I wrote my first novel in American English. I was living here, querying US-based agents and dating an American who also happened to be my chief reader/plot advisor/spelling tsar, oh, bless his patient comma-plucking, u-pilfering heart.
“Why can’t we all just get along?” I whimpered as he lifted the u from behavior and flicked it away. “That u gave behavior its attitude. Now the behavior has no swagger.”
But he hadn’t even started.
“That u puts the flavour in flavor. That u is the condiment.” I appealed to his American palette. “That u is the hot sauce.”
He was relentless. It felt like highway robbery. He was Dick Turpin and with a tip of his hat my sentences were handsome carriages being pillaged and looted of their jewels.
“We don’t use waistcoat. We say vest.” This man I’m dating is a foreigner, I realized.
(This foreigner is now my husband. The trans-Atlantic miscommunication continues. Only yesterday as we were attempting to mount our new TV:
“We need a spirit level.”
“A spirit level” I said, retrieving one from the toolbox.
“Spirit?” he said, weighing the familiar object in his hand, looking at me in disbelief.
“Spirit,” I confirmed, and he shook his head.)
He’s called Chris, by the way–er, sorry, his name’s Chris.
Anyway, back to the editing of the novel. We reversed the order of the ‘re’ in centre. It looked too centred. Smugly so, fake even, like those sunbaked Restylane-filled celebrities who blether on about finding their spiritual center.
Center? Centre. It may have appeared off-kilter before but at least it looked authentic. Flawed but genuine, like we all are.
This was the Broken English Marianne Faithful was singing about in her bleak melancholic croak.
We changed everything until Silk started to resemble cotton: sturdy, unadorned, utilitarian.
During the process it shocked me how many times I used the word “theatre”. Sixteen times we flipped the “re”. Well, in its defense, the novel was set in the fashion industry.
He hacked a t and an e off epaulette. “Oh, this pervasive need for streamlining,” I railed. “Are those two extra letters not paying their way? Costing the company money? Taking up prime real estate? Is it more bang for your buck? Do we need to empty their desks while they’re out to lunch?
Epilogue without the ue at the end looks castrated from where I’m sitting. Which may be in the peanut gallery but I paid admission like everyone else.
“Is functionality even a word?” I retaliated. “Does “function” not function adequately in this country that it needs a three syllable extension tacked onto it. Like those unsightly garages added to suburban homes to accommodate three SUVs?”
When my sentences looked sufficiently beheaded, disembowelled and legless, we knew the manuscript was ready. We sent it off and drank red wine.
Celebrations continued when the visionary who was to become my agent reported back after reading it in three days that she loved it. She wanted to represent me. Pop the champagne!
She had but one concern. My novel was set in Ireland, England and Italy. I was Irish. My protagonist was Irish. So why the hell was I using American English? I should be writing in the voice of my main character.
My new agent and I set about Anglicising (as opposed to Anglicizing) my manuscript. She wanted to launch it in time for Frankfurt Book Fair. Time had been lost in translation.
I should now mention that my agent is Russian. Her second language is French. It’s almost comical.
This Russian visionary and I re-edited the novel. She’s called Svet––sorry, her name’s Svetlana.
A longwinded, roundabout process? I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The making of Silk for the Feed Dogs affirms for me that the power of storytelling is truly universal. Storytelling isn’t about how words look. It’s about how we see each other and how we think. Svetlana, Chris and I knew we were speaking the same language.
As I sign the contract for Turkish translation rights, I realize those translating it into another language might have an easier time than two English speakers with decent command of their own language quibbling over vowels.
But what’s a dropped u between friends?
This collaboration, this labor of love, Silk for the Feed Dogs, is now available and on a special two-week Kindle promotion for US customers at only $1.99. You can buy it here.