Monday 22 September 2014

Why Leslie Plays Soccer on the Sidewalk

I was asked about this in a comment on an earlier blog so this should be considered a slightly overblown off the cuff answer - I haven't done any research or read deeply on the subject so all the opinions are mine and some of the facts may be wrong(1).

Roughly the question was - in the US version of the books why is Leslie called Leslie (as opposed to Lesley in the UK editions) and why does she suddenly revert. The answer is simple - cultural dominance and fear.

Cultural Dominance
America is currently the culturally dominant nation in the world(2). This is particularly true vis a vis other English speaking nations where domination of the local culture is unmediated by a language barrier. Members of a dominant culture tend to be more resistant to having to familiarise themselves with other cultures including variant spellings and terminology. OK it's not everyone obviously or even a majority but it is enough to have an impact on sales.

So when an American publisher takes up a book by an unknown(3) author set in author's native town and written in the first person in the locality's colourful local vernacular they have a choice - leave the as is and risk alienating a financially significant percentage of the audience or make few harmless changes to smooth things along. It is, as they say, a no brainer.

Lesley vs Leslie
That explains sidewalk, soccer, bangs, chips and hoods - what about Leslie? I originally wrote Lesley's name as Leslie but my UK publisher said that the female version of the name was more usually spelt Lesley - so we changed it. Remember both publishers now have their own copies of the manuscript - they have diverged. My US publisher was quite happy with Leslie and so stuck with that.

However I now consistently spelt Lesley as Lesley in my manuscripts that now went to both publishers. In Moon Over Soho Del Rey, the US publisher, opted to change Lesley to Leslie to remain consistent. By Whispers Under Ground Del Rey, by now disappointed with the sales figures(4), probably couldn't be bothered - its hard to tell from this side of the pond. Anyway DAW took over for the next book Broken Homes and their policy is to just change variant spellings colour to color, herb to erb(5) um...look I can't spell in English English so I'm really not the one to ask about this. So Lesley stays Lesley from now on.

And now a Quick Word to them what don't like Peter saying 'Me and....'

The language or dialect spoken by the ordinary people of a country or region:

(Of speech or written works) using the mother tongue of a country or region: vernacular literature

(1) Pretty much internet standard then.
(2) Enjoy it while it lasts guys.
(3) Yeah, yeah, Doctor Who yada yada - effectively unknown in the US.
(4) I currently sell 10 times as many copies in Germany (in German) than I do in the US. Hah! So much for the homogenous Science Fiction anglosphere.
(5) Yes I know - this is me being funny (or possibly not).


Anne said...

This post makes me more grateful than I already was for your fabulous audiobook readings, in which spellings are irrelevant and, I presume, vocabulary is left as you wrote it. I can understand, barely, why American publishers change the -ours to -ors, but it drives me nuts to find British characters using ballpoint pens, going to soccer games, or discovering sorcerers' stones, whatever the hell those are. It's embarrassing to think that in the internet age Americans who still read novels are thought to be so stupid that publishers have to alter original texts to accommodate their ignorance.

Anne said...

As to Peter's constant "Me and"s, my pedantic little heart is made whole just knowing that it bothers Nightingale as much as it bothers me.

DBP said...

(2) US publishers are stuck in their NY tall building / summer Friday world. The rest of us would be glad to read about Lesley eating crisps and playing football.

Cass said...

Thanks for the post! This is way more of an answer than I was expecting.

With respect to that last bit, I enjoy Peter's grammatical adventures. To me at least, it makes the books read more like he's narrating, and the occasional "and me" makes him feel more real. (Especially when he consciously fixes it and ends up "correcting" it from "right" to "wrong" by classical usage.)

Unknown said...


since you mention sales in germany being ten times higher than in the US (which are probably still minor compared to UK sales, right?), do you know how many english copies are sold in germany? (at least I bought one ;) )

Anonymous said...

I read "Rivers of London" at the recommendation of a friend; i bought a copy of the UK edition from a used bookstore. Having lived in the UK (admittedly a long time ago), the language wasn't an issue. If I could leave middle america and live in Teeside for a year and manage to communicate, I figure most American readers can figure out crisps, football, and blues-and-twos.
The US edition of Moon over Soho was a bit of a shock, but I was really pleased to see that subsequent books weren't so heavily edited. The assumptions that Americans can't handle slightly different language is really frustrating to me, especially when we're handling it fine on TV.
Trying to decide if we're going to order the UK edition of Foxglove Summer as an import, or wait for the US release...

Unknown said...

As a very impressed German, I'll just say "krass" (try to figure it out *g*). I actually am so impressed that I will not mention any maps for broken homes this time. On a completely different note: as an author successful in Germany, shouldn't you be on the Frankfurt Book-Fair? (and no, of course my question has nothing to do with me being on the fair for all five days...)

Ben Aaronovitch said...

I have a packed bag and everything but neither DTV or Orion ever invite me.

Anonymous said...

Just finished up Foxglove Summer and was wandering through your blog. I found this post and its implications very interesting. As a lover of books, an ignorant American, and someone who likes all things British (except some of the food), I have to say that I barely even noticed many of the things mentioned in this post while reading or listening to the books. I know what lorry, loo, crisps, chips, and football mean in England, thank you; can tell that color and colour sound the same; and I can work out the meaning of "nick" in context after a while. I will admit, though, that my first reading of Rivers of London was difficult as I was unfamiliar with the vernacular. I could tell there was a good story there, but I had some trouble following it. Thank goodness I gave the audiobook a try because hearing it made all the difference in the world. Now that I'm familiar with Peter-speak, I can read the books just fine. Perhaps this is what American publishers are afraid of -- that the next reader will be too lazy to work at understanding the language? Lazy IS our middle name, ya know. Just a thought. :)

raikenclw said...

I read the first couple of books in American paperback, but for the rest I've used The only trouble I've had with "Britishisms" is with a couple of things Peter alludes to that have nothing to do with the plot. One that springs to mind (from Foxglove Summer) was his saying that in the event of a zombie apocalypse he intended to nick a warthog from somewhere. Suspecting that this was a weapon of some sort, I paused the book and googled "warthog Britain weapon" and the second thing on the list that popped up in response was a row of pics of a tracked armored vehicle with a prominent pintle weapons mount. Nodding to myself, I went back to listening.

raikenclw said...

ADDENDUM: I don't know why I said "Foxglove Summer" above. It is "Hanging Tree" that has the two different versions and the less-than-helpful note.