Thursday, 24 January 2013

How can you use words in an empty world?

 One of the difficulties in writing about non-humans is that one does get stuck for words.

 I first came across this problem when I was writing Cold Tom (Tom isn’t a Neanderthal, as it happens: he’s a different sort of non-human). Tom has lived a very isolated and primitive sort of a life, and this means that his vocabulary doesn’t contain useful words like chimney or car.

 This was both a great nuisance and tremendously exciting at the same time.

 Mica’s Neanderthal world was even more difficult to write about than Tom's. Mica's  horizons contain so little besides grassy hillsides, ice, and various bits of scary wildlife.

 So much experience is closed to her (and therefore to me, as the narrator of her story) that it wasn't possible to relax for a moment.

For instance, you know that tingly peppermint feeling the air makes in your nose on very cold days?
Well, Mica can never have come across peppermint.

 It may seem a small thing, but it means you have to watch every word like a...


 Hang on, I’ll look it up.

 Yes, there were hawks in Britain 40,000 years ago.




  1. I think the book is amazing just for that. You've been so CAREFUL!! Wonderful stuff...

  2. It was certainly wonderful to have the opportunity to step into a different world and then have the time and space to look around me.

    Shan't forget that.