THE JOY OF WRITING – The Reader Always Gets The Accent Right In Their Head

I had the pleasure (?) last night of spending an hour or two on the sofa doing nothing more mind-taxing than watching a TV film. It had been one of those days. I just needed to switch off and have a bit of a laugh. No harm in that.

So what was on offer? What kept me glued to the faux leather for almost two and a half hours laughing my socks off? Marx Brothers? Woody Allen? Ben Stiller? Nope. Russell Crowe. Eh?

Yes, it was Decimus Maximus Virillius himself, this time masquerading as Robin Hood. Robin Hood? Russell Crowe? You must be joking? No, really.

Now when this Ridley Scott epic came out two or three years ago, I forget which, and I heard rumours that Russell was going to play the part with an authentic northern accent I cringed. I think at the time I may have said in my own rather thick (?) West Yorkshire accent “Gerraway, Tha’s joking. Wot, ‘im? Russill? Reckonin’ ter play Robin ‘Ood? Nivver.”

I just couldn’t take it in. Surely He’d never be able to pull it off. He’d sound daft.

Then when I read in the press that Russell had stormed out of a BBC interview back in 2010 because the interviewer had dared to suggest that Russell’s accent in Robin Hood sounded more Irish than North of England, I was convinced this was not the film for me.

Since then I have learned that Russell, bless him, had spent hours, hundreds of them, undergoing intensive voice training to allow him to mimic an authentic East Midlands accent. East Midlands? Everybody from where I come from….near Wakefield in West Yorkshire…..knows Robin of the Hood was from Yorkshire…not ‘down south’ in the Midlands, so to speak.

NOTE: If you’re reading this outside the UK you will have no idea what I’m going on about…but trust me….wherever you live it’s like someone making a film about your neck of the woods and having it spoken in the language of the neighbouring country… it out for yourself.

Anyway…I need to move on. Suffice to say I laughed all the way through the film at the terrible accent….it did indeed sound Irish, then Scottish, then a touch of New South Wales and I think I caught a whiff of Welsh in there too. Ah well, you’re probably thinking to yourself “It’s the movies, Steve. What do you expect?”

Actually, I expect them to get it right with all the money they spend.

So, how much easier do we have it as writers? Pretty cushy I would suggest. A real soft number.

If we write something like…  Harold kissed Fiona gently on the lips.  She quivered. “Darling, I will always love you” he purred. She loved the sound of his lilting Irish accent. She quivered again….

Then ‘Bingo’ we’ve done our job. The reader knows Harold has a lovely Irish twang (so to speak) and we’re home and dry for the rest of the book…….how easy is that?

I rest my case.


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7 responses to “THE JOY OF WRITING – The Reader Always Gets The Accent Right In Their Head”

  1. writeonthebeach says :

    Eeh bah gum, thoo’s reet tha’ naws. Them nesh softies naws nowt.

  2. MishaBurnett says :

    Not exactly.

    “Well, ain’t you a sweet l’il thang,” he drawled in his Irish accent.

    That doesn’t work at all. Word choice and rhythm are very important to implying a regional speech pattern. Often you can use dialogue to indicate origin without ever saying anything overt.

    “Well. We should best remedy that posthaste then, shan’t we?”


    “”We’re going to have to fix this now.”

    Two very similar lines in meaning, but quite different in construction, and the first (to me, anyway) feels British, while the second feels much more American.

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