JOHN MEANEY

16.8.07



ON BEING TRANSATLANTIC

I was overjoyed to get the chance to create a US version of Bone Song. The city of Tristopolis is such a Gothamesque setting that it deserves a proper US-English text.

When I tell Brits that I write my short fiction in American English when it's for a US market... they're horrified. Hmm. And the thing is, most people underestimate the differences. Change 'colour' to 'color' or vice versa, and they assume that's it. So how about examining the following story fragment.

First, in British English...

Jack ground out his fag beneath his heel, and looked around the darkened car park.

‘Good enough,’ he muttered.

Opening the boot of his car, he pulled out a jumper. Despite the chill autumn night, he was wearing just a vest, no shirt. He pulled the jumper on.

There was a sound behind him, and he span.

A motorbike, looking as if it had travelled far, had just pulled up. Beyond, on the street, a few pedestrians were walking on the pavement, but the tarmac was empty.

As the biker dismounted, Jack began to rethink his policy of ‘one hit, one kill’. This bloke was a big bugger. Some day, Jack might get to fight someone his own size. But not today.

And now, in US English...

Jack ground out the cigarette beneath his heel, and looked around the darkened parking lot.

“Good enough,” he muttered.

Opening the trunk of his car, he pulled out a sweater. Despite the chill fall night, he was wearing just a tank top, no shirt. He pulled the sweater on.

There was a sound behind him, and he spun.

A motorcycle, looking as if it had traveled far, had just pulled up. Beyond, on the street, a few pedestrians were walking on the sidewalk, but the pavement was empty.

As the biker dismounted, Jack began to rethink his policy of “one hit, one kill.” This guy was a big bastard. Someday, Jack might get to fight someone his own size. But not today.

You'll notice that period (full stop) immediately follows the word "kill" in the US version (following the same rule as for dialogue) but follows the closing quotation mark in the British version. And there's "someday" vs. "some day" and lots of other stuff.

In Britain, as in other European countries (!), a three-storey building consists of the ground floor, the first floor and the second floor. In the US, a three-story (note spelling!) building has a first, second and third floor. And so on.

4 Comments:

Blogger Lou Anders said...

Now I can tell you how gorgeous this is!

September 8, 2007 at 2:03 AM  
Blogger Tim Akers said...

Interesting thing. I'm an American whose published work is almost entirely in the UK. Entirely in Interzone, for that matter. The editor is pretty good about letting me keep the text's American form, but there are usually differences that just sort of come up. Glad to say I was able to spot almost all the things that would need changing in the first selection, except for the kill period quote.

September 8, 2007 at 10:51 PM  
Blogger John said...

Hi Tim

Without checking, I recall that IZ uses double quotes for speech, US-style, which saves you a little work!

Let me tell you a story about Interzone...

At one of the first American worldcons I attended, I was hanging with a bunch of Clarion graduates at a party, and one of 'em spotted editor Gardner Dozois. I presume this is the Clarion be-a-professional training -- Every one of them switched to Schmooze Mode, and surrounded Gardner.

Gardner is delightfully sociable, and he was very happy to talk about what they'd done, which amounted to a short story sale each, as I recall.

I was in Quiet Brit mode.

Because Gardner is a nice guy, he eventually turned to me and said: "How about you? Have you written anything?"

I shyly replied: "Six stories in Interzone," while thinking that he'd probably never even heard of IZ.

His reply was: "Interzone? That's fantastic." And he meant it. His eyes had lit up.

Of your future American readership, not many are reading IZ right now. But the editors are. When it comes to that selling-the-novel time, US publishers will be ready to take notice.

So are you working on a novel yet? :)

September 9, 2007 at 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anthony [Tony] Hopkins said...

Greetings John from Auckland New Zealand. I found 'Bone Song' in my public library [Waitakere City]... thought you might like to know you are being read in NZ. That rhymes!
Finished Bone about 5 mins ago, saw yr web address and want to tell you I enjoyed very much. What a good read. I'm a 67yr Jazz drummer and you have that gift that holds the attention and raises the pulse...just like a good muso. Good shit man!
Tony

October 25, 2007 at 1:38 AM  

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