That’s all very fine and well, except when you turn out exceptionally beautiful prose in your unique and local dialect, which readers beyond the next mountain find difficult to understand.
Or in more general terms, America.
I know James Joyce, Roddy Doyle, Irvine Welsh and Dylan Thomas all found enormous acclaim (eventually) by turning their local dialects and idiosyncracies into stuff which somehow hit upon international sensibilities. But let’s face it, they are the exception rather than the rule.
Writing is a Business. Turnover is Essential
How about the rest of us? In a purely commercial sense, for those of us who may not be staring a Booker in the face any time soon, how accessible do our books have to be?
When your main character is at the supermarket, do they put their messages in the boot of the car, for instance, or do you find yourself typing their groceries into a trunk? Is your main character now a twenty-three year old American journalist working in Dallas, rather than the thirty-three year old London-based continuity announcer you had in mind when you sat down to write in the first place?
It’s a tough, tough question. I might write something that the folks in a little western pocket of my little western island would love. But I have to think about potential readership. In this post I suggested that an author writing in English could target 600 million potential instances of people picking up a book (which all feels very quantum) in the US alone. If I don’t make my book accessible to them, am I sabotaging my own success?
Starving For Your Art, Anyone?
And how far do we go down the global route without losing artistic integrity? Wasn’t Downton Abbey great telly altogether until it got big in the US, upon which point it UK creators thought realism and characterisation became secondary to spectacle and quick-fire resolution? (Even though this was seemingly to pander to a country which had already perfected the brilliance of slow drama with The Wire, Breaking Bad and even 24.)
Looking at Downton, you would think that writers need to trust their readers and viewers waaaaaaay more. They’re not stupid: they’ll get it, and you don’t need sparkly explosions every half hour to entertain people. But would E.L. James have reaped the GDP of a small indebted country if 50 Shades of Grey had been set in Slough? Would Roddy Doyle be as successful now if The Commitments hadn’t been made into a movie? And what if Ulysses hadn’t been banned?
If it’s all down to random events, perhaps we should just be true to our roots.
Tell you what, Authors. Write what you like.