Thursday, June 2, 2011


Hearing voices

In the last two MMC blogs by Linda Wiken and Mary Jane Maffini, there has been a lot of talk about the different voices of Canada. We have a vast and varied land, both ethnically and geographically, and each one of us writes with a voice that reflects our time and place, as well as our personality. It makes Canadian crime fiction hard to pigeonhole but great fun to explore. Do I want to travel to Newfoundland with Tom Curran next, or the Prairies with Gail Bowen, or the Yukon with Vicki Delany? We have excellent writers for every taste and mood.

Do they have a commonality, however? It’s one of the questions we will be addressing during my panel at Bloody Words this Saturday, entitled “Putting Canada on the World Stage”. I suspect the first question moderator Lou Allin will pose is “Do we deserve to be there?” A resounding yes, of course, but naturally she will want us to prove it.

A second question will likely be “Is there anything uniquely Canadian about our books?” Besides the usual jokes about our characters and stories being nicer, and maybe more polite that their British, European or American counterparts, I think there is a “feel” to Canadian books which is probably just as difficult to define as voice, but just as recognizable when you read it. It’s more than our mixed up spelling, which is sometimes British and sometimes American but we are never quite sure which is which. Is it ‘ess’ or ‘zed’ in advertise? Is it traveled or travelled? Note that my US version of MS Word underlines that word, after vainly trying to auto-correct it twice.

It’s more than our Canadian idioms, which are once again sometimes British and sometimes American. We drive trucks, not lorries, but we sit on our bums, not our butts. We may or may not call our mothers ‘Mum’. I do. And we have some words that are neither British nor American, but reflect our unique history, like the chesterfield and the two-four of beer. Beer being integral to Canadian identity! Besides the obvious regional differences in both pronunciation and idiom, there is a ‘Canada Speak’ as described in the Dictionary of Canadianisms: How to Speak Canadian, eh? , published in 2009 by Geordie Telfer. Our uniqueness goes well beyond ‘eh’.

The “Canadian feel” is more than the homegrown references to historical events, such as the FLQ crisis in Giles Blunt’s A Delicate Storm, or places and issues, like Inuit art fraud in RJ Harlick’s Arctic Blue Death. It’s more than the differences in police and legal procedure, hilariously depicted in William Deverell’s Arthur Beauchamp novels, and in the customs and laws surrounding crimes. Canadian writers are much less likely to use a gun to kill their victims, and also less likely to have their hero solve the crime using a gun. Even when that hero is a police officer with a legal right to carry a gun. Guns don’t seem nearly as central to Canadian crime fiction as they are south of the border.

Maybe the “Canadian feel” is the combination of all these things. Language, idiom, issues, context, and values which taken together reflect the place and the people we are writing about. So that when a foreigner picks up a Canadian book, he or she can feel immersed in the experience of Canada – subtly and gently different - much as we feel immersed in Britain when we read PD James and in Sweden with Henning Mankell. When a Canadian picks up a Canadian book, they feel at home.

Barbara Fradkin is a child psychologist with a fascination for how we turn bad. In addition to her darkly haunting short stories in the Ladies Killing Circle anthologies, she writes the gritty, Ottawa-based Inspector Green novels which have
won back to back Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Novel from Crime Writers of Canada. The eighth in the series, Beautiful Lie the Dead, explores love in all its complications. And, her new Rapid Read from Orca, The Fall Guy, was launched in May.

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