Thursday, 21 January 2016

Is British Too British

Now I don't normally write blog posts about writing, unless I'm over-excited about the release of a new book.  And no, settle down, there are months until the next new release.  This is going to stray into rant-mode.

I am a British writer.

A fact, I am sure, shocks nobody right now.
But the problem is, that about 60% of my sales occur in the US.  The remaining 40 % are from all over the world, most of whom English may be a second language, and by default of the dominance of American Media: American English is more familiar to them.

Take a deep breath, that's as much stats as I am going to throw at you today, no matter how much my nerdiness demands it.

My point is that, even though we created the language (hah, I wasted no time in bringing that up), American British is widely used and almost expected by a lot of readers.

I imagine other British writers feel the same, and I invite them to take part in this poll:

As a British writer, I have had:

The occasional mild comment about my British writing.
Readers complain about spelling mistakes, when it is British spelling.
Readers remark that they struggled with British words.
All of the above.
No problems whatsoever mentioned by my readers.
Poll Maker

I would have to check all of the above.
Very important point: I have never had a single rude reader/reviewer.
They have all been absolutely lovely, and I appreciate that they have taken the time to give feedback, whether they liked my books or not.  I'd give them all a great big hug - except I don't hug people.

But my point is: why should it be unexpected, when you pick up a British book by a British writer, that there might be British spellings and phrases?

I love reading - hence why I have a book blog - and as a British reader I have read books from all over the world.  If I'm honest, I don't notice if there's American spellings, I just automatically translate.  Even if the book is set in Britain, the only way an American author might err is if they have too many Americanisms in it.

Moving away from purely American and British books - hands up who has read a book set in a different country?  Or, who has read a book with a foreign character in?
I know that its cliché and playing on stereotypes, but don't we all expect that a foreign character will be true to their origin?  Just a little bit?
I reviewed a book a while back, and got thoroughly pissed off when the MC, a Romanian prince, spoke and conducted himself like an American teenage girl. (And no, that wasn't the point of the story; although that would make a much more amazing premise than the actual let-down)

I love reading books about places that I've never been.
One such example was The Hunter and Little Fox by Chevoque.  I have never been to South Africa, but this book felt like an honest portrayal.  This book is not designed to satisfy a cultural market, it is not a glamorised tour guide.  It is an erotic romance surrounding MMA fighters.  The fact that it embraces its setting only makes it stronger.
I want all the phrases and slang; I want to feel that a) I'm not in my boring little house with the rain beating down, while I'm reading this; and b) that I am learning real-life use of such phrases, not a cheesy version.

Likewise, if we are moving away from the English-speaking countries, I want to know that I am in France, or Italy, or Wales.  I want the narrative to mirror this, and make it clear that we are not in "insert-dull-town-here", we are escaping to somewhere beautiful.

I don't think I am alone in this.

So why is Britain so different?
Is it because that our language is too close to American English?  Does it not compute because it isn't different enough?  That only a few spellings and words differ to jar the reader?

As a reader, I find British English:

Completely natural, as I am a native.
A necessity when reading British books.
A little hard work, but fine.
Very jarring.
Please Specify:
Poll Maker

I am a British writer.

Yes, I am aware that I have said that already, but I love the diversity of this little place and it needs reiterating,
As one of my friends kindly pointed out, I'm a bit of a mongrel: half of my family is from Scotland; I've spent a good portion of my adult life living in Wales; and I've also lived in Ireland; London; York; Bristol... I'm sure I've missed somewhere...
What can I say, throughout my twenties, I used to drive my friends mad by moving every time I got bored.

Trying to rein it into a point, I have witnessed many places that have their own beauty and many communities that have their own very unique flavour.  And I don't think that should by stymied and edited away, it should be embraced.

Warning: do not continue reading if you are allergic to proud Yorkshire-folk.

Even worse than British, I am from Yorkshire.  I was born and grew up there, and I have recently moved back.

Did you know that our County has a population equivalent to Scotland's?
Did you know that we have our own flag?
Did you know that if Yorkshire was a country, it would have come 10th in the last Olympics?

I think it's part of the contract: that if you're a Yorkshireman, you are proud of it.  Let's be honest, nobody is embarrassed of the fact.

This is the home of the hauntingly beautiful Yorkshire Moors that inspired Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.
It has the people and character that inspired James Herriot's amazing story.
A visit to Whitby inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Is it any wonder that I have at least one Yorkshire character in each of my books?
I love the accent, the words and phrases that you don't hear anywhere else.  I want to share my pride and love for my home with my readers.  Sure, there will be some words that you don't understand (hell, there are words that other British people don't understand - which has led to some entertaining moments over the years), but in the same way that you absorb new French and Spanish phrases, can't people enjoy learning new British/Yorkshire terms?


  1. I get the odd review which says i need my Grammar looking at, and though that is probably true it does make me wonder if American readers see things that British readers don't. I hate to see a British novel in American English, especially if it is a Historical Romance. These days I'm putting at the front of my books that they are written in British English and not American. One of the first books I published was set in New York with American Characters speaking British English. LOL I couldn't resist. Thanks for the great blog.

    1. Thanks Claire, glad I'm not the only one!
      I've only written one American-based story - the short story I did for the first Awethology, and Pam Elise Harris helped me to get it passably New York.
      I'm sticking to the UK for the next few projects, so that should keep me out of trouble.

  2. Thanks Kelly,
    Wonderful read. Smiled and laughed and giggled all the way through. As a resident of the United States, I adore British English. But let's not forget that America also consists of Canadians, who do not speak English, and that there are lots of Latin-influenced speakers to the south who also contribute to our hodge-podge lingo, and who also are American. I'm not even sure what American English is anymore, except that it isn't as colourful. :) (Spell check caught that last word!) I'm just glad we all don't speak Esperanto! How boring would that be?