It’s a dilemma, isn’t it, that all writers face today? Honestly it may seem that Americans and British both speak English but often times the words, not to mention the sensibilities are, literally, oceans apart. That being said, how do you satisfy two audiences divided by a common language?
Let’s start with spelling. Yes, most of us know that in England the word is ‘colour’ and the female parent who makes your sandwiches before you head for school is ‘Mum’. Whereas in America it’s spelled ‘color’ and your father’s wife is ‘Mom’ (or possibly ‘Stepmom’ but we don’t have to go there). Still, with hawk-eyed readers always quick to pounce on misspellings and typos, we’ve found it beneficial to point out in the first page that they’re getting a dose of English spelling, like it or not. We actually tried producing a separate edition for our US ebooks but then we were accused of ‘Americanising’ our characters when they were clearly British and we gave up on the attempt.
And then there’s slang. How many people actually speak the Queen’s English as enunciated by a BBC newsreader? So yes, we do tend to put quite a bit of slang into our novels, well, just because we dig it, mate. Some American readers love the quirkiness, some are completely baffled, some are forgiving but struggle with the meaning. Like it or not, there are differences in the way Americans and English speak and with Lorraine living in Colorado, she’s particularly sensitive to not creating American characters who all talk like surfers (‘way cool, dude’) while aware that many of the people she meets still think that ‘Brits’ are either extremely proper ( ‘I say, my good man, tally-ho)’ or (Gor blimey, luv) talk like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.
Touchiest of all, we’ve noticed Americans are much less tolerant of swearing. Whereas we English (or maybe just our friends) occasionally pepper our sentences with epithets such as ‘bloody hell’, ‘crap’, ‘bugger’, ‘Christ Almighty’, ‘Oh God’ or the occasional F-bomb (as used to such comic great effect in Bridget Jones Diary), there are sensitive readers, particularly on the other side of the pond, who believe such disgusting language has no place in print. We had what we thought a mild to moderate amount of cussing in our first novel – not without some debate as to whether it was absolutely necessary for character development – but it was enough for one indignant review to ask ‘if the two sisters competed for who could come up with the foulest curses?’ Since several of our books today are marketed as cosy crime we actually conducted a US readers’ poll on the topic, curious to get some first-hand opinions. The result? Some would stop reading if a character constantly swore although most would accept a soft occasional ‘damn’. But almost everyone was offended by ‘taking names in vain’. Not that I think it will totally change the way we write but, jeez, who knew?
And apologies for the lateness of this post. Pam was on holiday (vacation) in the New Forest and Lorraine was spaced out taking care of a laid-up husband (damaged ankle.) So if there are any typos or mistakes without Pam looking over it first, (she bailed and went to bed), blame it on Lorraine’s blasted American spellcheck.