W is for What’s a Brolly?


What’s a brolly? A spanner? An articulated lorry? I’m not in Kansas anymore…

Crimson and Clover received a rockin’ review yesterday at Shalini’s Book Reviews (Thank you, Shalini! You rock!) and among all the glowing things she said about the book, one thing in particular made me do that little fist pump thing and say, “Yes!”

There are touches of humor and the author has used British colloquial language to reinforce the “difference” in American and English speak – a nice touch.

When I decided to set the book in London, I knew I was going to hit some language barriers.  Wait, what? Language barriers? We all speak English, right? How can there be language barriers?

Oh, you betcha.

English is a tricky language on the best of days. Without context, how are we supposed know how to pronounce “read,” for example? Have you read a book, or are you going to read a book? Rumor has it that my favorite band spelled its name LED Zeppelin instead of Lead so people wouldn’t pronounce it “leed.”

Even colloquialisms within the same country can be confusing, so when you branch out to other English-speaking nations, the misunderstandings can be overwhelming. For example, if you’re ever in Great Britain and you find your hair is flopping into your eyes, don’t go into a salon and tell them you need your bangs trimmed. There it’s called “fringe,” and “bang” has nothing whatsoever to do with your hair!

British subjects being very thin on the ground where I live, I needed some sort of reference when I started writing my book.  The first one I found was The Best of British – The American’s Guide to Speaking British. This handy little guide was written by a British man who spent some time in the U.S. and was amused and confused by the different way we speak English. Using this, I was able to get my British characters off on the right foot (so to speak) with their dialogue.

But just knowing the word they might use wasn’t enough. Plus, my book is set in 1968, and I didn’t want my characters to use modern terms that weren’t in use at that time.

Enter a real, live British person to help me.

I “met” Anne online several years ago, and liked her immediately. (It’s nice when that happens, isn’t it? One of the best things about the internet, if you ask me!) She lives in the U.S. now, but she was born in England and grew up there, and even though she’s younger than the characters in my book, she was old enough to have been around at the tail end of the time when the book is set. So I begged asked her if she wouldn’t mind looking over a couple of chapters of Crimson and Clover to see if I was at least on the right track with the way my British characters spoke. She graciously agreed, even though romance novels aren’t her cup of tea, and set me straight on a few things I had wrong.  One thing she pointed out that I had wrong wasn’t terms and phrases, but dialect. The way people speak varies by where in a country they live. People in London have different ways of phrasing things than, say, people in Cornwall, just like people in New York have a totally different way of speaking than people in Alabama.  When I thanked Anne in the Acknowledgements of the book, I made sure to put, “Any flaws with British terms, locations or slang are entirely due to my own stubbornness in ignoring what she told me to do,” because I ended up not paying a lot of attention to dialect. I know, I know. I mean, I’m the person who jumps in to correct anyone from up north when they use “y’all” as a singular noun. (It’s plural – it’s always plural!) But short of going to England, which wasn’t a possibility, there was no way I was going to be able to determine dialect, so I let it fall by the wayside. I apologize to my British readers for the things I got wrong in that area.

So armed with the website, Anne’s input, and a whole lot of old British movies, I think my characters come off as believable in the way they speak.  I’ve had a friend from England and a friend from Wales both read the book, and they didn’t find anything too far off base.


Oh, and a brolly? It’s an umbrella.

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