Goodies aplenty have been in the making here at Heypressto.
First, I was going to do a paperback cover reveal of Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths. However, instead, I have something even better. The book, number 5 in the cozy paranormal mystery series, is now available in both formats: the one you can download and read electronically and the one you can hold in your hand. If, like me, you are one who prefers the printed page, you can find it here on Amazon where it was published just hours ago. (Click if you’d like to see the little video.)
The Artist Against The Odds
This is an excellent opportunity to pay tribute to the sterling work and creativity of our cover illustrator Daniel Becerril Ureña. While thousands of miles away from home, pursuing further studies in his chosen artistic field abroad, during a pandemic and, in the midst of moving cities, Daniel pulled it out of the hat. He produced what is, in my opinion, the best cover yet of the Amanda Cadabra series.
If you’d like to see more of Daniel’s work, you can find some of his portfolio here: The art of Daniel. He is an artist well worth watching as he goes from strength to strength.
So, whether in ebook or paperback, what is Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths about? To answer that, here is the second item in the party bag:
The Brand New Trailer
Free Chapter 1 of the New Release
The final surprise is in celebration of another landmark. Chapter 1 of Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths is now published in the International Dublin Writers’ Festival Magazine. You can read it on page 126.
One More Goody
We are having one last day of the season when Book 1, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, will be free to download from Amazon. That will be on Saturday, 12th September when the Festival will be in full swing. And here is a little video for your entertainment.
Why don’t you do more free days for people who want to start the series, you may ask. Excellent question. It is because Amazon allows just 5 free days per Kindle book for every 90-day period. That’s how long each contract with them for exclusive retail rights lasts. Or as it is called KDP select. There are many benefits from being a part of this for both cozy mystery readers and authors. I like to save up the free days for special occasions, like this one.
In the Pipeline …
Book 6 is coming to me thick and fast and so there just one more fun project which will finish up all of the treats for Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths: a YouTube of me reading chapter 1 for your pleasure.
Back soon with news of that. Meanwhile,
Happy viewing and reading,
PS If you want to start the series:
Available on Amazon
Paperback and Kindle
Here is a new treat, a free first chapter for you, a labour of love, the product of days at the mic and in the editing chamber. Chapter 1 of Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, the beginning of the series of British humorous cozy paranormal mysteries is a click away.
This was the only book in the series for which I had yet to create a first chapter video for you. That is now remedied. If you are curious about the steps involved in bringing this to your screen, small or large, you can find them here. Then you’ll have some insight into why it is called a labour of love!
If you prefer to read along or just read, you will find the the chapter at the end of this post
Whether you are new to series, or if you are already a fan of Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, I hope you will sample and enjoy the video. It is the first of a first, Book 1 in, currently, a series of 4, that I began publishing at the end of last year. Producing so many so quickly has surprised no one more than me! They simply flow out when they’re ready, is all I can say.
What of Book 5, the next sequel? I have written the opening paragraph this week, and I expect to continue next week to have it ready for you in the new year. Meanwhile, Book 3, Amanda Cadabra and The Flawless Plan, the ‘Christmas book’ is going to get a makeover and a special promotion.
Next time, I’ll be back with an early seasonal gift: a short story that subscribers will have posted through their personal inbox. It is, in a sense, a prequel, was completed only yesterday, and will be available for the eyes of downloaders only! You will need an email for me to send it to you, and you will also have the option to join the subscribers who get special notification of updates on the world of Amanda Cadabra and the writer’s life (‘Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s …’)
Until then, Happy reading and listening,
PS If you want to start the series:
Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth
The Day of the Incident
‘Fresh blood,’ observed Mrs Cadabra.
Detective Sergeant Thomas Trelawney looked at her doubtfully. She registered that he was in his late thirties, tall, light-haired, grey-suited and attractive in a manner appropriate to a policeman.
‘Do come in.’
He stepped over the threshold and into the clean, bright hall. She closed the door behind him.
Trelawney’s boss, Chief Inspector Hogarth, was on the verge of retirement and had sent his junior to acquaint himself with a case that had remained open for 28 years.
Mrs Cadabra led the way into the living room, gestured to the sergeant to sit down, then decisively pulled a photo album from one of the stacked bookshelves flanking the brick fireplace. She laid it open on his knees and pointed to a portrait of a power-dressed couple holding a baby.
‘1987. Our darling Amanda, held by my obnoxious daughter,’ she uttered in clipped tones. ’That’s her husband. I need only say that they were well matched. And if that assessment gives me a motive for murder, Sergeant, then you’re welcome to investigate it,’ she declared challengingly.
Trelawney suppressed a grin. Hogarth had told him what to expect in the redoubtable old lady sitting beside him on the chintz sofa. He had not exaggerated. Senara Cadabra was every inch the imperious aristocrat to which Hogarth had compared her. She lifted a hand to tuck in a hairgrip, pinning her white victory roll even more tightly into place. One of her piercing violet eyes was slightly larger than the other. This, coupled with her upright posture and cut-glass English accent, created an unnerving effect.
Mrs Cadabra glanced down at the photograph. Mercifully, there was no sign of Amanda’s gifts at that time, she commented to herself. Not then.
‘Lamentably,’ she continued, ‘Amanda’s parents had no time for her — or interest in her — and she was mostly cared for by my husband and myself. However, if you were to assume that little Amanda was traumatised by the sudden change in her situation following the “incident”, you’d be wrong,’ she stated, keen to stay one step ahead of any conclusions that the sergeant might be drawing.
While the detective jotted in his ubiquitous police notebook, he took a surreptitious look at his surroundings. The Cadabra’s circumstances were noticeably comfortable. Their house lay a mere thirteen miles from The Houses of Parliament to the south and just three miles from the Hertfordshire border to the north. The village of Sunken Madley was populated not only by locals, some with lineage reaching back the 1500s when the manor and church were built, but also by a selection of reclusive celebrities. Seeking privacy, and with a taste for gracious living, the VIPs had acquired several of the grander residences. By contrast, the Cadabra’s house was a modest three-bedroom cottage at the end of Orchard Row, just where the village gave way to a field of apple trees, now flowering with faintly blushing, bridal blossom. Number 26 had a spacious garden accommodating a small neat lawn, well-kept vegetable beds and, most importantly, a sizeable furniture restorer’s workshop.
Trelawney brought his gaze back to the photograph of the infant Amanda and her parents. Mrs Cadabra flicked towards the front of the album, each page taking them further back in time. Gesturing dismissively, she indicated her three other unsmiling children, Amanda’s aunts and uncles, and their smirking, blank-eyed or scowling offspring. Mrs Cadabra turned a few more pages back to her own generation, remarking on her siblings and their brood with equal distaste.
‘As for my own children, I could never bear any of them once they became teenagers.’ She barked out a laugh. ‘I bore them once; I feel that was quite enough.’ Trelawney allowed himself a smile for the first time. It did not go unnoticed by Mrs Cadabra, who awarded it eight of ten for charm.
‘Thank you for your frankness, Mrs Cadabra. And now, could you please tell me what you remember of the events leading up to the incident?’
Mrs Cadabra repositioned herself, straightening her back more than ever. ‘My husband and I had each received a note and —’
‘Was there anything that stood out about it?’ interjected Trelawney. ‘Was it typed or written? The kind of paper, the envelope —? ’
‘It was handwritten in purple-black ink and —‘
‘Did you recognise the —?’ he began.
‘— the writing?’ she forestalled Trelawney, ‘No, I did not.’
‘Interesting that you should ask. It was quite peculiar, thick but oddly transparent.’
‘What did it say?’ he asked, making notes.
‘It said that transport would arrive on 9th September at 9 o’clock in the morning. We would be taken to a location, and there, apparently, we would learn something to our advantage. It went on to say,’ said Mrs Cadabra, leaning towards him for emphasis, ‘and I remember this precisely: “It is essential, however, that all members of your family be present.”’
‘Curious,’ commented Trelawney.
‘Exactly. And it was signed “A well-wisher”. Hm! Well-wisher indeed!’ said Mrs Cadabra indignantly, twitching the cushion behind her more firmly into place.
‘I see,’ said Trelawney, ‘And what did you and Mr Cadabra make of all this?’
‘Why, that it was fishy, of course!’ she exclaimed, stating the obvious.
‘But you decided to go?’
‘Yes,’ said Mrs Cadabra, ‘but reluctantly. And not to serve our own interests, of course. Hardly. No, it was so that if we should we derive some benefit from the exercise, we could have left it to Amanda. That is the only reason that it would have been worth enduring the company of our odious family for any length of a journey.’
‘Did anyone in the family encourage you to go?’ Trelawney enquired.
‘Oh yes.’ Mrs Cadabra’s face registered her distaste. ‘We received quite a flurry of unwelcome messages from them, but we’d already made up our minds to attend. They were all desperately keen, needless to say. A more mercenary bunch you’d be hard pushed to find.’ She snapped the album shut and put it down on the inlaid coffee table.
Trelawney sat back. ‘So what happened on the day of the incident?’ he asked.
‘Poor little Amanda had been awake all night with a frightful cough. She was only three, and she’d never been a very strong child. And since she’d developed asthma, we’d had to be especially careful. Well, by that morning, Amanda’s condition had worsened, and she was clearly not fit for the journey,’ recalled Senara Cadabra with an emphatic shake of her head. ‘And considering our unease about the whole affair, we decided that neither we, nor our Amanda, should have any part of it. So when the transport arrived, we didn’t get on board. It sat there and waited for fifteen minutes and then finally left.’ She folded her hands. ‘And that was that.’
‘You didn’t go out to tell the driver that you weren’t going?’ pressed Trelawney.
‘No,’ replied Mrs Cadabra. ‘We simply didn’t want anything to do with it.’
‘Did you notice the vehicle?’
‘I did. It obscured the view of our Princess Margaret roses,’ said Mrs Cadabra indignantly.
‘And what did it —?’
‘I beg your pardon?’ asked Trelawney, startled.
‘Oh, I mean no disrespect to the dear Princess herself,’ Mrs Cadabra assured him. ‘No, indeed. Just that it’s the best thing for roses. But only after three years of composting. Not when fresh. I’m sure Her Royal Highness would echo my every word.’ Having successfully diverted the subject to horticulture, she placed one still delicate hand over the other, signifying that she considered the discussion of the transport to be closed.
Trelawney, however, returned to the matter at hand. ‘But the vehicle, what was it like? Can you recall?’
‘It was a grey minibus of some description,‘ replied the lady.
‘Good condition?’ continued Trelawney.
‘Yes, I think so,’ she answered, with a careless shrug of her shoulders. ‘I am not a motor car engineer, but it certainly didn’t seem to be in an advanced state of disrepair, if that’s what you’re asking.’
‘You didn’t notice anything special about it?’ Mrs Cadabra shook her head. ‘The registration?’ Trelawney looked at her hopefully.
‘No idea. I heard it start up. By the time I went to look out of the window, it had gone.’
‘And these notes that you received. What became of them?’
‘They disappeared,’ she declared.
‘Vanished. Without a trace.’
‘Really?’ Trelawney remarked. He wrote in his book. ‘Mr Cadabra’s note as well?’
The back door to the kitchen closed audibly followed by a hollow clatter as discarded work boots hit the mat. There came the sound of a tap running.
‘You can ask him yourself,’ Mrs Cadabra said.
A tall, grey-haired man, in dark work trousers and jumper over shirt and tie, opened the living room door, and entered the room. He was of that generation of craftsmen who took so great a pride in their occupation and appearance that they wore a shirt and tie even to work. The persistent briskness of the British climate had prompted him to cover up with a sweater. He smiled a kind welcome at the case officer.
‘Ah, very generous of you to come all this way, Mr Trelawney, is it?’ Mr Cadabra held out a clean but French-polish-stained hand.
‘Detective Sergeant Trelawney, sir,’ said the policeman, accepting the handshake.
‘Please call me Perran. Although my wife likes strangers to call me Mr Cadabra.’ He gave her an affectionate twinkle, which she returned. ‘Has Senara been making you feel at home?’ The trace of a West Country burr in the man’s gentle voice appealed to the Cornwall-born-and-bred Trelawney.
‘Pleasure to meet you. Perran? A good Cornish name, if I may say so. Yes, Mrs Cadabra has been most helpfully relating the events of the day when …’ Trelawney paused, tactfully avoiding an explicit reference to the sensitive details of the incident.
‘Yes … a tragic business,’ said Mr Cadabra, helpfully filling the gap. ‘I will say, it’s good of the police to keep taking an interest after all these years. We’ve given up any hope of a resolution. But at any rate, is there anything I can tell you that my good lady hasn’t already shared with you?’
‘If you have time,’ said Trelawney politely.
‘Of course.’ Mr Cadabra carefully sat down on the edge of a Queen Anne armchair, aware that he was in his work clothes.
‘Your wife told me about a note. I understand that you received one of your own,’ Trelawney prompted.
‘Yes, that’s right.’
‘And there were some distinctive things about it?’
‘Oh, yes, purplish ink and odd paper,’ replied Mr Cadabra confirming what his wife had said.
‘Do you still have it?’ enquired Trelawney, checking Senara’s statement.
‘No. No, it disappeared,’ Mr Cadabra said in a regretful voice. ‘I could have sworn I’d put it in my overalls pocket, but when I went to look for it, it was gone. I remember I turned out all of my pockets, thinking it might have got lost amongst the bits and pieces. But no.’
‘Thank you.’ Trelawney left a brief silence while his pencil scribbled away.
‘Now, could you both tell me what happened later that day?’ he asked, looking from one to the other.
After a brief exchange of glances between the couple, it was Mrs Cadabra who answered, ‘About six hours after the car left, the telephone rang. We were in here. Perran was having his afternoon tea-break with me. I remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. It rang, and he put his hand on my arm and said the oddest thing.’ She looked at her husband. Perran nodded supportively. Trelawney’s pencil hovered about his open notebook, waiting.
Finally, Mrs Cadabra spoke.
‘“Senara,” he said, “Whatever you do, don’t answer that.”’
Read more …
The moment has come. With Tuesday’s release of the paperback of Amanda Cadabra and the Rise of Sunken Madley, Book 4 in the series and the free days for Book 2 almost upon us, here is a new video made for you in the past few days.
The new video is just out. It is a reading of the first chapter of Book 2, Amanda Cadabra and the Cellar of Secrets by me with some clips and images to entertain you while you listen. If you prefer to read along or just read, the text of the chapter is below.
In case, you’re wondering …
What goes into making a reading video like this?
It takes days. First, you need a good quality microphone, and I use the Rode NT, which I can plug into my computer. Some people have more sophisticated setups, but this does the job. Next, you need headphones so you can hear yourself read and also pick up on any interference or background noise that you don’t want. Next, I make sure I have ‘the script’: sometimes a printout, sometimes an ebook version. It helps to sit comfortably and to position yourself the optimum distance from the mic, which is about 6 inches. I use a floor stand for this.
What about background noise?
Without studio conditions, sound echoes off any hard surface: walls, furniture, doors, technology. So I use a foam filter, the shape of half a large tube that sits behind the mic. Next, I plug in the mic and make sure that the program I use and the computer recognise that that is how the sound is going to come in. Also, I set the recording to playback through the laptop or desktop speakers, depending on which I’m using.
If the ‘one, two, three, four, testing, Mary had a little lamb’, and the silence in between is ‘clean’ and clear then, there is a followup step: turn off all appliances that create background noise. That’s the tech set up.
So I can just go ahead and read and record now, right? Not quite. The enemy of voiceovers is mouth clicks. Those are extra noises your tongue makes releasing contact with it’s surrounding walls, floor and roof, so to speak. You want just the right amount of moisture around. How do you achieve this? The night before I make sure I have plenty of water to drink and the next morning too. I have tea or water handy and take sips every few sentences.
What if any get through regardless? Most can be edited out, but it’s time-consuming. I usually make two or three recordings of the whole chapter so that I can cut and paste from whichever one is the ‘cleanest’.
How long does each chapter take to record?
On average, 15 minutes to read. It can take longer. If you stumble over words, misread the script, hear your mouth clicking away, or neighbour slams a door, a car revs outside, a plane makes a low flyover, a helicopter passes … you get the idea. Then you have to stop, wait if necessary and re-read the sentence or phrase.
That’s just the recording. Next comes the editing. It’s a long and painstaking process to get the very best version possible. Additionally, it might sound too nasal or tinny, and that is adjusted using the graphic equaliser that comes with the program I use. I listen through both headphones and the computer speakers to check the quality.
Now the recording of the chapter is settled. What next? I add the introductory music that plays at the end too. This time, in a first-ever, I added some sound effects to signify the scene changes.
While you listen?
All done now? Not yet. I think it enhances your, the reader’s, experience if you have some visuals. This means gathering stills and clips. The still photographs need to be edited so that they are video screen shape. As all of the Amanda Cadabra books involve a trip to the past, one or two may need to be turned into a black and white or sepia version. As they are prepared the video is assembled, the audio track is added, and the stills and clips are synchronised with the text. Credits are added at the end.
Now it’s ready. Time to prepare this letter to you and announce its release. Just click on the screen above to be transported to Sunken Madley, Amanda Cadabra and The Cellar of Secrets. You’ll have 72 hours to download the book, free from Amazon from Tuesday to Thursday, 29th to 31st October. Both Book 2 and Book 4 will unite in a doubt cover reveal before then right here. Yes, Book 2 is getting a makeover!
Happy reading and listening,
PS If you want to start the series:
Amanda Cadabra and The Cellar of Secrets
Why Amanda Found the Body
Call a doctor or search for clues? Amanda Cadabra took the few vital seconds to make the decision.
But then, she had never been impulsive.
‘Mrs Cadabra, with the best will in the world from you and your husband, your granddaughter could not have had a normal childhood.’
In response, the lady seated with regal posture on the chintz sofa, inhaled, and raised an eyebrow, rendering her larger violet eye even more magnified than usual. Her piercing glare demanded an explanation. Detective Sergeant Thomas Trelawney of the Devon and Cornwall Police was not easily intimidated, as Vic ‘The Headbanger’ Hardy could have told anyone brave enough to have asked him.
However, on this, his first visit, to 26 Orchard Row, Sunken Madley, Trelawney needed to make some kind of connection with Senara, Perran, and their beloved granddaughter and adoptee Amanda. These three were, after all, the only witnesses to the day of the incident, 28 years ago, that he was here to continue investigating.
‘Here’ was a village that had grown up out of the rural landscape over a period of 800 years. It lay 13 miles to the north of the Houses of Parliament, and three miles south of the border of Hertfordshire. Herts, as the abbreviation is styled, was home to Jane Austen’s Emma and the seat of the burgeoning aircraft industry in the last century. Since those days, the county boundaries had been moved so that Sunken Madley was now, technically, on the outskirts of Greater London.
Nevertheless, Sunken Madley still was, in spirit, a country village, off the beaten track, hidden by the encircling trees. It was distinguished only by its orchard of Hormead Pearmain apples, and fine stained-glass windows, adorning the medieval church of St Ursula-without-Barnet. Of particular interest to students of the art, was the composition of the saint and the little bear with the bag of apples.
A gust of wind cast a pink handful of cherry blossom against the living room window as Trelawney’s hazel eyes returned Mrs Cadabra’s gaze politely but unwaveringly. He said mildly, ‘In other words, Amanda wouldn’t always have been able to play in the fields, run up and down the garden, maybe eat anything she wanted, like the other children here could.’
‘One couldn’t expect you to know this, Sergeant, not having any of your own,’ Mrs Cadabra pronounced with sympathetic condescension, ‘but,’ and she took a loose hairpin from her white victory roll, ‘children … adapt.’ She speared the accessory back into her coiffure to signal that the subject was closed.
Trelawney hadn’t finished. He thrived on puzzles, bringing order to chaos, and justice to the wronged. However, above these assets, his soon-to-be-retired boss, Chief Inspector Hogarth, trusted his seasoned judgment, especially of when to operate with a light touch.
He swivelled his tall, slim, grey-suited form towards Perran, who smiled kindly and said, with his gentle Cornish-flavoured voice, ‘I know what you mean, Sergeant. But Amanda was always a very special little one. Since she was a bian, a baby, she spent her fair share of nights in the local hospital when we didn’t know if she’d pull through. We did our best to help her, but in the end, she learned the hard way that her choices had consequences.’
‘Did that make Amanda fearful? Wary?’
‘Oh no, Sergeant, just careful, wise even, beyond her years. Though in others she’s young for her age. But, as Senara said, she got used to things, like carrying her inhaler, avoiding certain food, watching the pollen count. Amanda always says, ‘It isn’t terminal, after all, it’s just asthma.’
It was asthma that had brought Amanda Cadabra to this moment, this room … this body.
She felt for a pulse.
It had all happened a great deal sooner than anyone in the village could have expected. Even Dr Sharma, who was in the know, when she told Amanda about the new allergy clinic, had said that it was months away.
Amanda had dropped in, to collect a repeat prescription for her asthma inhaler, on her way to see about a furniture restoration job. An eager trainee from infancy, Amanda had taken over her grandfather’s business.
Asthma and furniture restoration were unlikely bedfellows, with the toxic chemicals, dust, and hard physical labour. This had niggled Trelawney from the first time he had read the case file three years ago.
Amanda’s secret levitation skills enabled her to cope covertly but ably. Trelawney, however, was a long way from even contemplating this possibility. And even if he had been able to, it would have been only with extreme scepticism and inexplicable discomfort.
Still, Amanda took sensible precautions and always had her inhaler handy. Dr Sharma was a respected and gifted physician, and between her own magic and the general practitioner’s medicine, the asthma was under reasonable control.
However, there was no denying that Amanda’s chest momentarily tightened when Neeta Sharma had told her where they were going to build an allergy research centre.
As promised to you, here is the video with visuals as well as my reading of Chapter 1 of the new Amanda Cadabra and The Rise of Sunken Madley. I hope that you enjoy it. Please let me know if you have any thoughts on it. The next is below if you’d like to read it as well.
Into the Globe
‘It will all be over very quickly. One way or another,’ said Aunt Amelia. She stared intently into the glass sphere on the round, lace-covered table.
‘Very quickly?’ asked Amanda Cadabra, pushing back her mouse-brown hair and glancing up from following the goldfish. Unlike her aunt, it was pretty much all the ball ever showed her.
‘An hour only, perhaps.’
‘And the villagers? Everyone will see it. If the magical world is supposed to be so secret and the entire Flamgoyne witch-clan descends upon Sunken Madley with fire, brimstone and hurricane, that is going to raise more than a few eyebrows on a whole lot of Normals, assuming that any survive.’
Amelia frowned into the globe ‘The village will empty.’
Amanda looked at her in wonderment. ‘How come?’
Her aunt shook her head, ‘That is not shown to me …. The glass is clouding … I’m sorry, Ammy, that’s all.’
‘I’ll have an hour to somehow repel them — without striking a single blow — but the village will empty?’
‘And I will have to defend it alone? — But no, you said I’d have help.’
‘That’s what it showed.’
‘So just me and my … helpers … whoever they will be.’ Amanda pondered, doubtfully.
‘Rrrrrr,’ interjected Tempest, in a marked manner.
‘Principal among whom will be Tempest, of course, ‘she added for the benefit of the thick, grey ball of grumpy cat, curled up in the most comfortable chair in the room.
Amanda’s familiar preened himself.
Not that I’m getting involved, he thought. This is a test for my human. But I’ll lend a paw if absolutely necessary. Dear me. The very idea is exhausting. How tiring this species is.
He shut his eyes and went to sleep.
Amanda Cadabra stared at the sky. The thunderous swirl of cloud was racing towards her village of Sunken Madley. She stood at its heart, before the green, opposite The Sinner’s Rue, on the old crossroads. She stood, feet planted apart, wand pointing at the ground, ready. Tempest sat by her side.
‘How?’ she wondered. ‘I’m just a furniture restorer. I have asthma and an annoying cat. I should be in my workshop, polishing Mrs Kemp’s aunt’s commode. How in the world did I come to this …?’
It was a recurring dream, but the situation was imminent, and the question was both real and pressing. The answer might have been said, and was by Granny, to be that Amanda had brought it on herself.
‘If only,’ Senara Cadabra had lamented, ‘you had not cast that spell. The very one your Aunt Amelia warned you not to perform, if you didn’t want to bring the Flamgoynes down upon the village.’
On the other hand, Grandpa, in his light Cornish accent, said that she had had no option.
‘When the crunch came, it was a choice between saving herself and the inspector, or sending up a beacon that Sunken Madley was the epicentre of powerful magical activity.’
Former Chief Inspector Hogarth of the Devon and Cornwall police saw it another way: an opportunity to solve a cold case that was over 30 years old.
Aunt Amelia, Amanda’s confidante and would-be divination tutor since she was nine years old, not only refrained from repeating I-told-you-so but was both sympathetic and constructive.
It was January, one of their regular Tuesday dinners together. Leaving the tea brewing in the kitchen, Amelia Reading, in deep red velvet splendour, sailed into her sitting room, her long dress wafting behind her, and seated herself.
‘Let’s see if the crystal will tell us more about the help that will come to you.’ Amanda, sitting opposite, could only see, reflected in the glass surface, Amelia’s bright brown eyes in a face framed by a chestnut bob. Apart from that, all she ever got was goldfish or a plastic Paris in a snowstorm. This had been the case for more than 20 years. Until now.
Suddenly, Amanda was electrified. ‘Wait!’ she cried excitedly.
‘Aunt Amelia. I see something!’
‘What, Ammy? What do you see?’
‘It’s … a big … banjo? …. No! Cello. It’s a big cello … it’s getting smaller … a violin? No. Oh.’ Her enthusiasm deadened. Amanda looked at Amelia questioningly. ‘A viola?’
Her aunt chuckled. ‘Ah, well that does happen in divination if you ask the same question twice or more. You get a joke or gibberish. At least this wasn’t the latter.’
‘The message is the same as the one I got from our conversation about having help to defend the village: find Viola. Except it’s not vee-oh- la, it’s Vie-oh-la.’
‘It shows you’re on the right track, and what a break-through for your divination, sweetie!’
Amanda was cheered.
‘You’re right, Aunt, on both counts. OK. So, what do we know about Viola? She was a friend of Granny’s. They met during the war. She was living here back then and told Granny, or “Juliet”, as you called her in your story, that she and Grandpa, “Romeo”, could have a peaceful life here. Yes? There wasn’t any more than that, was there?’
‘I’m afraid not.’
‘So, at least, the crystal ball confirms that this Viola is still alive. Unless … she’s not a ghost, is she?’
‘Was the cello — viola — clear or transparent?’
‘Perfectly clear,’ answered Amanda.
‘Alive then, I’d say.’
‘She must be old then …. I’ve thought of three people that she could be — Ah, the tea must be brewed by now. Shall I go and get it?’
‘Oh, use magic to bring it in. It’s perfectly all right here,’ Amelia assured her. ‘I’ve got this place as psychically secure as Fort Knox.’
Amanda pulled a certain Ikea pencil out of her orange woollen jacket pocket, flipped up the end and extracted a tiny slim wooden shaft topped with a citrine. She leaned across so that she could see into the kitchen, pointed the wand and said,
‘Aereval.’ The tea tray, bearing its load of Devon rose-patterned Wedgwood pot, cups, and bowls containing milk and sugar, two silver spoons and a plate of gingernut biscuits, rose from the worktop beside the kettle.
‘Cumdez,’ instructed Amanda. It glided through the air, along the passage to the sitting room and hovered.
‘Sedaasig.’ The tray lowered itself gently onto the table beside them. Amanda would not usually have bothered with a wand, but there was hot liquid involved, so extra control was needed. Hopeless though she was at divination, this was her special, and exceedingly rare, magical talent: a Cadabra family trait inherited from her grandfather. It enabled her, in spite of asthma that was all too easily agitated by physical exertion, to carry on the family business of furniture restoration, with all of its strenuous activity. Of course, any spell-working had to be conducted out of sight of Normals.
‘You were saying, dear,’ Amelia reminded her, adding sugar lumps to the teacups. ‘Three possibles.’
‘Yes,’ replied Amanda. ‘Mecsge,’ she added. The spoons began stirring. ‘There’s Mrs Uberhausfest, who distinctly told me that she and Granny had been friends for over 50 years — and you know how fond Granny is of her, invoking her whenever she talks of how, “we both did our bit in the War”.’ And with her line of work, if anyone could organise a Home Guard, she could!’
‘And the other two?’ enquired Amelia.
‘Sessiblin,’ said Amanda. The spoons stopped stirring. ‘The ladies who live at The Grange. Miss Armstrong-Witworth — the one who worked as a field agent for the government many years ago, I told you? But I gather she always operated alone, so not an organiser, I’d say — well, she and Granny never seemed very close at all, so, out of the two of them, I’d plump for Miss de Havillande. Both she and Granny are strong-minded, outspoken, definitely organisers, and with Views on every subject. In fact, I’d often thought they could have been two peas in a pod!’
Amelia laughed. ‘I know what you mean.’
‘Although,’ remarked Amanda suddenly, then stopped to think.
‘Yes?’ encouraged her aunt.
‘Well, what if … Viola isn’t a woman, at all?’
‘I think I see where you’re going with this, but carry on.’
‘Well. Viola isn’t from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, is she? She’s from Twelfth Night. She’s the sister, cast up on an enemy shore, who, believing her brother to be drowned, takes on the disguise of man and gets a job working for the local count. So what if Viola is a sort of code name, but for a man?’
‘Or a woman pretending to be a man?’ Amelia hazarded.
‘Possibly, but I don’t think you could live in Sunken Madley and carry off a disguise like that for the better part of a century.’
‘True. What men would be eligible for the role of Viola, then?’
‘Well … old Mr Jackson, but he retired to Eastbourne to live with his son, so I don’t think it can be him.’
‘Someone at Pipkin Acres Residential Home?’ suggested Amelia.
‘Possibly …. But … well … what about Moffat?’
‘The Grange ladies’ butler?’
‘He’s far more than the butler,’ Amanda pointed out. ‘He’s pretty much run the house and estate for them all these years, and no one knows how old he is.’
‘That gives you four candidates then: Mrs Uberhausfest, Cynthia de Havillande, Gwendolen Armstrong-Witworth and, er — does anyone know his first name? — Moffat.’
‘Yes. And, I gather, Viola will be the means of assembling the rest of the people who will help on the day that the Flamgoynes attack.’
‘What’s your next move then, Ammy?’
‘Well … what I need is a reason to visit Irma Uberhausfest. And soon.’
Fortunately, thanks to stilettos, a spanner and a piano, one was in the making.
I hope that you enjoyed Chapter 1.
Looking forward to bringing you news of the paperback launch, and a suggestion for Hallowe’en.