Friday, August 13, 2010

Writing American in Britain

I wouldn't dream of writing a British novel. Even though I've lived in Bristol for three years, I still find myself stumbling over cultural and linguistic differences. Actually, I think it was being away from Chicago that inspired my current novel.

I've been thinking about the differences between American and British English recently. WHEN I WAS JOE by Keren David is coming out in the US this September (buy a copy! Or three! It's amazing!!!). Keren's publisher has decided not to "translate" the book for American audiences, which is a decision I applaud, as the book is very much about and set in London. However, it does mean Americans, especially teens, may puzzle over some of its language. So I helped Keren put together a British to American translation for her blog (definitely read this, it's hysterical).

When I interviewed for my MA course, the instructors asked me if I realized I would primarily be studying the UK market. I told them I had expected that (besides, there's a lot of overlap between the US and UK markets). However, I asked for permission to write American, as I've always intended to market my work to an American audience. My tutors have certainly held up their end of the bargain, and none of them have criticized my spelling or grammar.

But the ride isn't always smooth.

My last debate with my tutor was over the word dribbling. In the UK, instead of drooling, people usually say dribbling. Whereas in the US, I believe the word drooling is much more common. Of course, one also dribbles a soccer ball (football) and a basketball.

So if my character is playing basketball and he is bent over, dribbling... does that make him sound decrepit? My tutor thinks yes. I think that's how you dribble.

My favorite recent critique was from a British writer concerned by my character sucking a Blow Pop. Blow Pops, of course, sound rather obscene if you didn't grow up with them.

I don't usually mind these critiques from British writers. I find language and playing with it fascinating. And if I can find a better and clearer way to word my sentences, that's no bad thing either.

However, sometimes I get frustrated when someone takes it upon themselves to correct my spelling or grammar. The most annoying comment I've received was regarding my main character going to the beach. The writer underlined "beach" and wrote in the margins of my story: "Weren't we in Chicago before?" Grrrr.

Currently I'm struggling over the word anymore. Or is it any more? It's always any more (two words) in the UK. In the US I think it might be one. Or it may vary depending on the circumstances. If anyone knows anymore (any more) I'd love to hear it!


  1. I used to work with people from England, Ireland and Scotland for about four years and was becoming bilingual in speaking British and American English (although I don't call anyone a ratbag anymore), but I learned a few new words in Keren's list.

    BTW, anymore is one word in the US...

  2. If they don't know about Blow Pops, will it always make them SNICKERS?

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    theBrad (verla)

  3. One word? Thank you! I kept finding online dictionaries saying different things.

    I love Keren's list; it really sums up her book and offers up up so many lovely British words. I learned a few new ones, too (unfortunately, mostly ones I probably shouldn't use in public). I hope JOE is popular in the US.

    I knew I was becoming bilingual when I stubbed my toe one day and blurted out "Bloody hell!".

    Glad you're enjoying yourself, Brad. =)

  4. When I stub my toe, I say "Merde!" Does that make me a francophone? Or just a francocusser?


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