So I signed up to a Russian evening class, Comrade

Like you do.

Or rather, like I did. I’ve stopped going now because I was excep­tion­ally poor at form­ing even the simplest sen­tences.

Aliya Whiteley is — apart from being a great comedo-tagi­co-Ilfracombo nov­elista — study­ing for an MSc in Library and Information Management. As part of this, she inter­viewed me about the resources I used to help me research the third Saskia Brandt nov­el. (For those who aren’t keep­ing up, which often includes me, that’s the third one; Flashback is the second; Déjà Vu is the first.)

Can I ask — in the case of your last nov­el, where did you look to find the inform­a­tion you needed? So where did you go to learn a bit of Russian, read oral his­tor­ies, etc? How did you decide that was what you’d need to know?

For the Russian, I signed up for a loc­al even­ing class. I stud­ied Russian for two years. I didn’t expect to learn it very well, but I felt ridicu­lous writ­ing a nov­el set in Russia without know­ing any­thing about the lan­guage. The oral his­tor­ies showed up on Amazon. The book was out of print — ‘Women Against the Tsar’, I believe it’s called — and described the lives of sev­er­al women anarcho-bolshev­iks in the lat­ter part of the nine­teenth cen­tury. Another source of inform­a­tion was the writer Roger Morris, who was in the pro­cess of writ­ing nov­els set in the same peri­od of his­tory (though a little earli­er). I spoke to him about oral his­tor­ies and sent him links to some websites…which reminds me, the web was a very use­ful sources of inform­a­tion. I popped into one or two for­ums related to Tsarist Russian mil­it­ary uni­forms to ask the experts ques­tions about mater­i­als, col­ours, etc. I also looked on mem­or­ab­il­ia sites for clothes that had been owned by people in the time peri­od of interest — these were very good qual­ity pic­tures with lav­ish descrip­tions includ­ing the cor­rect ter­min­o­logy (some­times in Russian as well as English), which is quite import­ant when writ­ing prose.

Is it ridicu­lous writ­ing about Russia without speak­ing the lan­guage? Try writ­ing about Russia without hav­ing set foot on Russian soil.

Feel free to check out the full inter­view. This is part one.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

4 thoughts on “So I signed up to a Russian evening class, Comrade”

  1. Wasn’t there someone who wrote a crit­ic­ally lauded (Booker/Orange long­listed?) nov­el a couple of years back, set in Canada, although she’d nev­er been there?

    And I don’t think Shakespeare ever went to Verona, Venice, Rome, Bohemia…

  2. Good point about the Shakespeare — but, then, he *was* Shakespeare. I do remem­ber the Canadian book — The Kindness of Wolves, or some­thing? — and thought the idea was a bit cheeky. Only a bit, though…

  3. Congrats on yet anoth­er nov­el, Ian.

    When I needed some Russian phrases for my nov­el, I turned both to a col­league who was flu­ent (of sorts) and a nat­ive Russian speak­er (who hur­riedly scribbled what I asked for). I recently got an email from a read­er who is a nat­ive Russian speak­er and they liked the book but were rather apalled by the Russian phras­ing. At least one snappy bit of dia­logue was apar­ently totally unpro­noun­cable. Glad I put the English trans­la­tion next to them — and also that my garbled attempts didn’t say any­thing too offens­ive. I guess that counts for some­thing.…..

  4. Thanks, James, much appre­ci­ated.

    That reminds me — there’s tonnes of Spanish/German in my nov­el and I don’t think I got it check by a nat­ive speak­er. I prob­ably should do that!


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