Friday, April 10, 2015

Amuse Me

What I like about writing is the words.

I was passing the exotic cheese shop the other day and I noticed a sign for, I think it was, salami made from wild boar meat. The sign said, "Feral swine."

Feral swine. How cool is that for an expression? It calls up all sorts of images, from Wonder Wart-Hog to a rag-tag cadre of old Nazis living off the land in a remote area of Bavaria, the Feral Swine Brigade. Or a motorcycle gang. The Feral Swine. I can see their jackets now. You wouldn't dare wear one in certain bars.

One morning last week I fell ill with chills and fever, which is a story for another day, and sooner than run off to the ER and give everybody whatever the hell it was I had I decided to take a hot water bottle and a book and go to bed. After awhile I got better, as planned, but in the meantime I read the book. It was Green Hazard by Manning Coles, two writers who liked words. Cyril Coles fought in the trenches and then was a spy in Germany during World War I. He knew how bad things can get, probably knew it better than many of us, and yet managed to dance around the edge of the pit with the most elegant and amusing language imaginable.

This is the opposite of the way things are done today. Nowadays the Knowing Ones will tell you, there isn't enough conflict here. Create conflict. I've tried to read a couple of books by people who took this advice, injecting bogus conflict into a limp manuscript. "Oh, why did I say that to my boyfriend? Now he's mad at me. Well, I'm mad at him." As the murderer creeps closer. Fling! Another book goes crashing against the wall. Unless it's a Kindle. Then it just gets soundly cursed.

Where are the amusing writers? That's what I want to know. I've run out of Manning Coles novels, I've read everything by Terry Pratchett, and I need something else to read. History books are good, if the writer doesn't have some unpleasant axe to grind. Some history books I have to feel terrible about, since they chronicle the bestial sins of my ancestors. Mayflower, by Nathaniel Philbrick, for instance—My God! How horrible we were to the Indians!—and A Great and Noble Scheme by John Mack Faragher. I was all set to read A Great and Noble Scheme when I realized that my ancestors who "settled" Nova Scotia in 1760 did so a scant five years after the area had been ethnically cleansed of Frenchmen.

Right now I'm waiting for a delivery from the Naval Institute of a book about German spies in Baltimore in the years before we entered World War I. This should be diverting. I don't have to assume any personal guilt for whatever happened. I might write an amusing piece of spy fiction based on that book, and on the memoir of Franz von Rintalen, The Dark Invader, who was a saboteur in those times. Maybe I'll call it Feral Swine.

© 2015 Kate Gallison


  1. On first pass, my mind read "ethically cleansed of Frenchman," then wandered off to "no cleansing, no shrimp etoufee."
    Try Winston Churchill, who used language with an epee in one hand, a cudgel in the other. Preface to his "The Gathering Storm" is a good start.

  2. As I've written in this blog so often everyone groans at the mention..... I have learned to swallow the woes of real life in tales by legal wordsmiths - oh, if any of you kids know any I've skipped I'll be your slave for life if you send me names!!! tjaystrawinmanhattan