IDOL TALK: Writing With an American Accent

Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher thriller novel series, talks with a British accent and writes with an American one. Talk with him at a cocktail party and there’s no mistaking he’s British. But if you read his books, it becomes apparent he’s lived in the States for decades, now in New York and Colorado. No doubt he’s the best selling and most popular British writer in the U.S. Or should I say retired series author? Two years ago, he turned over the Reacher franchise to his brother, Andrew.

Another bestselling British author, Robyn Young, who writes English historical novels, has just released her first American thriller, The Fields, under the pseudonym Erin Young (neither moniker is her real name). She’s pulled off a Jack Reacher with an Iowan accent. If you read her thriller about the American heartland, you’d swear she was American.

Sadly, British authors have often struggled in the U.S. to find readers. Peter James, Great Britain’s most popular bestselling thriller writer, has had to work at it to make the New York Times bestseller list. He says it’s a matter of language and culture. Americans don’t get the British vernacular, despite the proximity of our cultures and histories. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t translate for many. Perhaps Americans are just lazy or lack curiosity. Perhaps James will have to adopt the style of his British counterparts and write in an American accent to find greater success in the U.S. (Although, he hasn’t done badly reaching the Times bestseller list.)

It’s a sad commentary when you look at reading in America. The book market accounts for maybe 55-60 million avid readers in the U.S. out of more than 330 million Americans. About 27 percent of Americans don’t read books or haven’t read one in the last year. Another 25 recent or so read one to five books a year. Surprisingly, a large number of college grads don’t read books at all. The numbers vary among surveys, but they are all within this range.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of opportunities for American writers. Someone’s got to record everything, although news reporting jobs have plummeted. Someone must create the caloric content of all those tasty cable television and streaming service shows and video games that satiated the bloated American appetite for stories. I guess be grateful for something in our changing literary landscape, even if it’s not on a page.

After all, look what’s it’s done for Peter James. His books have been adapted for movies and cable television and gobbled up by Americans–at least in that format. And Lee Child—or rather Jack Reacher—is now a cable series.

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