In January this year I found out that Sourcebooks in the US wanted to publish Whisky Charlie Foxtrot. Cue: hysterical screaming! As a writer, my first goal is to create the very best books I can. A close second is to see those books reach as wide an audience as possible, so I am super-excited for my little story to reach readers in the US and I will love those folks at Sourcebooks forever for making it possible.
Though of course the book doesn’t need to be ‘translated’, it turns out some Australian words and phrases are a little bit confusing for stateside readers so part of the editing process has involved working out which Australianisms to ‘Americanise’ and which to leave as is. Since the first part of my book is set in England, this has added an additional layer of complication. Though I have written before (on numerous occasions) about how I am not a fan of editing, I have to confess, this has been a fascinating process.
First of all, Whisky will be getting an extra ‘E’! Yes, my book shall henceforth be known as Whiskey & Charlie. That looks really weird to me right now but I guess I will get used to it.
Let’s Make Out
On certain points I conceded without a fight, so row will become argument, nappy will become diaper, toilet will become bathroom (there are a surprising number of references to toilets in my book), and cubicle will become stall. Letterbox will be replaced by mailbox, lift by elevator, car park by parking lot, nancies by sissies, and ball by prom. Also my book will contain the phrase making out which lends a teen movie vibe to it that I’m weirdly thrilled by.
In one scene from Charlie’s childhood, he learns all the words to Pass the Dutchie. I was shocked to discover Pass the Dutchie was not well-known in the US, only making a brief appearance in the charts (or ‘on the charts’) just outside the top ten. It was a giant smash-hit in the UK, and in hindsight it tickles my funnybone to imagine all those little white kids (myself included) singing in Jamaican accents about smoking pot. Anyway, I digress. The little-known song by Musical Youth will be replaced in the US version by another one-hit wonder: Eye of the Tiger.
A Bollocking on the Oval
Some of the suggestions my editor made didn’t sit right with me. For example, whalloping was suggested as a replacement for bollocking, which to my mind does not have the same ring to it at all. Also I was adamant that oval could not be replaced with track because THEY ARE NOT THE SAME AT ALL. I’m not into footy, and I reject the ridiculous slogan ‘it’s more than a game’ (no, it’s not) but I respect that an oval’s got its own shape and dimensions and can’t be compared to another sports pitch. I was also adamant that shat could not be replaced with defecated. If an Australian bloke said that, he’d undoubtedly get a bollocking from his mates. Or should that be a whalloping from his buddies?
Don’t Come the Raw Prawn with Me, Mate
I can’t believe this phrase is even in my book, actually, but I’m strangely attached to it. One of the things I like about reading books set in other cultures is seeing the different way they express ideas through language and I think my US readers might get a kick out of this one, so I hope it survives the cut.
Done and Dusted
Apparently Americans don’t use the phrase ‘done and dusted’. Pondering the expression, I was curious about its provenance. Is it a baking reference perhaps? Dusted with sugar? Anyway, I’m not quite ‘done and dusted’ yet, but Whiskey & Charlie will be out in the US in April, 2015 and I can’t wait!
Over to you: What are your thoughts on the Americanisation of English and Australian books? Do you think some words and phrases are untranslatable? Should we even try?
Missed the first part of my Journey to a Book? Read about how I wrote Whisky & Charlie and my process of getting feedback from test readers, as well as how I found my publisher.
14 thoughts on “Whiskey & Charlie: Journey to a Book (Part 4)”
Congratulations on your US publishing contract. And thanks for sharing this interesting experience with your readers.
I am afraid Eye of the Tiger will never be as funny to me as Pass the Dutchie, but hopefully your American readers do not agree. Was it the reference to drug use which your US editors did not feel comfortable with?
Thanks Samantha, I’m thrilled about it. I agree though that Eye of the Tiger is not as funny as Pass the Dutchie. Although it’s still pretty funny in its own way! I don;t think it was the drug references that were an issue – I think it was more a feeling that a lot of readers just wouldn’t get that reference.
I think it’s an insult to both American readers and Australian/English writers. I suspect that they have some marketing data to justify it but honestly how hard is it to a) footnote or b) look this info up on the internet. Imagine if they did this to the great American novels. Crikey, I read Ragtime by Doctorow and it taught me the origins of several phrases my grandfather used. Imagine if it had been denuded of its flavour. 😀
I’m inclined to agree Sean – I wonder where the impulse comes from. When I think about a book like No Country for Old Men, it would have been a travesty to strip away the particular flavour of that language – and though it was not all familiar, with a little engagement of the grey matter it was not too hard to infer what was being said.
It is a pity your US audience will miss out on learning some ace new phrases. I think it makes sense to replace some cultural references (the Pass the Dutchie to Eye of the Tiger change) because there’s no way to google ‘how did british kids feel about pass the dutchie?’ really. But how fun to learn about ovals, bollocking, nappies and lifts. Ah well…
I heard from my editor this morning and she’s happy to let most of the colloquialisms stand, which is great news. So they will learn about ovals, raw prawns and the like after all!
‘Nancies’, ‘Rows’ and ‘Bollocking’ all strike me as British terms. So does ‘Walloping’, only it’s more middle-class than ‘Bollocking’. I think there was quite a lot of ‘walloping’ alluded to in Enid Blyton (rarely actually seen or felt.) But nobody in Australia said ‘Bollocking’ until about ten years ago.
Didn’t ‘Pass the Dutchie’ make a brief appearance in The Wedding Singer???
Aside from Americans spelling it ‘Whiskey’, I remember an episode of Minder where Arthur was trying to sell imitation Scotch from Hong Kong to a Glaswegian. He made the mistake of putting fake labels on the bottles with ‘Whiskey’ on them. The Glaswegian bought three cases, but reminded Arthur that “only our Irish cousins spell it with an ‘e'”
Don’t worry about cultural crossovers. I pride myself on knowing a fair bit of Cockney rhyming slang, but it’s totally useless where you and I live…
Yes, some of those are English terms, because Whisky and Charlie are in the Uk until their early teens. It’s been a while since I saw The Wedding Singer…
I didn’t know the Irish spelt Whiskey with an E. I wonder if that’s why the Americans do?
Congratulations! That is great news though I am not surprised because it is one of my favourite books:)
But oh dear, Americanisation is a pet peeve of mine. The Rest of the World has to make an effort to understand the odd way that they speak English, why on earth can’t they show the same respect for other cultures as we do? I am amazed to learn that they can’t even understand UK English – it *has to be* an attitude problem, because I am quite sure that they are just as smart as the rest of us, and we all learn to negotiate different cultures.
It would do wonders for their reputation in The Rest of the World, IMO.
Thanks Lisa, you are too kind. You are not alone in getting quite fired up on this matter! I would understand it more if it was ‘their’ language first and they were persnickety about retaining its purity. But seeing as they poached it from the English (as did Australia) it seems odd to refuse to accept that there are other legitimate versions of it. Anyway, my lovely editor is being very accepting of it, so I feel lucky.
Enjoyed your post & congrats on the US publishing.
I have this argument a lot as people say I use a lot of Aussie-isms in my books. One I remember changing without too much argument was ‘kitchen bench’ to countertop… This was because I was told that if you talk about wiping a bench in a kitchen in America, people start swiping away at wherever you’re sitting… not the ‘countertop’.
There were lots more – but for some reason that’s the one I remember.
And I’m so with you on whalloping, oval & shat!! Hold hard to those ones. I know no Aussie bloke who would say defacated either! Unless he was really pissed and he was talking footy and about someone being defeated.
Good luck with the edit Annabel.
Thanks Lily – like you, there were some I was happy to change – they were insignificant and if they were going to cause unnecessary confusion what does it matter? But I will be clinging to some!
As an American reader, I felt like I wanted to respond to the comments above. I loved the book, and am sure that I would have loved it had the changes not been made (especially as many of them seem fairly simple). While certainly I would have been able to figure out the meanings without the edits, I will say that it was very helpful to have them be more recognizable and I appreciate the length you went to to help us out! I am curious as to why the title was changed? Seems like that wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Looking forward to future reads of your work!
Hi Jessica, thanks for your comments. The title was changed because a book with the title Whiskey Tango Foxtrot came out only a few months before mine was scheduled for release, and my publisher was worried readers might get the two mixed up.