Catriona McPherson is a highly successful Scottish author who has become very popular in both sides of the Atlantic. I've enjoyed meeting her at several conventions, and to celebrate the publication of her latest novel, Dandy Gilver & a Spot of Toil and Trouble, I'm delighted to welcome her to this blog with this guest post.
"For the first ten years of my writing career I lived in Scotland, producing books set in Scotland (and one in Leeds) that were published in London. It was so easy. Then, in 2010, I moved to California, added a New York publisher and everything got much more complicado.
For a start, research has to be squashed into a month or so every summer when I’m back in the old country. And that month might be after I’ve turned in the book. Also, I haven’t experienced a British winter for seven years now and need to keep a post-it note on my monitor saying “It’s probably raining!” just to remind me. I can feel sympathy draining away, though, so I’ll move on to the big issue.
The big issue, of course, is the deep chasm in our common language.
One US editor now produces three lists of problem words:
Cultural references. We can usually kill these in the contemporary novels because no book lives or dies on mentions of Ribena, Barnardos or Heartbeat, now does it? In the 1930s, it’s a bit tougher. Pantomines, Punch and Judy shows, the Regional Programme . . . there’s a lot of historical texture in those social details.
Standard differences. These have to be managed with some finesse because fictional British people cannot speak American English. British characters just can’t say “pea coat” when they mean “donkey jacket”, or “stucco” when they mean “harling”. (The answer is usually that the character wears a duffel coat and the house is whitewashed.) Pudding is always a problem, though. Dandy Gilver can’t say “dessert” (My dear!) And clothes are a blimmin’ nightmare. Jumpers and vests, knickers and pants. A novel set in a naturist colony would be a great relief. I do get a bit shirty (no pun intended) because my enjoyment of Lisa Scottoline’s legal thrillers isn’t dented by the fact that every Philly law office seems to have a “credenza” and I’ve got no clue what one is.
Then there’s the non-standard dialect breenging in, all bolshy, turning the editor crabbit enough to start a stooshie. Here the London editor sometimes gangs up on me with the US editor. We slug it out in an unfair fight. I try to keep as many as I can, especially in the Dandy Gilver novels, because she’s English and can translate for the readers. The editor usually gives a lot of ground but insists on a wee-ectomy. That’s a fair point. It’s quite startling how often Scottish people use the word “wee”, and rarely to mean “small”. I got 86 uses down to 35 last time.
“Wee” aside, I’m interested to know whether readers mind a smattering of unintelligible dialect in books? Or do you even – this would be a great weapon for the next fight – relish it?
And if anyone knows what a credenza is, do tell me.".