Reviews are lifeblood for any author and I fall on the ground worshipping any reader who has taken the time to compose one. Sometimes, they’re posted independently, on people’s blogs, or a group’s or writing association blog, or on the “big beasts”, Goodreads and Amazon. If you’re really, really lucky you’ll get in the national papers. But what if you are viewed in a different English-speaking country?
Conventionally, blog posters write in their native idiom. For instance, I write in standard British English and use those spelling and grammar rules. But I contribute to English-speaking groups on blogs, forums, Facebook and all over the world and nobody gets worried. We are who we are. The objective of social media is to be er, social, and as long as the message gets across and is understood by the other person, then that’s all that matters.
I try to be culturally aware – I used to be a translator, so I should know. The safest thing is to use plain language and keep away from cultural connotations such as “Here’s one I made earlier” (Yes, UK Brits are smiling.)
But what happens in more formal circumstances such as your book?
This happened to a friend of mine…**
“I did get a review recently from somebody complaining about the “typos” in my book and asking why neighbour is spelled with a “u” and why”centre” is spelled wrongly…and that my book seriously needed a spellchecker (her words) and edit. I debated what to do and then in the end replied to her via private email, thanking her for her concerns and explaining politely that my book was written in British English and therefore all those words were not typos but correct spelling under British English. I also mentioned that my book had been professionally edited by a US editor familiar with both languages. She actually replied very nicely and thanked me for letting her know before she wrote her public review – so it all ended well and prevented a falsely negative review about my book.”
Now I had a dilemma of my own when I started writing a heroine brought up (or raised?) in America. She speaks American English as her natural idiom and even when she switches to Latin in 21st century Roma Nova, I keep her idiom, phraseology and vocabulary. That’s her voice. But writing as a British English speaker, I use British English spelling.
I think the secret is clarity. Explain, as my friend very tactfully did, that other forms of spelling exist that are native in their own country. It would be parochial to say “Ours is best” when communication is so open and rapid now throughout the English speaking world. I am not saying anything goes. Spelling, punctuation and grammar must be correct within that form of English used; there is no excuse for sloppiness.
But just as we Brits can follow The Wire, Homeland, and True Blood, American audiences are not put off by Dr Who, Foyles War and Prime Suspect. And my US colleagues often say about British books, “Yeah, you know, we get it.”
** H.Y. Hanna, author of the Big Honey Dog Mysteries