Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Friday, October 19, 2012

Nos Wener yn y Emporium Cwestiwn



I've a confession to make: I'm a foreigner. Should I mention it in my query letter, or is it something signed only under duress? I don't want to jump the shark by admitting English is my third language. Can an international writer (aspiring one) submit a query to an american literary agent?




Well, you can of course.
And it's really REALLY a good idea to mention you are not a native English speaker if only to let the agent know that mistakes are generally not cause you aren't paying attention. (There are three in this brief missive alone.)

It's going to be incumbent upon you to beguile a native-speaker into reading your work for these little errors and YOU have to agree that you'll listen to what they say.

This goes for UK writers looking to pub in the American market as well.  Some UK-isms are fun but if you tell me you're standing in the garden I think it means something quite different than you do.

And let's not even get into the different defintions of "fanny" which one of my friends discovered the mortifying way in a British pub.

14 comments:

Michael G-G said...

Just wait till you announce in a British pub that you've lost your fanny pack...

Colin Smith said...

I'm originally from the UK, and even after living in the States for over 20 years, I need my US readers to help me catch Britishisms in my writing. I can't see the jolly things myself for looking! Tootle-pip! ;)

Judge Kritic said...

A Brit here - what is the confusion over standing in a garden? I had a look on Google but it didn't help. At.

Gary Corby said...

"Can an international writer (aspiring one) submit a query to an american literary agent?"

It worked out okay for me. Go for it.

I've yet to meet anyone who cares about physical location. The only nail-biting moment is when the hardcopy of your copyedited ms with handwritten pencil notes is shipped in a box around the world for you to check. You really, really don't want that plane to crash.

Re the US dialect: The important thing is not to mention over dinner with your agent and your editor that you like happy endings. It turns out this has a very significant meaning in the US that has nothing to do with writing books. I may be living this down for some time to come.

pjcasselman said...

My wife is from Denmark. When we visit her family with their native tongue and British English education, I'm treated to phrases like "Slut the boot" (close the trunk). Fortunately, when we a mistake, we have rubbers.

MikeH said...

Judge Kritic: US expat living in the UK here - "Garden" in the UK is equivalent to "Yard" in the US.

Janet Reid said...

That was a very very fine coffee spewing moment at lunch with Gary Corby when he made that comment.

It took about three beats for us to start laughing and we've NEVER stopped.

I have a feeling when I visit down under I'll need a translator myself though!

Laura Mary said...

Ha ha ha! Yeah NEVER mention a 'fanny pack' in the UK!

And 'pissed' does not mean what you think it does either!!!!

I'm going to need the 'Happy Endings' punchline explained to me too...

Adele said...

An Englishman once tried to start a conversation with "You're a homely lass..." Then he saw the look on my face and had the good sense to stop, apologize and enquire.

Janet Reid said...

Laura, no explanation in the comments section of "happy endings!" You'll need an email for that.

Laura Mary said...

Janet you tease!!! (email away!!!)

Kudos on the Welsh by the way! Or rather, gwneud yn dda!

jonhanna said...

I'm pretty sure "jump the shark", is originally American and hence means the same thing there as elsewhere in the English speaking world; when a long-running fiction reaches a point where it has run out of steam and looses its original appeal (from the episode in Happy Days where Fonzie jumps over a shark on water-skis; regarded by many as the cusp of that series' move from success to decline). And hence in the original question was misused. And yes, I am more forgiving to that as a reader because I know that English isn't their first language. (Of course, I could be wrong and it actually does mean something like how it was used in American English; I can't be smart enough to always be correct so I try to be wise enough not to assume I was).

On different versions of English; I might very rarely have to look one up, but as a reader I don't find that an Americanism, Britishism, Hibernicism, Australianism etc. is as jarring from an American, British, Irish, Australian etc. author, as it can be in the more fraught case of a deliberate use of one to signal an American, British, Irish, Australian etc. character. When it works, it gives a wonderfully subtle sense of the character's background, but when it doesn't the use of a term that suggests the wrong region, class, historical period, doesn't fit the register, or is just plain wrong, can really interrupt the flow and bring suspension of disbelief crashing down. It can't just be avoided entirely though, since if a character from Nebraska "has" a hunger "on him", he'd better have an Irish family as well as an Irish author, to explain why an artefact of Irish syntax has slipped into his use of English.

Of course, the same applies to other cultural differences; they were only partly laughing at you for calling bum-bags "fanny packs" folks, they were mostly laughing because you were wearing a bum-bag at all - sartorially excusable in some parts of the world only if you're a street vendor, or it's the late 1980s. That this apparently isn't true elsewhere led to the wearing of them becoming part of a stereotype of American tourists. That people find it funny is a good sign though; it's only people who know better than to assume all stereotypes are true, that will find someone fitting a stereotype to be funny.

Ailsa said...

Another Brit here, studying abroad in the US this year and being exposed to many more Americanisms than I found at summer camp. The funniest one for me in terms of different expressions was when my co-counsellor this year yelled "Get your fanny over here!" at a 10 year old girl. I was shocked. You can't say things like that! And to a CHILD?. She was very confused by my shock, and I had to explain why we do not use that word in front of young children in the UK.

I'm curious about standing in the garden, too - what does that mean in America?

Katherine Traylor said...

@Ailsa: Nothing that I'm aware of, except a garden is a space with plants deliberately and carefully cultivated. You can have a garden in your yard, but you can also have a yard (just an open space around your house, usually planted with grass) without a garden. : )