Saturday, 16 June 2012

Writing Brits (Limeys?) in YA

Finally, an advice post where I am a sort of expert in the matter! British and a teenager! This isn't random, by the way - it started with reading two books that made me think. I liked both books, and I'm lauding them as good examples, but let's just call them the 'Angsty Girl' book and the 'Aeroplane trip' book.

What have they got in common? A Brit boy love interest. Yeah, I'm going to focus on boys. It's more fun.

(come on, it's what we're all thinking. Yeah, I'm not the biggest Harry Styles fan)

Apparently, British boys are hot (the accent, etc). I'm kind of used to it, so it's not particularly exciting to me, but even I am not immune to the Mr Darcys - scratch that, Mr Tilneys - of this world. And, excluding Harry Styles/SuBo, I love One Direction.

And as a British reader of a lot of US YA, I find it frequently hilarious when the Brit boy becomes a combination of Prince William and Dick Van Dyke, constantly mentioning 'blokes' and such. So here is a list of five dos and don'ts for writing hot Brit boys...

5) Don't engineer situations for your Brit boy to 'show off' his dialect/language. Unlike the LI in 'aeroplane book', I have never once heard a boy call a fly a 'bloke'. It just doesn't work.

4) We're not all from London. Most of us Brits are actually from *gasp* other places. Also, in London there's accents other than cockney or hooray henry posh. I live four hours away from London, and I've only visited the place 4 times in my entire life.

3) One slang word I'd love to hear more of is 'fit'. Translation: Hot, stunning, great body. Works for girls too. i.e. "One Direction are so fit - shame about that minger Harry". So common is the UK that we don't use it to describe a well-exercised person anymore, in case they got the wrong idea. But good news, 'angsty girl' book mentioned it!

2) Brit boys do not wear suits as leisure wear. 'Angsty girl' book was guilty of this - the LI was always dressed in a skinny shirt/trousers/tie, always a bit rumpled etc. Yes, the majority of our schools wear uniform, granted. Consequently, then, boys don't fancy wearing ties in their time off. One Direction are the exception to this, because Simon Cowell wants them to be a brand. In reality, the boys I know wear Abercrombie/Hollister t-shirts (American), cream chinos or jeans, and Vans/Converse trainers (American).

1) There may only be about 60 million people in Britain, but only a tiny percentage of us have met the royals. Most teenage boys don't give a flying monkeys about Will or Kate. The only conversation I've ever overheard about the royal family between teenage boys went like this:

"You watch the royal wedding?"

"Yeah. Boring. Bride's sister was fit, though."

"Yeah! Her bum!" *lots of phwoars etc*

"Who would you snog, Kate or Pippa?"

*lots of umming and ahhing*

"Well, who?"

"Your mum."

Obviously this is a nice blog, so I've sanitised it a lot, but you get my drift.

If I sound patronising I don't mean to be - about 90% of my books are US YA - I just want to save American teen girls from coming over to England in their gap year after high school, and being thoroughly disappointed that none of the boys are wearing suits or chatting on their mobile phones to Princess Beatrice. And if a Brit boy calls you fit, you're in there...

What do you think? Ever read any brit boy love interests who've made you cringe? Which authors do it right? And which brit authors write Americans badly?

And finally, can anyone guess which books 'Aeroplane book' and 'Angsty girl book' are?


  1. I applaud you on this post because I have noticed a lot of those things in YA and it hurts my eyes to read badly written English people!

    But I gotta ask, what's wrong with Harry Styles?? ;)

  2. haha, I don't really know - he can't sing as well as some of the others, but mainly I think it's because pretty much every UK 1D fan is obsessed with him, and he really knows it, you can tell. I'm more of a Zayn and Niall fan, myself...

  3. I love this post. The only time I made an LI English was when I wrote a fantasy and EVERYBODY was English. LOL. I also studied abroad in Australia and hate when people ask me if I'm going to write about HOT Aussie boys in my novels. Me-"They are exactly like American boys!!!! No different." Besides like you say, when you live in a place (I lived in Aus for 5-6 months), the accent isn't so cool or different anymore. (Also Aussies have different location accents as well - diff in Sydney than in Melbourne than in Brisbane then in...etc... :)

  4. Oh, this so made me laugh. I wrote a short story that's going to be in a Foreign Affairs anthology and my guy was British. I tried really hard not to over do it. (I did not use the word bloke, I swear.) ;) Wish I'd read this then, I'd have used fit!

  5. Haha, so true! The worst one was Buffy. I love the show but I had to roll my eyes at every single British character that appeared. We all seemed to be suited up and old fashioned with very posh accents. I did think it was a little stereotypical.

    If they're going to appear in a Non-British book I'd like to see more varitey in English characters. Have them from Liverpool or County Durham. Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, etc.

  6. Getting de-senthesized to accents is so true - I went to high school in the States but am in uni in the UK and now I don't notice the accent anymore. I think you point underlines 'write what you know'= if you have never met someone British or been over there it might be a tad hard to portray them accurately!

    1. That's why I would probably never write an American - I've been there twice, but I would probably still get it way wrong ;)

  7. Aeroplane book has to be The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight! I remember reading that and thinking the LI was like a walking poster for the British Isles. :P

    I have a Londoner LI in my WIP, but I swear it's for plot reasons. To be honest I don't really see the appeal in making a LI British for no reason, but maybe I've gotten immune to the accent too after living in the UK for a while. ;)

    1. It might be... ;)

      yeah, I agree that a brit character can work really well, just not when they're randomly placed in there like in 'Angsty Girl' book x

  8. I LOVE this post! You crack me up. It is very interesting to learn appropriate slang for other cultures. I wouldn't presume to write a "brit boy" but if I did, I know who I'd go to for advice!

  9. This post is awesome! I always love hearing where we Americans get it right or wrong. Great insight. I'm from the south and when I read a book in that setting I'm hypercritical about the stereotypes they insert. Thanks for sharing!

    I'm curious what you thought about "Anna and the French Kiss" brit boy.

    1. *waves white flag* I've never read Anna and the French Kiss. I think it's probably because I've heard the descriptions of Etienne and he just sounds like contrary old me would hate him. But I might be wrong...