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Unfamiliar Victorian Vocabulary

A few weeks ago I had a rather jolly Skype with Linda Korn, hired by Random House in America to direct the audio edition of my latest novel, The Pigeon Pie Mystery. She wanted to check the pronunciation of almost three hundred words that appear in the book, which is set in the nineteenth century.

I must admit I had no clue about some of the pronunciations myself. Apparently ‘ague’, the word Victorians sometimes used for fever, is pronounced ‘aygyoo’. I would strongly recommend it as a diagnosis the next time you pull a sickie: it sounds so grievous you’ll be off work for weeks.

Unfamiliar Victorian vocabulary was just one of the hurdles British actress Hannah Curtis faced when narrating the novel. She also had to find distinctive voices for a large cast of upper and lower class characters, to say nothing of the coroner’s officer, a Scot whose accent is so impenetrable he is unintelligible to both the jury and the witnesses.

Producer Dan Musselman and actress Hannah Curtis

Producer Dan Musselman and actress Hannah Curtis

Then, of course, there were fits of giggles to which both Hannah and Linda succumbed, particular during the sex scene in the Maharaja’s hothouse. “We laughed A LOT in the studio,” Linda later said. “It was hard to keep a straight face through the scene where "...three overripe pineapples fell to the ground with his final exalted thrust".

Linda Korn directing from behind the glass

Linda Korn directing from behind the glass

I let out a few impolite snorts myself while researching the novel, particularly when reading a bicycling manual that described falling as “an art of itself, for which many riders develop quite a peculiar talent”.

There were tears too, apparently, during the recording, which took almost 35 hours. “I cried a few times when, although the writing was humorous, there was a revelation in the more complex characters and relationships,” said Linda. “I especially cried when Pooki says maids are not supposed to love their employers...”

Strangely, writers can also be moved by passages they have written. I often went cold when editing the horror Lady Montfort Bebb witnessed during the very real First Afghan War, which I took from historical accounts.

Listening to the audio version of one’s novel is always daunting. But knowing the hilarity that went on during the recording of The Pigeon Pie Mystery, I couldn’t wait to play the audio clip the publishers sent me. I was thrilled and heartily recommend listening to it, particularly those with their feet up, recuperating from ague.


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