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.
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