Eats, Shoots and Leaves with Rosemary Lord

Rosemary Lord  wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House! She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now,  English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.

EATS, SHOOTS AND LEAVES…                         

Eats, shoots and leaves” – sounds like a newspaper headline. But it was in fact the title of a witty book about sloppy punctuation. Written by Lynne Truss, it became a runaway success in the UK.  The headline at that time was, instead, “Grammar book tops the Bestseller List.” Who’d have thunk it? Truss, an ex-editor, bemoaned the fate of proper punctuation, claiming that it had become an endangered species due to the low standards on the internet, email communication and “txt msgs.”

The phrase, “Eats shoots and leaves” is from a joke about pandas – who eat (bamboo) shoots and leaves – and not, by the simple addition of an errant comma, a comment about a violent criminal act. (Although pandas can give a very nasty bite. No comma needed.)
Or there’s the Australian take on bad punctuation, taught at schools there, as a way of making the students remember the grammatical rules: “Lets eat Grandpa,” has sent many Aussia kids into helpless giggles with such a picture. But it’s not a cannibalistic suggestion, merely the absence of a comma in a sentence that should read:  “Let’s eat, Grandpa.” 
I also love Michael Caine’s interpretation of a line in a script that read,  “What’s that in the road ahead?” By adding a simple dash, Caine had his fellow actors and film crew in fits of laughter when he announced: “What’s that in the road – a head?”
So, no wonder Eats, Shoots and Leaves became so popular. It’s a witty reminder of the lessons we learned at school – but that seem to have vanished in today’s hurried world.
Lately, I find I question myself as I’m writing, because much of what I read today has a different use of grammar from that with which I was raised. And I write the way I was taught. Not that I’m such a grammarian – and I probably could not recite the rules I was taught as a child.  But I know that words and phrases with wrong grammar and punctuation just don’t soundright. Unless you are specifically writing dialogue with a dialect. Then the very miss-spoken words and incorrect grammar are what convey the character of that person. But, again, it’s the sound I listen for. It’s my instinct. Apart from intentional colloquial miss-spoken words, poor grammar and punctuation hurts. I love words and the ability to create something with them. So I don’t like it when people muck it up!
My mother was a writer – of newspaper articles and magazine and radio short stories. Amongst other homilies, she would repeat, “different from – not different than.” “Yes Mum,” I would obediently reply, not understanding what on earth she was talking about. But it stuck in my brain somewhere.
I was always impressed with my husband Rick’s easy recitation of prepositions: “About, above, across, after, below, beneath…” and so on. He was taught that by the nuns in kindergarten – along with all the mathematical tables that he could recite by rote! Unlike I, who dreamed my way through school, Rick appeared to have learned a lot from his excellent education at St. Ambrose, then Loyola High School, followed by years at UCLA. He said his  English teacher explained, “A dove is a bird –” clarifying the past tense of the verb ‘to dive’ is ‘dived” and not “dove” as is often used lately and has become accepted. Every time I hear that, I dutifully mutter, “a dove is a bird…”
As a child, I had no interest in learning about grammar and punctuation. How boring, I thought, as I immersed myself in another book. I could not get enough of reading and writing my ‘little stories.’ Foolishly, I could not see where grammar and punctuation came into it. I was going to live in Hollywood, meet all those Golden Era Movie stars, write and work in HollywoodMovies…. What was I thinking? Now I devour any learning opportunities and wish I had paid more attention. I find books like Eats, Shoots and Leaves, to learn more.
And so I write words as I hear them in my head – and follow my gut instinct, if something feels wrong.
For instance, I was taught never to start a sentence with ‘and’ – and that you never have a comma before the word ‘and.’ However today, ‘the American comma’ as us Colonials call it, (also known as the Serial Comma or even the Oxford Comma!) is rampant and therefore acceptable. Still feels odd to me. But I am willing to entertain these new-fangled ways of writing. I just don’t have to like them. I do, however, like to capitalize words for emphasis: I’m sure there’s a rule about this that I break all the time. And (there – I started a sentence with an ‘and’ – bad girl!) I confess I am addicted to ellipses and dashes….
But I think that if I stick to writing novels and articles about times long gone by, no one will notice – and I can do it my way…

20 thoughts on “Eats, Shoots and Leaves with Rosemary Lord”

  1. I sympathize! I read a lot of British fiction, and I'm always making grammar “mistakes” in my writing that are perfectly correct across the pond. I will forever remember that “a dove is a bird.” Thank you for that!

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  2. What a great post, Rosemary! I've succumbed to the beginning a sentence with “And,” but that was very hard. But it fit sometimes. Grammar rules were also taught to me by nuns, and like Rick, one doesn't easily forget what nuns taught you way back when. And–do I love ellipses and dashes… (smile) I can hear your voice in your posts, and that makes them extra special to me. This was very enjoyable. I'm smiling…

    (and interviewing Cary Grant!!!!, I'm so impressed…)

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  3. If we writers would periodically read posts like yours, Rosemary, we would pick up those obvious mistakes we seem to all make. I do realize some grammatical standards change over time, though not always for the good, better or best. But sometimes I want to use the ellipse because I want the reader to pause for slightly longer than a mere comma. And as we all have learned, not all “experts” know what they are talking about. So… and… we shall all be rebels occasionally. Great post.

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  4. What a fun, personable blog post. You write in such a friendly way that no one would even notice a beginning “and” in a sentence, a “dove” in the pool, or enough ellipses and dashes to spell out a novel in Morse Code! You make reading fun.
    I have to say something about that controversy in the “comma before the and” in a list of things. Newspaper Style books say to always put in, and so do I. Actually I'm comfortable with doing it all the time because if not, it seems like you are listing equal things, then all of a sudden you list the last two thnigs together. “I like vanilla, chocolate-chip mint, Rocky Road, and Strawberry ice creams” makes sense to me. I'm saying a different thing if I list “strawbery, chocolate, vanilla and orange sherbert.” Those last two BELONG together in a flavor that I call Cremecycle. Does that makes sense, or am I on a sugar high in a half gallon of delicious Peanut Butter Cup Vanilla ice cream? Haha!

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  5. I still get confused with what is acceptable in America and frowned upon in England – and vice versa.
    And “a dove is a bird” is one of my favorite of Rick's sayings…
    Cheers, Jackie

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  6. Ooh, Rick's nuns were fierce! Full habits. The kids sat with hands behinds their backs as they recited their multiplication tables and rules of grammar. But later in life he was really grateful for their instruction – and had quite fond memories of a couple of them. I guess they don't teach the kids like that anymore. Too bad…

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  7. Mad – that teaching really does stick, doesn't it? My mum was also taught by nuns: is there a theme here – writers taught by nuns?
    And – I was delighted when I discovered there was a word for my little dots….
    Thanks for your lovely comments – and keep smiling!

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  8. Thanks, Gayle. I think if we have the basic understanding of grammar, (wot we woz tawt as kids…) then our creative writer selves can take liberties when we need to. That's part of finding our own voice and creating characters, I think.

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  9. Thank you, Jackie – I just love words – so I have fun with them.
    And (!!) yes – I know the controversy about the “American comma.” I understand the logic, too. But I almost hyperventilate when I see them. Sorry. I was going to add, I think my old habits die hard – and that Rick's nuns must be after me! So I'll bow out gracefully and take the Peanut Butter Cup Vanilla ice cream instead…

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  10. Wonderful post and such great advice. I think most writers grapple with grammar and punctuation, what IS right as opposed to what SOUNDS right. Ultimately commas are part of the writer's toolbox and are best viewed as tools rather than rules. If they make the meaning of the words clear, if they control the flow of words like a faucet, then isn't their usage correct?

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  11. Great post, Rosie, and you made me laugh aloud with the Michael Caine anecdote. I have sometimes been accused of pedantry when I correct my friends' grammar (as in the proper usage of “I” vs “me” so I appreciate your raising the issue. I find I've gotten sloppier over the years, however. And (!) I love using “and” and “but” to start a sentence now and then; it feels like I'm defying some Higher Authority (see, I also capitalize.) Don't get me started on ellipses and dashes–I could not write without them. Thanks for an entertaining AND instructive post!!!

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  12. That's a good point, Miko. I think we should listen to our instincts about rules. As long as we know the formula – then we can bend the rules a little, in order to make our writing sound right.
    Thanks, Miko.

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  13. Thanks, Bonnie. That Michael Caine comment still makes me laugh whenever I think of it! And I, too, have become sloppy over the years with the 'ands', the 'buts,' my capitalizing and all those other things that my dad would frown upon. But I think that ultimately – it's part of writer's voice. We now get to choose, don't we?

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  14. Jax: 'Write about what you know' may be a cliché – but it works. Especially for Sue Mcginty….
    And I'm with Bonnie: who makes that ice-cream?

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  15. Chiming in late as usual, Rosie, but I just wanted to tell you how much I love your post. It's as if you were right next to me, laughing and being serious all at once. Yes, we get to choose our voices and expressions – no, we don't have any excuse for maintaining ignorance. And, of course, I will use, defend, and enjoy my Oxford Commas!

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