An American Werewolf In London

“Well-written mystery/thriller. Only complaint is that there were a lot of Britishisms that are not understandable to non-British English speakers.”

So said a reviewer on Smashwords about our ground-breaking crime thriller Sugar & Spice. The reviewer nevertheless dished out five beautifully polished stars, so not complaining!

But the sentiments are not without merit.

Sugar & Spice is a crime-thriller set in the UK. It has British policemen, the British justice system, British prisons and British locations. And it’s written in British English. Or as we like to call it, English.

Unfortunately this is proving heavy going for readers overseas, notably in the US. And not just that they can’t understand why there’s an “a” in paedophile!

The British prison slang for a sex offender, “nonce”, has apparently left many struggling, and they are at a loss as to the role of a solicitor or barrister. As for CID?  The Met? Inspector? Superintendent? It’s a foreign language to these guys!

And where are the FBI? The cavalry? Superman?

What happened to CSI? The guys in Miami would have had this case solved in fifty minutes, on the dot!

Come to that, why didn’t the mother just shoot the guy?

With so much American art, literature and cinema dealt out to us on a daily basis we tend to have no problems understanding what an attorney is, or a sidewalk, or why someone is eating biscuits and gravy, or that chips are actually crisps. We understand that a fat ass is not an overweight donkey.

We make allowances for their shortcomings. After all, they’re American! 🙂

Occasionally it can still leave one struggling. John Grisham delights in leaving British readers stunned by someone tucking into a plate of hush-puppies, for God’s sake. (For any American readers, hush puppies in the UK are a particularly naff brand of footwear worn by certain politicians.)

It got us wondering how many British books make it on the other side of the pond. And it soon became clear, especially in the crime realm, that few do, precisely because our legal, criminal and justice systems are so different.

Not for nothing do the Americans remake all our successful TV shows and films and serials, with American settings, American actors and American English.

The respective sales figures for our e-book in the US and UK reflect the problem. Nearly 4000 sales a month and rising on Amazon.co.uk but a fraction of that on Amazon.com.

So my co-author Saffy and I put our heads together (figuratively speaking, obviously, as we live on different continents) and decided to try a bold / fool-hardy / completely crazy (delete as appropriate) experiment.

Supposing we produced an American version of Sugar & Spice for the American market?

Same compelling story, same characters, same controversial subject matter.

But American locations, American characters, American police legal and justice system, etc. And of course American English.

It all seemed so easy!

Global edit paedophile to pedophile, solicitor to attorney, Inspector to Captain, biscuit to cookie, make London New York, and all done!

If only…

It soon becomes apparent just why the reviewer struggled!

Words like trousers and knickers are meaningless to the average American. British brands, shops and stores mean nothing to them. Roads here have names, not numbers.

They still use gallons, but not our gallons, even if we’re old enough to remember pre-decimal. Tell an American you weigh thirteen stone and they’ll look at you like you’ve just told them you weigh thirteen pebbles.

Milk in tea? Fish and chips? Yorkshire pud? Eastenders? Corrie? Lord Sugar?

We live in a different world. Or as Oscar Wilde once put it, two nations, divided by a common language.

Anyway, bottom line is, we are going to take the e-book revolution one step further, and will soon have both an American and a British version of Sugar & Spice available.

So far as we know, it’s never been tried before.

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    • T
    • March 3rd, 2011

    If you would like assistance in your changeover, let me know. I’ve worked in both types of English and would be happy to help. 🙂

  1. Oops, my last post only had a T for my name! 😛 Sorry about that.

    • George Harmon
    • March 3rd, 2011

    “Translating” to American English sounds like a good idea. Stone/pounds, meters/feet, trousers/pants, etc. are all easy conversions and smooth the way for American readers. But as an American reader, I enjoy reading stories set in England as much as I like stories set in Japan or Narnia. I’m not sure going beyond “translating” to “relocating” is a good idea. Perhaps instead an appendix that explains the ins and outs of the police/court system? Or even an abbreviated half-page introduction before chapter one?

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