Tuning The Ear

Dorothy Cannell: For the past several years I have been focusing much of my mystery 534392_471646666199537_383056311_nreading on golden oldies in the tradition of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey, Georgette Heyer, Patricia Wentworth, etc.. The reason – I enjoy them and they are relatable to my memories of growing up in England. Apart from the murders that is! No one I knew got ‘done in’ with a blunt instrument, stole information from the Foreign Office to aid The Enemy, or altered great Aunt Henrietta’s will before poisoning her snuff.

I’m talking about the days of steam engines, sending telegrams, sitting by the fire listening to plays on the radio, and going down the road to the telephone box to place a call. Also I wanted to write a series set in a time when conversation involved language – words and phrases that are vanishing from common usage – and only by immersing myself in such reading could I bring some of these snippets back into my head.

Screenshot 2014-03-12 21.17.08Before starting on Murder at Mullings, the first of my Florence Norris books set in the nineteen-thirties, I began a notebook of ‘talk” and continued to add to it through Death at Dovecote Hatch and through the plotting of Peril in the Parish. Here are some examples:



Knocked around the world.

He’s (she’s) good value.

Put the touch on him.

How utterly ghastly.

My giddy aunt!

A dull dog.

Puling creature.

What a filthy thing to say.

Made the most frightful scene

Don’t be beastly, darling!

Uttered a strangled cry.

Nothing of the Sahib about the Colonel.

Respectable woman of straightened means.

Handsome of you.

Completely shattered.

Coming along a treat after his operation.

None of your lip, my girl.

That one would steal from a blind man’s mug.

You say another word and I’ll knock you into the middle of next week.

‘Nonsense’, he ejaculated! (My favorite).

I don’t know that this will be helpful to anyone, but I’ve typed out two of my handwritten Question markpages. Short of taking a time machine back to the nineteen-thirties, reading my way there was not only useful for tuning my ear but enormous fun. I recommend the trip.

Happy March.


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13 Responses to Tuning The Ear

  1. Gram says:

    What fun. I can’t wait to read the book(s).

  2. Lea Wait says:

    Love those words and phrases, Dorothy! It’s language that can make (or break) a book — one set today (because of regionalisms) and certainly one set in the past. Now, pardon me while I get out my lists of words …..

  3. Language … one of the many reasons I shall miss Downton Abbey so. 😉

  4. John Clark says:

    Thank you. It’s great fun to remember the crafty use of language back then. It was one of the reasons I fell in love with Edgar Rice Burroughs as a kid. It was a great way to let my mind chew on new words in a context that invited imagination, a habit that remains to this day.

  5. Dorothy says:

    While there are word nuts around, there’s hope for the world.

  6. Coco Ihle says:

    Dorothy, you are a woman after mine own heart! Brava! Love the list!
    I’m also in mourning about the loss of Downton Abby!

  7. Amber Foxx says:

    Loved “knock you into next week.” Fun post.

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