Cornish pasties, Jamaica Inn, smugglers, and Cornish clotted cream teas. What do they all have in common? Yes, they’re all things for which Cornwall is internationally famous, and they appear in the Amanda Cadabra series. However, it is the last item in the list that is probably the most popular and today we learn its secrets.
Michael and Susan Plant are the creative geniuses behind the café that inspired our heroine’s favourite port of call in Amanda Cadabra and The Strange Case of Lucy Penlowr: The Twisting Current, on the edge of mysterious Bodmin Moor. There Amanda finds her dream treat, astonishes Inspector Trelawney with her capacity for seconds, and can’t resist the opportunity to go back for more.
As readers will know, Amanda is dairy free on account of her asthma. Consequently, when writing the book, I set out on a hunt for a real life café that would serve a dairy-free, proper Cornish cream tea. Casting the net far and wide through Cornwall, I discovered a rare treasure: The Twisted Currant in Porthleven in the far south west, just half an hour from Land’s End, the most westerly point of mainland Cornwall and England. There they make and serve a luscious array of cakes and mouthwatering savouries with choices for dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan visitors.
Michael kindly granted me an opportunity to interview him about the story behind the café and its acclaimed cream teas.
We are not natural Cornish. Susan came down from London with her parents and I was posted to RNAS Culdrose whilst in the Navy. We have both been in Cornwall since 1982. I think the secret to living in Cornwall is to accept the Cornish ways and to go with the flow. I now consider crossing the river Tamar near Plymouth as almost going abroad.
We started a cafe as Susan baked professionally and I wanted to start a small business. We thought that our personalities matched a tea room environment.
We wanted the tea room to be bright and fresh, but homely and a relaxed ambiance. One of our daughters designed the layout and I built the benches and counter.
Clearly Michael and Susan are a talented couple. For the benefit of international readers who may not be familiar with Amanda Cadabra’s favourite Cornish delicacy, I asked Michael,
A cream tea consists of either fruit (sultanas) or plain scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam and a pot of tea. Scones are made with flour, butter and milk, made into a dough, rolled about an inch thick and cut with a round fluted cutter. They are baked until crisp on the outside.
In Cornwall the jam is applied to the scone and then the cream. In the neighbouring county of Devon the cream is applied first, then the jam. Local Cornish are passionate about the correct way to spread the jam and cream and gently chide anyone who gets it wrong.
For non dairy scones we serve coconut cream instead of cream and use oat milk in place of milk when making the scones. We do a lot of gluten free, nut free and vegan scones as well. Susan started making gluten free scones for one of our daughters friends who was celiac. We now try to have a dairy, gluten free or vegan version of everything on our menu so friends and family can all order something from our menu regardless of diet or lifestyle choices.
Susan is the inventor of all our cakes and scones. She invented the chocolate cream tea consisting of chocolate chip scones, chocolate spread and clotted cream. Reactions vary, with some customers stating they are to die for, and more traditional minded customers being scandalised with such decadancy.
We try to do as much Cornish as possible and also serve saffron tea cakes and “Thunder and lightning” consisting of slices of white bread lathered with clotted cream and golden syrup.
Our customers range from locals to tourists from all over the UK and abroad. Many locals stay away during the busy tourist season but come out in winter when they know they can get a seat.
The Cornish language is not used in everyday speech any more but some vestiges survive. For instance, in the neighbouring village of Helston they have a dance every year around the town when “Hellys bys vycken” (Helston for ever) is shouted by the participants. The Cornish language is very similar to Breton in Brittany, France, where it is spoken more commonly.
Michael’s words made me feel especially happy to be part of the Cornish language revival, together with thousands around the UK and abroad who are now learning and speaking with one another on a regular basis. Hopefully one day it will again be used in everyday speech. Meanwhile, I asked Michael, the next question:
Porthleven is special to many locals and visitors alike because it is an unspoilt fishing village which despite the tourist influx has a vibrant community spirit. They do things ‘dreckly’ (like the Spanish manana but slower) in Porthleven so stress levels are lower and life generally is more relaxed.
The Twisted Currant shares a Victorian building with Star Gazey, a gift shop and holiday apartments above. It was originally a grocery store with owners accommodation above but has seen many different businesses over the years since.
As far as I know it is the first time the Twisted Currant has made an appearance in a novel.
We use Rodda’s clotted cream with our cream teas. It is a local business which is now world renowned and is always lip-smackingly good. Clotted cream is understood to have been invented many years ago when a farmers wife inadvertently left a pot of cream on the stove overnight. When she came down in the morning the cream had thickened and clotted cream has been made ever since.
Michael kindly said that he was ‘happy for you to mention the Twisted Currant in any of your books in the future.’ You can be sure that Amanda will be making a return visit to the literary version of the cafe. Thanks to Susan’s creation of the chocolate cream tea, I can see The Twisted Currant becoming a place of pilgrimage for chocolate lovers, as well as gluten-free and dairy-free visitors to Cornwall. Guest houses, hotels and holiday cottages have now re-opened, if you would like to book your stay in one of Britain’s most beautiful areas, and sample the delights of the Twisted Currant for yourself.
It remains only for me to thank Michael and Susan for their sharing their experiences and granting me the use here of some choice photos from their Facebook page. (A rich selection of mouth-watering delights. Deliciously browsable!)
I hope that you have enjoyed our behind-the-scenes visit to one of the special places that have inspired locations and experiences in the Amanda Cadabra books. Please do let me know if you would like some more articles like this one.
Meanwhile, Book 7 has begun its flow. The all-important first paragraphs are written, and more is coming into being every day. And every night, when the characters like to chat to each other! The stream is moving, the blossoms, shops and businesses are opening, and the days are lengthening towards mid-summer. It’s all to come.
This is a just a brief letter as I hope a video paints at least a thousand words, and in just over one minute. Here it is. I made this for you:
The paperback is just a tweak away. More news soon.
Remember that today is just as much about appreciating friends as it is romantic connections. Even if those friends are books.
Happy St Valentine’s Day to you,
Today is the first of the two free days for Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, Book 1 in the British humorous cozy paranormal mystery series. I know that for some of you I’m preaching to the choir! However, you may have fellow literary enthusiasts who would love to start a new series, and Sunken Madley may be their next imaginary home.
Here is a video you might like to send to them that says it all in 21 seconds.
‘What is the reason for this party favour?’ you may ask if you’re new the series. Exactly that. It’s in celebration of the launch at the weekend of Book 5, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths.
Is you would like a taster of the new book, you can read the opening chapter in International Review of Books special edition within the International Dublin Writers Festival magazine to be published online this week.
If you’re curious about what makes a British cozy paranormal mystery writer tick, then you can gain some insight soon. Book blogger and paranormal author Denise Fleischer is kindly interviewing me on 1st September on Gotta Write Network.
Next stop: the trailer for Book 5 and the paperback.
Wishing you a happy week with many unexpected delights,
Having written to you last week about health matters in fiction, this time, we get down to the nitty-gritty. Do you want the coronovirus, COVID-19, in the next Amanda Cadabra book?
‘Your readers will tell you what they want.’ Three years ago, with the first book Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth newly published, my mentor TJ Brown said this to me. And he’s been right. So without polling, I’ve had to make a decision about whether to include the current health-related situation in the book now being written.
The Amanda Cadabra books are plotted in real-time. That means the Book 5 takes place during the late winter and early spring of 2020, culminating in the Equinox Ball at The Grange. That date, 22nd March, heralded the onset of the C-19 lockdown in the UK. Should it go in, or not?
Let’s pick this apart.
Where Could Corona Be Welcome?
First, does the virus have a place in fiction at all? Yes, dystopian fantasy, drama, crime, thriller and horror could all comfortably accommodate it. The once fictional pandemic is now a familiar situation.
What about cozy mystery, though? Surely a situation that results in stress and hardship would be anomalous in a cozy setting. Or would it? Just like poison, it could be used as a murder weapon. Admittedly, it would not necessarily be a very reliable one, but nevertheless, it is a possibility.
Furthermore, by its very nature, the conditions resulting from coronavirus have both separated people from those they usually associate with but brought them together with others. Throw this into the mix, and it could make things interesting without actually introducing a single incidence of the illness.
In Sunken Madley?
However, in the case of Amanda Cadabra, the village of Sunken Madley is its own microcosm. The modern political situation is never mentioned (with the exception of a passing reference to library closures in Book 5) nor is it a topic of discussion there. The villagers have what they consider to be more interesting, immediate and closer to hand matters to discuss. Like St Mary Mead, the home Agatha Christie assigned to her sleuth Miss Marple, Sunken Madley operates within its own sphere.
The appeal of Agatha Christie’s cozy whodunits, apart from their puzzles, is their escapism. That’s a vital part of the essence of the genre. Add in the paranormal element, and that takes us even further into that pleasurable zone.
From What You’ve Told Me
Readers and reviewers have expressed their pleasure in the world of Sunken Madley and their time spent there. And when this period of the pandemic is over, is it really going to be something cozy readers will want to revisit or forget?
There is also the matter of, in practice, to what extent would it rock the village? No one gets ill in Sunken Madley. The senior citizens are probably the most physically robust people in the hamlet. The dream team of Mrs Sharma of the Corner Shop and Mr Sharma of the pharmacy would ensure everyone was supplied with all that they needed.
What about social distancing? And there’s the rub. The Corner Shop conferences are highlights and essential of every book. So are the seasonal dances.
Consequently, you can rest assured that the world of Amanda Cadabra will remain COVID 19-free. The only health issue is Amanda’s asthma and therein, as readers know, lies a tale ….
Meanwhile, Amanda Cadabra Book 5 is steadily gaining ground, now at 35% of the way through.
Until next week, wishing you well, and cosily at home with a good book.
Amazon, Apple Books,
Kobo, Barnes & Noble and others.
How did Cornwall do it? How did worm its way into the heart of a series mainly set an English village to the north of London? Depending on where you live or are from, you may ask, as someone enquired of me, ‘Where is Cornwall?
It’s in the south-west of mainland Britain, the bit under Wales that spikes out into the Atlantic pointing off towards the distant shores of The New World.
Cornwall and the Cornish were regarded as a separate place and people until the fourteenth century, by those on both sides of the border. Cornwall has its own language, it’s own flag, customs and heritage. In 2014 the UK government granted the Cornish minority status and the Cornish tongue given funding to encourage its spread and development.
Neither. The traditional opinion is that the last native speaker Dolly Pentreath breathed her last in 1777. However, there is a body of evidence that suggests it never entirely died out at all. Cornwall is a land of remote nooks and crannies, plus families migrated to other parts of the world but took their language with them.
Today there are bilingual speakers and a stream of new learners. The presence of support groups and organisations for students, Cornish books in libraries and schools, events (most famously the Gorsedh), poetry, literature, and songs are all testimony to a living breathing and thriving language.
Oh yes, tales of pixies, ghosts and giants, are coupled with romantic landscape from plummeting cliffs, crashing waves, soft sands, rolling hills and the bleak beauty of the moors. These have drawn artists and writers for hundreds of years. One, in particular, raised Cornwall in the public consciousness: Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Jamaica Inn – haunted, one case a man by his past and the other by strange lights and sounds in the dead of night!
Mist and mystery, the quintessential ‘country’ accent, the ‘oo arr, Jim lad’ of the stereotypical pirate, the crafty smugglers, the lone lighthouse, the golden light of the remote inn welcoming the weary traveller are an irresistible cocktail. All of these make it the perfect association for not just a cozy mystery but a cosy paranormal one.
So how did it entwine itself with the fictional English village of Sunken Madley?
For this, we must return to the very inception of the series. Once I had the name Amanda Cadabra, her character and history formed before my very eyes. She was an orphan, her family had gone over a cliff when she was an infant. What cliffs were at my disposal? Cornwall immediately came to mind. Suitably dramatic coastline.
What were they doing there? They were Cornish. Therefore Amanda is Cornish and, therefore, so are her grandparents.
Next, we needed a police presence. He is investigating the cold case of the Cornish accident. Therefore he is Cornwall, and he is Cornish, like his boss, Chief Inspector Hogarth. A typical Cornish name for our hero? Thomas Trelawney, Detective Inspector.
As the plot began to form, I also realised I need the ingredient of a magical language. What alternatives were there? Latin as so skilfully used by JK Rowling in the Harry Potter Books, spells used in Disney films, the Elvish of Tolkein or just plain made-up. So it came to me that a melange would be a way of connecting Cornwall and England. I read that witches, wise women and men, from both sides of the border supported one another, especially during the decades of the infamous witch trials. What if that led to a mixture of Cornish and old English. Using online dictionaries, I cobbled together spells words and phrases. In doing so, I became curious about the structure of each tongue.
On impulse I began to research. Discovering the Cornish revival, it seemed only respectful to honour it by learning how to speak and write it properly. The flame was of fascination burned higher. I found an online course with Kesva, the Cornish Language Board, and more resources at Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek, the Cornish Language Fellowship. The first email of enquiry was written, I was put in contact with a tutor, I found my way to Cornish language books and the book shops that sell them. At Christmas, I came upon Keur Heb Hanow, a singing quartet, and corresponded with one of them. I dug for Facebook groups and found a home with We Love Kernewek, Our Cornish Language. Everywhere I went, I found kind and helpful people.
And all the while, the dream of visiting grew stronger. That is soon to come true. Amanda Cadabra has thus brought me yet another whole new circle of friends, experience. When I come back from Cornwall, I’ll have new photos, videos and stories to share with you, dear readers.
Meanwhile, I have Amanda Cadabra Book 5 to continue writing and Cornish revision to do! Back soon …
This week we travel into the fascinating dilemma that faces every writer: research or writing. Which do I do first? How much? How much research is too much? Do I need to do any at all? If so, why? What are the options? What does it mean for the reader?
Thanks to the kind hosting of Denise Fleischer on gottawritenetwork.wordpress.com the answers to the great research versus writing question are revealed are in my guest post on her website. Here is a taster:
‘In the winter of 2017, I heard two words that were to change my life: cozy mystery. After years of protesting that I was strictly a non-fiction writer, within half an hour, I was persuaded that here was the fantasy-related genre for me.
I was given guidelines, but soon I was off finding lists and explanations of the ‘formula’ for a successful cozy, in my case, cozy paranormal mystery. Yes, it was easy for me, research comes naturally. Nevertheless, there is a difference between fact-checking for informational accuracy and world-building. The question new writers often ask is, do you research first, “look it up” or dive into the creative activity by “getting it down”?’
Just two days after I heard from Denise, a second delight beamed into my week. Susan Hampson, reviewer at booksfromdusktilldawn.blog, wrote to say that she had not only reviewed Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth on her website, Goodreads and Amazon but had also posted on 12 other book blog sites! If you are thinking of starting the Amanda Cadabra series or would like to recommend it to a friend, you can read it here.
In the past week, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth has gone from being available only through Amazon to ‘going wide’. That means it is now also published through Barnes & Nobel, Apple Books, Kobo and several others.
Next week I plan to examine The Cornish Connection of the series and to share with you the unexpected places research for that has led me …
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and others
Before I first put pen to paper, or should I say, finger to key, on my first novel, I had a decision to make. What sort of English was I going to use? The answer to ‘do you speak English?’ is not a simple one.
If you’ve ever had a new phone, tablet, or other mobile decide, likely you’ve been asked to set up the language you prefer. Sometimes it’s defined by country. Usually as English, as spoken in England, Britain, and conversely as spoken in the USA. At other times, especially in dictionaries, the alternatives are categorised as ‘as spoken in North America’ or outside of it.
What is the difference? For example, here in the UK, we spell words such as colour and neighbour with a ‘u’ apposed to ‘color’ and ‘neighbor’ in the US. ‘Theatre’ rather than ‘theater’, ‘surprise’ rather than ‘surprise’ are two more instances. Which to choose?
The Amanda Cadabra novels are set in Britain, and so, as a British author, I choose UK English. But how to provide for those who might not be 100 per cent familiar with it? Simple; at the end of each book and here on the website, readers will find a glossary of UK-US terms and usage.
Good. So it’s all in UK English, then? Yes, but not everyone speaks in the same way throughout the UK. Accents vary tremendously. The books include Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, Hertfordshire and Cockney ways of pronouncing words. You may, upon a New Year’s Eve, have sung Auld Lang Syne. That’s the Scottish way of saying Old Long Since or, for old time’s sake. Beloved Sunken Madley resident Sylvia is from the East End of London, she’s a Cockney, and so she drops her ‘h’s. Hence she says ‘ello rather than hello.
Of course, there are also ways of pronouncing English that are special to any particular English-speaking country. Consequently, we have the favourite carer at Pipkin Acres Residential Home, Australian Megan, hailing a visitor called Gwendolen as ‘Gwindolen’ and Amanda as ‘Amenda’.
The word ‘foreign’ is a descendant of the Latin word meaning ‘outside’. That could be just ‘outside your village’ even. In Sunken Madley, retired headmaster Gordon French makes a point of reminding Amanda about newcomers. As he puts it, they are ‘not Village.’
In the days when most travelling was on foot, neighbouring settlements even a couple of miles apart, especially over steep terrain, were divided by the time it took to make the journey. In comparative isolation, each hamlet could develop their own unique ways of expressing identical ideas.
To this day, Cornish people, in the south-west of the UK, refer to Brits on the other side of the Tamar River, the traditional boundary of their land, as being ‘Up North’. Here on the other side of the River, we use the same term to mean the part of England up towards the Scottish border.
However, all in all, customarily today, we use the word ‘foreign’ as a designation of another country.
Along with accents are words that are peculiar to a region or land. ‘Ken’ can be used in Scotland for ‘know’. ‘Bairn’ can be heard in the north of the UK for ‘child’.
Next we move into actual foreign tongues. The Cornish language term bian frequently appears in the novels, as Grandpa’s term of affection for Amanda, meaning ‘baby’ or ‘little one’. There is a Frenchman in a Book 4, Amanda Cadabra and The Rise of Sunken Madley, who speaks in French. In Book 1 we have some Swedish too. How to deal with these so readers can understand the words and sentences? The convention is put all foreign words in italics. As they will be likely unfamiliar, it will be apparent that the italics are not for emphasis so that flags them up as non-English. How to convey their meaning? There are two ways. One is by context, the other is by direct translation. Here’s an example of the first one
‘Muchas gracias,’ said the girl.
‘You’re welcome,’ he replied.
Even if you don’t know a word of Spanish, you can gather that what she said was ‘thank you.’
For the second method, here is an example from Book 1, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, for the use of the magical language of Wicc’yeth, spoken by the Amanda and her grandparents:
‘Forrag Seothe Macungreanz A Aclowundre,’ Amanda read the title, and attempted a translation. ‘For the Making of … Wonderful
The third way to clarify foreign language usage in a novel is to use English but state that the protagonists are now speaking in another language.
Why complicate matters? Why not just make everyone in the books English.
First, because adding accents, dialect and terms from other languages words, adds texture, colour, variety and even entertainment in the misunderstandings that can arise.
Second, Sunken Madley is on the outskirts of London. The capital of England is one of the most culturally diverse in the world. So a village on its outskirts would naturally reflect that. This kind of consistency with the real world is vital for creating a story that is believable. The goal is to makes it as easy as possible for you to suspend disbelief and be carried into the narrative, to care about the characters, and to see it as easily as possible in your mind’s eye.
Why make in on the edge of a city at all? Why not make it in the depths of the countryside?
Simply because I want to follow the advice to ‘write what you know.’ I have never lived in a village. I have stayed in them and know people who have lived in them, but I have never had the actual experience. As a city girl born and bred, the edge of London is the best I can do. And you, my dear readers, deserve my best.
Book 5 is now climbing towards 20,000 words, which is about a quarter of the way through. Today I weaved in another strand! Back soon with more insights in the world of creating fiction and news.
Thank you to everyone who took advantage, or shared the news, of the free kindle download offer of Amanda Cadabra and The Flawless Plan, in the 72 hours up to Christmas Day. I hope this seasonal tale from the British humorous cozy paranormal mysteries helped with last-minute presents and rewards to you who worked hard to make it a joyful time for friends and family. And now, for coming week, the next month, the new year ….
Whether you are in still in the midst of festivities, or in recovery, it’s hard to miss that 2019 is making its grand finale. So, what of the emerging decade, the twenty-twenties, just days away now? How about new year’s resolutions? Is one of them to read more? If you’re a workaholic, is it to take a little more time out for yourself? Be more positive? More optimistic?
One thing most people agree on is that the winter holiday season can be expensive. To make it easier to begin a new cozy mystery reading project, here is a special discount. Starting the Amanda Cadabra series with Book 1, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, will have a price drop to $1.99 for the first two weeks of January 2020 on Amazon Kindlebooks. This is an unprecedented offer. Hopefully, will help with any or all of your best intentions for the coming year: reading, relaxing and enjoying an inspiring trip. Where? Into a murder mystery world where, with a little magic and the courage of both the ordinary and extraordinary, good always triumphs. If you enjoy it then there are three more books in the series. So far!
By the time I write to you again, it will be 2020, and I hope to have news of progress on Book 5. The plan is to get it into your hands by March at the latest. Also, I will tell you my new year resolutions that are intended to enhance your enjoyment of the cozy mystery experience.
All in due course. See you in 2020.
Wishing you a happy finale to the twenty-teens,
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,
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.
Light streams up through the darkness of the ancient church colouring the stained glass windows. I didn’t see it. I heard it. And I was sure I must have been mistaken.
Moments later, there it is was on the screen. I exchanged wide-eyed glances with my friend sitting on the same pew. Yes, she had heard it too: the name.
The fictional village of Sunken Madley, in which all of the Amanda Cadabra British humorous cozy paranormal mysteries are set, is based on a real place. Its name: Monken Hadley, a small community with a thousand-year-old history just north of London. This year they are celebrating 525 years since the rebuilding of the medieval church, most likely damaged in the Battle of Barnet. Every quarter of a century, this restoration is marked with a special event. Only a few days ago, in 2019, it was a retelling the story of the church and village in a spectacular Son et Lumière, sound and light.
The event started at 3.30pm, but by the time the startling revelation occurred, it was already night outside. The monks of the old priory, the opposing sides of the famous battle, the gentry and the philanthropists of long ago had passed and sounded before our eyes and ears. The tale had reached the period of the first world war. The narrator spoke of a memorial stone on the walls of the building where we sat, dedicated to one … and that was when my ears pricked up…
In the winter of 2018, my author pal TJ Brown convinced me that I could pen a cozy paranormal mystery. I had been adamant for years that I was strictly a non-fiction writer and fantasy was way beyond my ken. But Tim knew better. He encourage me to go off to research the genre, and presently we sat down together to begin the process of creation. First, we needed a name for the heroine. I knew it had to be something to do with magic. With a thesaurus list before us, we tried out different forenames and surnames, googled possible variations to see if they’d been used. The clock ticked away. We began growing tired and then … playing around with Abracadabra .. Tim came out with it: Amanda Cadabra! I repeated it in my head. Yes. We’d found her.
Suddenly, I heard the name, the name of her cat, I knew he was a collection of greys, he had livid yellow eyes and was permanently grumpy. It was the first name and the first thing that came to me. I had never seen it as a person’s name before, I knew it only as a weather system and the title of a Shakespeare play.
In the days that followed as I began to get a sense of Amanda and her familiar. I knew I had to find the right location for them. It had to be a village, and as I’d never lived in one, it had to be on the outskirts of a big city. I pulled up Google maps and began the search.
I’d have said that I knew the area pretty well, but I had no recollection of having seen the name of this particular village. Soon I was in the car and heading along the A1000, itself with a long history. Off the beaten track I went, by a pond, between trees and around the bend.
Behold. I knew: I had found my village, the village of Monken Hadley. Of course, I couldn’t call it that, so what about transposing the first letters … Hunken Madley? No … not quite right … another word ending in ‘unken’ … sunken … and it was born: Sunken Madley.
I tell you all of this, so you will understand why what I heard in the dim echoes of the church on that dark afternoon was so startling. I had no prior knowledge or use of that word as a pronoun or of that village.
So we’re in the dark of the church, sitting in a pew near the back looking up at the big screen, with the rest of the audience. We are hearing the saga of Monken Hadley and the officer whose efforts were instrumental in the achievement of the peace of 1918. Sadly he died just weeks before the end of the World War 1. His name? Charles Tempest-Hicks. The name of Amanda’s magical cat? Tempest.
Shivers ran down my spine, chills of excitement. Was the brave captain my muse? Had he been a cat lover? Was I being inspired? What would you say is the answer to the real-life mystery? Do share your thoughts with me.
Regardless, I am overjoyed that Tim motivated me to begin my cozy mystery journey, that he thought of Amanda Cadabra, that Tempest came to me. It is a source of continuing delight that Monken Hadley somehow drew me, that I have met so many kind people there, and that I travel back in time whenever I visit, Through writing this series, I have connected with all the dear readers who help and support and encourage me. I am thrilled to be on the journey of a lifetime, and that you join me in it. Thank you.
This year the sound and light show raised money for the restoration of a precious listed building, the 400-year-old church house, so that it can serve the community as was intended. And believe me, the entire community, from young to old all participated in creating the 525 experience. Seeing them waving happily at us in the closing credits brought a lump to my throat. Proceeds from tickets and donations also went to to the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice.
If you’re ever passing, do pop into the church of St Mary the Virgin, Monken Hadley. You can be assured a warm welcome and a moving and enchanting experience. It delighted at least one of our American cousins so much that it became the model for a church built in Chappacua, USA.
Next week: an offer and something new for December to help with your Christmas shopping. Want to get to know Tempest? Download your free short story here: Tempest’s First Day. Back soon!