This Much Huxley Knows by Gail Aldwin published July 7th with Black Rose Writing. Many readers have asked how Gail Aldwin got into the mind of the seven-year-old who narrates This Much Huxley Knows, a contemporary novel for adults.
Her answer is word wangling.
Gail has kindly written a guest post today where she explains all, but first let me tell you a little more about the book.
[ About the Book ]
I’m seven years old and I’ve never had a best mate. Trouble is, no one gets my jokes. And Breaks-it isn’t helping. Ha! You get it, don’t you? Brexit means everyone’s falling out and breaking up.
Huxley is growing up in the suburbs of London at a time of community tensions. To make matters worse, a gang of youths is targeting isolated residents. When Leonard, an elderly newcomer chats with Huxley, his parents are suspicious. But Huxley is lonely and thinks Leonard is too. Can they become friends?
Funny and compassionate, This Much Huxley Knows explores issues of belonging, friendship and what it means to trust.
[ ‘What the hell is word wangling?’ by Gail Aldwin ]
‘The initial seed of an idea for This Much Huxley Knows came from wanting to write about the value of intergenerational friendship. Huxley is a lonely boy who tries to make friends by corrupting words so that people will laugh, but Leonard is one of the few who will listen. Where did the idea for playing around with Huxley’s language come from and how did I select the words to wangle?
In my research to create a unique voice for Huxley, I read many novels with young narrators. The character that influenced me most was six-year-old Billy in Chris Wakling’s What I Did. In the story, Billy misbehaves and is smacked by his father. This incident fuels the narrative when an onlooker reports the family to social care. Billy’s language is convincing and often hilarious. He uses idioms he’s heard but transcribes them incorrectly. We read a different cuttlefish instead of a different kettle of fish and drives him to destruction rather than drives him to distraction. Instead of using this same technique, I decided my character would purposefully wangle words to try to be funny.
I really enjoyed developing Huxley’s voice. At the beginning, I’d take any two or three syllable word and have a go at changing it into something a seven-year-old might find funny. By the end of the first draft, the manuscript was literally stuffed with corrupted words. Further drafts focused on increasing the jeopardy in the novel and yet more looked at exploiting the gap in Huxley’s understanding of the actions of adults, which are above his head and beyond his comprehension. Through all this rewriting, I clung onto the word wangles in spite of beta readers telling me there were far too many. Finally, I listened and set about cutting them down. But which words should I lose, and which should I keep? After much thought, I found the corrupted words could be grouped in different ways and this helped with the weeding process:
Corrupted words with an underlying truth
In Huxley’s world even Brexit is funny. He calls it Breaks-it. If only he knew how accurate the corruption of this word would become.
Corruptions that illustrate incomprehension
The word libido is whispered by Huxley’s mum and her friends as they gossip. Of course, Huxley’s flapping ears tune into this word and he changes it into lip-bee-dough. This causes much confusion and suspicion when he shares the wangled word, unaware of the possible consequences.
Corruptions that are humorous transcriptions
An example of this would be pneumonia changed to new-moan-ear. This really does illustrate the peculiarity of English spelling and how Huxley makes fun with language.
Corruptions that illustrate mishearing and repeating words
One example of this comes from a real-life utterance by a friend’s son which I incorporated into the novel. Huxley’s Mum uses sarcasm and Huxley knows when she’s doing it, announcing that she’s being star-cast-stick.
Corruptions that are playful
Instead of breaking words down into syllables at school to help with reading and spelling, Huxley refers to them as silly-balls. Now that’s just plain funny.
Once I’d thinned out the number of corrupted words I used in the novel, it let the ones that remained even more effective. My rule of thumb in writing humour is that if it makes me laugh, others are likely to find it funny too. It seems I’ve got the balance right, as reader Susan van der Walt says on her blog, ‘I honestly can’t remember the last time I found myself giggling (at Huxley’s word creations) while reading a book.’
Purchase Link ~ This Much Huxley Knows
[ Bio ]
Novelist, poet and scriptwriter, Gail Aldwin’s debut coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the DLF Writing Prize 2020. Following a stint as a university lecturer, Gail’s children’s picture book Pandemonium was published. Gail loves to appear at national and international literary and fringe festivals. Prior to Covid-19, she volunteered at Bidibidi in Uganda, the second largest refugee settlement in the world. When she’s not gallivanting around, Gail writes at her home overlooking water meadows in Dorset.
Twitter ~ https://twitter.com/gailaldwin
Facebook ~ https://www.facebook.com/gailaldwinwriter/
Blog ~ https://gailaldwin.com