How I Became a Local Author in Another Country
When I came to Inverness, Scotland for my annual month, I brought with me a carry on stuffed with copies of The Comyn’s Curse. Each book had a sticky-note with a name on it, and a bookmark inserted at the beginning of the section in which that person, restaurant, store, or tourist site was mentioned.
This was not to be a touring visit, although I’m managing quite a lot of sightseeing. It was a marketing and thank-you visit. The books were courtesy copies, and the hope was that people would read them, display them, and in some cases possibly order more copies.
As a joke, I began my pitch in the Waterstone’s Bookstore by saying, “I’m a local author–pay no attention to the New Jersey accent.” He laughed, but then said, “Well, you do write about Scotland, aye?” And it hit me. I do write about Scotland. About Inverness and Inverness shire in particular. I write about local legends, and other than my protagonist, almost all my characters are Scots.
So I’m a local author three thousand plus miles from where I live, which brings with it some very unique challenges:
Language – but they speak English in Scotland, right? Aye, they do, but English varies widely throughout the nations that call it their own. Add to that the need to write for the market where your book will be published, and the specific regions and backgrounds from which your characters come, and you have a real soup boiling there!
History – Well, this seems simple. Just do the research. But let’s take Brexit, for example, which was the political bombshell I used for the mystery in my first novel. What an American understands (if anything, in many cases) as opposed to the daily barrage a European is forced to deal with, is very different. Political opinions vary widely worldwide on almost every issue imaginable, and if you want to write intelligently about them you have to put yourselves in your character’s world.
Customs – Of course it’s easier to write from your own experience of the customs and idiosyncrasies in your own country, state, even neighborhood. But what if you don’t want to? What if your passion lies somewhere else? Well, if you can, go there. Spend time with the locals. Join a Facebook page devoted to the country or state of your dreams. If you can’t go, read. And read some more. I spend so much time reading British literature, I find myself slipping into vernacular that isn’t mine on occasion, which gets some head shakes and eye rolls. Yeah, I see you doing that!
I thought I had it down, really. But I didn’t, not by a long shot. I had an American protagonist who thought in American, Scottish characters who spoke with a light or heavy brogue but of course thought in their own dialect, a Frenchwoman, an Englishwoman–Augghh! It was a juggling act.
But anyone can learn to juggle, and with the aid of new Scottish friends, a newly-found kinswoman who lives in Inverness and tweaks my local word usage, and the internet and library, I spun it all into a rather decent book. And the second one will be better, and the third better than that.
I’m a local author in Inverness, Scotland, with a South Jersey accent. And for me, it works.
Links for Writers
How to Write About a Country You’ve Never Visited https://www.writersdigest.com/guest-columns/travel-on-the-page-how-to-write-about-a-country-youve-never-visited
How Do You Write About a Country You Don’t Know Well? https://www.bryndonovan.com/2016/05/02/how-do-you-write-a-story-set-in-a-place-you-dont-know-well/