I grew up devouring every American teen novel I could. I was obsessed. Sweet Valley High, Caroline B. Cooney, Judy Blume, I just could not get enough. I don't know if it's that there just weren't all that many British teen authors around at the time, or if it was also partly because of the saturation of TV by US shows - Dawson's Creek, Buffy, Friends, Lois and Clark, Gilmore Girls - or if it was just because it was so different from life in the UK, but I lived my teen years yearning to go to America, to be part of that very specific US high school experience, and ultimately it drove me to spend my second year of uni on an exchange in North Carolina (because Dawson's Creek was filmed there - yes, really!), despite the fact I was studying English Literature.
The US culture is so much a part of our own in the UK in fact, that I thought nothing of basing half of my first novel, Someone Else’s Life, in the US. I was sure that I was familiar enough with the country and the culture that I could write about it convincingly - after all, we speak the same language, right?
Wrong. Little did I realise just how many ways our languages are different. It's not just the terminology - tap/faucet, pavement/sidewalk etc but it's the culture itself. I was told having an answer-machine was very odd and old-fashioned in the US, to "get pissed" means getting drunk in the UK, but getting angry in the US, and the UK school system was completely mystifying - what are GCSEs? What's a Sixth Form? - I have a whole list of things I had to reword or explain for the US edition!
Other books too, have I know been modified to cross the Atlantic, even so far as having different titles - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, while the prize-winning The Two Pearls of Wisdom (Australian edition) is also entitled Eon: Dragoneye Reborn (US) and Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye (UK) - you can find a whole list of them here. Coverwise, books pretty much always have different covers for US/UK editions.
So now my book's also going to be published in Germany and Brazil, I wonder what else will need changing when the language/culture is TOTALLY different, and how much other YA fiction gets altered or lost in translation…
Have you found much difference between different editions of the same book?
Someone Else's Life will be published by Simon & Schuster in the UK (pre-order here) and Delacorte Press in the US (pre-order here) in February 2012.