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.
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.