Écrire Montreal c’est tough en criss. La langue a switch tout le temps. It’s even worse in Frenglish and the only way I can explain it is that if an Idea (a thought, a concept) feels better explained in French, then we’ll switch to French, if it’s better explained in English, then we’ll switch to English.
Mais le Franglais reste une “langue” parlée. On switche naturellement d’une langue à l’autre au fil des pauses dans la discussion. C’est un peu plus compliqué côté écriture.
When exactly do you switch?
It’s really hard to understand such a “young” language. Because it is THAT… a YOUNG LANGUAGE. Still.
Ces temps-ci, j’essaye d’écrire une nouvelle litéraire appelée “Montréal” ces temps-ci et c’est difficile sur papier mais une fois de temps en temps je nail une scene comme la suivante où je suis vraiment content. Alors voilà!
I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Excerpt from MONTREAL :
“Ah ben criss,” he heard and it snapped him out of his thoughts. It was his father walking back home with a Canadian Tire bag in his hands.
“Heille! S’t’une osti de belle surprise ça le grand. Comment ça va?”
“Hey dad, what’s up.”
“Ah! Parle donc en Français un peu.”
Eli wasn’t about to do that even if he couldn’t really tell why anymore so he just said, “We’ll see.”
“Ça fait tu longtemps que t’attends? Qu’est-ce tu fais ici. T’a tu faim, quelque chose?”
“What’s up with the car?”
“Forget the car, let’s get inside.”
But Eli didn’t exactly feel like going in, so he tossed his dad a bone instead by speaking French and said, “Assis-toi.”
“Pourquoi pas,” he replied and the accent was thick.
“Heille, Tu parles vraiment comme un Anglo asteure.” his dad replied.
It was almost enough for him to up and leave but he didn’t. “My mother’s an Anglo,” he replied instead and that was the truth. “Assis-toi.”
“Alright, alright! Ok!”
“What’s in the bag?”
“Une coupe de cossins pour le char.”
“So the car is fucked.”
“Nothing I can’t fix.”
“Pis la job?”
“Bin’ d’la job?”
“Pas plus que d’habitude. On a une coupe de grosses commandes qui s’en viennent. Les chiffres sont bons.”
“Les comptes sont payés. Pis toi.”
“Meh! New day, Same bullshit,” he said, picking up a tiny piece of gravel from the porch and tossing it away. He didn’t know why he was here anymore. It felt heavy and awkward and shit. He just looked at a distance to nothing at all really.
“Les comptes se payent?” His dad asked.
“Un a fois.”
“Alright!” his dad replied. He didn’t know what to make of this neither. Ben! Tant mieux,” he tried but that didn’t stick. “Comment va ta mère?”
Eli wasn’t about to talk to his dad about his mom so maybe it was time to cut to the chase.
“I got offered a contract.”
“A contract? Doing what.”
“I sold a painting.”
“Pour vrai?” his dad replied, sincerely excited about the news. “Combiens?”
“Enough,” Eli said. “A lot,” he admitted. “It’s a pretty good paycheck.”
“Mais t’a pas l’air convaincu.”
“I don’t like the guy?”
“Rich idiot playing art collector.”
“T’aime pas le gars fait que tu prendras pas son cash?”
“Osti que t’est con,” his dad laughed, calling him an idiot. Eli almost said ‘what?’ but his dad laughed out loud. “Osti t’est vraiment con. Tu fait quoi dans vie, Elliott?”
“Exactement! Exaaaactement que je’l sais,” his dad continued he was in a really good mood. The kind of fuck the world mood you couldn’t fake unless you had been poor and working class all your life. “Laisse moi t’dire queck’ chose. Tu sais quoi, le char, là? l’osti de char! Tu sais qu’est’ qu’y’a le char?”
“Non,” Eli replied. But he liked it. He needed to get his head slapped right now and his dad was doing just that metaphorically speaking of course, but a good slap just the same.
“Tsé, le p’tit bras qui tiens sur les bornes de la batterie? Ben’ le p’tit bras est loose. La vis a serre pus’ fait que quand j’pogne une bosse, le p’tit anneau y pop’ pis’ ma batterie à marche pus. C’est niaiseux en criss, hein. Pis tu sais quoi, ca coute 70$ changer le p’tit criss de bras mais J’ai pas 70$ dans le compte drette là pour le changer fait que tu sais quoi? j’ai marché jusqu’a Canadian Tire me trouver un boutte de tuyaux de copp’, pis j’ma le squeezer entre l’anneau pis la borne pour que la vis a serre dessus.”
“Faut etre pauvre pis fatigué en tabarnak pour avoir a faire ca, Eli. How much is he giving you for your painting?”
“QUATRE MILLE PIASSES?” his dad shouted. “Eli, Tabarnak!”
“Please tell me you’ll take the money.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Elliott!” he insisted.
“It’s the only answer I can give you now, dad.”
*Picture is from the ABSOLUTELY perfect example of Montreal Franglais : Balconville by David Fennario.
I love writing slang. I love writing Frenglish too. I loved Gabino Iglesias’s Zero Saints because it mixed English and Spanish flawlessly.
These transitions in language come naturally to me. As someone who was raised in a city where you can easily switch between two or three languages at any moment in any discussion. Montreal has it’s own slang, it’s own language. We grew up part Québécois, part Canadian, watched American television and mixed everything and anything from Spanish, to Creole to Greek and more recently, Arabic in the daily language of things. The specific language here is known as “Joual”, and “Frenglish” or “Franglais” which are slightly different interpretations of a similar thing and used frequently.
Writing Slang is a very “oral” issue. You have to get that feel for the moments where people switch “naturally” between one language or another. I noticed similar patterns between Iglesias’ work and my own which lead me to believe there might be similarities in the pacing and tempo.
Writing slang is also very hard and it comes with a problem: You want to have that “legitimate” local flavour but you might not want to alienate every reader out there. There are two ways you can go about his :
1 – write the entire story in slang and make it a “local” piece of literary work that people might be interested in IF they are interested in that local culture.
2- Integrate enough of it to get that “reality” in the story while allowing the reader to stay in the story.
The bottom line is that it has to ring true. I’ve decided to include some Joual in every or my works. It becomes a hard balancing act that I’d like to think I’ve managed to pull off over the years.
Below is a deli scene from my upcoming novel : “Down With the Underdogs.”
I find delis, in Montreal at least, is the absolute best place to ring true to both Frenglish and the working class, so if you’re looking to write slang, this could be an example for you.
Excerpt from the upcoming novel Down With the Underdogs.
“Good! That’s good for you. What can I get for the boss then,”
“Two hot-dogs, mayo, and a coke.”
“Alright,” Vincent said. He turned to some kid over at the counter. He was busy on his cellphone. “Hey. Michael. Two steamé avec mayo.”
“Add a fry to that.”
“Avec une fritte!” he added. The kid wasn’t moving. Vincent sighed. I laughed.
“Coming up,” the kid said in English with a thick Quebecois accent but only after finishing his text.
Vincent looked to us. “Eh! I’m gonna have to get rid of that kid.”
“Doesn’t work much?”
“He’s got a girl on his mind that one, I tell you,” he said as he ran a towel over his counter.
“Don’t we all?”
“I mean. I’m no brain surgeon. But he’s not going to school, he’s not really working. I got him here part time and as far as I know he’s got nothing else going.” He nodded his head. “C’est ben’ triste quand tu y’ penses.” He added in French. “I don’t know. Maybe I don’t know anything, but he’s not looking to learn the job, you know? This is a subtle business.”
“A diner is subtle business?” Phil asked.
“Of course it is? Are you kidding me?”
The waitress came around, “Vince’,” she said, “deux poutines ‘pis une rondelle su’a’ trois.”
Vincent shouted the order in Frenglish to his cook and leaned back on his counter. “It’s like in the morning, he makes the eggs and half the damn egg is sticking there, burnt to the plate. Une croute ça d’épaisse, osti. And I tell him, ‘Jesus Christ that’s my profit you’re burning over there.’ And I’m not even talking about the time we’ll waste cleaning this mess up. Ciboire! Où l’autre jour,” he sighed. “I mean we get some of those fruit flies in the garbage back there, ‘tsé! Ta-bernak! Some mess that was. So I go out and they sell me this powder to put in the bottom of the bags and this kid he sees the powder and he doesn’t ask about it and the bag’s empty and he just changes it. No wonder I’m losing my shirt over this place.”
We all thought is was funny. We all smiled and had a good time. The guy was probably just as broke has he was saying he was. There’s no way there was any real money in food services. But it was the way he turned all of it into a grandiose story of life and death.
I liked it. I liked it a lot.
“He doesn’t get it,” Vincent continued. “Y’ comprends pas,” he repeated in French. “You got to count everything. Every bag, every egg, every bun, everything, Ostie! Otherwise you’re eating your profit, ‘tsé.” The deli’s phone rang. Vicent picked it up and shouted “yeah?” He paused for a second and then started speaking Greek. He looked back at us and switched to French and English gain, “Heille ça s’en viens là, guys! Alright? Deux minutes, OK?” before going right back to shouting in Greek on the phone.
There was no other way to say it: I fucking loved this city.
At last, I can announce it.
My next novel will be out with up and coming indie publisher, Down and Out Books, on July 22nd, 2016.
It’s been a lot of hard work and patience, but I believe it paid off in the end. I would like to thank Eric Campbell from Down and Out Books and Benoit Lelievre from deadendfollies for making this happen. Additionnal thanks are due to mr. John McFetridge for the blurb.
You can PRE-ORDER the ebook here :
About the novel :
GRAND TRUNK AND SHEARER
When Cillian Kennedy’s body was fished out of the canal, no one believed his death was due to natural causes.
But when the police wrote it off as an accidental death, four of his friends and family roamed the city in the search of any clue that may lead to the killer.
Answers were found down dead end roads, on the edge of the industrial harbour front, in an abandoned building now a crack den, through obscure networks of anti-racist skinheads, the racist Heritage Front, former gay bashers, the flailing Irish mob and the Mohawk MMA circuit.
Featuring some of Montreal’s most notorious neighbourhoods, and told in a uniquely gritty raconteur voice, GRAND TRUNK AND SHEARER offers more than the typical run-of-the-mill mystery novel. At a crossroads between noir, private eye and literary fiction, it is a book that will please those who have come to ask more of the genre with profound characterization, down to earth style, minimalist setting, believable violence and flawless dialogue.
Praise for GRAND TRUNK AND SHEARER …
“D’Arcy Kennedy’s search for his brother’s killer is a gut-wrenching trip into a world of people left behind by gentrification, forgotten by changing politics and trying to hang onto what little family they have left. It’s authentic, it’s raw, and it’s got heart. It’s a trip worth taking.” — John McFetridge, author of A Little More Free
Praise for Ian Truman …
“The Factory Line captures an entertaining voice in a highly readable manner which relays the exploits of some blue collar factory workers over the course of a day.” — Brian Lindenmuth, Spinetingler Magazine
“Truman has an incredible ear for dialogue…There aren’t two pens like [his] in the writing business.” — Benoit Lelièvre, Dead End Follies
“Truman’s A Teenage Suicide follows a group of friends working through late adulthood issues of identity, depression, and lots of tough choices. Set in and around Montreal and in particular its punk, art, activist and student scenes, its down-to-earth raconteur style provides an enduring snapshot of young-adult life in the big city today.” — Expozine Awards