‘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.
One of my book reviewers was kind enough to say, ‘You write men particularly well.’ Several generous readers have remarked that all of the characters are believable, including the males.
How is it done? Not being an authority, I can only tell you how I do it for my particular cozy paranormal mysteries. How I put myself in their shoes.
First of all, I don’t think of the character as ‘a man’. The individual is simply a person. After all, in most cases, pregnant parents don’t think of their child as ‘he’ or ‘she’ but as ‘the baby’ for as many as nine months. They imagine sharing the things they enjoy with this individual regardless of gender, whether it’s Mozart or metal, sewing or soccer, art or astrophysics.
Second, the character, the person, is governed by social codes, the strongest of which is determined by gender. We can think of it as a fence. The shape can round, square, regular or with bulges in it. It can be a low ornamental flower bed border with gaps or 20 feet high barbed wire with an electric current of 7000 volts.
So, what determines the nature of this gender fence? The country where the character lives, the class he is born into and socio-economic background of his parents, his caregivers are all significant factors. For example, in the 1700s in Europe, an upper-class man was expected to wear make-up, have long hair, either his own or a wig, dress in silk, satin, velvet and lace, dance, speak French and write poetry. Consequently, a male who deviated from this was at a severe disadvantage. Georgette Heyer entertainingly explores this in her masterly historical romance novel Powder and Patch.
Fast forward 200 years and the general definition of manliness would preclude all of the above. Just for fun, let’s expand on that and look at how social class affects the fence. Take Billy Elliot, the film and musical based on the play Dancer by Lee Hall. This story has a boy growing up in the 1980s in the coal-mining stronghold of England’s industrial North East. Understandably, drawn to ballet, Billy comes up against the stone wall of working-class prejudice. However, he overcomes the monumental odds in the joyful finale.
By contrast, in About A Boy, the novel by Nick Hornby that was subsequently made into a successful film, our young hero has a very different shaped fence. It is 10 years after Billy’s formative years. Marcus, child of a folksy, adoring, middle-class mother, lives with her in a fashionable part of London and is encouraged to express himself artistically. He finds himself caught between her values and those of their trendy new friend, but nevertheless finds his own happy medium.
So now we come to our hero of the Amanda Cadabra British humorous cozy mystery series, Detective Inspector Thomas Trelawney. As his name and role came to me, I saw him: fit, tall, mid-brown hair. I sensed his fence. Middle-class. That told me accent. Cornish, from a fishing port. His gender fence is shaped from working-class, traditional expectations and those differing ones of his parents.
A fence doesn’t have to be a limitation, it can be as far as our experience goes, like a tidemark or a boundary stone. Usually a child can attend only one school at a time or be educated at home, can only live in one place at a time. You can only swim in water, walk on land. What is Trelawney’s terrain? In this case, the system worked backwards. As I sensed Thomas’s character, I knew what his parents were like. His mother is passionate, energetic, and humorous, his father is gentle, quiet, kind. Trelawney attended university as anticipated and approved of by his parents. However, what he studied, his career choice met with doubt, even protest.
An individual then, is a person with fences. Some that that person knows are there, some they accept, others they move, some they escape by relocating, some they simply ignore or don’t notice. These are the things that, in my opinion, form a character. They are the things with which we can all, in some way or another, identify. That’s what makes that person sympathetic, makes us care about what they get up to, how they are treated and if they get a happy ending.
Scientific research now tells us that there is more difference between individuals than between genders. Once characters appear to me in my mind, I hear their voices. The more I get to know them the more I know what they would and wouldn’t say, what they would and wouldn’t do. They show me who they are, because or in spite of their formative fences. As people. Recognisable people. People Ideally, who will engage, intrigue, delight and above all, entertain you!
As a writer, it’s fun to set up notions of the boundaries in the imaginary world and then subvert them. Sunken Madley’s teashop is owned by two men, keen bakers and patissiers. The best shot in the village is a woman. The most intimidating presence is … a cat.
I hope that this brief sketch of a very complex subject, of how one author writes in one sub-genre, has been enlightening, and if you are an aspiring writer, shown you that writing another gender is a lot less of a challenge than you might think. If you are a reader, may this will enrich your experience of the books you read in general and the Amanda Cadabra series in particular.
What news from the writing front? I am now about 4000 words into Book 5 and breaking off to ‘pen’ this letter to you.
Thank you to everyone who took advantage, or shared the news, of the free kindle download offer of Amanda Cadabra and The Flawless Plan, in the 72 hours up to Christmas Day. I hope this seasonal tale from the British humorous cozy paranormal mysteries helped with last-minute presents and rewards to you who worked hard to make it a joyful time for friends and family. And now, for coming week, the next month, the new year ….
Whether you are in still in the midst of festivities, or in recovery, it’s hard to miss that 2019 is making its grand finale. So, what of the emerging decade, the twenty-twenties, just days away now? How about new year’s resolutions? Is one of them to read more? If you’re a workaholic, is it to take a little more time out for yourself? Be more positive? More optimistic?
One thing most people agree on is that the winter holiday season can be expensive. To make it easier to begin a new cozy mystery reading project, here is a special discount. Starting the Amanda Cadabra series with Book 1, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, will have a price drop to $1.99 for the first two weeks of January 2020 on Amazon Kindlebooks. This is an unprecedented offer. Hopefully, will help with any or all of your best intentions for the coming year: reading, relaxing and enjoying an inspiring trip. Where? Into a murder mystery world where, with a little magic and the courage of both the ordinary and extraordinary, good always triumphs. If you enjoy it then there are three more books in the series. So far!
(For a taster, you can watch the book trailer here or read or listen to the opening chapter here).
By the time I write to you again, it will be 2020, and I hope to have news of progress on Book 5. The plan is to get it into your hands by March at the latest. Also, I will tell you my new year resolutions that are intended to enhance your enjoyment of the cozy mystery experience.
With the countdown to 25th December in just hours now, here’s a little help with eleventh-hour preparations:
From Sunday until Christmas Eve, the Christmas cozy paranormal mystery, Amanda Cadabra and The Flawless Plan is free on Amazon Kindle. For 72 hours, this is for you to download, send as a last-minute gift, stocking filler or reward to yourself. After all, you deserve a treat, especially now.
Here’s a little video you might like to send to someone who needs to beat the clock. Or they may be a fellow fan who loves a humorous British whodunnit with a wandful of magic and a hint of romance sprinkled on the top.
This is the last special offer of the year. Still, I will have news of one for January 2020, especially for anyone who would like to start on the Amanda Cadabra series. More of that next time.
Meanwhile, here is my latest article for the Books Go Social Magazine – Holiday Reads. If you’d like inspiration for seasonal literary indulgences, follow the link where you can read or download the magazine and enjoy a wealth of recommendations and ideas.
And so to conclude, may I wish you the very best of the holidays, love, friendship, sumptuous food, beautiful settings, merriment and all that is fine and light and of good cheer.
The poisoned sherry, the gunshot from the snow-covered terrace, the knife beneath the festive tree, the blackmail note inside the gift-wrap. How can we resist?
With mystery, thrillers and crime topping the Kindle charts only just behind romance, what is the appeal of the genre at this time of year?
People gather who customarily avoid one another like the plague, but under familial pressure, a sense of duty, or fear of isolation, duly attend the party. Let us set aside the convivial ideal gathering, and inspect instead the potential for delightfully deadly conflict.
Hosts prepare exceptional food, guests dress up and bring presents: all potential pawns in the battle for status, approval and a place in the family head’s will! The cooking of an ambitious feast causes tension in the kitchen. Old feuds are rekindled. Light the blue touch paper … and stand back.
The writer will set us up with apparent comfort and joy. The fairy lights, candles, tinsel and baubles on the tree, sparking wrapping and satin ribbon adorn the setting. Cards are exchanged, full of sentiment, heartfelt or spurious. Seasonal music fills the air, carols in the village church, singers with lanterns outside the door, old favourites around the piano and on the radio. The banquet is rolled out, to oohs and ahhhs as the turkey or goose in all its golden splendour is borne from the kitchen. The pops of the crackers sound, the laughter at the awful jokes, paper crowns. perched comically. The tastes of the savoury and sweet are relished. A feast for the senses. Smiling faces, goodwill … and then ….
The sudden, shocking interruption. The dive into a world of plots, suspicion, passion and dark deeds until the awful truth is revealed. Contrast follows again with the happy ending, the victim given justice, and the innocent exonerated. The lights come back on, the toast is drunk, and the Christmas spirit is all the greater for the drama that has unfolded.
For an example, I reach for a Christmas crime by the godmother of the cozy mystery: Dame Agatha Christie.
Interestingly her prime cozy sleuth Miss Marple is unavailable for the winter celebration. However, her Belgian private detective, Hercule Poirot, comes to our rescue in a short story. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding is the one Christie that could only have unfolded during that time of year.
Poirot rejects the whole idea of the traditional rural English Christmas. The countryside signifies the damp and chill of old stone mansions, and, he declares, the occasion is, in his native land, reserved for children. However, the plight of a hapless prince and royal scandal are in the balance. The young man has been robbed of a priceless family heirloom: a suitably red ruby.
The trail leads to Kings Lacey. With the promise of efficient central heating and hot water, our beloved Belgian agrees to join a family party there. Dinner brings a dazzling surprise with an unexpected object in the plum pudding. How did it get there? Soon there is a more pressing question as the red and white of yuletide turns to blood on the snow. Who is responsible for the footprints leading out to the body lying in the garden?
Christie throws in twists and turns to bring the path to a satisfactory conclusion. Not the best written, but it is her most Christmassy and tosses us from interest, to anticipation, to engagement, to shock, to resolution and back to seasonal joy.
However, I would suggest that our attachment to Christmas crime goes back far earlier than Christie. At the dawn of our human consciousness, the first mystery surely would have been why nature died, the days darkened, the air chilled. And then, a further curiosity, why the earth revived, lightened and warmed.
It is innate in us all to seek cause and effect. Could it be that at this time of year we have some genetic, tribal memory linking us to that first puzzle? Our forebears attempted to explain it, with what we still do: telling stories. An example is the tale of the battles at the solstices between Oak, king of summer and Holly, lord of winter.
Isn’t that what a mystery is? Not cause and effect, but effect first: a dead body. Who or what caused it? Whodunnit.
So as the death of nature resolves into the beginning of the lengthening of days, what better genre to celebrate with than a mystery? In harmony with the seasonal spirit, what better than a cozy mystery?
As a global event, the solstice is celebrated or has a history of celebration in some form or another across the world. Whether with tinsel and glitter, candles and bonfires, smiles and laughter, add a mystery, and let there be light.
I have just written the first thousand words of Amanda Cadabra Book 5. This is the right moment to answer the question, what does it feel like to do that? What is the creative process? Did I force myself to sit at a desk and commit to writing a certain number of words in an afternoon? Some great works of fiction have been created using such discipline. However, in my case, this is how it happened ….
Where to start?
It’s been a few weeks since I finished the fourth in the Amanda Cadabra cozy paranormal mysteries series. So after a plot map – a rough one then a tidier one, both in a big sketchbook – the first step was to reconnect with the last book, Amanda Cadabra and The Rise of Sunken Madley. Next, I checked where we’d got to in the story arc, what our characters know, and what has been shared with you, dear readers.
I like to weave the strands of the self-contained story of each book in and out of one another, together with the over-arching plot that runs through the whole series. Consequently, I made notes on the plot sketch of what needs to interspersed.
For this sequel, I followed my nose in and out of research on Wikipedia and other internet sites. And then I knew. The first chapter suddenly was obvious to me. I had the document open with the first few lines. I pulled it up from under my browser windows, and my fingers began to type. The lines came quickly with no time for spelling or grammar checks. Out it flowed as though I were taking dictation from my own mind.
Soon I am between two worlds: this one and the world of Amanda Cadabra. As I type, I move more and more into that fantasy existence … My eyes are on the screen, my fingers tapping on the keyboard, but before my eyes is … the sitting room at 26 Orchard Row, in the English village of Sunken Madley. I am seated on the chintz sofa of the Cadabra’s house beside Granny – Senara Cadabra. Before me on the coffee table is a cup of tea in a white, delicately floral patterned, Wedgwood china cup. I see Amanda handing Inspector Trelawney a matching dish of shortcake. I can see the plate. I know the design, the gilded edges …. I know how the room smells, how each person smiles, the exact colour of their eyes, the timbre, intonation of each voice … It is as though I hear them speak rather than give them their lines. They give me theirs.
Three hours later, and I’m back. I’m hungry, thirsty, stiff, and the room is stuffy. How do I get back into my body and the real world? How else … with a cup of tea!
And that, for the most part, is how all of every book comes to me. In between, I have to do a great deal of checking and learning. Yet somehow I remain in the fantasy zone as I come and go between fiction and non-fiction. Any fact at all of which I am not certain must be verified. That is part of world-building, or perhaps it is simply what allows me to perceive that other world.
What does it mean?
Some theorise that when an author writes fiction in this way, they are seeing a reality that exists somewhere on some plane or other – an alternative reality, another universe. Others say that we are creating a reality that then somehow, somewhere comes into being.
So when I finish a book and load it onto Amazon, what I am really saying is,’ Come with me … let me share with you … let me show you this other place of mystery, magic, people to know, love, relate to, suspect. This cozy place where, ultimately, good will triumph, and at the end of each book, for now at least, all is right with the world.’
Thank you to every one of you who have read or plan to read one or more of the books, even just looked at a cover, come to visit this site, peeped through the keyhole, or encouraged me to keep writing.
Why do I do it? Why do I write? Because I can’t help myself!
Don’t Force It
Can I make what I have described happen? No. I have wait for the wave. Sometimes you just have to sit on the beach and watch the sea, admire the sky, listen to the gulls, tend your surfboard. There is always the clam and mussel digging of marketing, the rockpool, net-and-jam-jar visits of research and, sometimes, it’s just a matter of lying back on the sand.
Yesterday, book reviewer Nicole Pyles kindly published her recent interview with me. If you’d enjoy a little more insight and inspiration to continue with or create some fiction of your own, you’ll find it here:
A smile, a greeting, good wishes, cards or gifts, this, especially, is the time of year for sharing. You may not know this, but writers who sell their books on Amazon make very little on paperbacks (we have to pay the printing costs out of our percentage of the royalties). But, what I have I’m sharing with you. To make your giving a little easier, you can get a ten per cent discount during a short window.
For just 72 hours from Monday to Wednesday 10 – 12th December here’s help with your Christmas shopping. If you order now, you can be sure of getting that cozy fan present in time for the big day.
Amanda Cadabra and The Flawless Plan. The story takes place over Christmas, and if you’re new to the book or the series, expect action, magic, laughter, surprises and bookish delight. (For those of you familiar with it, yes, it does have a brand new cover!)
Although this is the third novel in the British humorous cozy paranormal mystery series, each adventure is self-contained, with its own puzzle and er … body! It’s a by-the-fire (or in the hammock, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere) read for the winter before, during or after Yule.
Do you know someone who’d love an asthmatic, furniture-restoring young witch tackling a body wrapped in an enigma, with a dash of danger, topped off with a happy ending? Maybe a future fan of the genre? The most important thing is that you sign it to them with love.
And here is a little video about it to watch or send:
For a stocking filler, either for you or someone you to want to treat, the kindle version will have its own couple of free days just before Christmas Day. (Dates to be announced soon!) Sometimes you need that last-minute present or a little luxury to reward yourself what you may have put into making the occasion special.
Amanda Cadabra Book 5: 1000 words
On the writing front, I have news for you. Last night, I wrote the first 1000 words of Book 5. How did it happen? How does it feel? That is a story for another post.
Light streams up through the darkness of the ancient church colouring the stained glass windows. I didn’t see it. I heard it. And I was sure I must have been mistaken.
Moments later, there it is was on the screen. I exchanged wide-eyed glances with my friend sitting on the same pew. Yes, she had heard it too: the name.
Son et Lumière
The fictional village of Sunken Madley, in which all of the Amanda Cadabra British humorous cozy paranormal mysteries are set, is based on a real place. Its name: Monken Hadley, a small community with a thousand-year-old history just north of London. This year they are celebrating 525 years since the rebuilding of the medieval church, most likely damaged in the Battle of Barnet. Every quarter of a century, this restoration is marked with a special event. Only a few days ago, in 2019, it was a retelling the story of the church and village in a spectacular Son et Lumière, sound and light.
The event started at 3.30pm, but by the time the startling revelation occurred, it was already night outside. The monks of the old priory, the opposing sides of the famous battle, the gentry and the philanthropists of long ago had passed and sounded before our eyes and ears. The tale had reached the period of the first world war. The narrator spoke of a memorial stone on the walls of the building where we sat, dedicated to one … and that was when my ears pricked up…
How It All Began
In the winter of 2018, my author pal TJ Brown convinced me that I could pen a cozy paranormal mystery. I had been adamant for years that I was strictly a non-fiction writer and fantasy was way beyond my ken. But Tim knew better. He encourage me to go off to research the genre, and presently we sat down together to begin the process of creation. First, we needed a name for the heroine. I knew it had to be something to do with magic. With a thesaurus list before us, we tried out different forenames and surnames, googled possible variations to see if they’d been used. The clock ticked away. We began growing tired and then … playing around with Abracadabra .. Tim came out with it: Amanda Cadabra! I repeated it in my head. Yes. We’d found her.
Suddenly, I heard the name, the name of her cat, I knew he was a collection of greys, he had livid yellow eyes and was permanently grumpy. It was the first name and the first thing that came to me. I had never seen it as a person’s name before, I knew it only as a weather system and the title of a Shakespeare play.
In the days that followed as I began to get a sense of Amanda and her familiar. I knew I had to find the right location for them. It had to be a village, and as I’d never lived in one, it had to be on the outskirts of a big city. I pulled up Google maps and began the search.
I’d have said that I knew the area pretty well, but I had no recollection of having seen the name of this particular village. Soon I was in the car and heading along the A1000, itself with a long history. Off the beaten track I went, by a pond, between trees and around the bend.
Behold. I knew: I had found my village, the village of Monken Hadley. Of course, I couldn’t call it that, so what about transposing the first letters … Hunken Madley? No … not quite right … another word ending in ‘unken’ … sunken … and it was born: Sunken Madley.
I tell you all of this, so you will understand why what I heard in the dim echoes of the church on that dark afternoon was so startling. I had no prior knowledge or use of that word as a pronoun or of that village.
So we’re in the dark of the church, sitting in a pew near the back looking up at the big screen, with the rest of the audience. We are hearing the saga of Monken Hadley and the officer whose efforts were instrumental in the achievement of the peace of 1918. Sadly he died just weeks before the end of the World War 1. His name? Charles Tempest-Hicks. The name of Amanda’s magical cat? Tempest.
Shivers ran down my spine, chills of excitement. Was the brave captain my muse? Had he been a cat lover? Was I being inspired? What would you say is the answer to the real-life mystery? Do share your thoughts with me.
Regardless, I am overjoyed that Tim motivated me to begin my cozy mystery journey, that he thought of Amanda Cadabra, that Tempest came to me. It is a source of continuing delight that Monken Hadley somehow drew me, that I have met so many kind people there, and that I travel back in time whenever I visit, Through writing this series, I have connected with all the dear readers who help and support and encourage me. I am thrilled to be on the journey of a lifetime, and that you join me in it. Thank you.
What it was all for
This year the sound and light show raised money for the restoration of a precious listed building, the 400-year-old church house, so that it can serve the community as was intended. And believe me, the entire community, from young to old all participated in creating the 525 experience. Seeing them waving happily at us in the closing credits brought a lump to my throat. Proceeds from tickets and donations also went to to the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice.
If you’re ever passing, do pop into the church of St Mary the Virgin, Monken Hadley. You can be assured a warm welcome and a moving and enchanting experience. It delighted at least one of our American cousins so much that it became the model for a church built in Chappacua, USA.
This weekend I have for you a new free short story, never before published, only available here. After all, I finished it only a week ago! For those of you who have read the first book in the British humorous cosy paranormal mystery Amanda Cadabra series, this will fill an enigmatic gap.
For brand new readers it introduces the quaint English village of Sunken Madley, asthmatic furniture restorer and covert witch, Amanda, her right-hand cat Tempest, Granny, Grandpa and some notable residents, including Tempest’s Achilles heel, the alluring Natasha.
We first hear of Tempest, the ever-grumpy feline familiar-to-be, at dead of night, on the Cadabra’s workshop bench. Witches Senara and Perran, alias Granny and Grandpa, have just reincarnated the storm cloud of greys with the glaring citrine gaze. He disappears for several hours before returning to meet their 15-year old granddaughter Amanda. But during that missing time, where was he? What was he doing? All is revealed in:
Subscribers and VIP Readers have been sent their copy. To download the story as either a PDF or a Word doc (just drop me a line for any other format) click on the link below. I do hope that you delight in this cat’s tale. Please let me know what you thought of it. It would be a great pleasure to hear from you.
Meanwhile, here is a Saturday night special of three recommendations for the perfect cosy combo.
Nicole Pyles, blogger, poet, short-story writer and video-creator kindly allowed me to guest post for her here:
At Nicole’s online home, you will find the trio of tips to make your weekend evening. Again, I’d love to hear what you think of them. In The World of My Imagination blog, you will also discover more Saturday Night inspiration, and recommendations of more cosy mysteries. In particular, however, as book lovers, do check out Nicole’s video channel. Here’s a taster of a unique (in my experience so far) art form combining, poetry, visuals and music in Nicole’s moving and breathtakingly beautiful Ode to Books. Turn the sound up. You’ll be happy that you did.
Next weekend I hope to be back with news of the ‘Christmas Book’, a new cover reveal and a special offer for a last-minute seasonal present for you to keep or gift.
Only a month to go before the winter solstice, and the days beginning to lengthen. This celebration, in all its forms, of the return and triumph of light, is what links us together across the globe. Wishing you every happiness in your preparations for your special day.
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!
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 …’)
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.”’
Could you? Ever thought about it? Someone ever told you that you could do this professionally?
What? Make the transition from reader to beta reader to reviewer/blogger to pro beta reader to editor. That’s quite a journey, you’re thinking? You’re a reader, so you’ve made a start. But would it be possible to turn your favourite hobby into something that actually generates income? Well, here is someone who’s done it.
It is my privilege to interview my treasured editor, who has been with the Amanda Cadabra books from the very beginning, Flora Gatehouse, pro beta reader and literary enthusiast:
Flora, I think, people who don’t write at all would like to know how you became a book reviewer.
I have always loved books; I remember as a child reading anything I could get my hands on and that love of reading has stayed with me all the way into adulthood. I’m not quite sure how I became a bona fide book reviewer though. I have always waxed lyrical about my favourite reads to my family and friends, hoping to encourage them to read one book or another. I love it when someone reads and enjoys a book that I suggested; it’s quite a thrill. I eventually decided to use my blog, to put pen to paper, as it were, and put my thoughts and suggestions out there. I have been writing book reviews in increasing frequency over the last four years and have even written a post about it – How Do I Start? – that gives some basic pointers and highlights the questions that I ask myself when I write reviews.
How do you know what books to read?
It may sound obvious but I read the books that I think I’ll enjoy. I’m persuaded by the front cover, the blurb on the back and the general opinions about the story that I find on Amazon and Goodreads.com. Of course, if I’ve read other books by that same author and enjoyed them, I’m already halfway sold on it. Reading is my hobby and my passion, so I want to reduce the odds of the book I pick up, not being to my taste by avoiding genres, themes and authors I’ve read in the past that weren’t my cup of tea.
How do you decide what is good?
Lol! That’s a loaded question, Holly. Deciding what is “good” is a wholly subjective thing. Many of my fellow book bloggers have recently decided to stop “rating” books as everyone’s idea of what is good (or not) is different. For me, I’m looking at the way the story is told as well as the story itself, for example, I don’t like it when the flow is stunted by too many things that a good editor would pick up (spelling, grammar, punctuation, plot holes, inconsistencies, etc), I hate it when a book ends on a perilous cliff-hanger and I always want to be emotionally connected to the protagonists; I wrote a post about some of my expectations regarding the leading female character too (OK, it might have been a bit of a rant, actually so, sorry in advance). If a book can make me laugh, cry and hold my breath, then I’m going to enjoy it more and rate it higher; I want to be swept away and drawn into the adventure.
How do you separate whether it’s your sort of book or not from its worth as a literary work?
That’s a tough one. The definition of literary work is a written piece of art but what is art? I don’t think it’s my job to decide whether a book is a literary work or not. My job as a book reviewer is all about giving other readers my opinion about the story, to help them decided whether a particular book is their sort of thing. As a beta reader, my job of reviewing a book has a slightly different directive; as well as my opinion about whether I liked the story as a whole, I’m also giving the author a detailed critique about every aspect of their unpublished manuscript.
How do you become a professional beta reader? What is that? What criteria do you use?
A beta reader is someone who reads an unreleased work of literature or other writing, who gives feedback from the point of view of an average reader to the author (similar to beta testing in software). The feedback is used by the writer to fix remaining issues with plot, pacing and consistency. Many authors send their manuscript off for beta reading so that they can gain some unbiased insight; ensuring that their book is well suited for readers, is conveying the right message and is enjoyable to read, before they move on to final editing or publishing.
I almost fell into beta reading by accident, although looking back it does feel like a natural transition. As I mentioned before, over the last 5 years I have been reviewing books that I’ve bought or been given by family and friends, but I have also been given ARCs (Advance Reader Copy) from publishers and authors in exchange for my reviews. The combination of my passion for reading, attention to detail and my skill set developed as a teaching assistant, has lead to my hobby developing into a service that I offer authors.
I charge a fee for my beta reading service but what do I do to earn it? Well, as I have already mentioned, as a beta reader I complete a detailed feedback report answering thirty questions about an author’s manuscript. I have arranged these questions into seven specific areas; opening scene, characters & dialogue, plot & conflict, flow & pacing, setting & world building, writing style and overall impression. Answering these in-depth questions, gives an author a comprehensive analysis of their story but if they’d also like to know which scenes made me cry, chuckle or shiver in fear, I offer also offer in-line comments as an additional service. In-line comments are when I write my immediate thoughts, feelings and comments directly into their manuscript using MS Word Comment.
What are your top 2 favourite books?
Lol! Holly, I can’t answer that! It’s like asking me who in my family I love the most! 😉 What I will tell you is what my favourite genres are. In my long history of reading, I’ve read everything from the classics to horror to historical romances to science fiction and loved them. Since getting my first Kindle in 2013, my reading passion has been firmly rooted in the paranormal romance, urban fantasy and cosy paranormal mystery genres. As a cosy paranormal mystery writer yourself, Holly, you are one of my favourite authors; Angie Fox, Victoria DeLuis and Kristen Painter being on that exclusive list too. Please keep writing.
Thank you for wanting to interview me, Holly, for your blog, it’s not often that I sit this side of the table. 😉 I hope that your readers enjoyed it as much as I did. The book blogging community is a wonderful place, full of supportive, kind-hearted souls who love talking about books. If any of your readers were thinking about reviewing the books they read or starting their own book blog, I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve made some amazing friend, met some awesome authors and I’ve loved every minute of it; I can’t imagine my life without it.
A writer? Yes why not. I’ll tell you how I got from editor to writer. But that’s a story for another day! Perhaps next time, when I’ll be back with news of a new video and plans for a special Christmas event or two.
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