I am a British-Australian author with nine novels under my belt to date. All of my fiction has been set in either the Canary Islands, Britain, Australia, or with multiple settings around the world, save for one book: Twerk.
Twerk is set in a Las Vegas strip club. The characters are American. Therefore, it stands to reason that the writing should also be American, or should it? Having just been criticised by two book reviewers for using the words ‘fortnight’ and ‘car park’ instead of ‘two weeks’ and ‘parking lot’ respectively, my own perspective on how far authors should go in changing their language to satisfy readers from one particular country is shifting.
In my defence (or is it defense), I did my best to compose Twerk using American English. I switched to the American English dictionary in my Word doc. I paid close attention to the language. Most of my oversights were picked up by my publisher and corrected. For example, car ‘boot’ became ‘trunk’. Except for these two glaring examples of ‘fortnight’ and ‘car park’. Two tiny slips in an otherwise Americanized (or Americanised) novel, standing out all the more because no other slips have been found, and they have stuck fast in the minds of reviewers enough for them to make an issue of it.
I am very grateful to both reviewers for their lovely reviews, for taking the trouble to read my book, and to read it thoroughly enough to notice these words. I am not criticising these reviewers. I am not hurt or upset by what they have said. I am using their remarks to raise an issue and I am endeavouring to do so in a respectful manner.
What interests me is that this has never been an issue for me in the past. I know that my Australian vocabulary creeps into my novels set elsewhere and I have to do my best to weed it out. And vice versa, my British vocabulary creeps into my Australian writing. But British and Australian readers and reviewers have never once made an issue of this or even remarked on it. Readers seem prepared to let it go. The general attitude seems to be more accommodating and forgiving. No one has ever said I absolutely have to write in English English if I am to set a novel in England, or Scottish English in Scotland. With so many regional dialects as well – how far do we take this!
Why are Americans (from the United States) touchy about their language? How far should non-USA authors go to accommodate the assumption that all fiction set in the USA must use American (US) English and never once use a word from another English-speaking country for fear of being dragged over the coals? (an expression that may or may not be understood by those born and bred in the USA and means speaking to someone severely about something foolish or wrong that they have done)
I have not studied American English at school. Is there such a course? What about Australian English? You could fill a term’s worth of curriculum studying that. What about the various forms of English around the world, in Africa, in India and so on? What, too, of authors who set their books in countries where English is not spoken at all?
What do I, as a British-Australian writer, do from now on? I raise the matter here because Twerk is a novel containing about 85,000 words which altogether comprise a story with characters, a plot and themes. Should Twerk be viewed as a lesser book in the USA because it contains the word ‘fortnight’? By the same token, should all novels written in American English and set in other countries be viewed as lesser works for using the word ‘parking lot’ instead of ‘car park’?