What is something so grim as illness doing in a light, comfortable mystery? Let me tell you a story.
Back in the day, I went on a first date. It was with a Welshman, in a beautiful spot on the river Thames: Maidenhead. The restaurant was right by the water, blue from the sky from where the sun was shining. It was a golden day, and I was hopeful of passing an enjoyable lunchtime.
And then …
My date began to discourse. He gleefully related anecdote after anecdote of disease and resulting fatality. ‘There was this man, you see?’ the Welshman continued with relish. ‘It was in the papers. Twenty-five he was and fit as a fiddle, so he thought. An athlete. And then. One day. He dropped dead. Stone dead.’ ‘Really?’ I asked curiously. ‘Tuberculosis! Didn’t know he had it. Well, doesn’t that just go to show? You never know.’ I repeatedly tried to turn to the conversation to happier themes, but with determination, he wrenched it back. Finally, realising what I was trying to do, he explained, ‘I like a bit of death.’
As you can imagine, I excused myself as soon as possible, and we did not have a second encounter. But what is the point of my sharing that with you?
It’s that the story is amusing. It has likely made you smile, even laugh. It has lifted your mood, even though it includes sickness and mortality. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that medical matters can have a place in light literature.
Health Issues in the Great Cozies
Let’s look at one of the novels Daphne du Maurier, who has been listed as a cozy mystery author. In Rebecca, it is a health condition that is the key to unlocking the puzzle of ‘what happened that night?’ There are no disturbing medical details. They would be extraneous to the plot and the genre. We are simply informed of the illness.
In The Pale Horse, Agatha Christie uses disability to throw us off the scent. Miss Marple’s recovery from illness takes us to warmer climbs where she might convalesce in A Caribbean Mystery.
A popular device in whodunnits is the victim’s medication, being used as a vehicle for murder most foul: an overdose or substituted with a dangerous substance or with something harmless but depriving the patient of necessary medicine. What is crucial is the treatment, if you’ll excuse the pun, of the illness. That is, no graphic details, just as a cozy murder takes place usually off-camera.
Why Asthma for Amanda?
So we come to medical matters in the Amanda Cadabra cozy paranormal mystery series. I have been asked why I gave our heroine debilitating asthma. Doesn’t that make her weak? Physically, yes, she is below par. However, that is the very reason why she needs the indispensable component of the genre, magic. She also relies on her familiar, who is, in a sense, her seeing-eye cat.
The origin of Amanda’s asthma provides a vital part of the overall story arc of the series. It also gives her a reason to be at the clinic constructed during Book 2, Amanda Cadabra and The Cellar of Secrets. It creates balance with Inspector Trelawney. He surpasses her in fitness, but she has the greater, and vitally important, mystical abilities.
A Bit Special
When I researched the format, the formula for a cozy paranormal mystery, I knew that I wanted mine to be a bit different. Amanda’s physical limitations give her the opportunity to develop and demonstrate other kinds of strength. On the other hand, at the same time, it makes her grandparents and fellow villagers disarmingly protective regardless of however provoking their quirks might be!
A medical condition sees the dispatch of one of the less likeable characters. It also influences Granny and Grandpa’s decision as to which level of existence they choose and when.
So, I hope you’re satisfied with the place of medical matters in the cozy context. Even fatalities, the very heart of a whodunit. Perhaps, after all, you’ll say as regards your taste in literature, ‘I like a bit of death!’
Meanwhile, I am now 30,000 words into Amanda Cadabra Book 5, with 15 chapters complete and pretty much finalised.
Back next time with more musings for your entertainment.
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.
What’s So Special?
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.
Dead and Gone?
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 Rebeccaand 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?
Back to the Roots
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.
The Real Thing
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.
Exclusive to Inclusive
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 …
We all agree that ‘write’ ‘book and ‘read’ should be spelt just so. Those are the agreed correct order of letters. I promised you a couple of weeks, in my post about misspelling, to give attention to The Rules. Precisely, what happens when we don’t all agree?
What rules are we talking about? So far, what I’ve written would pass the spell-checker, editor, beta reader and eagle-eyed book-fan everywhere. Now let’s try this:
Spot the Difference
I realise I was late for the theatre. But I had a flat tyre. I asked Dr Smith for help, but he said, ‘On my honour, I don’t know how! These wheels are aluminium. Can’t we just have a cosy chat?’
Now, depending on where you live, you may take exception to 7 things in that paragraph and declare about each of them,’ Whoever wrote that got it wrong.’ And if you live in the USA, you would be right. In US English it would read:
I realize was late for the theater. But had a flat tire. I asked Dr. Smith for help, but he said, “On my honor, I don’t know how! These wheels are aluminum. Can’t we just have a cosy chat?”
The first is British (or UK) English. The second American English. If you were taking a spelling test in one and used the other, then you would almost certainly lose points. New Zealand and Australia use mostly UK English. South Africa uses the identical form. Canada, as one would expect from the world’s third favourite nation, is easy-going, recognises both and comfortably straddles UK and US variants.
Pick One And Commit
As an author, that’s what I have to do. Well, sort of. I use British spelling throughout my novels and nearly always in these letters. Nearly? Yes, you may have noticed that I usually spell ‘cosy’ – as we do in the UK – as ‘cozy’. Gasp, shock, horror. Why this anomaly? It is because the title of the genre in which I write the Amanda Cadabraseries listed as ‘cozy’. Generally speaking, the subgenre is written as ‘cozy paranormal mystery’. Check on Amazon, Kobo, or Itunes. Yes, but surely British publishing houses …? No, even Penguin describes that shelf with a ‘z’ Which, incidentally, here we pronounce as ‘zed’.
So, often the best you, as an author, can do is to pick a side: with exceptions, where necessary. ‘Why this moral elasticity?’ you may ask? For the sake of clarity. As writers, we are here to convey our story to you, in the most entertaining, enjoyable way possible. As my books are set in a village here in the UK, using British English is my way of seasoning the dish for your delectation. If anything does trip you up, each novel has a glossary of UK-US English terms used within the pages, and here on the website, you’ll find one too.
Your Rights As A Reader
It is reasonable to have certain expectations as the literary consumer. If you’re reading a novel set in Oklahoma in which all of the characters are locals, then you can anticipate that the book will use US spelling. What if someone rides in from England? You would still expect their dialogue to be written using US English because that doesn’t affect the pronunciation.
On the other hand, if the story is set in London, then it will almost certainly use UK spelling.
How about non-fiction? There are no holds barred here. An Australian author writing a treatise for the Australian market on the history of population movement from America may choose Australian English because of the intended target market. On the other hand, if the book was about emigration from Australia to the US and written for the American students, for example, then the author may choose US spelling.
The fact is that on a global level, the rule is that there are variants. The variant is only a letter or two difference. And what is a letter or two between friends? And there are only two versions or each one, as far as I remember. It’s hardly mayhem and revolution. Think of it as two flavours.
What’s In A Name?
In the end, language is a vehicle. It is a means to convey meaning, to create emotion, to enable us to understand one another, to co-operate, to share, to inspire, to co-create even. The widespread use of sign language, the facial expression, the body posture is testimony to the written word as just one way. Of them all, the written word is the love of my life. I love British English. Yes, it looks ‘right’ to me. But who would want to eat just one flavour ice-cream all the time?
Amanda Cadabra Book 5 continues to develop with a brand new minor character. Back next week with more thoughts for your entertainment.
Writing, like having a student, teaches you. Well, of course, it gets you practising your craft, but there are 5 bonus extras.
For example, in the process of writing the Amanda Cadabra books, I have been enlightened on, among other things, joinery, architecture, Hertfordshire, the history of witchcraft, Cornwall, explosions, structural integrity, the paranormal, treatments for asthma, clinic design, reception areas, churches, stately homes, hidey-holes, cats and apples.
Broadly speaking, they all fall in a small number of categories.
The Big Five
Thes are location, history, costume, language, and customs.
Ok, but why go to all this trouble when it’s just a made-up story? Can’t you simply invent it? Valid point, but the background has to be believable for the plot to flow. Anomalies are distracting. I know that my readers are smart and well-informed. The Devil is in the detail …. if you get it wrong. So how does this work in practice?
X Marks the Spot
For Amanda Cadabra, I had to find a village on the outskirts of a big city. Why? Because it takes place in a village, but I’ve never lived in one. So a hamlet with the demographics of a city is something I can work with. I looked on the map and I was in luck. With the first one I visited, as soon as I drove in, I knew I’d found Amanda’s home.
However, some the action takes place in Cornwall, and it’s a while since I’ve been there. I needed Google Maps, Wikipedia, tourist websites, Google images, and YouTube videos. Finally, I began to see the small town where Inspector Thomas Trelawney lives and works at the police station. Researching place names in Cornwall and Cornish, I came up with Parhayle. His boss and best friend Chief Inspector Michael Hogarth, lives in a small village near the coast. I found the perfect candidate on raised ground overlooking the water and called it Mornan Bay.
Your chosen location will dictate the local flora and fauna: which bird is singing in the hedgerow in late June, what flowers are blooming in the meadow in early May.
What if you set your story right where you live? Well, have you ever shown visitors around your town? Probably, as I have, you’ve looked up points of interest. Which bring us to … history.
Back in the Day
Thanks to showing guests around my city, I learned the height of Nelson’s column, including the statue (169 feet 3 inches/61.59m), what the lions in Trafalgar Square are made of (bronze), when St Paul’s Cathedral was built (1675 to 1710), the length of Tower Bridge (800 feet/240 m), and the stone used for facing Buckingham Palace (Bath stone). Everything that exists in a village or town has a history that gives the location colour and texture.
To give Amanda’s home, Sunken Madley, I needed to research what people in villages did, how they lived. I looked up YouTubes of Village of the Year and listened to what residents said about their lives. My mentor, author TJ Brown also made me a present of two books: The British Countryside and The Book of British Villages. All of this helped me to get a sense of the location for the books.
Wearing Those Threads
If you set your story at any time in the past, you need to be able to mention, even if in passing, what your characters are wearing. Their status and income will also have a bearing on their taste in clothes. This helps the reader build a picture of each person.
Samantha Briggs in Books 2-4, is a fashion victim who runs riot with Daddy’s credit card on Bond Street. For her, I had to research high fashion that would be worn by someone in their late teens. Vogue and reports on the various fashion weeks were a great help here.
Amanda loves the colour orange and has a somewhat childlike sense of dress. I looked at a lot of orange clothes! Inspector Trelawney is always immaculately dressed in suit and tie. What sort of suits would he buy on a policeman’s salary? Shopstyle.com was a great help, so was GQ.
Language? Well, that’s easy. English surely? However, as I wrote to you last week, there is a great deal of variety under that umbrella term: dialects and foreign or regional accents. For Amanda Cadabra, I researched the Hertfordshire accent. I found some rare footage and a recording of some elderly folk speaking the way they did in that county decades ago.
One of my favourite scenes that I tremendously enjoyed writing is of two old Cornish friends in a pub in Cornwall discussing the weather. I had to listen to YouTubes and research Cornish dialect so that I could, phonetically, convey the rich flavour of their speech.
This Is How We Do It
Finally, we come to customs. These vary from place to place, just like language. And happily, they include food. I researched Cornish cuisine and reminded myself of traditional British favourites too: pasties, jam roly-poly, Victoria Sandwich, marmalade roll, scones and fairy cakes. Amanda, Trelawney and Hogarth each were given a favourite biscuit.
So there you have it. Novel writing is an education, but researching for your story is so much fun you don’t realise along the way just how much you are learning. You become five departments in your film production: costume designer, location manager, dialect coach, background researcher and local consultant. This is one of the great joys of being a novelist. And I am convinced that everyone has a novel in them.
I know that I promised to write more about writing in ‘English’ and just how elastic a term that is, and I shall come back to that.
Chapter 8 of Amanda Cadabra 5 has gone into the ring binder (which means its in it’s near-to-finshed form), and the book makes steady progress towards its release in the spring. The first of my crocuses opened today, and I drove past the first magnificent display of daffodils I have seen this year. So, the new novel is shooting up with the flowers. Back soon with more titbits from the writing life.
‘Not at all. I don’t want any of that primrose path stuff cluttering up the plot,’ you may say.
Fair enough. When I feel that way, do you know which aisle I head for? The children’s section. (Except for that chapter in Tom Sawyer. You know the one.) Want to include more grown-up fiction? A thoughtful reader has compiled an excellent list on Goodreads: here.
Bring It On
Can’t get enough of that St Valentine’s Day feeling? Looking for a romance novel? It’s not quite that simple. There’s a spectrum. At one end we have ‘clean romance’ or as, Barbara Cartland, doyenne of dalliance, called it ‘pure romance’. Simply put, this is where the protagonists behave with a degree of decorum, and the narrative ends at the bedroom door.
Then we have a middle section where the story takes us from tasteful action with the chamber that goes up to erotica. Do not confuse this with porn, by the way. Writing erotica well is an exacting art, and for our purposes would have a romantic context.
Love in A-midst – Cocktail
Some of the significant romantic works of fiction are not through and through romance. Really? Take Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, for example. These are as much thriller as on the subject of l’amour. Gone With The Wind is as much historical fiction as the latter. (Reading that actually got me studying The American Civil War.) So it may be worth browsing other shelves for your next romantic read.
Just a Dash
If you’re finding that no genre is safe from the fond flame and don’t mind or want, just a soupçon of two hearts that beat as one, then this is where you have the greatest scope for a full library and hours of literary enjoyment. Isaac Asimov, in his epic Foundation science fiction series, finds time and space for the tender passion. If you’re peeking around the door at horror, you’ll find romance elements in the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein.
Fantasy? The Lord of Rings has a wistful sampling of true love. Terry Pratchett in his Witch and Discworld series clearly felt that no story is complete without romance.
And Now We Come To It
It was only a matter of time. Cozy mystery. In my particular case, cozy paranormal mystery. Where does romance sit in that? Here is my experience.
When, two years ago, the genre was explained to me by fantasy writer TJ Brown, I went off in search of the rules of the game. Back then, I gained the impression that readers preferred their stories without romance. I duly wrote Amanda Cadabra Book 1 accordingly. Amanda and Inspector Trelawney move from distrust, suspicion and irritation to a connection of some description by the end of the book.
Revelations From Readers
And then … I found readers were seizing with enthusiasm on the possibilities of a warmer liaison between the two. Tim had wisely said to me that your readers will tell you what they want. The Readers had spoken. I was only beginning to get to know Amanda and Trelawney. Through books 2 – 4 and into 5, I let them develop their connection at their own place. They are, of course, kept in a holding pattern by the professional nature of their relationship. If you are reading the whole series, I do hope that you are enjoying seeing how it unfolds and where it goes!
Since my maiden voyage into cozy, I have discovered many, if not most, books in the genre include a romance component. Consequently, I gather than most readers like this side order served with their main cozy course.
That concludes this brief foray into the flutterings of the heart in literature. Amanda 5 is now 21,000 words in, and 5 chapters are much as they will be when delivered to you.
Back next week with more ponderings for your entertainment.
What is your reaction when you see a misspelling or an correct use of grammar? I did a poll on Twitter. Half said they were mildly annoyed, a quarter were extremely irritated, a quarter felt disturbed. No one picked the ‘It doesn’t bother me’ option.
What sort of bugbears are we talking about here? Common culprits are: ‘They’re is’ ‘Me, two’, ‘Come over hear’. Words that evade spell-checkers. How does it feel, just reading those? The chances are that if you a keen reader, it does not improve your mood. Why?
Here’s my theory. Chaos. Not ‘chaos theory’ but simply that we enjoy order. It’s calming. Agreed spelling and grammar is order: this is what we do, this is how we do it.
We are creatures who have relied on the recognition of patterns for our survival. When something deviates, it could indicate danger. The apple that is brown instead of green, the cheese that has blue fur on it, the smell that is too pungent, too sweet, the snap of the twig that breaks the silence. We recognise the thing that doesn’t fit, and it raises the alarm.
In the case of correct usage of language, it should raise a red flag in certain circumstances. If you’re reading the website or an email from someone that you’re thinking of employing, for example, the standard of communication can indicate that they are competent and attend to detail. (However, I must admit that I have tapped out emails in haste and after hitting the send button have spotted a mistake.)
Mistakes may be pardonable in emails. However, if one of these spelling transgressions appears in a novel or a work of non-fiction, it disturbs the flow of our concentration, our engagement with the narrative. The more we have paid for the book, the more we feel entitled to receive text that is expertly edited. That is a reasonable expectation.
Here’s the thing: it doesn’t consistently annoy you, or not always to the same degree. ‘Yes, it does,’ you insist. Let’s do an experiment. Don’t you love those?
You get a letter from the Tax Office. It tells you have supplied incomplete information. The writer tells you:
‘Fill in and return in the next too days or you may face prosecution.’
Now you’re annoyed, right? If these people are going to make demands and induce stress, the very least they can do is spell correctly!
Now let’s try this.
You are in your garden. The family living next door are delightful people, and you have become good friends with them all. Suddenly their little girl pops her head over the fence, calls ‘hello’, and waves a piece of paper.
‘I wrote this for you!’ she says with glee.
She passes it to you, and there is a page of her 6-year-old handwriting, at all angles and surrounded by colourful doodles. You begin to read. It is entitled …
My First Storey
It jumps out at you, doesn’t it? But are you annoyed? No. She’s 6 years old, and this is her present to you.Not so sure that misspelling should be a capital crime now? Let’s do one more experiment.
Your current favourite author has just published her 9th book in the series that has you riveted. She seems, from interviews and social media, to be a charming lady too. You snuggle up, get cozy, coffee steaming on the table beside you, to take advantage of two solid hours of bliss.
However, for one reason or another, she brought this book out in a hurry. There in chapter three, is …(gasp) ‘She could not here what he said’. Oh dear. In chapter 5 is another, and throughout the book, there are a dozen such errors. Do you stop reading at any point? Unlikely.
Later you take up a novel that has been recommended by someone you actually don’t like all that much. Nevertheless, it sounds vaguely interesting. Hm. You begin to read … chapter 2 … typo … chapter 3 …. misuse of grammar and a missing word. By the mistake in chapter 5 …? Yes, you probably throw in the towel, thinking, I didn’t really want to read it in the first place.
Who’s In The Driving Seat?
Now we’ve established that our reaction depends on the circumstances. Good. Or is it? Isn’t the problem that we are allowing ourselves to be controlled emotionally by circumstances that we have chosen to engage with? What are the alternative reactions that could leave us less ruffled?
How about this: congratulate yourself on knowing how to spell and use grammar correctly, that the error has been spotted by your informed eagle eye, even allow the flash on indignation that you can’t get a refund and maybe … let it go. Does it really matter? Is it worth dwelling on?
Reading any book for the first time is to some extent a gamble: if we lose, we get minutes or hours wasted and disappointment. However, most of the time, we win; win entertainment, a roller coaster ride, the joy of the characters’ journey, the elation of the ending. It’s worth the throw of the dice, isn’t it?
If you find a favourite author who has let something slip in their book, there is one more thing you can do that will definitely make you feel good: drop them a line and tell them. I have a team of beta readers who do just this for me, and they are gold! And please, if you see me using ‘here’ it should say ‘hear’ or a trespass of that nature in something I have written, do, please tell me. I will feel nothing but appreciation.
However, what about when we don’t agree on the rules? What then? More about that next week …
Book 5 of the Amanda Cadabra British humorous cozy mystery series continues to grow. Back soon with more thoughts to entertain you.
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.
Dialect and Language
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 Things? ‘
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 Do It?
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.
If it’s a cozy environment, why have villains in it at all? In a word, contrast. As Shakespeare wrote: ‘How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world’. Our warm and fuzzy setting, while not a naughty world, has dusky elements that only our bright and plucky main character, usually female in this genre, can overcome.
The Scale of Villainy
Baddies come in various degrees of baddiness. On one end we have the uncontrollable psychopaths with no moral compass whatsoever: Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs, Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, Mr Hyde from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
With reference to the photo above, this is a lookielike of James Bond arch-villain Blofeld’s cat. A mention therefore must be made of villains you love to hate. From the beginning we don’t take them seriously so there is a diminished sense of threat. They openly revel in their misdemeanors so there is no mystery.
Next, there are those who perhaps did once have a sense of right and wrong but are overcome by emotion, for example, jealousy: Mrs Danvers in Rebecca and Iago in Othello.
Finally there are good people who do bad things. Jane Eyre’s Mr Rochester makes the best of a bad situation with his first wife. He arranges for private medical care, as it were, while living a lonely and despairing existence. Rochester fights against his growing attraction to Jane which manifests itself as abruptness. However, at last, out of desperation, he attempts a deception that, exposed, leaves Jane traumatised. Good person; bad deed.
The Way You Tell ‘Em
Where do these figure in cosy mystery? Turning to the queen and godmother of the genre, Agatha Christie, we observe her treatment of villains. The author has ‘evil’ in one of her titles and even the apparently mild Miss Marple uses the adjective ‘wicked’. Christie’s murderers are cold, calculating killers who, in pre-1965 Britain would have faced execution.
In the cosy genre we eschew the gore of the rampaging axe-wielder using unacceptable language to express his dissatisfaction. However, we do have our pick of the scale if we present them apparently palatably. Christie accomplished this cleverly. Her murderers appear normal, even likeable or sympathetic, until the dénouement, the unmasking at the end. Then the part of our cosy world with the dark patch of unsolved crime is lit with the beacon of truth.
This leads me to believe that the secret to wring baddies in a cozy mystery, is to do with presentation.
Learning on the Job
I developed much of my own method courtesy of TJ Brown author of The Unhappy Medium, when I had the privilege of top editing his novel Tom Fool, second in the comic paranormal series. Top edit? This is the final check for continuity, flow, and includes analysis of the mental and emotional terrain of the book. The editor looks at how well they work and suggests any way that they might be improved. And here I learned about how to write villains in a fun read.
Tim’s principle baddies are evil, so evil that he nudges them into caricature. His lesser villains he renders ridiculous in their obsessions. (Rather like Cruella de Ville in The One Hundred and One Dalmations) There are scary scenes, moments of chilling fear and split seconds of shock that, with a word, a phrase, or sentence, he artfully switches to helpless giggles on the part on the reader. Tim’s tools: absurdity and diffusing. Of course, all nasties come to a sticky end and justice is served while the heroic goodies live to fight another day.
I learned so much from those weeks working with Tim, who finally convinced me I could write a novel of my own. That was when he told me of a genre hitherto beyond my ken: cosy paranormal mystery.
The Miscreants of Amanda Cadabra
The baddies in the Amanda Cadabra series, similarly to Tim’s approach, are in two tiers: the shadowy witch-clans of the Cardiubarns, Granny’s family, and the Flamgoynes, their cold-war-style foes. From birth, the threat to Amanda is very real and dictates her secretive life-style. Although I prefer to avoid such weighted words evil and wicked it is clear that both clans are thoroughly ill-intentioned. Nevertheless, the amoral fashion in which they do not hesitate to bump each other off tips edges them towards comic.
Each book has its own mystery. However, there are no psychopaths among the criminals, who are driven by emotion such as jealousy and fear. But wrong has been committed and fairness to the victim dictates that they are brought to justice, which of course they are.
This being the world of warm and fluffy (with an edge), no character to whom we have become attached perishes. However, even if it is an outsider, it is still a case for our heroine of ‘ritin’ ‘rongs’, in the words of Richmal Crompton’s incomparable William. When Amanda does so we share the moment with her and our sense of balance in satisfied, our faith in the ultimate victory of light and right restored.
The subject of villains and their treatment in literature is a vast and deep one. This is but my take of an overview and a how-I-do-it.
The manuscript of Book 5 is now laid out on my carpet, a crucial stage in its development. It is growing into the dish that I hope will be for your cozy delectation.
Back next week with more ponderings, revelations and news.
‘I could never do what you do!’ Have you ever said that? It’s often what readers say, and each time I think: ‘But you are a natural narrator. All humans are. It is what, among other things, we are born to be.’
First of all, it’s true; you probably couldn’t replicate what I do in the way that I do it. No two writers follow precisely the same process. But then, I don’t think you’d want to. However, read on and see how yes, you could, you can, you do, produce, create, non-fiction and fiction. You’re good at it because you’ve been engaged with this since you were tiny.
The Dog Ate My Homework
At some point in your earliest years, you will have spilt your milk, knocked over the biscuit tin reaching for an unauthorised cookie, got mud on your best shoes. And the question came: What did you do that for? They were asking you for … your story. Now, your reply might have been factual:’ I didn’t see the cup,’ or fiction: ‘You said I could have one.’ The point is that you produced a narrative. And in explanations and apologies, you have been doing it ever since. And you’re good at it. Needs must. We’ve all been in the situation of ‘you’d better come up with something and you’d better make it good’. The legendary Scheherazade knew that only a rivetting tale with a cliffhanger ending could make her homicidal royal husband stay the executioner’s hand for the night while she came up with the sequel!
This Is How We Do It
We are natural teachers: as parents, siblings, friends, tutors, co-workers, instructors, bosses, neighbours, pet owners, or just simply fellow humans. We all at some time, need, want to know how to do something. Even unwittingly, we convey how-to’s to other people. Maybe today someone watched you buy a ticket at the train station, use the coffee machine, make a sandwich. You went through a sequence of procedures that told the story of how you do that thing. Has anyone ever said to you, ‘You’re a really good teacher.’ Don’t we love to be told that?
‘But that’s factual, that’s just non-fiction,’ you say. Making up a brand new story about new people and places and creating a plot just out of your head? I couldn’t do that!’ I used to say exactly the same thing. And I was wrong.
It’s Going To Be All Right
Your best friend’s relationship is over; your sister has broken her arm. At the moment of crisis, they can only see and feel the intensity of distress, but you can see the wood for the trees. You say:
‘It’s going to be okay. You’ll get over this in time, and it will be just a memory. You’ll probably even laugh about it. When you feel like it, we’ll dress up, and we’ll go out to your favourite restaurant. We’ll order the best wine on the menu, and I’ll ask them for a special cake with a candle so you can make a wish.’
You paint them a picture of a happier time. You’ve done that. The events you describe haven’t happened yet. At the time you say all of that … it’s fiction.
Yes, But …
‘Saying it is one thing’, you protest, ‘writing it down is another.’ Well, here’s the news: you don’t have to. Agatha Christie to some extent and especially Barbara Cartland, romance author of some 700 novels dictated their books! You have a recording app on your phone or tablet or computer? You can record your narrative. You can type it up yourself, ask a friend, or pay $5 to someone on fiverr.com to do it for you. There are kind beta-readers and professional editors who can take care of the next step for you. The fact is that you will l have created a tale, a make-believe story. It can be firmly rooted in a real place and characters you know. It can be a few words long. Don’t believe me? Check The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories
It turns out that you can do what I do: create stories. You have narratives that someone out there wants to hear, read, know. So whether it’s one-to-one, into your phone, scribbled on the back of an envelope or typed out, keep telling your stories.
Why We Respect You
As authors, we have great respect for you, our readers, precisely because you are storytellers too. It is like we are dancing for an audience of dancers, singing for an auditorium of singers. So when you tell us that you enjoyed our performance, our tale, it is our hearts that sing. So do, if you can, tell a writer of a book, or an article, a tweet, a post, a comment, that you liked what they wrote, if it made you laugh, or feel better or see things in a new way. Please, tell us. It means the world to us.
And now … the new Amanda Cadabra novel is now almost 15,000 words in. January will have one final book offer. Book 1 of the British humorous cozy mystery series, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth has a 25% price drop to just until the end of the month. Back soon with more musings and news.
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