American, British, Australian or Canadian, Eh?
I’ve made a standing joke out of the fact that I don’t speak anything but English, but that I’m fluent in Australian, British, Canadian and American.
It really isn’t a joke. As an author of genre fiction, I learned very early on – with my first manuscript, in fact – that I was expected to write in the language of the market I was submitting to.
In that case, it was a U.K. publisher, so I had to do neat things like change all my double quote marks to single and tighten up my diction considerably. No split infinitives, for example. So the sentence in the last paragraph would have become terribly British and ‘…to have written in the language of the market to which I was submitting.’ (Note the quotes, too.)
Yes, even the characters would have spoken this way. It was the nineties, it was England and I was writing historicals.
Move on a few years, and I’d changed locations from Australia to Canada, and my focus from trying to sell to British market, to trying to sell to New York. I had to change my writing style from British to American.
But the disorientation didn’t stop there. Try this on for size:
The first two books I ever sold, I sold in the same week. Ironically, the first was sold to a U.S. publisher – it was a romance set in Australia (Eyes of a Stranger), which I had to re-set in the U.S. …and change the spelling and how the characters spoke. Interestingly, my translation wasn’t fool-proof – it wasn’t until the book was re-published with Cerridwen Press, several years later and edited again when that editor – an Australian – picked up a dozen more Australianisms that had to be converted to Americanisms. However, no one seemed to notice or care too much at the time. I didn’t get angry reader reviews or emails pointing out my errors, anyway.
The second book I sold had even more of a bastardized language issue. It was Chronicles of the Lost Years – as English as you can get and written with British spelling and Dr. Watson’s vernacular. I sold it to a Canadian publisher, who promptly edited it for Canadian spelling and – where I could not argue my way into keeping the Britishisms – Canadian vernacular. (The Britishisms have since been restored with the re-issues this year.)
US or bust
This was the beginning of what has been a career-long double life for me, language-wise.
I grew up spelling and writing Australian. I’ve spent the last sixteen years in Canada speaking Canadian vernacular with an Australian accent, and using Canadian spelling when I had to (the day job, for instance).
For all my books that I have published with U.S. based publishers, I have used U.S. spelling and language – except (and here is where it gets weird) – those books set in other countries. For foreign settings with “foreign” characters, I’ve used that character’s natural vernacular, idioms and as much as possible tried to inject the flavour of their accent…all with U.S. spelling. I know I’ve pulled it off because reviewers have spoken about “hearing” accents. I’ve set books in Canada, Australia and many countries in Europe and the middle east. I’ve featured characters from all types of cultures, eras and races.
The spelling I was using only became an issue when I started indie publishing and was free to choose.
What language should I publish in?
For me the natural answer should be: Whatever serves the reader best. Considering that the majority of my readers are in the United States, it would seem best to maintain the U.S. English I’ve been using up until this point.
Except, what about the Sherlock Holmes books, for example? They’re so British it makes your hair curl. It would seem to make sense to rework those in U.K. English.
I have other books – Ningaloo Nights for example – that are set in Australia and feature an Australian hero and an American heroine. Should I use Australian English? My gut says yes, because the whole story is about the heroine feeling completely out of water and lost, so the odd language would add to that impression for U.S. readers, except it might jar them right out of the story and break the story spell.
It’s a tricky issue. Sherlock Holmes speaking of “favors” and “colors” (without the ‘u’) and heading for the center (instead of the centre) looks just plain weird to me and every other Australian and Englishman, and half of Canada (depending on their education). But Australians and Canadians and to an extent, the English, have also grown up reading and being exposed to U.S. spelling and fiction, so reading stories in American English isn’t as jarring as I’ve been told it is for American readers to try reading U.K. English or any other sort of English than American.
This issue was a hot topic on an author discussion list I belong to, just recently, and one of the points raised was that with the advent of indie publishing, authors should publish in their own version of English and let readers adapt to the multicultural variety out there. I think this is an excellent idea.
Except that it seems odd to have the many American characters I create moving about the U.S. locations I place them in, while speaking Canadian or Australian English.
It’s a bit of a pickle, what?