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.
Audiobooks that you can Grab for a Discounted Price with your Ebook
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.
Audiobooks You Can Get at a Discounted Price with your Ebook
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!
Audiobooks That You Can Download for a Discount with Your Ebook
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
Audiobooks that you Can Download for a Discount with the Ebook
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: