British English Vs American English

I am joined today by Ciara Ballintyne.

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Ciara is a a writer of high fantasy, lawyer, and dragon expert. Bent on world domination and born argumentative, Ciara invested her natural inclinations in a career in law. Her short story, A Magical Melody, is available as part of the Spells: Ten Tales of Magic ebook anthology.

 

Ciara recently published on the differences between British English and American English, and as a British author whose books are available on both sides of the pond, I can relate to how she feels when told that she has misspelled something because she chose to write in her own language – British English.  Ciara has very kindly allowed me to reproduce her article.

‘I had never in my life met someone who didn’t know there was a difference between British and American English until I joined Twitter. Everyone in Australia seems to know, and it seems that knowledge is widespread in Canada and Britain as well. I also know many Americans who do know there are differences, but by the same token the only people I’ve yet met who didn’t know were also Americans.

I respect your right to change your own language, but I draw the line at being told I’ve misspelled something just because I’ve used British English. The most notable example was when someone tweeted a response to my tweet of my blog post, including the word ‘judgement’ in the title. This person helpfully pointed out I’d misspelled ‘judgement’. Um, no, that’s correct spelling in British English.

This person clearly hadn’t even read my Twitter bio, or they might have twigged to the fact that a lawyer, of all people, is highly unlikely to be misspelling a word like judgement. To add insult to injury, this person didn’t even have the courtesy to apologise or acknowledge their mistake when I replied it is correct spelling in British English – and I was polite about it too. This level of ignorance is up there with the Republicans who wanted to come to Australia after the election because we have a male, Christian president – but at least that was also amusing!

That was an annoying experience, but far more concerning is the fact I know authors who self-publish using British English (because, hey, that’s their native language) and then get bad reviews from ignorant readers who complain that the book contains multiple instances of bad spelling and had a poor editor, because they don’t know those words are British English.

I don’t run around leaving bad reviews of books written in American English because of spelling errors, so why is this happening in reverse?

I have a theory. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, books written in British English are often converted into American English for the American market – this includes not just changing spellings, but changing a word where the name of something in British English isn’t the same as it is in America e.g. a ‘Mac’ in Britain is a raincoat, and these types of words get changed. Harry Potter, for example, was changed significantly for the American market. If you bought Harry Potter in America, I can guarantee you it’s different to my copies purchased here in Australia.

The reason for this, I’m told, is because Americans don’t understand British English. Say what? American English isn’t translated into British English for the UK, Australian and Canadian markets. What are publishers trying to say? That we’re cleverer than Americans, or it doesn’t matter if we don’t understand? Well I do understand, and I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t understand, and that’s because I’ve been exposed to American English from a young age.  If this tendency had never been catered to, Americans would have as much knowledge of British English as I have of American.

The problem we have now is that this practice in the past has generated a level of ignorance in the American market that now we have to perpetuate the practice in order to avoid bad reviews saying words are misspelled. My horror reached new peaks when Momentum Publishing here in Australia (the digital imprint of Pan McMillan) stated they publish all their digital books in American English, even though the authors are Australian and would have written it in British English. I know why they’re doing it, I’m just appalled it’s become necessary.

What are your thoughts on this practice? Why do you think it started? Do you think it should continue? Do you see value in all parts of the English-speaking world being aware of the general differences between British and American English? Do you think British English should be converted to American? How about American to British? If you’re an American writer, how would you feel if asked to convert to British English? And how would you feel if you were required to convert to British English, but I wasn’t required to convert to American English? I’m fascinated to hear others viewpoints on this issue.

If I ever self-publish, I can see myself putting a big notice at the front that says the book is written in British English! Not that it will help – people don’t read that stuff.’

You can find information on Ciara and her novels by visiting any of the links below:

Official Website: http://www.ciaraballintyne.com
Blog: http://fantasyblog.ciaraballintyne.com
Twitter name and URL: @CiaraBallintyne http://twitter.com/ciaraballintyne

New Year, New Goals

I’ve been a very bad blogger of late… but I’ve had my reasons, which I wont bore you with, but suffice to say they’ve involved a few trips to the Accident and Emergency Department at our local hospital.

However, now that matters are more or less under control, I’m once again working on my manuscript and determined to finish it before summer is out.

One of the questions I’m frequently asked when giving talks, is where do I get my ideas?  Are they generated by things I read in the newspaper or hear on TV?  Is it a snippet of conversation overheard in a coffee shop that creates that spark and the idea for a novel?

Actually, it’s none of the above!  With me, it’s places.  My first novel, Three Weeks Last Spring is set on the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest.

 

The small, picturesque town of Friday Harbor, is unspoilt, and yet lies on a busy shipping route. The Islands are a paradise for wildlife as whales, sea otters and bald eagles .  I realised that it would take very little to upset the ecology of the islands and thus the idea for Three Weeks Last Spring was born.

 

The idea second novel, The House on the Shore, came from my experiences of managing a small company involved in the offshore oil and gas industry and from working as an administrator on an estate.  I’d also spent twenty years living on a croft in the North East of Scotland and was familiar with the area around Loch Hourn, the setting for the novel.

 

While sat on the beach on Gasparilla Island, on Florida’s Gulf coast, admiring the stunning beach houses, I started to think about how it would feel to own one.  (Note the aspiration, readers!) I played around with the idea for a couple of hours while I thought about how much I was missing the winter weather back home in England (not one little bi, in case you were wondering!), until I had the rough outline of a plot.  Ring of Lies, was published eighteen months later and tells the story of Grace Elliott’s struggle to navigate her way through the criminal world of South Florida.

 

All of which, brings me to my the book I’m currently working on.  It has a title, but I’m not going to share it at the moment.  However, I will tell you that it is set in the Peak District, in Derbyshire, and, as before, it was a place that gave me the idea.  See if you can recognise the setting from the photograph.