Using a foreign language in children’s novels

In the book I’ve just finished – Marauders of the Missing Mummies – I have a section that takes place in a bazaar located somewhere in Egypt. Now, in order to add some credibility and interest to the dialogue, I decided that one of the stall holders, pertinent to the plot, would converse in French as it seems it is the language spoken by many Egyptians today. I’m not fluent in French. In fact, the last time I was in France and conversed in the lingo, I just about managed to make myself understood by the locals. That was nearly twenty years ago. So you can imagine how rusty my grasp of French grammar is.  I have posted the section here to ask those of you who do speak French, if what I have written makes sense. So, please, if anyone out there reads this, could you set me straight and let me know how I can improve. Thanks! new cover for marauders Here is the extract:

“Don’t go over to her. Wait, no. Erica,” Hannah said and ran after Van Clutch as she marched to where the old woman sat. “You can’t even speak Egyptian.” She tugged on Van Clutch’s sleeve. Erica pulled her arm away and gave Hannah a raised eyebrow look.

“No, but I do speak French. And I suspect, that she does to. It is by far the most commonly used language in these parts.” Erica flared her nostrils and turned to the seated woman. “Bonjour, Madam. Je m’appelle Erica Van Clutch.”

The gnarled-faced female licked her yellow chipped front teeth and spat something green onto the floor beside Erica’s feet. “Je m’appelle Ramia.”

“Prophetess. How fitting,” Van Clutch said and Ramia grinned. “I’m going to question her about the Dalby child. Dites-moi ce que vous savez de la petite fille.”

“Je ne te dirai rien. Sorcière.”

“What did she say?”

“What I expected. She won’t spill. Oh and she thinks I am a witch. Do not snicker. See, now you’ve loosened your sinuses again. Wipe your nose before the mucus forms another bubble.”

Kush ran the back of her hand across her face and sniffed. Erica spoke to Ramia. She stared into the brown eyes of the old woman and said, “Si vous ne me dites pas au sujet de la fille, je jetterai un charme sur vous.”

“What?”

“Sshhhh, Kush I’m trying to intimidate her by utilising her fear of me. I’m suggesting that I will cast a spell on her if she doesn’t reveal all. Now hush and let me do my thing.” Van Clutch closed her eyes, pressed her hands together in a prayer-like pose and tilted her head to the heavens. She partly opened her lips and began to whisper meaningless words in a growly whisper. “Unmanondium. Cliventinium. Postargrindum. Dractilvarus. Plantricula. Verbotivis.’ She snapped open her eyes and glared at Ramia.

“Wow, Erica, I didn’t know you knew Latin. What have you done? What terrible spell have you cast upon that poor old lady?”

“Dammit, Kush, keep quiet. I’m trying to intimidate with made up Latin words. Now I’ve lost the flow and can’t think of any more. And cease using my first name. I need to maintain credibility here.”

“Oh, right, sorry.”

“Shhhh!” Van Clutch gasped and thrust her clenched fingers to the sky. “Revoltinum. Bletherinus. Mumbojumbis!” She clapped seven times, lowered her arms and pointed at Ramia. “Je vous maudis avec des ébullitions et le mal de tête.”

“She doesn’t look very scared. What spell did you cast?”

“I cursed her with boils and headaches.”

“Oh, poor thing. That’s terrible.”

“You do realise that I can’t actually put a spell on her. I am not a witch.”

“That’s what Sadika calls you behind your back.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Oh, nothing. Look, Van Clutch, the old woman, she’s getting up. She looks really angry.”

“Les dieux vous dévoreront,” Ramia said and stood. She waved her hands in front of Erica’s face. “Les dieux vous dévoreront.”

A strong breeze skipped and swirled through the dusty street. Cigarette butts, bits of paper and half eaten sandwiches danced and fluttered around Erica’s knees and thighs. She brushed the debris away and titled her head towards the sky. Black clouds rumbled overhead and the sun escaped behind them causing darkness to fall. The busy thoroughfare hushed and people stood still. Ramia snarled and lifted her arms high. A flash of lightning and an ear-splitting bang of thunder echoed around the wide avenue. Erica stood tall and unflinching when raindrops as big as fists splashed down causing shoppers and trades folk to scuttle for shelter. Kush put her fingers in her ears and hid behind Van Clutch. Ramia glared at Erica and said in a husky growl, “Les dieux vous dévoreront.” A savage wind whipped against the shins of Kush and Van Clutch. “Les dieux vous dévoreront.”

“Oh do stop saying that the gods will eat me, Ramia. They will not.”

“Les dieux vous dévoreront.”

“Les dieux ne me dévoreront pas. Oh this is just ridiculous. Kush, do you have any money?” she said to a trembling Hanna. “Kush!” Erica turned and took hold of Hanna’s forearms. She pulled them down from where they were pressed against her face and said, “Pull yourself together. Good. Now, do you have any money?”

Kush blinked and swallowed. “A bit.”

“How much?”

“Thirty quid.”

“Hand it over. I’ve had enough of Ramia and her rants.” Erica held out her hand and Kush rummaged around in her trouser pocket. She pulled out a bundle of notes and handed them to Van Clutch. Another thunderclap and flash of lightening burst above their heads and Erica shook hers as she watched Kush crouch on the ground and tremble with fear. She tutted, turned to Ramia, who was standing with her arms open to the heavens and said, “Ce qui vous savent la fille?” Then she waved the money in front of the woman’s wild eyes. “Ah, now I have your attention. The girl, what do you know?”

Ramia snatched the money and thrust it down the front of her blouse. The clouds rumbled away and the wind dropped. Erica folded her arms. “Ce qui vous savent?”

Ramia snorted and picked up a small woollen ibis. She turned it over and revealed a zip that ran from the toy’s bottom right up to its neck. She nodded an all-knowing nod, adding a wink and pushed it against Erica’s chest. “A l’intérieur,” she said and mimed looking into an invisible bag.

“Oh, it’s inside this. Excellent,” Erica said, took the bird and opened the zip. She pulled out a rolled up piece of paper and unravelled it. “Mentioned by name too. Well, well, it says here that the Dalby girl is the host. Marvelous.” She threw the knitted animal over her shoulder and stood over Kush. “Get up, you whimpering fool. Time to go.”

Kush rose slowly and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Are we safe?”

“We are, Kush my dear. However, the young Dalby is not.” Erica grinned, screwed up the paper, shoved it into her mouth and swallowed. “There now, all done.”

“Why did you do that?”

“That raving old woman called upon the gods to devour me, well, I have eaten them instead. This missive scrawled in the words of the gods and written in blood, gave away a secret about the Dalby brat. These words are powerful. They could have destroyed me if I had read on, but I did not. I have turned the tables. Now I possess their power,” Van Clutch said and raised her head to the cloudless sky.

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