent, as I did the waitress above, or is that a little bit racist? It's something I've been thinking about lately because a friend of mine, DJ Connell, got a lot of criticism about her book, Sherry Cracker Gets Normal, when she wrote a Chinese character with a strong accent. But then again, Single in the City was all about misunderstandings between Hannah and the English characters she came across. Her efforts to understand the new world she's in now, in Hong Kong, are integral to the plot. So should Mr Chang speak as Hannah hears him?

11 comments:

  1. I think this is suberb Michele. Well done, a brilliant idea and captivating writing. You had me at Yarrow Nudens. It's not a standard way in - you know 'Claire was wondering how many bad dates one girl could have' and it made me curious to know what on earth was going on. The conversation's well-paced - choppy and with humour. I'm beavering away on book 2 too and hope it reads half as well. X

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  2. I like it alot and the last para made me laugh out loud. I think you should give the tailor an accent because there is no way a tailor in hong kong would be speaking perfect English and maybe you could add funny anecdotes About Hannah trying to speak Cantonese

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  3. It's great! And here is some constructive criticism I hope you find useful:
    Make it the 'Queen Mother'. Remember the Queen (b. 1926) was a young girl in the Blitz.
    Too much accent / dialect can be irritating and patronizing. So, re the tailor, just a hint here and there - or one consonant that gets misused with light humorous effect eg. 'lice' instead of 'rice'- use a v light touch. Re Hannah's personality, I'm a little worried she might turn out to be one of those Brits who shouts English abroad, irritated that the 'natives' don't speak it (living in France I come across this type a LOT)- so, again, keep a light hand and make Hannah laugh at herself to keep the empathy of the reader.

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  4. Thanks Martel, anum88 and Gina!!! Martel, I'm sending you good vibes for book 2. Anum88 and Gina, light touch accent, got it. Anum88, great idea on Hannah trying Cantonese, I can try to work some (wrong) phrases into the story.

    Gina, thanks, I'll change to Queen Mother. Hannah is American but that's a very good point and I'll watch out for shoutiness-flag-waving! She's had a year of culture shock in London to adjust her viewpoint and though she still feels foreign, she'll be curious about these differences rather than indignant.

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  5. An excellent establishing scene; it was very engaging and it made me chuckle several times. I'm now very interested to find out what happens to Hannah in Hong Kong!

    I agree with the other posters about handling the language barrier with a light touch. You want it to be funny for the reader, not overbearing. Maybe after Hannah gets past the initial culture shock of being in the HK, she could make a friend (or start hanging out with a co-worker) who could serve as her guide/ intepreter in parts of the book? Just a thought.

    I think you're off to a great start! I can certainly see your enthusiasm for the heroine and your setting in this first scene. Keep up the good work! :)

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  6. It definitely makes me want to read more, if I picked it up in the book shop I would but it after reading that :-)

    Will her friend be going to HK with her?

    I think a light accent would be good, something easy to read.

    Robynprincess

    Looking forward to reading more!

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  7. I can't wait to see what happens. I love how you just dived right in.

    As far as the accent goes, I think that it should be present, but not a strong accent. I've read books where there are strong accents and as a reader I didn't enjoy the book that much.

    I can't wait to read more about Hannah in Hong Kong.

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  8. Thanks Tracie, and Robyn and Anonymous! It sounds like a light touch accent will do the trick.

    Tracie you've read my mind - I was thinking she might befriend a Chinese co-worker!

    Robyn, it wouldn't be any fun if her best friend wasn't there :-)

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  9. Like I said i'm really not qualified to comment but........I think one liners of humoured Chinese accents would be great, they would need to be simple so everyone gets it straight away and has a little chuckle.

    I've got to tell you until I got to the end I didn't know that yarrow nudens were yellow noodles but i don't suppose you can spend as long explaining each word or phrase. Once you spelt it out I did have a little giggle though.

    Maybe by building up a bit of history in the story the reader could somehow get what the word or phrase is before Hannah and we could chuckle at Hannah’s expense. K x

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  10. Thanks Anonymous (Kell!), I'm going back and forth on this - is it better to let the reader in on the joke before Hannah gets it, or is it better to discover the mistake at the same time as Hannah? My gut says that the confusion Hannah faces tells the reader that there's a misunderstanding, and that there's interest/humour in the way she deals with her confusion. Then the 'aha' moment raises a chuckle but also hits readers a bit more forcefully with the fish-out-of-water culture shock, as it would have hit Hannah.

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  11. It would be good to see the different scenarios and we could vote which makes us laugh more, it's hard to know without being in the moment. K

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