Guest Post By Nick Lake
Author Nick Lake talks about the unique language style of his new novel Satellite.
Satellite is written with quite a particular orthography. There are no capitals – or at least hardly any. The word ‘and’ is rendered as ‘&’ throughout, and there are various abbreviations (‘c’ for ‘see’, for example).
In the first couple of drafts it was much more extensive, actually, with many more abbreviations. But my agent and editor convinced me to tone it down on the grounds that no one would want to read it, which is as good a reason as any to change something. (A couple of people – not my publishers, I should say – also suggested that it might be good if Leo was straight, rather than probably-gay, and had a straight romance, as this would appeal more to teenage girls. I did not change that part.)
Anyway: the language. A review suggested it was inspired by text messages, but that wasn’t really what I was thinking of. (And in fact ‘text speak’ has been killed to some extent by the iPhone – that sort of shortening was more relevant when you had to press the same button repeatedly to change letter.) More, I was wondering what might change in our written language in the next hundred years or so. I suspect capitals might go (I could be wrong). I have a feeling the question mark is in trouble too.
And I knew, of course, that Satellite was told by Leo, its protagonist, around 50 years in the future, so I wanted the language to be his, to reflect him and his time. So on one level it’s pure world building, the first step of the world building really – that it reflects the future setting.
It’s also a sort of… key, or a hook. Impressionists talk about having ‘hooks’ that they hang different voices on; like a coat hook. Usually a short phrase that lets them shrug their arms into that identity, that voice. I’m not an impressionist by a long way but I’m reasonably good at mimicking certain voices and therefore accents and that’s exactly how I do it. (I can’t do a Welsh accent, but I can do a very rough facsimile of Rod Gilbert. But only after a couple of drinks.)
In this book, I think I did it by adopting those unusual spelling conventions: it was a hook that let me put on the coat of being Leo, of writing in his voice; a key that let me into his mind.
(I either believe or allow myself to believe – I suspect there is no difference – that Leo is real, and that I have to channel him.)