Ever since I was little, I’ve been a huge mimic. At one point, I considered running away with SNL, but then my mom called me for dinner and it involved mashed potatoes. So it’s no surprise I’m still easily influenced by accents and dialect in literature. I treat children’s books like Broadway plays, much to the delight of my youngest — the sole beneficiary of my suppressed desire. I do witches, animals, and insect voices like a sleep deprived Nathan Lane.
Her favorite are the Angelina Ballerina books, a story that involves a British dancing mouse, a character who if seen in the real world would be stuck in a trap, meeting its brutal demise with a RIP Black Death sign around its neck. But personification is 90% of all children’s books.
I begin reading to her with a nice, proper British accent – smooth and decent, as dignified as the Queen’s – until it becomes a downward spiral, ending with a drunk Tracey Ullman. My daughter doesn’t mind or notice however, which makes her the perfect audience, but my older two have discovered my rusty ways. From the other room, I hear them shout,“That’s NOT how she sounds!”
I just finished the enjoyable, albeit sad, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, a novel that takes place somewhere in England by a castle, when it occurred to me I had read the entire book with a perfect, narrative, British accent. I thought I’d give it a go aloud and the same thing happened! I started good, but then drifted into the deranged way Americans imitate the Queen, choking on her teeth. “I’d like-a-cuppa-tea, Gov-nah.”
It took me three days to read Me Before You, and for three days I said bloody hell 50 times, even though I think the main character, Louisa, only said it once. My kids thought I was nuts. I’m not sure how bloody hell rates on the swear scale. It’s hard to judge non-native slang and cursing. It feels equivalent to damn, which isn’t too bad. But I could be completely wrong and get slapped the next time I visit London.
Me: Bloody hell! Who put the eggs in the pantry next to the flour!?
Kid #1: Why is Mom going all Ozzy Osbourne on us? It’s weird.
Kid #2: Yah. It’s like she’s cursing at Angelina Ballerina.
Me: Posh! Listen, muppets, you’ll do as I say if you know what’s good for you!”
When I read Lonesome Dove I walked around with a swagger and took up chewing tobacco. “Y’all need to git them eggs in the refrigerator or I’ll tan your hides.” Okay, I didn’t really chew tobacco, but I ate plenty of jerky and beans.
During my True Grit days, I channeled the main character Mattie Ross so often, I came up with folksy sayings. “Giddy up and get ‘er done!” I’d yell at the kids, dragging their feet while they got ready for school in the morning. I even had mugs and posters made with the saying. But since the mugs were from a British company that typically printed Keep Calm and Carry On (the very nemesis of Giddy Up and Get ‘Er Done), they were tiny tea cups and Giddy Up and Get ‘Er Done just ain’t meant for dainty, y’all. It’ll bloody that stiff upper lip with one sip!
You can keep your calm and carry on, I’ll take my giddy up and get ‘er done . . .
The same thing happened with Markus Zusak when I read his book, The Underdogs. I had an Australian accent that quickly turned into Crocodile Dundee and I began calling everyone my mate, which is really weird for a girl that grew up in the Southwestern desert. I started calling coyotes dingos and yelling at people that they were eating their babies. I was about as popular as a rattlesnake in a lucky dip!
I also read Nelson DeMille books with a New York accent and all the southern writers — Fannie Flagg, Rebecca Wells, Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee – with a southern twang. I suppose I’m under the influence of literature. Some might say drunk with it. But it’s the closest and cheapest way to live globally and exercise my dramatic flare, especially since I’ll never be on SNL, which is a real pig’s arse!