It was love at first sight. Just over two weeks ago, our outstanding illustrator Daniel sent me four sketches from which to choose. I had a breathless moment when I laid eyes on the fourth one. I kept looking back at it. Knowing it might be the most challenging of all of the compositions, I was confident Daniel could make it work.
Balancing Act and Countdown
I’d given Daniel two or three possible cover scenes from the story. They would need to be arresting and attractive but with no spoilers. There also needed to be some continuity with the previous covers in the series.
Daniel was due to go on leave shortly. He sent me the various stages, and I asked for tweaks that he patiently made. Knowing how industrious he is, the last thing I wanted was for Daniel to have to work on my project during his vacation. With just 4 hours to go until his departure, the cover was done!
Here it is for your viewing pleasure. For me, it’s the best Daniel has produced for the Amanda Cadabra series. I was thrilled. My mentor’s reaction was — and please bear in mind that he works in graphics — ‘Wow, classy.’
We are only days away from the launch of the book, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths, so I’m working on the trailer video now. The book is due to become available this weekend on Amazon, first of all for Kindle.
As though things weren’t happening fast enough, Book 6 has started writing itself! If you would like to know what the title of that new book will be … you’ll find it at the end of Book 5, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths.
Back on launch day with news of trailer movie magic and the paperback edition.
PS If you want to start the series:
Available on Amazon
Paperback and Kindle
Amanda Cadabra Returns
After a long and winding road this year, I was reunited with my first love and what readers want most from me: writing books. Hence the recent dearth of blogging, tweeting and Facebooking. With everything else on the back burner, Amanda Cadabra Book 5 burst into life and is almost ready to emerge into the light of day. Beginning with — drum roll, please — the title:
And it is …
What if you’re new to the series?
This is the fifth in the British humorous cozy paranormal mystery series. Do you need to have read the first four books? No. It has its very own murder mystery, as does each of the novels. However, you’ll enjoy the story even more if you’ve read the preceding volumes. Why? Because there is an overarching story arc that comes to its conclusion in Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths. However, the new tale is also the jumping-off point for a new thread that will flow through books to come, so it’s also an excellent place to join the joy-ride.
There are a couple of spoilers in order to do a catch-up for new readers, and as a reminder. That’s just in case it’s been a while since you read book 4, Amanda Cadabra and The Rise of Sunken Madley. By the way, in case you’re thinking of diving into the series, all of the books, 1- 4 are available in paperback as well as on Kindle.
What’s the series about?
Amanda Cadabra is an asthmatic furniture restorer and covert witch from the age of six. Her abode is the quaint English village of Sunken Madley, full of endearing eccentrics. Brought up by her loving magical grandparents, Amanda knows she must keep her unusual gifts a secret. Among them is a strange connection with her familiar, the irascible feline, Tempest. The other, ghastly members of her family met their end at the bottom of a Cornish cliff after a van accident. Or did they? The how and why are the cold case investigated by the personable but intractable Detective Inspector Trelawney throughout the series to date.
Book 1, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, will be free to download from Amazon for a couple of days after Book 5 launches. So you or your friends can try it on for size, and see if Amanda and Sunken Madley draw you in.
Book Launch Line-up
What then can you expect in terms of the book arriving on your screen or doormat? There will shortly be a cover reveal (our illustrator Daniel has been busily conjuring it), a trailer video and, at the end of the month, the first chapter will be free for you to read in a special edition of the International Dublin Writers Festival magazine. This coming weekend look out for the launch of Kindle version of Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths. The paperback will follow as soon as my fingers can format it.
Where we’re at
Right now, the manuscript has come back from our star of an editor, Flora, and most of the sensational beta readers of the VIP Readers Group. The feedback so far has been everything any author could wish for.
Back soon with more news and hopefully, the unveiling of the new cover.
PS If you want to start the series:
Available on Amazon
Paperback and Kindle
What Is Your Pleasure?
Having written to you last week about health matters in fiction, this time, we get down to the nitty-gritty. Do you want the coronovirus, COVID-19, in the next Amanda Cadabra book?
‘Your readers will tell you what they want.’ Three years ago, with the first book Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth newly published, my mentor TJ Brown said this to me. And he’s been right. So without polling, I’ve had to make a decision about whether to include the current health-related situation in the book now being written.
Why There’s An Issue
The Amanda Cadabra books are plotted in real-time. That means the Book 5 takes place during the late winter and early spring of 2020, culminating in the Equinox Ball at The Grange. That date, 22nd March, heralded the onset of the C-19 lockdown in the UK. Should it go in, or not?
Let’s pick this apart.
Where Could Corona Be Welcome?
First, does the virus have a place in fiction at all? Yes, dystopian fantasy, drama, crime, thriller and horror could all comfortably accommodate it. The once fictional pandemic is now a familiar situation.
What about cozy mystery, though? Surely a situation that results in stress and hardship would be anomalous in a cozy setting. Or would it? Just like poison, it could be used as a murder weapon. Admittedly, it would not necessarily be a very reliable one, but nevertheless, it is a possibility.
Furthermore, by its very nature, the conditions resulting from coronavirus have both separated people from those they usually associate with but brought them together with others. Throw this into the mix, and it could make things interesting without actually introducing a single incidence of the illness.
In Sunken Madley?
However, in the case of Amanda Cadabra, the village of Sunken Madley is its own microcosm. The modern political situation is never mentioned (with the exception of a passing reference to library closures in Book 5) nor is it a topic of discussion there. The villagers have what they consider to be more interesting, immediate and closer to hand matters to discuss. Like St Mary Mead, the home Agatha Christie assigned to her sleuth Miss Marple, Sunken Madley operates within its own sphere.
The appeal of Agatha Christie’s cozy whodunits, apart from their puzzles, is their escapism. That’s a vital part of the essence of the genre. Add in the paranormal element, and that takes us even further into that pleasurable zone.
From What You’ve Told Me
Readers and reviewers have expressed their pleasure in the world of Sunken Madley and their time spent there. And when this period of the pandemic is over, is it really going to be something cozy readers will want to revisit or forget?
There is also the matter of, in practice, to what extent would it rock the village? No one gets ill in Sunken Madley. The senior citizens are probably the most physically robust people in the hamlet. The dream team of Mrs Sharma of the Corner Shop and Mr Sharma of the pharmacy would ensure everyone was supplied with all that they needed.
What about social distancing? And there’s the rub. The Corner Shop conferences are highlights and essential of every book. So are the seasonal dances.
Consequently, you can rest assured that the world of Amanda Cadabra will remain COVID 19-free. The only health issue is Amanda’s asthma and therein, as readers know, lies a tale ….
Meanwhile, Amanda Cadabra Book 5 is steadily gaining ground, now at 35% of the way through.
Until next week, wishing you well, and cosily at home with a good book.
PS If you want to start the series:
Amazon, Apple Books,
Kobo, Barnes & Noble and others.
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.
PS If you want to start the series:
Amazon, Apple Books,
Kobo and others.
How did Cornwall do it? How did worm its way into the heart of a series mainly set an English village to the north of London? Depending on where you live or are from, you may ask, as someone enquired of me, ‘Where is Cornwall?
It’s in the south-west of mainland Britain, the bit under Wales that spikes out into the Atlantic pointing off towards the distant shores of The New World.
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 Rebecca and Jamaica Inn – haunted, one case a man by his past and the other by strange lights and sounds in the dead of night!
Mist and mystery, the quintessential ‘country’ accent, the ‘oo arr, Jim lad’ of the stereotypical pirate, the crafty smugglers, the lone lighthouse, the golden light of the remote inn welcoming the weary traveller are an irresistible cocktail. All of these make it the perfect association for not just a cozy mystery but a cosy paranormal one.
So how did it entwine itself with the fictional English village of Sunken Madley?
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 …
PS If you want to start the series:
The Fiction Author’s Quandary
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”?’
Read on …
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 …
PS If you want to start the series:
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and others
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 Cadabra series 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.
Happy nearly spring!
PS If you want to start the series:
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.
Happy Almost Spring,
PS If you want to start the series:
Do You Love Romance?
‘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.
Happy last weeks of winter,
PS If you want to start the series:
A Choice of Four Reactions
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.
Happy Valentine’s Month,
PS If you want to start the series: