Me and u

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.

In general, life here is sweet...

In general, life here is sweet…

(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 what?

“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.

…until we tread into grammar and punctuation. Then sweet becomes sticky.

…until we tread into grammar and punctuation. Then sweet turns sticky.

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.

Oh yeah.

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.

24 comments

  1. petermcl2013

    ‘Tis all too true and spell check on everything doesn’t really help but adds to the confusion. It gets to the point that one doesn’t know which is correct anymore, to correct the spell check!

  2. oh my….this is hilarious!! You have such a way with words; I can tell you are called to write, u’s, commas, and all! 🙂 !

  3. 🙂 Haha, this is too good to be true!
    I learned BE in Germany and AE in America – more or less all at the same time. Every time I work for a new company I ask: do we write BE or AE? And all I get is a shrug and a “who cares”. Who does? I do. Two different languages, different words for the same thing, a totally different outlook on life.
    I enjoy words – even if you use them a whole lot better than I do 🙂
    HAPPY weekend, my dear! xo 🙂

  4. What a delightful story! I am surprised that Chris thought it necessary to Americanize the language, but it probably was a good way to “read” your novel through others eyes? I’m glad it turned out well … hmmm, actually much better than “well” if your signing a contract for Turkish translation rights 😉

    • Well in his defense, we had heard so many stories about American agents only wanting to see novels written in their “language” and we were trying to give it the best chance possible. We were both convinced it was the thing to do. But the American agents weren’t interested in me anyway and it went to an agent overseas! Hence the palava which if nothing else makes for a fun story 🙂

  5. What larks Pip!…..Very English phrase. X

  6. Such an adorable story. There is just something that attracts us to the unknown, or foreigners, hehe, and looks like you have quite an influx in your daily life. Life has many flavors, glad you’re enjoying them all, and we can’t wait to dig into this fab novel. Congrats!

    XOXO Nensi & Natasha

  7. I still have a penchant for British English: so much richer and more nuanced than American. And, try as I might, I am loathed to give up -tre. In my case, with English not being my first language, I still mix and match as it suits my ears, making it a jumble all of my own.

  8. You would never know from where I’m sitting that English wasn’t your native tongue. You must have heard that before. xo

  9. Fantastic. Some of my favorites are: aluminium vs. aluminum, the pronunciation of “schedule”. 😀
    I keep driving to destinations rather than flying (I was in your husband’s neck of the woods, this past week). I no longer take the PATH or the Subway (Reading Prime-Time). sigh.
    I bought your book weeks ago and am happy to report that I am traveling by air for Labor Day weekend! Time to read. XO

  10. This cracks me up! (or breaks me up…) As a Canadian, my English is pulled in two directions: a very American urge to streamline along with a marked preference for the ‘u’. Living in Europe, I rely on spell check to keep me constant, especially with freelance clients who insist on Brit or American English rather than Canuck hybrid. Your husband sounds like a gem for providing all that editing. Mine won’t be much help – unless I decide to try writing in French (an unlikely event.) Wonderful post and looking forward to reading the novel!

    • Thanks dear, it’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it?
      My spell check is set to American so I keep fighting with it, willfully deleting its suggestions and retyping my own versions. Not sure who is winning but my computer glares at me every time I sit down at it.
      You’re right, he was a gem for all the support he provided. I had him tied in knots too–just like i have my computer! 🙂

  11. Brilliant! And get you, with your Turkish translation – so exciting! How many languages is “Silk” in now?

  12. This must be a subconscious reason why I found Silk so readable in addition to its more overt charms.

    PS This blog is edited by a heretic.

  13. Love this anecdote and congratulations on getting it published in Turkish!

  14. Thanks Angelina, I’m glad you enjoyed our folly 🙂

  15. Oh, I’m struggling with AngliciSing as opposed to AngliciZing, every day! Just when you thought Greek or Russian (not to mention French) were complicated! 🙂

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