I asked my good friend Author Natali Grayling to do a guest post for me this week. She is from Hungry and is in the process of self-publishing her first novel called #Alaska. She shares her own story of writing in English when her mother tongue is Hungarian and she provides some advice to others like her. I know a lot of you are from non-English speaking countries and are endeavouring to write a novel in English, so hopefully you find this article useful!
As a teenager I was fascinated by American music. I asked my parents to subscribe to this weekly pop magazine called BRAVO, which had a lyrics page in each issue, featuring the latest hit songs ranging from the tackiest boy bands to heavy metal. I devoured them all: Blink182, Eminem, Backstreet Boys, AC/DC, Shania Twain, Marilyn Manson, whatever they had... Oh, those sweet days! I'm happy to have been a teenager at the turn of the century. I couldn't imagine a better time to be a kid.
So the time came when I had to choose which high school I would attend and I found one about 40 kms from my hometown that had an English specialization program for absolute beginners. By that time I knew that I wanted to know more than just the lyrics to Teenage Dirtbag. I wanted to read books in English and watch movies with the original voices. I also wanted to be popular, but oh well, you can't have it all, can you? In elementary school I was just a bully-target fat girl with a weird attitude, unrealistic dreams of becoming a famous archeologist (I had that obsession for long after watching The Mummy; I wanted to be like Evie, the librarian) and with outstanding grades in all subjects without any real effort. I was smart but when it came to communication, I was shy and let people think I was stupid as long as they left me alone.
Unfortunately or fortunately, I did not become an archeologist, but I did achieve my other dream: being fluent in English. I also lost weight and became more self-confident. Until this day I put all of that down to learning how to speak English. Not kidding. I found myself a language which helped me express my thoughts more easily and more articulately than my own mother tongue could ever have.
In 2007, when I got my first very own laptop, the whole world opened up in front of me. I knew the language that most people in the world could speak, and by then - it was a new thing, for me at least - we had high speed DSL connection at home. Woo-hoo! Countless nights passed without sleep after that.
I read a lot during the first few months of my relationship with the ASUS X51. My family hated it but I was way too obsessed to be stopped. I made myself a Myspace profile and started writing. In English. To my greatest surprise, people not only understood what I wrote, some of them even liked it! Alrighty then, I said to myself, and started little projects to try myself in blogging about stuff that now seem really stupid and embarrassing so I prefer not to mention them, and I wrote short fan fiction stories about Japanese rock band members (X Japan and Dir en Grey etc... Yeah, I know.. But weird does not even describe some of the things I've been into). Anyway, it took me almost 10 years to find out that what I really wanted to do with my life was to write books. Self doubt was my only nemesis: I have always thought that no degree could give me sufficient proficiency in English, a level of written language skills that would allow me to write longer works of fiction without sounding like a fourth-grader. But then again, I could never write fiction in my mother tongue. It somehow didn't feel right, as if whatever I wrote was a lie. Now I know the reason. Somewhere along the way I have BECOME the language. My creative half (let's say it's a she) made English her home and she feels so good in there that she can't be bothered to step outside. I don't blame her. English is a beautiful and innovative language that, if used properly, is able to cross all the boundaries that limit our consciousness. I don't mean to say that other languages can't do the same, I think everyone has this feeling about one language or another, regardless of nationality. For me it's English, for others it may be Japanese or French, you name it.
English is my happy place.
So how do I avoid sounding like an alien? Answer: I don't. That's why I made Natali Grayling (it's a pseudonym) to be Hungarian like I am. And that's why I created a Hungarian protagonist, Léna Szabó, who has my passion for the language and a degree in English (at which point I'm hoping to arrive soon), so that even if her words sound a little "out of place" here and there, the reader can put it down to her being a foreigner, a non-native speaker of English. You can call it playing safe, but I think I prefer to call it honesty. The last thing I want is to pretend that I know what I'm doing, when in fact, I don't. I'm just playing with words and I want to invite my readers to join me in this game, like say there's an expression in the story that is not used by native speakers, but since you know she's from Hungary you will be able to relate to her way of thinking, to the way she constructs her sentences in a foreign language. Isn't it a wonderful thing to be able to see into her mind so directly, so freely from convention? Her thoughts are right there, raw out in front of you, naked, in their most natural, unvarnished way. Like a raw diamond that your imagination can polish into something of a greater value. I think that is magic, and all readers are wizards. That's all.
If you want to learn more about Natali Grayling you can follow her on Instagram: @n.grayling