Monday, 17 July 2017

Catriona McPherson - guest blog

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.".


Ted said...

I remember reading a Catherine Aird short story in 1990 in which a villain burns down a house with paraffin. I had no idea that paraffin in the UK is what we Americans call kerosene. Here in the US paraffin is candle wax. I was so confused wondering why she went to so much trouble to melt paraffin and pour it around. I kept thinking why doesn't she just use gasoline (petrol).

Fiona said...

I finally gave up reading a certain American author who apparently prided herself on her knowledge of all things English but referred to the Head of Scotland Yard sitting at his desk wearing his vest and pants...

Jonathan O said...

I don't mind a bit of dialect at all, but apparently some people do - I was startled to read that someone got stuck with Michael Innes' "Lament for a Maker" because of the use of terms like "a snell east wind", and someone else had a problem with Dorothy L. Sayers' "Five Red Herrings" for a similar reason.

Clothes In Books said...

All subjects of huge interest to me! I will pick on one: I remember reading 80s and 90s crime books set in America, and starting to notice those blooming credenzas: as you say, every office had one, so then I started ticking them off when they turned up in each new book. And the only definition I could find at that time was a credence table, somewhere to put holy vessels during a religious service.
Earlier writers had problems with davenport - a different piece of furniture in UK and US. On my blog recently I quoted a cherishable letter on the subject from Evelyn Waugh to Erle Stanley Gardner - an unlikely coupling, one might think...

J said...

A credenza is a sideboard or cupboard. In office use, it's a tarted-up file cabinet: