The English Dilemma

I’m an Australian and my novel, Absent Children is set in Australia, but for a long time I’ve been carrying on a debate with myself about whether I should publish it in English or ‘American.’

When I lived in America, I wrote in ‘American,’ in Scotland, I reverted to English.

Now… I’m confused.

However, when I chose an editor for Absent Children, I settled on Pam Berehulke, an American. This choice was based on two factors –

1. She was recommended to me by another writer who I trust.

2. She was much less expensive than any I could find in the UK or Australia.

She did a fantastic and thorough job on my book, but she recommended I ‘Americanise’ the language. After years of indecision about this matter, her words felt like a sign from above and I made the decision to do as she suggested. 

Finally! 

Well, so I thought.

I reverted the manuscript to ‘American’ and sent it off, but there were still words I had missed and when I saw her suggested alternatives, my commitment faltered. The words I hadn’t changed were the words I’d resisted when I lived in America because to me, they sounded wrong.

Suddenly, I was right back where I started – confused.

A very big part of me wants to say, ‘stuff it, I don’t care if they don’t read my book because it’s written in English, but the problem is, I do care.

Americans speak ‘American,’ and the rest of the world has adapted and now understands ‘American,’ however, many Americans still struggle with some of the English words we use.

I decided to conduct my own mini-survey by looking at a few books by contemporary Australian authors. In each one, I found American words and spelling. It seems we’ve become so accustomed to the American language  that we don’t even notice it in unusual places! Next, I looked inside Harry Potter books on the American and the English Amazon sites. Surprise, surprise – they were both ‘Americanised’.

Despite this discovery, I still resisted ‘Americanising’ Absent Children totally. Instead, I have settled on a middle road; I will spell and punctuate in American, but where ever possible, I plan to neutralise my language and hopefully make it easy to understand for both versions of English. It is thanks to my editor’s careful and detailed efforts to point out where I’d used words which could snag Americans, that the process of making the necessary changes has been simplified. 

The underlying frustration in all my chopping and changing lies in the question, why should we, who speak the original form of English, have to alter our language to sell our novels to Americans? It would be simple if they spoke French, because then the book would clearly be written in French, and everyone would know what they were getting. But Americans call their language English, despite it’s unique spelling, punctuation and many words that differ from the English spoken in the rest of the English-speaking world. If only they called it ‘American’ I could easily publish two versions, one with the words ‘English version’, and one with ‘American version’ clearly on the cover. That would be the ideal solution, and I would happily oblige.

What are your thoughts on this? Do other writers worry about this matter?

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2 thoughts on “The English Dilemma

  1. I’m an American and I’ve never had a problem reading English nor have I ever chosen a book based on that premise. I would say write what you feel most comfortable. It is afterall your voice and your style.

  2. I think part of my problem stems from the fact I learnt to write in America, and it was drilled into me that it was important if I wanted a publisher. My editor has also pointed out that reviewers (if I’m lucky enough to get noticed) might give it a black mark for non-American words. I’ve made the changes, it will be American spelling, as well as some words, with the occasional Australianism to balance things. If this book doesn’t do well in America, then I’ll know to write the next one in English. Thanks for your comment, anyway. I’m sure many Americans feel as you do. 🙂

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