Although I grew up in prairie Canada, I haven’t lived there in many years. As Tech Guy would attest, and except when I’m speaking with old friends, any remnants of my childhood Midwestern twang have long since disappeared from my everyday speech.
In various day jobs, I’ve written American English, British English, and Canadian English. I’ve also produced magazines and e-Newsletters in multiple languages, and worked for several years in a bilingual, English-French environment where meetings often took place in both of Canada’s official languages.
While these experiences have made me linguistically nimble and cross-culturally aware, they also mean that I don’t truly “fit” anywhere, at least when it comes to how I speak and, to some extent, write.
Because I have a US publisher, I write my books in American English. Or so I thought.
However, despite the best efforts of myself, my US literary agent, and my editor, the proof reader for THE COTTAGE AT FIREFLY LAKE still highlighted one instance of what she called “unusually formal language”—a vestige of the British English I lived and wrote for so many years.
It’s my speaking accent, though, that causes more thorny issues.
Despite many years in England, I was regularly mistaken for being “foreign” (at first American, more recently Irish), and asked if I was enjoying my holiday—even when paying a local tax bill.
Then there was the day job breakfast meeting when a UK senior executive prodded me to “say yogurt.” When I did, and to laughter from the (all male) table, he not only mimicked me, but added that I was “from the middle of nowhere” so that’s why I “talked funny.”
Although I’ve repatriated to Canada, the confusion—and comments—continue.
At a recent parents’ evening at English Rose’s school, one of her teachers said she knew whose mother I was as soon as I said hello. Although nobody in the UK would think so, to her ears I sounded as Home Counties English as my daughter.
Then there was the furnace technician who, in the midst of chatting about filter replacement, said: “You’re not from around here, are you?”
How we speak and write are almost as personal as how we look, and convey much about our roots and life experiences. For authors, they’re also integral to writing voice. Given my roots are tangled, it’s not surprising that how I express myself is too. However, it’s those roots that make me who I am, and I show them with pride.
As for that executive with his “yogurt” and “middle of nowhere” quip? Literary inspiration strikes in unexpected situations. Like many writers before me, I’ve learned that with a big dollop of creativity, fiction can be a satisfying—and blameless—instrument of revenge.