With the countdown to 25th December in just hours now, here’s a little help with eleventh-hour preparations:
From Sunday until Christmas Eve, the Christmas cozy paranormal mystery, Amanda Cadabra and The Flawless Plan is free on Amazon Kindle. For 72 hours, this is for you to download, send as a last-minute gift, stocking filler or reward to yourself. After all, you deserve a treat, especially now.
Here’s a little video you might like to send to someone who needs to beat the clock. Or they may be a fellow fan who loves a humorous British whodunnit with a wandful of magic and a hint of romance sprinkled on the top.
This is the last special offer of the year. Still, I will have news of one for January 2020, especially for anyone who would like to start on the Amanda Cadabra series. More of that next time.
Meanwhile, here is my latest article for the Books Go Social Magazine – Holiday Reads. If you’d like inspiration for seasonal literary indulgences, follow the link where you can read or download the magazine and enjoy a wealth of recommendations and ideas.
And so to conclude, may I wish you the very best of the holidays, love, friendship, sumptuous food, beautiful settings, merriment and all that is fine and light and of good cheer.
Back next week,
PS If you want to start the series:
The poisoned sherry, the gunshot from the snow-covered terrace, the knife beneath the festive tree, the blackmail note inside the gift-wrap. How can we resist?
With mystery, thrillers and crime topping the Kindle charts only just behind romance, what is the appeal of the genre at this time of year?
People gather who customarily avoid one another like the plague, but under familial pressure, a sense of duty, or fear of isolation, duly attend the party. Let us set aside the convivial ideal gathering, and inspect instead the potential for delightfully deadly conflict.
Hosts prepare exceptional food, guests dress up and bring presents: all potential pawns in the battle for status, approval and a place in the family head’s will! The cooking of an ambitious feast causes tension in the kitchen. Old feuds are rekindled. Light the blue touch paper … and stand back.
The writer will set us up with apparent comfort and joy. The fairy lights, candles, tinsel and baubles on the tree, sparking wrapping and satin ribbon adorn the setting. Cards are exchanged, full of sentiment, heartfelt or spurious. Seasonal music fills the air, carols in the village church, singers with lanterns outside the door, old favourites around the piano and on the radio. The banquet is rolled out, to oohs and ahhhs as the turkey or goose in all its golden splendour is borne from the kitchen. The pops of the crackers sound, the laughter at the awful jokes, paper crowns. perched comically. The tastes of the savoury and sweet are relished. A feast for the senses. Smiling faces, goodwill … and then ….
The sudden, shocking interruption. The dive into a world of plots, suspicion, passion and dark deeds until the awful truth is revealed. Contrast follows again with the happy ending, the victim given justice, and the innocent exonerated. The lights come back on, the toast is drunk, and the Christmas spirit is all the greater for the drama that has unfolded.
For an example, I reach for a Christmas crime by the godmother of the cozy mystery: Dame Agatha Christie.
Interestingly her prime cozy sleuth Miss Marple is unavailable for the winter celebration. However, her Belgian private detective, Hercule Poirot, comes to our rescue in a short story. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding is the one Christie that could only have unfolded during that time of year.
Poirot rejects the whole idea of the traditional rural English Christmas. The countryside signifies the damp and chill of old stone mansions, and, he declares, the occasion is, in his native land, reserved for children. However, the plight of a hapless prince and royal scandal are in the balance. The young man has been robbed of a priceless family heirloom: a suitably red ruby.
The trail leads to Kings Lacey. With the promise of efficient central heating and hot water, our beloved Belgian agrees to join a family party there. Dinner brings a dazzling surprise with an unexpected object in the plum pudding. How did it get there? Soon there is a more pressing question as the red and white of yuletide turns to blood on the snow. Who is responsible for the footprints leading out to the body lying in the garden?
Christie throws in twists and turns to bring the path to a satisfactory conclusion. Not the best written, but it is her most Christmassy and tosses us from interest, to anticipation, to engagement, to shock, to resolution and back to seasonal joy.
However, I would suggest that our attachment to Christmas crime goes back far earlier than Christie. At the dawn of our human consciousness, the first mystery surely would have been why nature died, the days darkened, the air chilled. And then, a further curiosity, why the earth revived, lightened and warmed.
It is innate in us all to seek cause and effect. Could it be that at this time of year we have some genetic, tribal memory linking us to that first puzzle? Our forebears attempted to explain it, with what we still do: telling stories. An example is the tale of the battles at the solstices between Oak, king of summer and Holly, lord of winter.
Isn’t that what a mystery is? Not cause and effect, but effect first: a dead body. Who or what caused it? Whodunnit.
So as the death of nature resolves into the beginning of the lengthening of days, what better genre to celebrate with than a mystery? In harmony with the seasonal spirit, what better than a cozy mystery?
As a global event, the solstice is celebrated or has a history of celebration in some form or another across the world. Whether with tinsel and glitter, candles and bonfires, smiles and laughter, add a mystery, and let there be light.
I have just written the first thousand words of Amanda Cadabra Book 5. This is the right moment to answer the question, what does it feel like to do that? What is the creative process? Did I force myself to sit at a desk and commit to writing a certain number of words in an afternoon? Some great works of fiction have been created using such discipline. However, in my case, this is how it happened ….
Where to start?
It’s been a few weeks since I finished the fourth in the Amanda Cadabra cozy paranormal mysteries series. So after a plot map – a rough one then a tidier one, both in a big sketchbook – the first step was to reconnect with the last book, Amanda Cadabra and The Rise of Sunken Madley. Next, I checked where we’d got to in the story arc, what our characters know, and what has been shared with you, dear readers.
I like to weave the strands of the self-contained story of each book in and out of one another, together with the over-arching plot that runs through the whole series. Consequently, I made notes on the plot sketch of what needs to interspersed.
Researching the Real World
Each book includes settings and details that are new to me. For example, for Book 2, Amanda Cadabra and The Cellar of Secrets, I had to research spies, bombs and air-raids. For Book 3, Amanda Cadabra and The Flawless Plan it was how they celebrated the end of the first world war that Christmas, structural damage, and 1930’s firearms.
For this sequel, I followed my nose in and out of research on Wikipedia and other internet sites. And then I knew. The first chapter suddenly was obvious to me. I had the document open with the first few lines. I pulled it up from under my browser windows, and my fingers began to type. The lines came quickly with no time for spelling or grammar checks. Out it flowed as though I were taking dictation from my own mind.
Soon I am between two worlds: this one and the world of Amanda Cadabra. As I type, I move more and more into that fantasy existence … My eyes are on the screen, my fingers tapping on the keyboard, but before my eyes is … the sitting room at 26 Orchard Row, in the English village of Sunken Madley. I am seated on the chintz sofa of the Cadabra’s house beside Granny – Senara Cadabra. Before me on the coffee table is a cup of tea in a white, delicately floral patterned, Wedgwood china cup. I see Amanda handing Inspector Trelawney a matching dish of shortcake. I can see the plate. I know the design, the gilded edges …. I know how the room smells, how each person smiles, the exact colour of their eyes, the timbre, intonation of each voice … It is as though I hear them speak rather than give them their lines. They give me theirs.
Three hours later, and I’m back. I’m hungry, thirsty, stiff, and the room is stuffy. How do I get back into my body and the real world? How else … with a cup of tea!
And that, for the most part, is how all of every book comes to me. In between, I have to do a great deal of checking and learning. Yet somehow I remain in the fantasy zone as I come and go between fiction and non-fiction. Any fact at all of which I am not certain must be verified. That is part of world-building, or perhaps it is simply what allows me to perceive that other world.
What does it mean?
Some theorise that when an author writes fiction in this way, they are seeing a reality that exists somewhere on some plane or other – an alternative reality, another universe. Others say that we are creating a reality that then somehow, somewhere comes into being.
In my case, all I can say is that it seems real to me when I am immersed in the creative experience. That is what enables me to make it real to you, so that you might have that door at the back of the wardrobe, the way through the looking-glass, the ticket for The Hogwarts Express, down the rabbit hole, the leap into the chalk drawing.
So when I finish a book and load it onto Amazon, what I am really saying is,’ Come with me … let me share with you … let me show you this other place of mystery, magic, people to know, love, relate to, suspect. This cozy place where, ultimately, good will triumph, and at the end of each book, for now at least, all is right with the world.’
Thank you to every one of you who have read or plan to read one or more of the books, even just looked at a cover, come to visit this site, peeped through the keyhole, or encouraged me to keep writing.
Why do I do it? Why do I write? Because I can’t help myself!
Don’t Force It
Can I make what I have described happen? No. I have wait for the wave. Sometimes you just have to sit on the beach and watch the sea, admire the sky, listen to the gulls, tend your surfboard. There is always the clam and mussel digging of marketing, the rockpool, net-and-jam-jar visits of research and, sometimes, it’s just a matter of lying back on the sand.
Yesterday, book reviewer Nicole Pyles kindly published her recent interview with me. If you’d enjoy a little more insight and inspiration to continue with or create some fiction of your own, you’ll find it here:
Next weekend, I’ll have news of the free Kindle days that will be just before Christmas Day to help with your eleventh-hour gifts. Until then,
PS If you want to start the series:
Sharing with you
A smile, a greeting, good wishes, cards or gifts, this, especially, is the time of year for sharing. You may not know this, but writers who sell their books on Amazon make very little on paperbacks (we have to pay the printing costs out of our percentage of the royalties). But, what I have I’m sharing with you. To make your giving a little easier, you can get a ten per cent discount during a short window.
For just 72 hours from Monday to Wednesday 10 – 12th December here’s help with your Christmas shopping. If you order now, you can be sure of getting that cozy fan present in time for the big day.
Amanda Cadabra and The Flawless Plan. The story takes place over Christmas, and if you’re new to the book or the series, expect action, magic, laughter, surprises and bookish delight. (For those of you familiar with it, yes, it does have a brand new cover!)
Although this is the third novel in the British humorous cozy paranormal mystery series, each adventure is self-contained, with its own puzzle and er … body! It’s a by-the-fire (or in the hammock, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere) read for the winter before, during or after Yule.
Do you know someone who’d love an asthmatic, furniture-restoring young witch tackling a body wrapped in an enigma, with a dash of danger, topped off with a happy ending? Maybe a future fan of the genre? The most important thing is that you sign it to them with love.
And here is a little video about it to watch or send:
For a stocking filler, either for you or someone you to want to treat, the kindle version will have its own couple of free days just before Christmas Day. (Dates to be announced soon!) Sometimes you need that last-minute present or a little luxury to reward yourself what you may have put into making the occasion special.
Amanda Cadabra Book 5: 1000 words
On the writing front, I have news for you. Last night, I wrote the first 1000 words of Book 5. How did it happen? How does it feel? That is a story for another post.
Meanwhile, happy sparkles in the dark days.
PS If you want to start the series:
Today, here is the much-anticipated release of the video of the church and choir of Monken Hadley.
When I began formulating the very first book in the series, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, before I had a title in mind or a location, I knew that I wanted an English village that I, as a city girl, born and bred, could understand. That is, a place with a richly diverse cultural mix of inhabitants which reflects the big cities of the UK and London in particular. So a hamlet on the outskirts of the metropolis would be ideal. It needed to be historic, green and pleasant. I studied the map and found a possible candidate. As soon as I drove into it, I knew that I had found my village. As the books are not about the actual place or any of the people who live or work there – and I knew no one there at that time – and the book is fiction, I didn’t want to use the real name: Monken Hadley. However, I wanted something that it inspired and, as the series is light-hearted, something comical. Hence, Sunken Madley.
And so it came into being. Over the months, I visited and met the kindly folk of the village and was overwhelmed by their support, interest and generous co-operation in my literary, photographic and videographic endeavours. When one or two referred to me as ‘our author’ I was deeply moved. The people whom I have met have made me feel like an honorary villager, and I hope that the series does their beautiful location every credit and brings as much pleasure to you, dear reader, as it does to me in the creation of it.
The video was filmed in the beautiful medieval church of St Mary the Virgin, Monken Hadley. It includes clips of the musical director Stephen Tatlow, without whom I would not have been able to bring this to your screens, rehearsing and conducting the choir singing for The Nine Lessons at Christmas last year. The song is in Latin, Gaudete, a carol of rejoicing. The image shows a page from the Piae Cantiones, a Swedish-Finnish sacred song collection from the sixteenth century.
If you think it’s entirely out of date, consider that it made it into the UK charts in the 1970s and was performed on Top of the Pops. Yes, really. In Latin, and to an enthusiastic audience. Which just goes to show that some things never go out of fashion indefinitely. Rather like the cosy mystery, which saw its birth and heyday in the 1930s and is now enjoying a welcome resurgence and immense popularity.
Should you ever get the chance, do visit the church of St Mary the Virgin in Monken Hadley. Its doors are always open, and the people of the village are friendly and welcoming. Sometimes there is a free music concert on Sunday afternoons when you can enjoy the sight as well as the sound of the gracious building. A few paces along the lane that runs past the church, and you will come to Monken Hadley Common, a wide grassy space, fringed and dotted with trees and with an actual village pond on the green. Come at the right time, and you’ll see the flag irises nodding on its margin. Regardless of the season, I have found it a delightful place to visit and photograph. Many of the images are here or in the book trailers.
Amanda Cadabra Book 4 is now in the pipeline taking place during the winter and possibly the beginning of spring. Would you like to be on the latest developments of that? Come on in to the Latest News group. Next up will be news of the paperback of Amanda Cadabra and The Flawless Plan and the first series box set.
Meanwhile, where will this next story be taking place? Sunken Madley. Where else?
PS. Apologies to anyone who has been trying to enter the competition. The send in button is now working properly so please try again.