“Bad” Language

The novel I’ve just finished is undoubtedly the “sweariest” one I’ve ever written. One of the characters, Chief Inspector Wheeler, has always been foul-mouthed (an aspect of her management style that was addressed in an earlier volume) but on this occasion she’s worse than ever. She’s under pressure to make a decision that will affect her team, the Serious Crimes division, and so she lets the F words fly, even more than usual.

I’m sure no one is naïve enough to believe that the police do not swear. Like other people in stressful jobs, they must find swearing a way to let off steam and also as a means to distance themselves from some very disturbing subject matter. Like gallows humour, I suppose.

I’ve used swearing in my Brough & Miller books to heighten the language for humorous effect. In their world all sorts of horrible and farcical things happen – the way the characters express themselves perhaps shows their world is not like ours. While at the same time reflecting ours…

I suppose I want to have my cake and eat it too!

The main point is to be funny. Swearing can be very funny, when used correctly. I’ve tried to vary Wheeler’s exclamations as much as possible to surprise a laugh out of the reader. I know there are people who find swear words offensive – I would say it’s a matter of context. And, frankly, there are more important things in society that require our offence and outrage: the thousands of children going hungry in this country, for example, or the way this despicable government is selling off our NHS from under our noses.

But for the squeamish, I have written several books in which no one swears at all. The Vultures’ Moon stories, for example, have no swearing because in them I adhere to the rules of the traditional Western (albeit in a science fiction setting). My fairy tale Someday My Prince is also profanity-free. It’s context, you see, ladies and gents. My new series (I’m currently writing the second) of Hector Mortlake adventures is riddled with innuendo but no swearing.  I’m a writer who likes to adapt his voice to suit the story.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘bad language’.  But there are words and phrases that can be inappropriate, given the context.

I’ve more cases lined up for Brough and Miller, and so Chief Inspector Wheeler will carry on turning the air blue with invective – and good for her, say I.



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