2 July, 2023.

Dear Readers,

New Competition!

First, news of a new opportunity to win no less than 21 cozy mysteries! Plus an ereader. Yes, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth is part of a new Mysteries with Humor Booksweeps. (Have you spotted it?)  The competition ends on 7th July, so you still have time to enter – it’s free; just supply an email address and click ‘follow’ on the authors (including me, please!) who are supplying the prizes.

Click image to enter

Holly Reveal Part 3

This week, I got a bit more adventurous. I promise you’ll see more of me than just my hat! Mike and I had fun filming this in my favourite hostelry in the Lost Kingdom of Middlesex. It’s a Tudor pub in the old town of Pinner in a positively chocolate-box street that slopes up to the 700-year-old church on the top of the hill (more about it here). We shall be returning to do some on-location where I can personally take you around and introduce you to its highlights and how it relates to Amanda Cadabra. Plans for that begin this week. Meanwhile, here is Part 2 (or 3 if you include the Unboxing of The Hat).

Click to see more of Holly

Venturing onto TikTok

The last two videos have been posted on TikTok – my first endeavours there! It’s the newest mainstream platform and tends to be associated with demonstrating dances and a youthful demographic. That however has changed. TikTokers cover a wide range of subjects designed to entertain and have ballooned out to include people of all ages, almost a third over 40.

Still, how did I get the confidence to post on this fun channel? This YA author Claire Fraise’s video helped me. If you’re thinking of adding something of your own to TikTok and are not sure if it’s for you, do watch. This is the link to me there if you have an account:


Please come and say hello and a follow would be nice! The videos are also up on Facebook, where I’m at home, and on Instagram.

The Sequence

In this reveal sequence of Holly Bell, the Human, there are six videos (you’ve now seen 3. Here are the links to One and Two, in case you missed them), and we filmed the last one this week. Then treated ourselves to ice cream! The next shoot will be our first me-talking-to-you-on-location (eek!) project.

Michael Collins - photographerThe Cameraman

As promised, I can now introduce you to Mike Collins who has taken the video footage for all of the videos in the sequence. A chance meeting at a venue where we both turned up led to chatting about photography and Mike’s kind offer to film for me. It has made the process of ‘coming out’ so much easier. Wait till you see the blooper reel, and you’ll understand why! Mike’s patience and unfailing good humour have helped me to overcome my reluctance to be in front of the lens. Rather than an ordeal, it’s actually fun.

So here he is. (Any ideas where this was taken? Clue: if you live or have visited around Austin, Texas you might have been there.) If you’ve thought of venturing or expanding into amateur or expanding into amateur or professional photography, Mike will inspire you.

Mike, when did you get your first camera?

I was probably about twelve when my brother-in-law, who worked at Kodak, gave me my first camera. It was plastic and bulky and the 35mm film was expensive to buy and process. On holiday with my parents, I carefully selected and snapped anything I thought was pretty, flowers, the beach, the sunset. The results were at best mediocre. I didn’t get my first SLR until I was in my late teens.

Do you remember the first thing you photographed? If so, what was it?

No, I have no idea. It was probably my feet, my thumb or my face peering into the lens.

Yes, I’m pretty sure that many of us, especially with a new camera, start off by accidentally capturing the ground.

Portrait, landscape, street, architectural or event; what order of preference would you put them in and why?

The most interesting pictures of any genre capture something special. A facial expression, an extraordinary moment or spectacular lighting for example. I love looking at all of them, so have no preference.

Finding and taking an outstanding picture requires a lot of luck. The more skill you develop and experience you get the luckier you become. Achieving something special requires a level of understanding and familiarity with not only the camera, but also the genre. For portraiture and street photography you need to feel comfortable working with people and to quickly be able to create a rapport. Landscape and architectural photography need different skills. I love people, but as an electronic and software engineer, I have spent much more time with ‘things’ than I have with people, so I’ve gravitated towards landscapes and inanimate objects.

What photographers or other kinds of artist have contributed to the development of your ‘eye’?

As a child I was quite artistic. I spent a lot of time drawing and painting, so I probably had a good idea of what I liked from an early age. In my twenties I drove from the UK overland to India with two SLRs and three lenses. I really enjoyed the travel photography, but didn’t see the results until I arrived home, which was worrying. How things have changed! I joined a photographic club on my return and joined in with the usual activities.

Four years later I went to work in Germany, and while I always had a camera, I lapsed into a couple of decades of photographic laziness … a holiday here, click, a holiday there, click-click. Okay, I did take more than three, but you get the idea.

Photo by Mike CollinsThen, and I suppose this is the answer you’ve been waiting for, I met a girlfriend who was president of a local photographic club. She reignited my interest. She was – and still is I guess – a better photographer than I. We used to go out on photographic forays, then compare results in friendly competition. She introduced me to air displays to photograph fast moving aircraft. It was SO difficult keeping them in the frame and picking a moment when you could see the pilot. It was all great fun and I have to thank her for my current photographic interest. I’ll respect her privacy and withhold her name.

More recently, being alone in life once again I began taking photographic holidays, which I still enjoy. With Adventures Abroad I saw the Northern Lights in Finland, then travelled four times with each of two photographic leaders:

Gary Fooks, who runs Fotocourses


Dimitri Vasileiou, who runs Inspiring Photography


Gary runs several trips to North America. I visited New England, the National Parks, the Californian coast line and drove the length of Route 66 with him. Gary’s trips are aimed at more novice photographers, but the locations are great and the prices good.

With Dimitri I’ve been to Iceland, Santorini, Venice and the Lofoten Islands in Norway. Dimitri is a pure photographer who likes to get everything right straight out of the camera. I’m happy to hone photos in Photoshop. Dimitri taught me more than anyone else about the importance of simplicity in composition. He is also the editor of the world standard Landscape Photography magazine (https://landscapephotographymagazine.com/). It’s a subscription online magazine, but it’s well worth a look if you like landscape photography. Have a look for reductions, especially around Black Friday.

Photo by Mike CollinsIf you could go anywhere in the world for photography, where would you go?

So many places in the world are beautiful for different reasons. It’s difficult to choose one – not that I’ve seen that many. I don’t mind the cold and love the pastel blues and pinks in the Arctic, and the sunrises and sunsets that blend together for hours at the right time of year. I’m sure the Antarctic is equally as beautiful, but it’s not so accessible. There are so many places. My bucket list has plenty left on it.

Can a person develop photography skills just using their phone?

Yes, of course. I recently upgraded my iPhone for no other reason than to get the 13mm wide angle lens that fits in the pocket. I didn’t know much about the iPhone camera, so I signed up for the iPhone Photography School (https://iphonephotographyschool.com/). The iPhone course is advertised at ridiculously high prices, but they regularly offer 90% discounts. For under £50, I got over 12 hours of instructional videos covering not only the iPhone camera but also hints and tips on composition and links to blogs where students can post their pictures and compare with their peer’s pictures. I thought it was excellent value.

What has been most satisfying about the photoshoots for the Amanda Cadabra series so far?

I don’t have much experience with video. I foresaw two possible problems. One was getting to grips with the technicalities of video. The other was creating a rapport with you. But you’re a delight to work with and I think we make a great team.

Thank you! I agree; we make a great team.

What has been the most challenging thing?

The most challenging thing has been getting to grips with a new gimbal, a new iPhone and a new camera app. and learning what the settings do and what matters. Then trying to make it all second nature. I didn’t allow enough time.

You’ve done amazingly well, Mike, getting your head around all of that so quickly.

Photo by Mike Collins - FireworksHow do you get in the zone for filming or a photography session?

You can’t do too much planning. Survey the area, look at the direction of light. Look for bright spots and shade. Look for trip hazards, etc. Discuss what you have in mind and make sure I have a clear plan in my head. Get you to rehearse any difficult or unclear parts. Make a short test clip to double check exposure, resolution and frame rate. With all that done, and with a bit of luck, it should go smoothly. 

Yes, I appreciate the planning. For me it makes it easier to get into the right headspace for doing something so new and strange as being filmed. Thanks to your preparation we got the unboxing video in just one take!

What advice would you give budding photographers who want to develop their skills?

I suppose the quickest way is to join a photography class or a club or group of photo enthusiasts. Have a look at the iPhone Photography School link above – other schools are available too. Learn how photography works and how to use your camera. Take pictures and compare them with your mental expectations. Talk to others and try to find out what you’ve done wrong. Learn what traditionally makes a good composition. Look at pictures you like and ask yourself why you like them.

There is so much information online these days. If you’re good at learning on your own you can easily teach yourself. But it’s always best to get out and meet people.

Thank you, Mike, that’s very helpful, both for beginners and anyone who’d like to take their photography to the next level. It’s a pleasure working with you. You’ve helped me tremendously in developing the confidence to come out in front of the lens. I’m looking forward to the next shoot!  

That’s all for now. Except for the link to reveal post in Cornish here.

Click to go to Holly reveal video Part 3

Back next Sunday with the Full Reveal!

Happy July,




PS If you want to start the series now:
Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth

Available on Amazon

Paperback, Kindle
and Large Print

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About the Author

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Cat adorer and chocolate lover. Holly Bell's life changed in a day. A best-selling author friend telephoned and convinced her, that after years of penning non-fiction, she could write cozy paranormal mysteries. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Holly lives in the UK and is a photographer and video maker when not writing. Her favourite cat is called Bobby. He is black. Like her favourite hat. Purely coincidental.