Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Brit Week ~ Charlie Cochrane

Charlie Cochrane is my guest today and she brings her own special take on this week's Invasion!
Two nations, separated not only by a common language

Jeanne, thank you so much for letting me drop into your blog. You’ve a real invasion of Brits this week, although I suspect I’m the only one who’s half cockney and half Geordie.

I’ve been writing historical stories, all set in the British Isles and in the early part of the 20th century, although I have to own up to one totally different tale, a contemporary short story about gay werewolves in the anthology Queer Wolf. It was great to be able to take all sorts of humorous digs at contemporary things - like tabloid newspapers and premiership footballers - who got woven into the tale.

Much of my time at present is taken up with my series for Samhain, the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, m/m romances set in Edwardian Cambridge and featuring the contrasting pair of Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith. http://www.mybookstoreandmore.com/shop/author.da/405. I’ve also got a Regency m/m novella (with a ghost) just out in e-book for MLR - http://www.mlrbooks.com/upcoming.php - that’s with Stevie Woods, who’s also appearing on your blog this week.

Something that continually strikes me, in researching, in talking to fellow authors, in doing edits, is the huge difference between the USA and the UK. In everything. Yes, we all know the differences in vocabulary – breaks into Fred and Ginger –

“You say sidewalk, we say pavement,
you say trunk, we say boot,
cookie, biscuit,
jello, jelly,
let’s call the whole thing off!”

But there’s lots of little bits of speech which puzzle my poor editors. The most recent was “Chance would be a fine thing” which clearly hasn’t crossed the Atlantic. Yet. And I guess there’s things which are so linked to our culture – Nora Batty’s wrinkled stockings or Arkwright’s till spring to mind for the TV age – that they simply can’t be translated.

So we don’t talk alike. I suspect we don’t think alike, either. The British sense of humour – dry, pawky, call it what you want – doesn’t always travel well, either. I rely on my editor to pick out the jokes or little asides which are too obscure for universal approval. The continual self-deprecation and easy banter is something that doesn’t always connect with my American pals. And we’re hard taskmasters, too – if Dancing with the Stars was made here, no-one would earn a ten!

Both Jonty and Orlando are ‘typically English’, as are William and Benjamin in the Regency story. I love Max Arthur’s books containing soldiers’ and pilots’ recollections of the two world wars – when I read some of the things from WWI veterans I can almost hear Jonty talking. I think it’s really important to get your characters talking in an argot which feels right for the time without being too ‘Hollywood historical’. Perhaps the nicest compliment I’ve received from a reader was that my books felt like an episode of Masterpiece Theatre, which is a huge compliment. The stories certainly play out in my head like some BBC adaptation.

Now, here’s a controversial thought. Do some of our US cousins imagine that all of us Brits have a lifestyle that’s like one of those Masterpiece Theatre stories? I’ve suspected it since one my dear pals from California was shocked to find that white Christmasses are so rare here as to be almost anachronistic. The view was confirmed when some ex-pat friends of ours were asked if we all wore crinolines in England. (No, we don’t. We dress pretty much the same as you do, surprisingly.)

Maybe that perception is because we are so surrounded by history here. When I visit our local town for shopping, I take a little shortcut past a 13th century hunting lodge with Tudor additions and come out by an Abbey which is over 1000 years old. Then I nip round to the old Cornmarket square, past an iron shop sign where two soldiers were hung during the civil war. (Ours.) And I take it all for granted, like many of my compatriots. At least it makes my job easier – go to Cambridge or Bath and you can easily imagine yourself back in time. Some of the locations have hardly changed.

So bear with us, please, even if we seem eccentric or talk in a strange language. We’re lovely, really.

You can find out more about me at my website http://www.charliecochrane.co.uk/ or at my blog, http://charliecochrane.livejournal.com/.
Thanks again, Charlie for a fun post. Now, if someone can translate some of those TV phrases I'd be eternally grateful!


K. Z. Snow said...

Good lord, Charlie, are we that provincial? ;-) (Yes, I suspect we are!)

What intriguing points you make.

My first mother-in-law (how embarrassing that I've had two) was a war bride from Blackpool, and I've been to England, so I don't labor under too many misconceptions. Nevertheless, some of the phrases you threw out left me scratching my head. Cultural differences still abound. But, as evidenced by the popularity of your books, this gap can obviously be bridged.

You're so right, too, about our sense of history being at odds. It's difficult for us Americans to wrap our minds around a period that extends beyond a couple hundred years into the past. I remember visiting, among many other places, Chingle Hall, a fourteenth-century cruciform structure in Lancashire that was riddled with priest hides. As unpsychic as I am, my feeling of "presences" there was thick and overwhelming, and the place made my skin pinch into gooseflesh.

I must read your Cambridge Fellows series. And the ghost story. Definitely, the ghost story!

Jeanne said...

Now I knew pawky, but those other phrases ~ woot!
When we visited London almost 20 years ago, we walked around with our mouths gaping.
What I loved was how pet friendly the Brits are. We were there for Crufts before it was moved out of London and folks with dogs were all over the place.
What was one of the kicks from the show? - Our judge had a tea break in the middle of judging!

K. Z. Snow said...

Yes, Jeanne, the dog lovers! That made a huge impression on me, since I'm one of them.

Charlie Cochrane said...

Some of you are provincial. That's all I'm saying. :)

I think you're right about the sheer length of time it's easy to go back through over here, and we're so blase about it. Roman road goes through the field of the school my kids went to. It's all a bit so what as we've got Roman roads everywhere. I think it's sad we take so much for granted.



Charlie Cochrane said...


Thanks for letting me come play here today.

London's great, especially if you get off the beaten track a bit. Did you go to the Natural History Museum? I think it's the most beautiful building in London, if not England.

Where did you saty?


Erastes said...

We are, in general, a lot more cynical too and that really shows on shows like Project Catwalk/Runway or any of the find a star things. You see the American judges (apart from Simon) trying to find something nice to say, no matter how utterly vile the performance has been, and the English judges are generally a lot more upfront and honest. There's this cult of nice--or Thumper's Mother--that seems to permeate. If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all.

There's a house in my village dated 1680, just an ordinary cottage which is nice, rather than a stately home, which are often the ones that are 400 years old. We tend to take the age of our country for granted until we go to other countries and "the oldest stone house" in the country is only 200 years old and you're going, "so what? I have knickers older than that."

KZ - you really must read the cambridge series, they are wonderful and are getting better as they go along.

Alex Beecroft said...

My last stumbling block of a phrase was "needs must", which is a difficult one to explain when you have to sit down and think about it :)

Oh, I know what I found amazing! They really have bluebirds in the USA! I'd always thought bluebirds were as mythical as the phoenix. I'm tickled to think they actually exist.

I must find my ereader, as I have both of your new things on the computer, but I think they deserve to be read while curled up on the settee, preferably next to the first fire of the year :)

Victor J. Banis said...

Nice piece of writing. I guess I'm lucky in having had most of my life friends from across the pond, so maybe I'm more attuned than I would be otherwise. Here is a funny example of difference, though. One friend from Brighton who used to visit often in San Francisco always stocked up (his last day in town) on English Muffins to take home, because of course they aren't English at all. You'd be surprised how many Yanks don't know that.


Erastes said...

What is an American English Muffin, then, Victor? Can you point to a picture?

This is what we know as a muffin.


Charlie Cochrane said...


Absolutely spot on with the Thumper's mother thing. Cynical or realistic? I think we're a mixture of both. We just don't like too much emotion or overpraising things.

Our house was built around the time the Cambridge Fellows stories were set. Perhaps the lads passed here one day?

Now don't get me started on muffins, cookies, biscuits, etc.


Charlie Cochrane said...


Yes, they are fireside books. Yours and Lee's are bedtime books, snuggling down with a gun crew or two. LOL

Needs must. Yep, there's one you can't explain. I usually find a snippet on the web of the phrase used in context but they can be hard to come by.

*sings White Cliff os Dover just for you*


Charlie Cochrane said...


Thank you!

I'm as confused about these English muffins as Erastes is. Not confused about Brighton, though - it's one of my favourite places. have you ever been there?


Megan Atchley said...

It's actually quite interesting for me to talk with the people I'm staying with about the the differences in words like biscuit or getting water from the faucet.

I'm going to have to bake some American Biscuits at some point just to show people what they are! (Cheap but filling really.)

And my God the sausages I've tried so far here are horribly tasteless and textureless!

Charlie Cochrane said...


As long as you don't try to introduce them to American cheese you'll be OK.

You're clearly eating the wrong sausages. Hi thee to a farm shop/farm market/Waitrose and take out a mortgage on some good ones.


Marie said...

Americans have the most amazingly strange preconceptions...

Before I moved to Wales, I was told by a friend that I would have trouble finding fresh vegetables here. (She was in the 'genuinely angry I was moving away' camp, so that may have been part of it.) I know South Wales is industrial, but really!

Also, when I went home at Christmas, an older gentleman I'm friends with was deeply concerned that I would have trouble finding people who spoke English. Which is sweet, if...confused.

Everything is so different, and yet almost nothing is different. I think that's what makes it so jarring -- you get comfortable, and then you get shaken out of that comfort zone, like, moments later.

Neil Plakcy said...

Very interesting! The thing that struck me most about England, when I spent a summer there about ten years ago, were the economic differences. So much that we as Americans take for granted seemed to be out of reach of ordinary Britons. I met university professors who couldn't afford cars, for example. Even those who lived in posh lodgings had trouble keeping them up.

Made me grateful for all we have!

Charlie Cochrane said...


Fresh vegetables? What about a lovely welsh leek then, look you? If she said you wouldn't be able to find fresh vegetables in the average US restaurant, that would make more sense.

That jarring sensation has it spot on. That's what I felt when I was in the US. A bit like being in a parallel universe, little differences...


Charlie Cochrane said...


You certainly have cheap petrol and plenty of air conditioning. :)

Actually, doing the reverse trip in 2006, I was amazed at what you didn't have that we took for granted, like a variety of good quality ethnic restaurants, and vegetables on the menu. And being able to buy simple medicines in any shop.

The word professor doesn't have the same meaning here, either, does it?



K. Z. Snow said...

Alex, it's common in many parts of the country to see two species of blue-colored birds: the western bluebird and the indigo bunting, which has more luminous feathers.

Birds, we have; a sense of cultural heritage and history, not so much. ;-)

Megan Atchley said...

I bought myself some American cheese but it's too processed for anyone else to eat! lol

*salutes* Okay, I'll try to get my hand on some decent sausage.

Professor in America is essentially a person who teaches at college/university. Teacher is what we call the people in levels below college, like high school, etc. Tutor is someone who helps you with your schoolwork if you're struggling, and usually that is done outside the school day.

Alex Beecroft said...

Birds, we have; a sense of cultural heritage and history, not so much. ;-)

For that, you've only got to wait a little while and it will come. But we'll never have bluebirds, not even one type!

Erastes said...

Never say never!

You'd never have thought we'd have had parakeets living wild in Britain, even pretty far north - but we do, so maybe bluebirds one day!


Charlie Cochrane said...


People keep wanting to call Jonty and Orlando professors. They'd have a fit. Dons or fellows works well for them.

Try some of the cheeses we have here, too, especially the continental ones.


Charlie Cochrane said...


Erastes' beloved collared doves aren't a native species, either. Nor are rabbits and fallow deer and many other things we take for granted. The bluebirds' day may come.


Alex Beecroft said...

This is true. And I'd gladly send the gray squirrel back in exchange!

H said...

And there are who say footpath. *g*

I wonder if some of us aren't a little more clued in generally about the differences between the two places - purely because we live in neither one (and have a small population so that many television programmes hail from both and have done for a long time)?
Relish the differences, giggle over the unintentionally risque result and read loads of books from everywhere - I think that will be my (on-going) plan.
Cheers :)

Erastes said...

more like Lucius' beloved lunches...

junkfoodmonkey said...

Hey, I totally live on crumpets and scones, roast beef, and vegetables boiled for no less than a month. And drink tea all day, every day... oh wait, that last part wasn't in sarcasm mode, I actually do.

I've written lots of fanfic for an American fandom and my American beta had been invaluable in picking up on turns of phrase that Americans simply would not say. We had this long debate about what you do when you get a flat tyre (or tire!) To me changing a wheel is a quicky job. To her, that would require a mechanic! She'd change the tire, which to me sounds like that's somehow peeling the tire off the wheel. I'd hate to be doing that on a dark night, in a storm on a country road.

Charlie Cochrane said...


I have visions of you living in some little island half way over the Atlantic.

I love the differences, actually - unless they crop up anachronistically and then I want to chuck the book across the room.



Charlie Cochrane said...


Have you got the Brussels sprouts on for Christmas yet?

That tyre thing is intriguing. Have run into a similar issue with 'washing up'. The misunderstandings over the fact that we wash ourselves and wash up the dishes.


Jeanne said...

Ee! Just got back from the day job and see that all and sundry had quite a bit of fun!
I had quite a love affair for English movies when I was growing up, especially the science fiction films.
I loved the early Materpiece Theatre pieces that took place all over the British Isles. I think my favorite was "Poldark".
And "The Duchess of Duke Street".
And Charlie didn't even touch much about our spelling quirks!!!
Thanks again, Charlie and all he dropped by.

George said...

I came by to read what Stevie wrote today (Friday) - and saw that one of my favorite authors had wrote on Tuesday. How’d I miss that? It was delightful to read both the blog and the comments that were made here on Tuesday, as I could totally relate on many points. Hope I am not to late to play the game!

Growing up in a tri-nationality USA home (Southern born American mother, Canadian Grandmother and a British father all in the same household) I was taught so many strange pronunciations of words that during my elementary years I was forced to partake in speech therapy.

Now, at 45, my language is poxed with traditional southern slang, elegant British vocabulary and quaint Canadian expressions. (and you might as well throw in some Jewish and Slavic influences based on past long term living arrangements.)

The spell check on my computer hates me, as I am forever typing the spelling of the Queens English (not that I am a great speller to begin with. My phonics and spelling abilities seem to lean more towards my British side).

When I read this blog out loud to my mate (an all American mutt of sorts) - he definitely picked up on some true British blood traits that I come by honestly (being brutally honest, cynical, realistic, emotions in check, stingy with the praise, stiff upper lip, questionable humor etc.) He also added stubborn, argumentive and my love of gloomy, foggy, rainy days to the list.

--Of course, if the mate gets too out of hand with his teasing, I simply threaten to "Perform my duty -- lie back and think of England." (wink wink, nudge nudge.)

On another front, I found it quite ironic that he and I were recently talking about history -- then a few days later, find the gist of the debate here in the comments.

I bemoaned the fact that Americans (and in particular, this generation coming up) really have no sense of history. Compared to England, which has been long steeped in rich tradition and cloaked heavily in history, so much so that it's people breathe it into their lungs at birth and it becomes apart of their brain chemistry.

It is my fondest desires to travel to Britain and set foot on the soil of my ancestors - to cross London Bridge, see my father's small village, hear Big Ben and haunt Stonehenge. (*Heavy sigh) In the meantime, I humor my self with doses of BBC programmes on purchased DVDs, quote Monty Python, listen to UK radio and read fascinating tales from British authors... such as yourself.

I freaking LOVE the Cambridge series - it's like in my top 5 of all time. I have told many people about it - and although I wasn't the person who wrote to you, comparing it to Masterpiece Theater - I myself have said the same thing - that the Cambridge series is akin to what one would expect on Masterpiece Theater... and wouldn't it be cool to see the beloved Orlando and Jonty on that?!?!?

George Allwynn georgetalwin@gmail.com

Charlie Cochrane said...


I've been spending the evening curled up on the settee watching rugby on the TV, then got back online to find your lovely comment. You might say I've had a perfect few hours!

I identified with so much you said. "Stubborn, argumentive and my love of gloomy, foggy, rainy days". I'm another Brit who shares those very traits; we had a beautifully misty morning yesterday and I was in heaven.

I do so hope you get to Britain one day. I heartily agree with all your aspirations although I'd say ditch Stonehenge and go to Avebury instead. And have afternoon tea at Thornbury castle hotel.

You're too kind about the Cambridge boys. I do see them in my mind as if they were on TV, though, which drives my editor loony as it means I don't always present the action cogently in a first draft. Just 'scene by scene' with not enough description or connectors.

Who would you see as Jonty and Orlando?