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…