Mystery People

By Jill Amadio

As a Brit I put up with a lot of ribbing in America. Some friends take me to task for pronunciation. Well, I can’t help it if I have a very slight West Country accent as I am from Cornwall. To my amusement my accent is occasionally mistaken for Australian.

As a writer from over there, though, the ribbing can give me indigestion or at the very least depression for hours. The main problem is spelling. I am warned by colleagues that editors at U.S. publishing houses come down hard if you keep inserting a “u” into words like behaviour,  colour, and honour, or substitute a ”z’ for an “s”. Other minefields include using “ae” rather than “e,” as in “aeon” and “eon”.  Maybe it’s a matter simplicity. Americans pare as many ells from words as possible while Brits love double ells, such as “levelling” versus “leveling”.

My books are published here but habits die hard and I usually claim that Brits use the correct spellings. They only got chopped when unnecessary (to whom?) letters are summarily killed off. Flautists are called flutists, kerb is curb, and gaol is jail. Obviously what it comes down to is pronunciation, though. Americans spell words economically as they are spoken which is commendable although it escapes me why tyre is spelled tire. I think it has to do with the Boston Tea Party and wanting to be set apart from that awful king.

It’s a huge temptation to some authors who have leapt across the pond to use British spelling, perhaps as a sly signal to agents and publishers they are querying that the writer is a Brit – a sort of literary snobbism one occasionally encounters. In my first mystery I have my lead character admonish the British consul’s wife for this attitude which I did, in fact, actually encounter in Newport Beach.

Then there’s the grammar. Collective nouns in particular give me pause. Is a group, say, a government, singular or plural? Americans say it’s the former; Brits insist on the latter.  I have a page from the Associated Press Stylebook permanently stuck to my printer to remind me which to use.

Figuring out past particles is always fun. For instance, Brits say “pleaded” Yanks say “pled”. Oh, and the very, very worst word I hate to see changed is “hanged”. To my mind it should refer only to someone at the loop end of a rope, giving the action a far heftier meaning than the briefer word “hung”, as used here. People are not paintings.

What else? “Have” and “take” always flummox me. Am I going to take a bath? Or, am I going to have a bath? I read somewhere that this is an example of a delexical verb, which I’m not even going to touch.

While writing my mystery my beta readers caught another mistake. I wrote, “He drove her to hospital.” Wrong. I was told there should be a “the” in front of “hospital”.  I’m sure there’s some kind of diabolical rule about this but I think it is fine to give an in-house editor something to mark up to justify his/her salary.  As for tenses, the past participle in the U.S. for “got” is “gotten,” an ugly word that makes me shudder enough to want to write a thriller entitled “The Dangling Participle and the Dark, Dark Pluperfect”.

While writing the first in my crime series, whose amateur sleuth is a disgraced Cornish woman exiled by the palace for discovering a scandal (not sexual!), I had to learn the police rankings and figure out who was a sheriff and who was a police officer. Having worked with a reporter at the good old British rag, the Sunday Dispatch, I decided to have my sleuth simplify her confusion (and mine) by using British titles. When caught speeding she addresses a California Highway Patrol (CHiP) officer as Chief Superintendent, and calls the Chief of Police,  Constable.  I was very pleased to learn that sheriffs and policemen can be lumped into a group collectively referred to as “cops”.

When I mention a British pastime, such as nighthawking, no one has a clue as to its meaning. I was going to give the nasty habit to a character in my next book but I decided the explanation could be tedious unless you’re one yourself.

Even the four seasons can be a challenge. Seeking representation for my new book I scoured the agent lists and was rejected by 55 of them. I knew small presses can be approached directly and I found one with whose name I fell totally in love: Mainly Murder Press in Connecticut. However, the website declared, NO SUBMISSIONS UNTIL LATE SPRING!

Ha. I immediately sent in my query along with a note: “Dear MMP, I live in Southern California and although it is only January according to the calendar, and snowing where you are, it is already late spring here. You should see the roses!”

I received an email back within three hours, asking me to send chapters. Which I did. Obviously the publisher was not off in Tahiti but still on the snowy East Coast.” MMP published only 12-14 books a year and has now closed its doors but who can resist the name? So my advice is to go ahead and break the rules. Lay it on thick. Change the climate. Worked for me.


Jill Amadio is from Cornwall, UK, but unlike her amateur sleuth, Tosca Trevant, she is far less grumpy. Jill began her career as a reporter in London (UK), then Madrid (Spain), Bogota (Colombia), Bangkok (Thailand), Hong Kong, and New York. Jill writes a column for a British mystery magazine, and is an audio book narrator. She is the author of the award-winning mystery, “Digging Too Deep” and the second book in the series, “Digging Up the Dead.”  The books are set in Newport, California.




This article was posted for Jill Amadio by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

Author: Jackie Houchin

First, I am a believer in Jesus Christ, so my views and opinions are filtered through what God's Word says and I believe. I'm a wife, a mom, a grandma and now a great grandma. I write articles and reviews, and I dabble in short fiction. I enjoy living near the ocean, doing gardening (for beauty and food) and traveling - in other countries, if possible. My heart is for Christian missions, and I'm compiling a collections of Missionary Kids' stories to publish. (I also like kittens and cats and reading mysteries.)

12 thoughts on “Mystery People”

  1. Jill, I can understand your dilemma. Funny thing is many Americans goof up their grammar and they have no excuse except a less than great education in public schools. (That needs to be fixed.) But I would think if your main character is writing in the first person and using their spelling and tone it would be a clever thing. Even having that character try to amend their syntax out loud would keep pointing out the fun and difficulty we all can have with the American language. And if it is used as a character trait, I would think a publisher would get a kick out of it as well as the reader. Best of luck trying to keep your character in character.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read a lot of British mysteries. When I edit my own books, I’m always fixing the double ls, replacing lift with elevator, and correcting spelling “errors”, including whether I should have placed the period inside or outside the quotation marks if this sentence had ended with errors. 🙂 Looking forward to reading your books.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Loverly post, and I have a good friend who lived here in my little town, who has moved back to Cornwall to be with family now that she’s a certain age. I do miss Margaret, her personality, her accent, and her colloquialisms(if that’s a right word to use)–loved talking with her. (and some of what you’ve talked about is regional here. I remember going to Texas, and being told “we’re going out to go make groceries.” They were going to the grocery story)

    To me, it’s all a wonderful “quilt” of language that can enrich our story telling in so many ways. And “breaking the rules” is sometimes the right answer!

    Enjoyed your post on many levels! And still thinking about some items you mentioned.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really got a kick out of your blog post, Jill. Having spent some time with you, I know I enjoy the sound of your British accent. But it must be a minor headache to WRITE for the American audience. I love your examples, and laughed out loud several times.


  5. What a delightful post, Jill! I knew there were differences between British English and U.S. English, of course, but it never dawned on me how difficult that might be for a writer who’d moved here from the UK. Keep on analyzing!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jill – thank you for a good laugh!! As a fellow Brit – from the same West Country in England – I know exactly what you’re going through, with the minefield of writing in America. And I often yell at the Spell Corrector on my computer that seems totally confused! But my pet peeve is reading, “he dove under the table,” instead of “he dived under the table.” As my late-husband, Rick, would say, “a dove is a bird…”
    Great post, Jill. I always enjoy your words. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Enjoyable post, Jill. Thanks to the sixties “English Invasion” and the cleverness of British comedy, I grew up with a fascination for your country of birth and became familiar with the differences in language. Now, I watch a lot of foreign movies and television series with English subtitles. I can tell which country the translator is from by the interpretation of the script. Sometimes it’s the spelling (honor instead of honor) but usually it’s the idioms or context.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jill, Fun post! I can see where you would have trouble keeping track of grammar and language. The series sounds like a fun read. Good luck with your writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting on our blog!
      Paty, I tried to leave a comment on your “rabbit hole” blog post, but it switched to the Block style and required a password from me. I’ve never had to do that before. I attempted a couple times, but in the end, I gave up.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Jill, thanks for your enjoyable, and enlightening, post. I love the differences. I’m so envious that British writers can use single quotes for dialogue (much easier to type). And no period after Mr, Ms, Mrs, etc.

    An American writer I know hates the word got in all its forms, and makes sure she deletes any that “trespass” on her work.

    Another American writer asked me to provide a quote for her debut mystery, set in 19th century London. I noticed right away that she didn’t use British spellings, like colour (no u). When I pointed that out, she said her publisher only allowed American spellings for books published in this country. I think this is a mistake.

    Liked by 1 person

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