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)

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…

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