I’ve been fortunate to work with my excellent editor Deb Nemeth on three Amy Lane novels now. In the course of editing my work, she asks me a lot of questions. Some are to expand her knowledge of my characters’ world and some are to challenge me to grow as a writer.
I’m going to share a few (spoiler-free!) questions that Deb has asked me during different stages of editing for Binary Witness, Code Runner and Captcha Thief.
I use a number of Welsh names in my novels, but Jason’s sister probably possesses one of the more challenging ones. Cerys is pronounced “keh-ris”, not anything like “cerise”. Additionally, Owain is less like Owen and more “owe-ein”.
Sticking with names, abbreviations aren’t always universally understood. As Peggy is to Margaret and Betty is to Elizabeth, so Dai is to David in Wales.
Slang is obviously also highly-localised. “Butt” is a piece of South Walean slang, most often found around Cardiff and Newport, and it’s used like “mate”.
As a British author working with an American editor for an international audience, I am forced to confront my cultural bias as to what references are common knowledge outside of my own country.
For those not sharing my brain:
– Myra Hindley was the partner of Ian Brady, together forming the Moors Murderers
– GUM clinic is where you tend to your sexual health – it stands for Genito-Urinary Medicine, but also forms a nice euphemism
– Red-top papers are British tabloids, noted for their distinctive red ink headers
– Chav is a derogatory term for a young, low-income person with a penchant for tracksuits and cheap jewellery. It was popular in the late nineties/early noughties. In my area, we used the word “townies”, so chav was also foreign to me growing up.
I also forget that not everyone is conversant in Monty Python:
and that some idioms are uniquely British, particularly when it comes to rain:
And this is my personal favourite “turn-of-phrase gone wrong” moment:
Calling me out
Like all the best editors, Deb is unafraid to question me when I’ve done something stupid.
Um…well, she…yeah, dunno.
Well, the eggs are gonna get smashed for sure.
*tries to replicate movement with own head, gets dizzy, falls off chair*
Building a better novel
If you’ve read Binary Witness, you will know that Amy doesn’t own a giant, chilled mailbox and that her grocery delivery actually turns up in the lift. In the early designs for Amy’s flat, she lived on the ground floor. In response to Deb’s comments and other practical considerations, I moved Amy up to the first floor (i.e. the one above ground level) and installed a lift at the front.
Because, seriously? A giant, chilled mailbox?
This is one thing I fought to keep, and the reason is this: I actually lived in the house described at the beginning of Binary Witness, with my housemate. My housemate loves Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman and woe betide anyone who messed with her recording. British students have a particular affinity for retro TV and this is the perfect example for me. However, Deb was absolutely right about dating the novel – I instead lost the reference to The Clash.
And sometimes, you just need to explain yourself in-text. Jason loves eighties’ music because it reminds him of his dad, a man he never really knew. An editor’s questions reminds the author that the world that exists inside their head isn’t automatically translated to the page.
But some mysteries can never be explained:
But this one is my favourite…