For Your Viewing Pleasure:   British Cozy Mysteries to Stream

For Your Viewing Pleasure:   British Cozy Mysteries to Stream

In the past couple of months, I have discovered some wonderful British cozy murder mystery series.  The British really know how to do cozy murders for television. The stories are always a little bit funny, with enduring characters, and a hint of romance.  These shows are mostly on BritBox and Acorn TV, which are the two British television streaming channels. A couple are on the PBS Masterpiece streamer. The easiest way to watch all of these shows, is to add the channels to your Amazon Prime Video. That way no matter where you are and what streaming box you’re using, you can watch. 

Magpie Murders (PBS Masterpiece) – Susan Ryland is a successful book editor, but when her most famous murder mystery writer turns in his book without the final chapter and then dies mysteriously, she’s got a double mystery on her hands. Where’s the chapter? And did someone kill the author?  This ingenious series switches between Susan’s present day investigation and the murder mystery from the book set in 1953. 

Miss Scarlett & the Duke (PBS Masterpiece) – Set in the 1880s, Miss Scarlett is the first woman private detective in London, taking over her father’s firm.  She works and clashes with a handsome Scotland Yard detective. 

Shakespeare & Hathaway (BritBox) – Set in present day Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown, Louella Shakespeare and Frank Hathway are private investigators.  The assistant Sebastian, an aspiring actor, goes undercover as wacky characters. 

Signora Volpe (BritBox) – Follows a British spy who goes to a small Italian town for her niece’s wedding and gets drawn into a mystery when the groom disappears. 

MacDonald & Hobbs (BritBox) – Ambitious DCI Lauren MacDonald is transferred to Bath from London and even worse she is partnered with strange DS Hobbs.  But he turns out to be a savant, seeing connections others don’t, and together they make a great team. 

Agatha Raisin (Acorn TV) – PR powerhouse Agatha Raisin retires early and buys her dream cottage in a village in the Cotswolds where she is promptly accused of murder.  In trying to clear herself, she discovers a talent for solving murder and makes friends with the quirky characters in the village. 

Sister Boniface Mysteries (BritBox) – Set in a village in the 1960s, forensic scientist and perpetually perky Sister Boniface assists the local police detective.

Madam Blanc (Acorn TV) –  Mrs. White’s husband dies on an antique buying trip in the south of France.  The police say it was an accident, but she proves it was murder and that her antiques knowledge can help solve crimes. 

Happy watching!

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How to Paint a Narwhal

How to Paint a Narwhal

This past weekend I went to a paint your pottery place with my three sisters (sister, sister-in-law, and pseudo sister). As always when we get together, it was an adventure. Of the four of us, I had never been to the pottery place before and I am the least artistic, by a lot. I mean if there is a visual artistic talent continuum, I might be the baseline for no talent.

The top talent of our group were my sister and sister-in-law. My sister is a talented artist. When she was a teenager, she would draw these elaborate animals that looked like numbers for the page numbers of her letters from camp. I vividly remember a beautiful swan she drew to be a number two. We also had a family craft tradition of drawing on these special plastic plates. Her sun and rainbow plates were legendary. During the Lockdown, my sister-in-law got really into decoupage and learned how to make candles. You can check out her stuff here on Instagram. She also got her real estate license. (That last bit has nothing to do with creativity. I just wanted to show what a go-getter she is. I spent my Lockdown, thinking the world was going to end, drinking a lot of wine, eating a lot of Oreos, and binge reading cozy mysteries.) As for my pseudo sister, I wasn’t sure where she was in our sister artistic continuum, but I knew she was above me.

A Fabulous Foursome

My sister picked the biggest coffee cup you have ever seen and started putting letters on it to spell peace and happy and drawing her trademark sun and some clouds. My sister-in-law arrived with a project in mind – a bowl with an elaborate design. She had reference pictures on her phone of the the types of birds she was going to ring the bowl with. Pseudo sister chose a shot glass. A very wise choice in terms of surface area to paint. She took her inspiration from one of the store’s finished pieces that had lime slices on it. The store helpfully provided a stencil and she went to work. I chose to paint a narwhal coffee cup. As you know, I am a coffee cup collector and the thought of a self-painted narwhal cup made me smile. I have a minor neurological problem with small motor control, which means that using my hands for detail work like painting is a bit harder for me than most people. I thought painting the narwhal would be easy because it was mostly one color with a little detail in the face and horn.

I find our range of creative approaches really interesting. We have some creator archetypes here.

  • The Free Wheeler – Having an idea and discovering more along the way.
  • The Planner – Coming with a project and reference material.
  • The Handywoman – adeptly using tools (the stencils).
  • The Realist – knowing her limits and picking a project to suit.

So what are the take aways?

  • Everyone approaches creative projects differently. So find the approach that works for you. And if it works for you, don’t compare your process to someone else’s.
  • If what you are doing isn’t working, try something different.
  • Every project is different, so what worked last time might not work this time. Be open to shifting your approach, even mid stream.
  • Play to your strengths or recognize your weaknesses and set expectations accordingly.
  • And finally things rarely turn out the way you planned.

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Your Pitching Secret Weapon – the Project Cocktail Pitch

Your Pitching Secret Weapon – the Project Cocktail Pitch

The project cocktail pitch is a short powerful way to pitch in any situation from cocktail parties to business meetings.   How do you talk about your projects in a compelling and entertaining way?  First, remember that pitching is selling, not telling.  Your goal is to sell your project, not to tell all the details of your story.  How do you sell? By getting your listeners to connect with your story and say “tell me more.”  Instead of just telling your story, ideally  you grab their attention so they want to hear more.  Think of your cocktail pitch as an audio version of your movie trailer.  The best trailers don’t show the whole movie.  They show just enough so that you know the concept and the characters and want to go to the movie to see what happens. 

Tell me more can mean a bunch of things that get you one step closer to a sale.  It can mean:

  • Send me the material.
  • Come in for a meeting.
  • Keep talking and tell me more of the story.
  • And the holy grail, I’ll buy it!

How to Craft Your Project Cocktail Pitch

1. Start with your genre & format.  By labeling your project, you let your audience know exactly what kind of story they are listening to.  Examples: Single camera sitcom, supernatural TV drama, spy thriller feature.

2. Use touchstones.  Mention successful projects that have a connection to your story.  The tried and true blank meets blank (Frozen meets the Avengers) is the most common way to bring in touchstones.  The meets technique may feel cliched, but it is a cliché for a reason; it works!  If executives hear Frozen meets the Avengers, they immediately know a lot about your movie.  It is princess superheroes in a fairy tale world.  Sold!   Another way to use touchstones is to put them in a different setting like Frozen in high school.   A third way is to mention projects that share the same audience as yours.  This movie is for fans of Frozen & The Princess Bride.  In this example, we know that this pitch is about a comedy fairy tale romance.  HINT: Be sure to use commercially successful touchstones.  It doesn’t help you make the sale, if you’re comparing your project to a box office bomb or a show that didn’t make it through the first season. 

3. Hook your audience with the emotional hook. Emotion sells.  Make your characters’ struggle relatable.  You can use a metaphor (office politics is high school with suits.)  An archetype (the high school mean girl is now ruling the PTA.)  Or ask a question.  Have you ever wondered what happened to the high school mean girl?

4. Next, introduce your main character and their emotional drive.  Katniss is an ordinary 16 year-old girl whose selfless sacrifice to save her sister’s life starts a revolution. HINT:  If you have an ensemble, start with the group leader and then make everyone archetypes.  (The Con Man, the Optimist, The Brains.)

5. Then onto the Story Appetizer, which is 3 to 5 sentences about your story.  Here is where you can share a bit more about the main character, what they are trying to accomplish and how they do it.  If you need to, here is where you can talk about the world of the story and the bad guy.

6. Finally, end on a Cliffhanger.  Emphasize the emotional stakes.  Can your characters do it?  Will she get a date to the wedding or be at the singles table with the great aunts? Will they rob the bank so Joe can get his kidney transplant?  With the cliffhanger, you leave your listener on the edge of their seat so they say, tell me more.

Cocktail Pitch example

This animated movie is The Dirty Dozen meets the Big Bang Theory.  This is that age old struggle of the  geeks vs. the jocks and how it feels when you know you can be the hero, but you’re always overlooked. Our story takes place in the world of holiday icons where Santa and the Easter Bunny are the cool kids.  But when they’re kidnapped, the unsung holiday icons lead by Earl the Groundhog from Groundhog Day, must rescue Santa and save Christmas. Will our group of ragtag heroes be able to work together and get Santa back to the North Pole in time?

When do you use a cocktail pitch?

  • Networking
  • In meetings
  • In emails
  • As the introduction to your longer formal pitch

Now you have the project cocktail pitch formula, and with little practice you should feel ready to pitch to anybody, anywhere, anytime. 

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