Huge welcome to YA novelist Nick Cook, who joins My Book Corner as part of the huge #UKYAExtravaganza tour.
Nick has a passion for science and astronomy, often blogging about the latest mind-blowing discoveries made in quantum physics. He once even soloed a light aircraft, an experience he tapped into for Cloud Riders.
Nick’s intriguing guest post features on his decision, as a UK author, to set his novel in America and the challenges that presented …
One question I’m often asked is why I chose to set Cloud Riders, my debut YA story, in the U.S. The reason is the subject at the core of the book, twisters and the world of storm chasers who pursue them. Of course when it comes to tornadoes the grand capital of world for them is North America. So setting Cloud Riders in Oklahoma which lies bang in the middle of Tornado Alley, was a natural decision. But this also presented me with a significant challenge — how could a British author create an American teenager with a convincing voice?
Of course American culture is everywhere in our world, but being able to reel off a long list of great U.S. books, films, and TV shows is one thing, but writing with in an American style, is completely another.
To sound authentic, and this is true for any character that an author creates, you have to really drop into the head-space of that character, live and breathe through the pages of your story as they would, see the world through their eyes. You also have constantly ask yourself… “Would my character really say or think like that?”
That alone is challenging enough, but when that person comes from a different culture than yourself, there are even more trip lines for the unwary author to look out for. For example even common phrases can catch you out. We have bumpers on cars in the U.K, in the U.S. they have fenders. For trousers they have pants. From crisps to chips. Lift to elevator… Fridge to refrigerator. The list goes on and on.
So how do I avoid this linguistic minefield? Once I thought I’d nailed every Britism that had crept in, I then enlisted the help of an American to check my manuscript. Well actually in my case it was an American writer who now lives and works in the U.K. – the wonderful Lee Weatherley of YA trilogy Angel fame. She picked me up on quite few things I’d missed, but also on the more subtle differences.
In Cloud Riders, Dom, who comes from a long line of storm chasers, lives with his mom (mum) Sue. She runs the Twister diner (cafe). On the menu in the original version of the manuscript Sue’s special dish was a chowder. It was Lee who pointed out to me that in Oklahoma, chowder was unlikely to be on the menu outside the city, however, chilli certainly would be. And so Sue’s incredible chilli was born. You see it’s that sort of thing that it’s far too easy to miss when you’re not writing about your native country.
The other area that I knew little of before I starting to write Cloud Riders was about were tornadoes themselves. We rarely experience them in the UK and certainly never on the scale of the bigger ones that strike the US. But after a fair amount of research I’d gathered a reasonable working insight into them. Of course I was always well aware of the awful devastation that they cause, but it was getting to know the storm chasing community that really opened my eyes.
On my own blog I interviewed Jesse W. Walters, an amazing guy who heads up JWSevereWeather. It was him who really gave me the greatest insight into tornadoes and the world of the storm chaser. Jesse, and the brave people of his team, and other chasers like them, risk everything to improve our understanding of tornadoes and help to saves lives. They really are an inspiration. It was this world, of people who live on edge, risking everything, that lies at the heart of Cloud Riders. I have actually been invited on a storm chase with them, and it’s an offer that one day I intend to take up. Who says authors lead boring lives!
Cloud Riders was a wonderful challenge to write and one that as a writer I relished every moment of. In the sequel, Breaking Storm (out at the end of October, 2015), events shift to parallel worlds, which has actually made things easier for me. What, you thought Cloud Riders was just about tornadoes? Oh it’s about that and so much more!