The Different Worlds of Bryant & May

I’ve just received the British cover art for ‘Bryant & May and the Invisible Code’ and it’s sensational. The artist, David Frankland, just goes from strength to strength. I’m also in the middle of a quadruple edit – my most complex ever. First I’m doing the US edit, then tackling the UK notes, then I have to cross-reference the Uk with the US changes, and then do the reverse – and yet the two editions are still markedly different.

So what’s the difference between the English and American Bryant & Mays, apart from the opposite take on the covers? Well first, some of the more esoteric anglicisms (or ‘Deep English’ terms) are adapted, but there’s also a fundamental pace change. The US adventures are slightly faster, with less location setting, and the dialogue scenes are tighter. In the UK editions, dialogue is surrounded with more ‘bedding in’ i.e. the placement of characters within rooms, extraneous activity, facial gestures, body positions and general physicality.

And on a very subtle level, more colloquial language is tacitly understood. For example, we have a habit of saying something like ‘go and take a look’, whereas in the US edition it will appear as ‘go to take a look’. The UK version is casual, the US more imperative. And there are more degrees of local meaning in some conversations in the UK editions.

The changes generally reflect the personal taste of the editors, both of whom have distinct but different requirements. They run suggestions past me, and I act or don’t act on them, as I see fit. Often Kate Miciak, my New York editor, will inspire me to add a fresh line of dialogue or action. In London, editor Simon Taylor will do the same in different sections of the book. Questions of clarity and forward action arise, and the US edition is notably more careful about the legal problems inherent in mentioning living characters.

So you end up with two similar but not identical books. I recall that when the playwright Willy Russell transferred ‘Shirley Valentine’ from stage to film he made the latter transatlantic (to its detriment) by removing the local brand-names, so I don’t want to take the ‘one size fits all’ approach. I’ll post the new cover after it has been tweaked a little.

16 comments on “The Different Worlds of Bryant & May”

  1. Vickie says:

    And that’s why, when I read a U.K. author such as you, I always buy the U.K. edition…because I WANT the quirky British phrases and references. A bit more expensive, but totally worth it, IMHO

  2. sparro says:

    By the same logic as Vicky (above), I would not want an English edition of an American novel, if it possibly has to undergo a sort-of ‘Limeying’ process.
    I’ve just read ‘Winter’s Bone’ by Daniel Woodrell (great movie, greater book), and I’m now envisaging the Ozark Mountain dialogue in a Mummersetshire drawl. No thanks!

  3. admin says:

    There’s no de-Limeying, it’s just a little different, some volumes more than others, but all valid points I think.

  4. Gretta says:

    I’m with Vickie and Sparro. I want the original editions of books not messed around versions, no matter which country they come from. I can handle seeing American spelling in American books, although sometimes I need to Google phrases or locations, or ask my American friends. It didn’t kill me having to do that. If nothing else, the success of Harry Potter in the US should have made publishers/editors realise that American readers are capable of reading and understanding British-isms, or anywhere-else-isms for that matter. But apparently it hasn’t. One of the books on my wishlist is Shehan Karunatilaka’s ‘Chinaman’, and my head hurts at the thought of how that will get minced up for an American audience. You just know the name will be the first thing to go, for starters. Really, with the exception of the legal wotsits regarding living people, I can’t see the point, admin.


    Anyway, looking forward to seeing this new cover. I don’t think I’ve seen a David Frankland cover I haven’t liked.

  5. Dan Terrell says:

    Four of out five books I read is British and while I get stuck on some Br-slang, Br-isms, and what may still be a Br fondness for “diminutives” I have little problem with British writing. Reading all of Ian Rankin’s Scots-speak, particularly Skip Jack, sort of altered my reading groove by ball-peen hammer. I like a well-set scene, elastic conversation with a point and understatement. The I-told-her-I-loved-her-despite-her-many-crimes-so-I-shot-her-through-the-navel-let-her-drop-and-jumped-through-the-window school is boring.

  6. Tristan says:

    There are actually differences between the American and UK versions of Harry Potter as well, akin to what Christopher has done with the Bryant and May series.
    I can see arguments to both sides of having different versions. Shibboleths can be quite different between the UK and America (even within the US it can change. If someone comes outside of Wisconsin looking for a bubbler, they will be looked at like they have three eyes) and changing them from their British to American versions can make it easier. However at the same time changing the setup can take the ‘Britishness’ away from the series as not all Americans need fast paced, tighter dialogued books.
    To me, Christopher’s books are spectacular anyways and even though the versions that I buy have been slightly Americanized, they have still allowed me to learn more about England and become somewhat of an Anglophile.

  7. Diogenes says:

    Does this mean I have to go out and buy all the British editions and read them, as I’ve only read the US versions? 😉

  8. Dan Terrell says:

    Diogenes: Yes, please. We the readers of the B&M series need the increased sales.
    The hardest part of “adapting” seems to be in maintaining a writer’s tone, voice, and beat and it is paticularly hard going from one language to another. Selecting not only the right substitute word, but a word whose meaning and readability seamlessly work in a translated sentence. (Lord help those who translate poetry). And if you try to translate humor, particularly word play! A good thing, among many I think, is the spread of English loan words into so many other languages. These are frequently English nouns, but not always. A loan word can give people one word for something, not 150+ words. I’m watching the many names that have arisen the little gismo we hold up to one ear as we walk and talk. My favorite so far is the German for it: Handy.

  9. Clarissa says:

    Oh! 🙁 Hate, hate, hate this practice. I just want publishers to give us one version. For starters, the language differences are never all caught anyway (Harry Potter was one instance of this — they took out all the differences that even small children know, and left in ones that sounded funny and weird, so why not leave them all in?). Tightening up dialogue and chopping out location just upsets me! The same thing happens with certain TV series, and among people who don’t usually pirate, is a primary reason for piracy.

    Infuriating and disappointing and saddening. The $15 for the US TPB is already a lot (teachers don’t get paid much here), so the prospect of importing British versions of everything I want to read and watch is really depressing. Again, most of my friends who insist on original versions buy secondhand online, so neither the US nor the UK publishers get the money. I really think this practice backfires and belongs to the last century when fewer people were exposed to different varieties of English. (I am not scolding you, dear author; just airing my frustrations with the process! I will continue to get my hands on Bryant and May one way or the other. Er … that sounded a bit rude, but you know what I mean.)

  10. Mary Jo says:

    I did not realize the extent of adapting a British novel for an American audience; I always thought it was just swapping “cookie” for “biscuit” here and there. Since I read English authors to be immersed in a culture not my own and escape American perspectives, I guess I’ll be bringing a large, empty suitcase next time I go to the UK so I can import my own originals.

  11. Kevin says:

    Fascinating. I had no idea that the differences would be that substantial between the UK and US editions. Having learned this, I’m very glad that I am English, and have read the stories in their native tongue, so to speak. The extra descriptive passages, and use of ‘deep English’ terms, and all the eccentric Britishness of it – well, that’s what sets Bryant and May stories apart from all the other stories out there, isn’t it?

    Taken to its logical extreme, this practice reminds me of that apocryphal story (Please God it is only apocryphal) about how an American TV company wanted to buy the rights to ‘Fawlty Towers’ so that they could remake it, but only after they had removed the character of Basil altogether.

    If the boot was on the other foot, I would be one of those people who would import the originals, rather than read some strange edited version. But then, I am one of those people who doesn’t mind watching films with subtitles.

  12. karin says:

    which version do Canadians get? I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that one. But we do have a Queen, most of our spelling is still English as opposed to American. All my ancestors are from the UK. I want the British version!
    Eeks, they couldn’t have done this to the Patricia Wentworth I just read, could they?
    I have a particular love of British detective fiction & agree with Mary Jo, that the culture has much to do with it.
    I guess I will just have to ask my friend to pick up the latest B&M when she is over there next month.

  13. Gretta says:

    This is all fascinating/horrifying. It’s making me quietly wonder just how many versions of a single, English language novel it’s possible to have. Are there Australian/New Zealand versions? South African versions?

  14. Helen Martin says:

    I suspect that it is only worth while financially to do an American edition because the potential market there is so large. With Bryant & May I think the way you could tell the difference is by the covers. If the book has a serious, realistic looking cover with some artistic silhouetting then it should be the British version. If the cover is pastelish with objects in cartoon style drawing then it’s probably the American version.
    This whole discussion was fascinating and makes one realise that an author’s work is never done. As long as the author has authorised(?)the changes does that make it still an official version? It is a bit confusing and I suppose we should all buy all the versions there are. I managed Ian Rankin, too, although it was a bit of an effort. (I’ve taken against the letter zed.)

  15. penelope says:

    Hi, probably it’s a stupid question but which version is sold in Kindle store?

  16. Bob Hampton says:

    I’m down to the last two Bryant & May books, having finally discovered/begun them perhaps 8 weeks ago. (I’ve tried to string it out as best I could, but addiction is addiction.) I’m so grateful to learn that a new one is en route. Since I’ve generally had to purchase with an eye to the price, and since I’m in the US, I suspect that most if not all of the B&M books I’ve read have been the American editions. In a way, I regret that, as a very large part of the joy I’ve derived from the books has come from their “Englishness”, if you will; I’m a lifelong and utterly shameless Anglophile. However, in another way, the fact that certain differences exist between the UK & US versions is good news: I planned to re-read them in any case (after a decent interval), and for the second readings I’ll see to it that I have the UK versions.

    Thank you so kindly, Mr. Fowler, for giving us Arthur, John et al., not to mention for continuing to do so. I hope they never grow tiresome to you.

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