Should authors Americanize their fiction?

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

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’?

You can find the Twerk reviews in question on Amazon by clicking this link

On Gilgamesh by Joan London

I’m about halfway through Joan London’s Gilgamesh and toying with writing something on Goodreads. Just now I scrolled through the reviews to read what others were saying but stopped when I realised there were over 1,800 of them. I really only have one word to add – bleak.

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And I realise much of the bleakness comes not from the story itself but from an absence of emotional reaction on the part of the main characters, along with a paucity of introspection. As is typical of much Australian writing the feeling in the story is embedded in the action as the main character, Edith, goes through the motions of her difficult life. She isn’t the responsive type and I’m left feeling empty.

The story is straightforward. In 1937, on a tiny farm in the town of Nunderup, in far southwestern Australia, seventeen-year-old Edith lives with her sister Frances and their mother, Ada. One afternoon two men, Edith’s cousin Leopold and his Armenian friend Aram, arrive, taking the long way home from an archaeological dig in Iraq. Among the tales they tell is the story of Gilgamesh, the legendary king of Uruk in ancient Mesopotamia. Gilgamesh’s great journey of mourning after the death of his friend Enkidu, and his search for the secret of eternal life, is to resonate throughout Edith’s life, opening up the possibility of a life beyond the farm.

Alongside the myth of Gilgamesh, there is a motif of perversion running through the narrative, stated almost in passing in the most matter-of-fact manner. It’s a motif that evokes revulsion and a sense of doom. 

Overall the narrative is restrained. I think the idea behind this style of storytelling is that the reader is free to have their own emotional reactions, unimpeded by those of the characters. The downside is that the characters are more like automatons. The rich roundness of their beings duly muted in the rendering, they are at risk of appearing one-dimensional.

In it’s favour I have to say that the narrative is superbly crafted and poised, the prose elegant. Gilgamesh is definitely a book I would recommend.

Well, that was more than one word!

Asylum Reviews

Asylum Cover

 

Today I found two reviews of Asylum on NetGalley which I just had to share!

The first is by Tanya Brough – “Have you ever felt like just dropping everything and running far, far away? To perhaps an island? That is what Yvette Grimm did. She ran from her life in Malta and her boyfriend Carlos (what an oaf!) and met up with her mother, Leah, in Australia. She wants to stay and her mom wants her to stay. There might even be a man on the horizon, but that will always be a complicated situation with Yvette, a romantic at heart. I thoroughly enjoyed Asylum. Yvette is such a lovable, but emotional human. You can even feel her hurt when her mother is a little cold towards her, always talking about her sister. Asylum is just the right book at the right time for me. Yvette, we sistas in arms.” Tanya gives Asylum 5 Stars.

Then Rachel Bustin wrote,” My initial thoughts were that the cover seemed a little bland, but I always go by the saying, ‘Never judge a book by it’s cover’. I did like the thought of reading a very strong character driven book, and this is what the book is. The story starts off with Yvette Grimm finding herself back in her childhood bedroom at her mother’s Leah’s house in Australia. She is on a holiday visa at the moment, but Leah has sent off her permanent residency forms. Yvette had to leave her old life in Malta. As you read through the book, you discover what Yvette’s life was like with her boyfriend Carlos through little snippets, and why she had to leave. I love this little quote. The author uses a fantastic style of writing throughout, to the point and very clear. ‘Yvette was seeking refuge from the wreckage of her life’ Yvette’s mother tells her that she must get married to stay in Australia, but Yvette is a sort of a hopeless romantic and believes that you marry for love not convenience. The story follows Yvette through her struggles of belonging nowhere. Yvette takes you to a cockroach infested flat, to a cute little house to singing in a choir and a life changing event. It was a beautiful journey that the author took me on. Laughing in places, crying the next. I loved the character of Yvette, she never let anything get her down, she was always expecting the worst, and this made her a much stronger person. I didn’t like her mum Leah, she seemed very cold towards Yvette, and always going on about her sister Debbie, which made Yvette feel alone at times. I think the main idea of the book is to inform you about the difficulties that people have in gaining residencies. Even though Yvette’s mum and sister live in Australia it doesn’t make her a definite case to live there permanently, just because she stayed with her dad in England when her mother and sister moved back when they were children. I find the topic on political asylum quite fascinating and this book does question that. I would love to read other books with a similar topic to this one, it was a fascinating read. I would recommend to anyone looking for a strong female character lead. I gave Asylum by Isobel Blackthorn 4 out of 5 stars.”

Many thanks Tanya and Rachel. I’m enormously chuffed and grateful. Cheers!