Here or there?


Separated by a Common Language

When I first began writing Copout I set the story in America. I lived in America, so it was only natural. But neither America, nor any other country, plays any part in the story, except inasmuch as the story has to be set somewhere.

When I finished writing Copout, I was living in Germany. But at the time I was still planning on going back to the USA, so I didn’t make any change to the setting of Copout.

When I eventually settled in Britain, I thought if I want to get this thing produced as a film I will have to do it here, so I need to make this a British film. So I carefully combed through my entire screenplay to translate it into British English. Yes, it’s partly in the way people speak and in the words they use. But it’s also in things that are taken for granted in each country. In America, all police carry firearms. It’s normal, and everyone is used to it. In Britain most police are unarmed, and when a member of the public sees an armed constable it tends to make us a bit uneasy, as if there’s some heightened level of threat.

Of course there are subtleties as well, which often are things that I can’t easily detect. When I read this book in my writing circle, it is assumed to be an American story because I read it with my native accent. Even if I’m using British words like “mate” or “blimey”, they still see it as an American story. I’m sure many American sensibilities remain in the attitudes and motivations behind the text, but I think the reader’s cultural perceptions colour those things, so I don’t worry about them.

In the writings of Douglas Adams, for example, his British characters are often given peculiarly American things to say. In his text there is sometimes an unexpected crossover between American English and British English. If readers can accept his intentional crossover, hopefully they can accept my unintentional.

So my story is set in Britain. But where in Britain? All that is required of the story is that it’s set in a large city, so that’s where it’s set. Is it London? Birmingham? Manchester? I’m not telling.

The first dream chapter is set in Chicago. Hopefully that will give international readers a bit more to hold on to. In dreams Donovan goes around the world.

But in every place, his motivations are universal. As Paul McCartney and Stevie wonder sang, people are the same wherever you go.

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