This month is all about celebrating the first book in a series, and what better way to do this, than to explore some of the different themes and niches. Today's niche is Scotland Yard cozy mysteries - yep, apparently Scotland Yard is a popular thing, especially in British cozies. Who knew! Don't forget to download this collection of free 'first in series' books too.
Scotland Yard (officially New Scotland Yard) is a metonym for the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), the territorial police force responsible for policing all but the inner core of London.
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More Scotland Yard Cozies to Explore
How to Celebrate Scotland Yard Cozies on #cozymysteryday
The 15th September 2019 (Agatha Christie's birthday) marks our inaugural #cozymysteryday celebration. This is an annual, worldwide event to share your favourite cozy mystery books, movies, and television series with the world, using the hashtag #cozymysteryday on social media.
There are loads of fun things you can do to mark the day, the most important thing is to have fun and get people talking about how fab cozy mysteries are.
We're almost at the end of British cozy mystery month and there was no way in the world that I wasn't going to post a collection of cozies set in the wonderful county of Cornwall. I mean, what's not to like. Think of Cornwall and you'll probably think of Poldark, Cornish ice cream, clotted cream and scones, Cornish pasties, mermaids, basking sharks, pirates, piskies, saffron buns, smugglers and wreckers, shipwrecks, copper mines, fishermen, Celtic language and arts, King Arthur, and fudge. You may even want to visit the Museum of Witchcraft and Wizardry or explore the reasons why J.K.Rowling used Cornwall as one of the locations for hiding the horcrux in Harry Potter! I say we find a nice Cornish beach somewhere, grab a load of local delicacies to feast on, and sit awhile with a lovely collection of cozies. Who's with me?
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With the summer soon upon us and a first day back to work for many folks after this weekend's Bank Holiday, I figured that it was time to turn our attention to the cozy mystery books set in the seaside town of Brighton, on the south coast of England. So grab your buckets and spades, Punch and Judy shows, sticks of rock, and a portion of fish and chips and we shall begin!
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OK, so technically I shouldn't be including Isle of Man books under the umbrella collection of 'British Cozy Mysteries' but I'm going to anyway, because there are way too many treasures here to miss. You see, the Isle of Man (or Mann as most people call it) is an island in the Irish Sea, right between the west coast of England and the east coast of Ireland.
Now, I've sadly never been to the Isle of Man, but funnily enough I did have an 'Uncle Douglas' (my granny's brother) and an 'Aunty Kathleen' (whom I sadly never met because they died when I was a tiddler) who lived in the island's capital also called Douglas! I also discovered recently that my paternal grandfather (who died long before I was born) was stationed on Mann as a teen when he first signed up with the Royal Navy. I shall post the video below so you can hear the full story for yourself. But I really should go and visit one day because it's a place filled with Celtic and Norse history and that really interests me, especially having discovered my Scandinavian and Irish ancestry as part of the Channel 4 documentary series.
Just take the Kirk Malew Church, for example. This is the burial place for the Norse kings of Mann, as well as being the final resting place (so legend has it) for the Manx vampire! And near the summit of Meayll Hill is a stone circle known for its ghostly hauntings, prehistoric rituals, and Viking burials. Jurby Church has Pagan and Viking burial mounds, and St Trinian's Church is connected with an ogre (Buggane or shape shifter) who got so fed up of the noise from the church bells, that he eventually tore off the roof of the church. All of which makes the Isle of Man a perfect location for a paranormal mystery or two in my humble opinion! What do you think?
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When I was about 4 years old, my dad got a new job, selling greenhouses for Capability Brown at Haskins Garden Centre in Ferndown. This meant a big move from the Royal County of Berkshire to the south coast county of Dorset, right before I started at school for the first time. There were lots of nice things about the move, firstly we would have a little garden, surrounded by what was called 'the common' - ideal for a tomboy like me to find baby adders and catch lizards. Secondly, as I grew up I learnt a lot about the ground that our housing estate was built on, and it turned out that there were tunnels used by smugglers as well as a druid burial site, and an old gallows.
But best of all, was that we started to go to the seaside on really hot days after school and if we were really lucky then on a weekend or on school holidays. One of my favourite places by the sea was Kimmeridge Bay and to me it was heaven, full of mysteries to be solved and nooks and crannies to be explored. It was the ideal place for making up stories and imagining what life must have been like in other times - important for an only child like me at the time, because I needed to keep myself entertained and not be too bothersome around grownups.
Kimmeridge Bay was the best playground you could want as a child (and as an adult). The cliffs were made from black shale that would collapse in heaps throughout the day to reveal fossils of dinosaurs, and the large rock pools would get warmed by the sun so were never too cold to swim in. Sometimes, we'd have a barbecue and I'd set fire to the oily rocks. Further along the coast there was actually a cliff that would spontaneously catch fire, owing to the high content of 'fossil fuels' within. Just around the headland was an army range, and if I wandered off when the red flags were flying then I might just catch sight of a tank firing. That was where the best rock pools were, and where you could find the biggest crabs and brightly coloured fish and better still, where there were no other people to interrupt your thoughts.
Close by the cliff top there was an old World War II pill box made of concrete that always smelt like wee, and right on the top of the cliff, was an abandoned tower looking as if it might just drop into the sea at any moment. I'm always at my happiest when I'm at the seaside in Britain, and that is why I just LOVE cozy mystery books set by the sea, because it brings back a sense of nostalgia. I'd love to know what your earliest memories are of the seaside, and if you have any favourite beaches in the world.
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I just love London. In fact, I was lucky enough to live in London for quite a few years, right before I went to work on a childhood research project in Tamil Nadu, India. You see, I used to work at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Queen Square (you might know it from the TV series 'The Brain Hospital'), and during that time I lived in an apartment right by the Thames Barrier, before moving to the more village-feel of Muswell Hill and Highgate. It was an incredibly exciting time in my life, not just because I found myself working alongside the people whose theories I had studied as part of my earlier degrees, but because I was on the cutting edge of developments and treatments for conditions linked to forensic and developmental neuropsychology -. from phantom limb pain, to autism, acquired brain injury, migraines, parapsychology, and synesthesia.
I was at the height of my career, had a beautiful flat, an amazing Italian restaurant right across the road, and for the first time in my life, I had started to get the opportunity to travel to other countries as part of my work. I'd really only been on school trips to France and Germany before then. Admittedly I had to wear a suit to work everyday (not nice on the hot underground in summer), and I worked long hours, with a lot of stress, but it was a time for discovering more about the world at large, and about people and cultures.
One of the most incredible things about my work, was that the British Museum was right around the corner from the hospital, which was perfect for grabbing a coffee and sitting and watching people during my break. More importantly, I got to sit in on some forensic archaeology (and anthropology) sessions, including scans of the Egyptian mummies, to learn more about public health diseases and what life might have been like for them. What did they eat, what diseases or injuries did they have, and why did they die? Were they perhaps murdered or injured in battle? I even spent time in an MRI scanner as a volunteer, to learn about my own brain, and see what happened to it when I tried to learn new skills, like learning a new language, or when seeing different images or photos. I attended radiology rounds, found patients for case demonstrations, looked through hundred year old archives, worked on my own research, and attended as many brain dissections as I could. Whatever opportunity I spotted, I grabbed it with both hands! My brain and senses were hungry for knowledge and everywhere around me were things that intrigued me, like museums and architecture, and streets to walk along.
In my free time, I joined the Royal Geographical Society in South Kensington and attended as many of the lectures as I could, hanging out with some great explorers and personalities at the 'Explorer's Bar', like Michael Palin, Stephen Fry, and Douglas Adams, eventually becoming a 'Fellow' myself. I soaked up every tale I could and I must have asked each guest at the RGS a hundred questions about their adventures. I was fascinated! Just to be in an old building, surrounded by so much history was inspiring. A pocket watch that had belonged to Ernest Shackleton, or a painted portrait on the wall of an early pioneer, hundreds of years old. I stared at every object for hours, sat in the map room, and read through original travel journals, wondering what stories those items held if only they could talk. Little did I know that one day all of these little experiences would somehow find their way out into my own cozy mystery books!! London is certainly a place to become inspired to write.
No wonder there are so many cozies set in London, and I just know that you will find at least one new book to read from the collection below. Don't forget to add any more books you've enjoyed, in the comments section too.
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You will be completely forgiven for thinking that I am just pulling your leg with today's blog post, but I promise you I am not. If you are going to write a bestselling cozy mystery book, set in Wales, then you can't go far wrong with the Anglesey village of...wait for it....and I bet you can't pronounce the name....Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch!
The long form of the name, with 58 characters split into 19 syllables, is the longest place name in Europe and the second longest official one-word place name in the world. Although this name is generally stated to have been invented in the 1860s for promotional purposes, a similarly lengthy version was recorded as early as 1849. Wikipedia
Llanfair (as it can be shortened to) would actually make a pretty awesome setting for a paranormal or historical cozy mystery since it was originally a Neolithic settlement (that's about 4000-2000BC), and with so many different folks living here in history - kings, Romans, monks, farmers, it would be perfect for some ghosts and ghouls and epic battles.
And just in case you were wondering how to actually pronounce Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch here are a few pointers to help you on your way!! Let me know if you've come across any other difficult to pronounce Welsh words, or if you have any other cozies set in Wales to recommend. I'm sure there must be more to find.
There's nothing I love more than a visit to a proper British tea shop, with teapots and tea strainers, milk in ceramic jugs, and freshly baked cakes under glass domes on the counter. Coffee and walnut cake is my all time favourite tea shop cake!! Closely followed by carrot cake, and if available, a well made Victoria sponge. If you get those little sugar lumps on the table then you really know that you've entered a fancy tea shop. Likewise silver cake forks and china saucers. That's when you know that you have to stick out your little finger (pinky) when you drink your tea. It's no surprise that the tea shop cozy mystery has proven popular, and the only way to serve that kind of book is with a nice slice of cake and a cup of cha. Enjoy!
I couldn't find many tea shop cozy mysteries set in Britain, so I've gone with a worldwide collection instead! I'd love to know of any other tea shop cozies that need adding to this collection.
Ahhh! The British (English) city of Oxford. City of Spires. Home to many a famous writer and academic, and of course the world renowned 'University of Oxford'. A city that has a rather personal connection for me too as it happens. You see, my father was born in Oxford, and my nan spent many years of her life as a patient at the santorium where she lived in as part of the treatment at the time for tuberculosis. It was also where I was based for my work with the Royal Navy, and in my earlier career as a Neuropsychologist I was very involved with neuroscience research at the hospital and the university, spending long summers involved in different projects, including research on phantom limb pain, and on autism.
Oxford was the place where my nan would take me for treats when I stayed with her, and we would often catch the bus there and nip into one of the department stores for a cup of coffee, something my nan found quite exciting since most people just drank tea at home and coffee shops were a relatively new thing. It's hard to imagine an Oxford pre Starbucks or Costa Coffee, or McDonalds!
For me, Oxford was always really exciting, but it must have held different memories for my nan, as she would only really visit for hospital appointments or spend her hours desperate to get back home to her family whilst residing at the sanitorium. For me it is a place filled with memories of dining in my Royal Navy Uniform at fancy balls and drinking a little too much port as part of the maritime traditions! Lots of late nights polishing boots or doing drill practice, or working on improving my knots.
Funny how a single place can mean so many things to different people, and I suppose that is what I love about cozy mysteries that are set in Oxford. Each author draws on the thing that most inspired them about the city, experiences they had there, or people that they met. That's the beauty of books, and there is definitely no shortage of wonderful places to read a good book in Oxford. And plenty of lovely bookshops to visit too. I don't think I ever came back from Oxford without at least one, brand new, sweet smelling, and shiny covered paperback!
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It would be remiss of me to not share a selection of amateur sleuths as part of British Cozy Mystery month now, wouldn't it. Here are some of the characters that immediately spring to my mind when I think of an amateur sleuth, who are some of your favourites?
An amateur sleuth mystery features a protagonist who, having no direct ties to the police or other investigative agency, stumbles upon and sets out to solve or help solve various crimes, most notably murder. They do not receive monetary compensation for their investigation. Goodreads
I've a little confession to make! When I very first came across the words 'cozy mystery' it sent my teeth on edge a bit. You see, as a Brit I've been brought up to use the letter s instead of the letter z (pronounced zed rather than zee, of course) in my words, and being a little bit OCD when it comes to things that seem out of place, I needed a lot of therapy before I was finally comfortable with calling myself a 'cozy mystery' author rather than a 'cosy mystery author.' I'm on a very steep learning curve as a new author anyway, and I frequently have to try and re-educate myself on things like grammar, but after reading reviews on cozy mystery books by other authors, whilst hunting down books for Free Book Friday, I've come across two things that have got me thinking recently.
My first observation was that there are a lot of British authors on Amazon who seemingly get poor reviews because of 'bad spelling and grammar', but when I actually looked at the book for myself, the spelling and grammar were absolutely normal - at least to me as a Brit. It also seems that British authors tend to use the 'Oxford comma' but American authors don't, and this was the main reason for the references to 'terrible grammar and punctuation' in the reader reviews. My second observation was that the British and Australian authors seemed to have a disclaimer on their book description, no doubt in a desperate attempt to avoid the poor reviews for their spelling and grammar....'this book is written in British English, and uses British grammar and spelling'. And yet, as Brits and Americans and Australians we apparently share a common language - English!
This got me thinking...should it actually be 'Cozy' or 'Cosy,' is there actually a right or wrong, and does it even matter? Technically, you could say that since Agatha Christie was one of the first authors in the genre and she was a Brit, therefore it should be 'cosy', and you might even argue that 'British English' was around way before 'American English.' But the fact remains, that the genre is still relatively unknown here in the UK, but is the second most popular genre after romance in the US.
This led me to another question. As a British author, I prefer to write in my own language of British English, but I can't deny that I have very few readers in the UK, and that the vast majority of my readers are in the US. If I want to please my readers and avoid the bad reviews for spelling and grammar, then there's a strong argument for me switching to American English in my books, but that would feel really weird, especially given that most of my stories have British characters and settings because that's what I know best. I've only been to the US briefly, passing through on my way to other countries and I just wouldn't feel right writing about a culture and places and in a language that I know so little about. America is a big place, and I wouldn't know where to start when world building! I would feel like I wasn't being authentic, and that I'd be doing a disservice to my readers. I'm not saying that you have to be a Brit or even have visited Britain in order to write cozies set in Britain, it's just that for me personally, I wouldn't have the first clue about writing an American English or cozy, but I have written a story set in Austria even though I've only been there once. I just happen to have had enough exposure to the setting I was writing in, that I felt I could write the story with a fair sense of authenticity.
But perhaps, therein lies the reason why I don't have many British or Australian readers. You see, I use the word 'Cozy Mystery' on my book covers and in my keywords, blurb, and description. So maybe that puts the 'Cosy' Mystery readers off my books, because like me when I first found the genre, I cringed at seeing the use of the letter 'z' instead of the letter 's'. I'm a little bit the same when it comes to audiobooks, because my brain has to work that much harder to get my ear around American narration, because I'm more used to hearing the varied dialects of Britain, even though I've lived all over the world, from India, to the West Indies, to the former USSR.
The other thing that I now find myself contemplating when I write, is the different words for objects, on top of all the weird and wonderful expressions that we Brits use in daily conversation without even 'batting an eyelid.' I feel like my readers are educating me with each new book that I write, and I love having a go-to community of lovely humans from around the world that I can ask for questions about word usage. Some words are rude in American English but not in British English (I once had an American editor who used the word 'period' rather than 'full stop' and I cringed each time I saw and heard the word used), and vice versa. Language is hugely important, and it can completely set a relationship off on the right or wrong foot. I'll give you an example...
I previously worked for the Ministry of Education and Science in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and one day happened to be introduced to the young daughter (about 4 years old) of one of the government Ministers. Without thinking about it, and after spending a fair amount of time interacting with his daughter, I happened to call her a little 'bossy boots' in jest. It's one of those British subtle and sarcastic ways of telling someone in an affectionate way that they are being a little bit too bossy and should reign it in a bit, in this case, rather harshly giving her poor baby brother the run around by getting him to do her bidding. Unknown to me at that time, was that there is a word in Georgian 'bosi' which basically means 'hoar.' No wonder all the Georgians in the room stopped and stared at me in horror! I had to very quickly explain that the word meant something entirely different in the English language!
It's these subtle differences between languages and culture and traditions that make me love my craft of writing. I get to explore what it means to be who I am, and to understand my own history, and where the language I use in daily life comes from. It also means that I get to explore the world through the eyes and ears of my readers too, to work out those branches where we divided in our shared history and to see how things change so quickly. You only have to look at the prose in a Shakespearean story or sonnet to see how much the English language has changed in Britain, and in a relatively short length of time. There are new words added to the English dictionary each year, words that didn't exist when I was a child, that are now used on a daily basis in normal life and situations. I find that quite exciting as a writer!
Anyways, I would love to know what you think. Are the books 'cozy' or 'cosy' where you live, and does it matter to you whether they are written in British English, American English, or Australian English? Are there any words that grate on you, like the word 'period' does with me when used in place of the word 'full-stop?' Or any British words or expressions that you would love to know the meaning of? I'd really love to hear what you think in the comments section below.
This month is all about celebrating the British themed cozy mystery books, and today's post is all about mysteries with a Scottish theme. Think haggis, Hogmanay, Highlands, and Hamish Macbeth! If you love stories set in Scotland, then you will certainly find something here to whet your whistle.
General Scottish Themed
Kilt and Tartan Themed
Bagpipe, Dance, and Jig Themed
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It's been a bit of a drizzly weather kind of week here in the North East of Britain and with the weekend soon upon us, I figured it was time to create the all time list of British cozy mystery series that you can watch this weekend. Let me know your top ten favourites, and of course, if I've missed any off the list!
More Traditional Cozy Mysteries
Cozy and Borderline Cozy Mysteries with police
Australian Cozy Mystery with British Connections
In yesterday's blog post we looked at some of the cozy mystery books set in English villages, which got me noticing some common themes you might find in a British cozy mystery (this month's free cozy mystery collection has lots of British books to download and is our topic for May 2019). One of those themes was tea, or more specifically tea shops or afternoon tea. Funnily enough, a decent cup of tea is the first thing that I miss whenever I visit a new country and I can see why it is associated with Brits and why we have such an obsession with it.
Afternoon Tea, London, and the Victorian Era
But I also have favourite places to enjoy a cuppa depending where I am, and how much spare change I might have. One of my go to places when I'm in London is the Grosvenor Hotel. I discovered this haunt many years ago after my train was cancelled at London Victoria Station and the toilets that you have to pay 20p to use were closed for cleaning. Busting for a pee, I noticed some old wooden doors along a long stone wall, and decided to see where they led. It was incredible to go from the noise and thick black smog and fumes of the railway platform of London Victoria Station, up a grand wooden staircase and to suddenly find myself in the plush-carpeted lobby of a stunning Grade II listed Victorian building, built in 1862.
It was one of those moments where you wait for a hand on your shoulder, to escort you from the premises for trespassing. Me in my shorts and t-shirt with a backpack having travelled from Europe by coach over a couple of days, and being met by a man who looked like a butler in his smart black suit and crisp white shirt. At which point I was whisked into a large room with chandeliers and comfortable furniture and before I knew it, was sat enjoying perfectly shaped cucumber sandwiches and drinking tea from a china pot! From that moment on, whenever my train was delayed or I found myself killing time between meetings or catching coaches, or meeting people to talk business, the Grosvenor Hotel became my go to place in London. Never have I been so excited as when my train is delayed - especially since you then become eligible for a refund on your ticket as compensation! My little slice of paradise. I can totally see why tea shops, afternoon tea, and Victorian things might end up as themes in a British cozy mystery book!
Tea Drinking and Types of Tea
Before tea, Britain was a nation of coffee drinkers, and the reason for Twinings being based at the Strand is because of the proximity to the coffee houses (men only) where the legal and business people of London would have their meetings and make important investment decisions. It was actually a Portuguese princess who first brought tea to Britain, and at that time tea was like gold dust - locked up in a tiny box, taken out for her to enjoy with her maids. Tea must have seemed even more important to that princess, given that people mainly drank ale at that time, and on arrival in Britain and after stepping off the ship, that was the first thing that was offered to her. Drunk instead of water, because water wasn't so clean back then and would make you pretty sick.
When other ladies in high society began to see the princess drinking tea, a new trend started, and over a long period of time, began to spread to the different fancy houses throughout Britain. Each house having its own special blend, chosen by the lady of the house - so it could be enjoyed in the comfort of one's own home. That is how we came to have 'Earl Grey' tea (after the Prime Minister Charles Grey in 1830 - he liked a hint of bergamot in his blend) and 'Lady Grey' tea (created for the Nordic market in the 1990s because they were less keen on Earl Grey, and it had the addition of orange and lemon). If you visited the Grey's home and happened to have tea with them and liked the blend they had, then the next time that the Twinings representative came to your house to deliver your tea leaves, you could ask them to make up the blend that you had at the home you had visited. There's a lot more complicated history where tea is involved, many themed perfectly for cozy mysteries - Boston tea party, Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter's tea party, tea tax...oh for more writing time:)
I suppose, in a way, you could say that women were responsible for the rise of tea drinking in Britain, the men tending to drink coffee. Growing up, I had tea drinking great aunts who got me hooked right from when I was a baby (laced with sugar and milk and served in a pink Tommee Tippee beaker with a lid! No doubt purchased from Boots or Woolworths), and as I grew up, there was no such thing as Starbucks or coffee houses on the corner of every street. Tea was always drunk at home, up until the 80s I suppose, when McDonalds and coffee shops became a thing in Britain, and the nation began to enjoy coffee again. It always makes me laugh to think of my grandparents and how excited they seemed to be to order a cup of coffee as if it was some brand new, unusual thing to do. People didn't go out to coffee shops when they were growing up, so they really seemed to embrace this in their retirement years or after a meal at a pub or on a cruise holiday with Saga.
Tea is like blood for a Brit like me, it runs through my veins. Tea with milk of course! Milk or tea first is an ongoing and important case for debate, as is the shade of the tea. During the Victorian era, the British army soldiers would use tea to stain their white pith helmets - to help camouflage themselves against the enemy. Then in World War I soldiers were given tea as part of their daily rations, to help boost morale in the trenches. The tea was just what they needed to conceal the horrid taste of water supplies that had been transported in old tin petrol cans.
I'd love to write a cozy mystery set in the 300 year old Twinings store one day. It was an incredible place to visit, with so many jars of wonderful looking and smelling teas. It's the narrowest shop in Britain, and even has its own resident ghost.....just perfect for a paranormal cozy! Do visit it, if you ever get the opportunity on a trip to London. But make sure you have room for all the teas and coffees you find yourself sampling and buying! I'd love to have my own blend of tea one day. That's definitely one for the bucket list.
Other Common Themes in British Cozy Mysteries
I've tried to compile a list of themes that I have spotted in British cozy mysteries, but I'm sure there are more to add:
Growing up in Britain, I confess that I took the English village for granted, assuming that it was essentially something that existed everywhere in the world. I hadn't travelled outside of Britain until I was in my mid to late twenties, apart from the odd school trip to Germany or France on an exchange. It wasn't until I lived in the West Indies, and later in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, that I found myself really appreciating just how special and unique the English village is. There is nothing like living abroad to make you all nostalgic about your own country!
Finding myself surrounded by a group of small children in Georgia, who were keen to read to me in English to show me how good they were at learning, they happened to read a piece in their text book about Britain and the things you might find there. The opportunity to travel seemed as unlikely to them as it had to me at that age - the equivalent of taking a spaceship to the moon. Money was minimal and visas a rarity, so it was up to me to try as hard as I could to bring the outside world in to the children. One small boy on reading a passage about social life in Britain, happened to ask me whether people drank Chacha (a Georgian drink, a bit like vodka). Before I knew it, I found myself trying to explain that people drank things like ale and gin in the local pub, and sometimes people liked to go out for a 'pub lunch'. It turns out that it is really difficult to explain something that has little comparison to those who have never experienced or seen it - especially when those people are children. Apart from which, I then had to explain the different types of settlement; city, town, village, hamlet. It was a fascinating learning experience for me and the first time that I realised why tourists to Britain love the places they visit and refer to them as quaint.
You see, I had grown up in the Royal County of Berkshire where I lived in a house in the middle of a field on a vineyard in Hampstead Norreys for my first few years of life. I had grandparents in the pretty towns of Henley-On-Thames (you might know it from The Social Network) and Wallingford (plenty of Midsomer Murders filmed here) and when I was about 4 we moved to the coast in Dorset where I did things like geography field trips to pretty places like Corfe Castle. Later on, I lived near to the village of Turville where The Vicar of Dibley was filmed, and when I went to college in the north of England, I lived in other lovely towns and villages like Ambleside and regularly hiked to my favourite lake from the village of Grasmere.
From my experiences of living in and around English villages, there are certain aspects that make them the lovely things they are - an old church, sometimes a castle, ruins, or at least a long sense of history. They tend to have few roads and houses, wooden sign posts the wrong way around, usually at least one pub but not always shops. They have lots of flowers and hanging baskets, and are in rural locations, with red telephone boxes or post boxes, walled cottage gardens full of lavender and roses, and old stone buildings with moss or plants growing up them. Sometimes the house might have a thatched roof, and the door is usually low so you have to stoop as you enter into rooms with beamed ceilings. Villages almost always have a graveyard with falling down headstones and lots of graves with similar surnames on them. If you are really lucky, then there might be a village green where people play cricket in the summer and eat cucumber sandwiches or drink tea during the afternoon tea break, or perhaps a duck pond or some kind of stream or river flowing through them. Sometimes the village has a ford that you have to cross to get into the village. With a stone bridge or creepy looking old forest and trees filled with bluebells. But best of all, the village pub has a beer garden and on sunny days you can sit outside on a rickety wooden bench and eat fresh, hot crusty rolls filled with ham and pickle (or perhaps you prefer a Ploughmans lunch or pork pie?), and then get cross because the wasps are annoying you and the sun is in your eyes. I love a proper English village! I live in a noisy and stinky town at the moment and am very nostalgic for a childhood filled with villages, so I'm very prone to cozies set in rural England.
Here are a selection to get you started. Let me know if you have other recommendations in the comments section below. Happy reading!
In yesterday's blog post I wrote about my understanding of what makes a cozy mystery, and what we mean by a British cozy mystery. So today, I thought I would share with you some examples of popular British cozy mystery books. I'm sorry to say that I've not yet managed to read most of these, but I'm certainly going to be adding them to my 'to be read' pile. I'd love to know if you have read any of these, or perhaps you have other books you would like to recommend. I'll add one of my own books to the mix as well in case you want to give it a whirl. Happy Reading!
It might surprise you to learn that I had no clue what a cozy mystery was, even though I had been working on films and television dramas for some 20 years. In fact, it wasn't until I was on the set of an Agatha Christie series and had started writing books myself, that I came to learn that the books and TV programmes I had devoured all my life were considered to be 'cozy mysteries'. How is that possible you might ask? Well, the thing is, though I was and still am one of those people who love hanging around libraries and book shops, I had never seen a section entitled 'cozy mysteries' and even today, I've not come across a single label that even mentions the word 'cozy' or 'cosy' (the preferred British and Australian spelling). I even asked for cozy mystery books in some of the bigger book shops and chains and was met with a confused face, yet ask for the sci-fi, romance, or gardening section and you have no problem at all being guided to rows and rows of books to choose from. This is pretty surprising when you come to realise that the second biggest selling genre on Amazon - romance being the number one most popular genre- is cozy mystery. I am so jealous of readers in the US who post pictures of their cozy book hauls from book shops and even from thrift stores. It just doesn't seem to be a thing here in the UK (FYI, I'm planning to change all that with the first National Cozy Mystery Book Day in September, but I'm really going to need your help with this!). I am longing for the day when I can walk right up to the cozy mystery section of Waterstones, WHSmiths, Foyles, or Blackwells and have a range of books to choose from - including my own!
Yet the genre is hugely popular in Britain, and when these kinds of books do appear, they are simply stacked on the shelf alongside 'hardboiled' crime and thriller books. And even then, you will most likely only find the books of Agatha Christie. It is a sad fact of life here in Britain (Britain is made up of the countries England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), that the cozy mystery is just not a genre that people know the name of, even though every other television show could in fact be considered a cozy; Poirot, Miss Marple, Death in Paradise, Rosemary and Thyme, Shakespeare and Hathaway, Father Brown, Cadfael, Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, Jonathan Creek, Midsomer Murders...you get the picture!
That makes it even more ironic that British Cozies are a bit of a thing, loved by Anglophiles the world over, and often not written by British authors. But there are plenty of great books and authors to choose from: Rhys Bowen, Carola Dunn, Nancy Atherton, Robin Stevens for a start.
What is a Cozy Mystery?
A cozy (or cosy) mystery is just that - COZY. It makes you feel warm and snug. It is a sub-genre of crime fiction, but without the explicit sex and violence, and the person doing the investigating or solving the mystery is generally an amateur sleuth rather than a police officer. It usually features quirky characters, sometimes a bit of humour, but is generally light-hearted and good always wins in the end and just desserts are served once the mystery is solved.
Cozy mysteries are the kind of book that you don't get embarrassed about when your child or granny finds them and starts to read out loud. The focus is on the atmosphere rather than the violence or murder itself. The murder tends to happen 'off stage' as it were.
What is a British Cozy Mystery?
A British cozy mystery to me, is a cozy mystery that takes place in Britain or at a stretch has British characters as the lead characters. Though some people might argue that a British cozy mystery could be defined as a cozy mystery written by a British author, but I'm not sure that I strictly agree with that. My Dead on Doughnuts story has British characters and is partly set in Oxford, but the majority of the book is set on a fictional ski resort in Austria, with other European characters taking lead roles. Even though I'm a Brit, I'm not sure that I would consider this a British cozy mystery. Compared to 'Baa'd to the Bone' which is set on a farm near Swansea, Wales, and is definitely a British cozy mystery.
To me, the magic of the British cozy mystery is that it evokes the senses - the smell of an English rose in a fabulous Downton Abbey style manor house garden, the taste of bangers and mash in some backstreet London cafe, the sound of the River Thames flowing past the chiming Big Ben, or the look of the colourful beach huts and seagulls eating from fish and chip wrappers at the seaside in Brighton. It should make you nostalgic for everything British. I've lived all over the world and it was only when I started to live and make friends in other cultures that I started to really understand this whole Anglophile thing. As an ex-pat there were things that I came to miss about Britain (salad cream, Cheddar cheese, tea with milk, Branston pickle, Baked Beans on toast, British sarcasm) and these are what really bring a British cozy mystery to life. Brits are strange creatures (myself included) and you can usually spot them a mile off when you see them abroad. I used to live in the West Indies and I knew a Brit from far away, because they were usually lobster pink from over exposing themself to the sunshine, or had their shirt tucked into their shorts, or wore socks with their sandals. They generally looked grumpy and uptight, but at the end of their holiday they blended in a little more with their surroundings, and then looked miserable again as they realised it was time to return home. I'm stereotyping here, but you get the gist. Probably why I loved that first episode of Death in Paradise so much as it was something I could definitely relate to!
British cozies include things like references to the weather, and expressions or words that have resulted from an island nation shaped by invaders and their languages over hundreds of years. As I say, it is about the atmosphere that the author creates - this is what makes a British cozy mystery for me.
In many ways Death in Paradise has all the feels of a true British cozy mystery because of the strong main character Richard Pool and references to British quirks, as well as being set on a fictional island with historical connections to Britain. Apart from which, the Brits generally have a love/hate relationship with anything French, so we get these vibes even more so with Death in Paradise because we see the Britishness presented against a contrasting backdrop. Plus tea references, sarcasm, and being a misery or grump. Death in Paradise doesn't really meet the cozy criteria since it is based on a police department, but it certainly has all the cozy feels!
What makes a story a 'cozy' or 'British cozy' for you? Do you have any favourite settings - pub, manor house, tea room? Do you have any favourite authors of British cozies? I'd love to know what you think in the comments section below. Don't forget that you can get all of my books BEFORE I publish them on Amazon, for $1 a month by becoming a patron.
Happy month of May everyone, and a very big welcome to this month's free cozy mystery collection. This month we are exploring British themed cozies. Pip pip and all that...enjoy!
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