‘How Sebastien Chabal influenced my writing’ or ‘Lost in Translation’
Today marks the changeover in Blog Manager, as I take over from the excellent job done by Chris Lloyd. So I’m kicking off with my own contribution.
Well, it’s rugby’s Six Nations time again and so I thought I’d make my blog topical. Where’s he going with this you may ask? What has one of France’s great back row forwards got to do with writing Victorian crime novels? Surely Leslie has gone too far …… it can’t have relevance…… well hang on in there and we’ll see……
Rugby afficionados will be well aware of Sebastien Chabal. He retired some years back, but fathers will have told their sons about the fearsome Frenchman known as the Sea Bass. It is one of rugby’s “facts”.
I was reminded about this only last week as I was drinking a rather superb pint of ale in the ‘Tenby Harbwr Tap’. All of the hand pumps had been given labels themed with the six nations tournament and their own-brewed “Sea Bass Pale Ale” sported an image of Chabal, the relevance of which would not be lost on any rugby supporter of a certain age.
So far so good, but even going back to his playing days, there had been one thing that bothered me. Why name this huge brute of a man after a bass? Something smelled fishy! A sea bass is indeed quite aggressive, it has sharp gill plates and a nasty spiny dorsal fin, but does Chabal look like a fish? I mean, I ask you, does he?
So where did this nickname come from. How come everyone in Britain knows he is the Sea Bass?
Answer – the commentator John Inverdale told us, ad nauseum, every time Chabal played. “The one the French call the Sea Bass” he told us – and it stuck.
It was in an outdoor restaurant in Nice where I solved the puzzle. My French is quite good but I’ve always struggled with menus. Luckily this one had an English translation and “Sea Bass” featured under “Loup de la mer”. The literal translation is “Wolf of the Sea” and it’s sometimes abbreviated on a fish menu to “Loup” or “Wolf”.
So you see that the obvious cock-up has happened somewhere in Mr Inverdale’s mind. The French call Chabal “The Wolf” and looking at him you can see why.
Nevertheless, one man’s mistake has led to a “well-known fact” that Chabal is called after a fish and everyone accepted it.
What did this teach me, and how can I say it influenced my writing?
Simple – never just accept generally held beliefs, I certainly don’t.
Some basic ones in my own sphere of the late 1800’s include: –
- Jack the Ripper’s victims were all prostitutes
- Victorians were prudes and hated sex
- Poor people were forcibly sent to the workhouse
- The speaking of Welsh was banned in every school in Wales
All of which are wrong.
There are of course many other misconceptions, often handed down by word of mouth. Historians are often criticised for ignoring ‘the wealth of oral history’; but the problem is that you can’t necessarily trust it.
The main focus of my books is entertainment, but I do try and get my stories as historically accurate as possible. I no doubt will make the odd small mistake and I might tweak the odd date here and there and create fictional events (which I clarify in authors notes at the end of my novels), but detailed research is key.
Fantasy historical novels can take short-cuts but I don’t believe that other historical novelists should. It does make us a bit of an odd bunch, part of the time using our imagination to create complex plots; and the rest of the time reading old newspapers, or sat in reference libraries researching how people used to dress, eat or entertain themselves etc. – but that’s what makes us tick.
So, enjoy the Six Nations; read our books; but never take anything you’ve heard at face value.
Leslie Scase is the author of the Inspector Chard mysteries crime thrillers set in the heyday of Victorian Britain. His first novel, Fortuna’s Deadly Shadow was published in 2020. The second, Fatal Solution, was published in May 2021. His next novel, Sabrina’s Teardrop, will be published in Autumn 2022. An advocate of the ‘classic’ murder mystery genre, Leslie is also a keen historian, which is reflected in the authenticity of his novels.
Read more about Leslie Scase at Seren Books https://www.serenbooks.com/author/leslie-scase
and Crime Cymru https://crime.cymru/leslie-scase/
and on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/InspectorChard