Speaking And Writing In My Own Voice

As the weather hots up and the month wears on, I’ve been continuing along on my blog tour with Bewitching Book Tours. It’s been a busy few weeks, with interviews, spotlights, top tens (chocolate!) and guest blog posts.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about stuff and it seems to be the time of year when writers talk about writing – perhaps as a result of being under the influence of Nanowrimo. I read a great piece by Janis Hill today which made me think a little bit more about the way we all write.

I’m Australian, as Janis is, and one of the issues that Australians have is being taken seriously when we write in our own voice. If you’re from another country, you might be wondering what I’m talking about, so I thought I’d explain it a bit.

Part of it’s spelling, part of it’s colloquialisms, and part of it’s where we set our writing.

If you’re not from Australia, you might not realise that we spell ‘realise’ and equalise and recognise with an ‘s’ and in Australia that’s correct spelling. Colour is spelt with a ‘u’ in it, just as honour is. All of us who’ve published or have been published using Australian spelling have had comments about incorrect spelling in reviews. I tend to laugh them off – it’s not my problem, just a reviewer’s ignorance – but it’s annoying, and there’s a sense that if you don’t use ‘z’s (said zed, not zee here) instead of ‘s’s or take out the ‘u’s you won’t be taken seriously as a writer.

If we set our stories in a recognisably Australian setting, some people don’t like it. If we use Australian colloquialisms, some readers become annoyed, and grump that our metaphors and slang aren’t understandable. Perhaps they aren’t, but if you’re from Australia, reading literature from other countries, you have to put up with that kind of stuff all the time. The shoe is on the metaphorical other foot if you like.

As a kid, I remember reading Nancy Drew and wondering what ‘mules’ and ‘bangs’ were. I knew that mules were some kind of footwear (and not a donkey/horse hybrid) from the context, and that bangs had something to do with hair, but I had no idea what the specifics were, because there was no internet then and I couldn’t look it up and no-one I knew had any idea. It was a mystery for many years.

As a kid growing up in a country that went metric in the early seventies, I had to resort to conversion charts when measurements  were provided in feet, inches, miles and occasionally fathoms.

We also say things like ‘one hundred and ninety-nine’ not ‘one hundred ninety-nine’ which takes a lot of getting used to when you keep encountering that missing ‘and.’ Mathematics is shortened to ‘maths’ here, not ‘math’ and then there’s the different word use. I wear thongs on my feet but I understand that those from the US wear them elsewhere. In NZ, they call thongs ‘flip-flops’ and what we call an esky, they call a chilly bin. (And because I’m married to an ex-Kiwi, I can say that they call them ‘chully buns’ when they’re speaking out loud.)

They seem like small things, but they’re not really. They’re part of our voice and our style and our culture, and they’re just as valid as anyone else’s. I’d expect to read about a chilly bin in a Kiwi’s story, an esky in mine, and an icebox if the writer was from the US. Each should be considered just as valid as the other, when written in the right context by the right author.

Maybe I’m having a bit of a whinge, but I figure that this is my blog and I can whinge if I feel like it 🙂

The next time you pick up a book and you think the author has dodgy spelling, check out where they come from, and if their country isn’t yours, you may well learn that their spelling is correct in their own country. If they use an expression that you’re not familiar with, look it up, learn something new, and enjoy discovering a new culture. Enjoy reading in a new voice.

PS. Before I went to post this, WordPress grumped at me because I said ‘whinge,’ ‘esky,’ ‘chilly bin,’ ‘chully bin’ and ‘zed.’

5 thoughts on “Speaking And Writing In My Own Voice

  1. I never even considered the reviewers comments about spelling mistakes in my work relating to my location. Some have actaully warned “she’s not American so uses different words”… so good point! Can I shamelessly plug another of my blog posts about the Australian Voice? There will be another one soon but this is one from back in May.

  2. I’m Australian but also English as that is where I was born and grew up. I find my writing voice is a bit of a mixture, but when I write about England it is more English, especially the dialogue. I write about mom not mum, because that is what we say in the Midlands. Mum would be pronounced more like ‘moom’. Alan Sillitoe (from East Midlands) spelled it mam. I resist pressure to change my moms to mums when the setting is the English Midlands, but use mum when writing about Australia.

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