A warm welcome to my dear author friend W.R. Gingell! I asked Gingell to my blog today to talk about her study of language, and then culture, that led her to create the lovely KDrama-inspired steampunk-ish fantasy romance that is her latest project. I had the opportunity to read this as it was written via Wattpad, and quite enjoyed myself, tropes and all. I also knew that Gingell was engaged in studying Korean, and wanted to find out more about how this story came to be. So here it is, for you and for me!
I’ve always been interested in languages. Part of that interest is my fascination with the English language: I love words, and I love how the same five or six words can be twisted, turned, and slanted to give so many different layers of meanings depending upon how they’re ordered.
So I always knew I was going to learn a foreign language: I wanted to see how they fitted and slotted together to make clever little meanings all of their own. Over time, I learned little bits and pieces of French, Latin, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Greek, and Italian. And then there was that phase where I was learning German surreptitiously from my sister’s school-of-the-air German classes because you basically shout everything, and seriously, what is cooler than that?
Six months ago, I started learning Korean. I began learning it because I stumbled into KDrama (don’t seem to be able to find my way out, help!) and loved the story-telling and characters I found there. And, the more I heard of the language, the more entranced I became: the structure was so different from English, while odd little things were exactly the same. Verbs were at the end of sentences. Most sentences were back to front. And there were actually differing levels of speech depending upon differing levels of respect to be shown to the listener.
As for the written language—well! Don’t get me started on how flamin’ cool it is that one of their Kings just decided one day that he wanted Korea to have its own written language instead of Chinese, and just made it up. Seriously. I love that.
Via the Korean language, I became interested in Korean culture. In fact, one of the most fascinating things to me about learning Korean is the Korean culture of family. The whole society is family-oriented. Girls call close male friends and boyfriends ‘Oppa’—which is the same word used by females of their older brothers. A close, older female friend can be called ‘Unni’, a word also used to refer to their older sister. Boys will call older female friends ‘Nuna’ and older male friends ‘Hyung’—also used to refer to older sisters and brothers. This society family concept, as much as the language itself, I find intriguing.
More interestingly, this societal family concept plays a huge part in the Korean idea of respect. In Australia, we show respect to those who have earned our respect– including, but not restricted to, our parents. In Korea, the idea of respect is integral to their way of life, as much in the family as in society. Elders are respected (and spoken to with honorifics that attach to verbs); and in the same way, anyone in a higher position than one’s own at work is also spoken to in honorifics.
To an Australian, this can sound outrageous. I remember how I felt in school when I learned that there were two different forms of ‘you’ in German, depending on how respectful we were being. ‘What? Rubbish! I want to use the same terms with everyone! We’re all equal!’ And yet, in the hierarchical, family structure of Korean society, it’s carried so much further. More, I understand and appreciate it.
Why? Because as much as young Koreans are taught to speak and behave with respect toward their elders and workplace superiors, so their elders and workplace superiors seem to be taught to look after their dongsangs. Elders and superiors most often pay for meals and other amusements. And if they scold and discipline, they also look out for their younger family members and workers.
On an even more personal level, I’d been learning Korean for about a month when I began to notice something odd. The world somehow seemed…well, bigger. Or at least more varied. Just the simple fact of learning a language had suddenly made a whole new subset of people less mysterious to me. More than that, it had made me really see them. Not just as a background, or as a foreign and unfathomable element in my community, but as actual people. My local community has a huge influx of Korean and Chinese visitors and seasonal workers, but somehow I’d never really seen them properly before. They’re polite and quiet, you see, and they prefer to use the self-serve registers rather than go to manned registers.
It wasn’t until I began planning my own trip to South Korea with my Korean teacher, and began to comprehend the scope of the immersion I was about to subject myself to, that I began to understand. For a person still learning the language, the self-serve registers are less frightening than facing a slow-to-understand and possibly impatient cashier. We don’t mean to be impatient, but it never occurs to us that someone who can’t speak the language well enough to be immediately understood isn’t a nuisance: they’re a person who has overcome amazing barriers and forged their way into a new, alien world. It brought a new layer to my customer service; and, more importantly, a new layer to the way in which I see the world.
Since I’m a writer, this study of the Korean language and Korean culture naturally affected my writing. First and foremost, it affected my storytelling in terms of the way I tell my stories. Second, it affected the kind of characters I was interested in portraying. In short, I began to have an idea that wouldn’t go away. That idea was to turn into the first draft of Lady of Dreams, a Korean-based alt-world fantasy romance where I used Korean forms of address, random Korean cultural mores, and more than a few KDrama tropes (seriously, if you’re a KDrama aficionado, you can play Spot-the-trope. I went to town with it).
Lady of Dreams has now grown up into a fully finished book. The things I learned while writing it have stuck with me—storytelling things as much as the Korean words I was using throughout—and Lady of Dreams is up for nomination for a Kindle Scout Publishing contract. (You can read a sample from the first chapter and nominate Lady of Dreams HERE: if a contract is offered, everyone who nominated Lady of Dreams will get an advance copy!)
About Lady of Dreams
Confined to her couch, Clovis Sohn spends her days and nights dreaming, drifting further away from the outside world with each passing day. But Clovis’s dreams are also real, giving her a glimpse into the lives of those around her…
When a moment of unthinking sympathy twines Clovis’s dreams with the bored, playful composer Yong-hwa, she must decide whether to keep dreaming in the comfort of her chaise lounge, or to awaken into a reality that is by no means so sure or familiar as her dreams.
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About the Author
W.R. Gingell is a Tasmanian author who lives in a house with a green door. She loves to rewrite fairytales with a twist or two–and a murder or three–and original fantasy where dragons, enchantresses, and other magical creatures abound. Occasionally she will also dip her toes into the waters of SciFi.
W.R. spends her time reading, drinking an inordinate amount of tea, and slouching in front of the fire to write. Like Peter Pan, she never really grew up, and is still occasionally to be found climbing trees.