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.
First of all, before I tell you about new features, I would like to say thank you. That extends to everyone one supported the launch of the paperback edition of Amanda Cadabra and The Rise of Sunken Madley, together with the free days of Book 2, Amanda Cadabra and The Cellar of Secrets on Amazon. Even just by reading this blog, you help.
The sales were at a record level, and the downloads almost matched those of Book 1 a few weeks ago: 1,000! The highest sales have come from the latest book, so your throng is gathering force (encouraging me to get on with writing Book 5). To all new consumers of Sunken Madley mysteries, welcome, and I hope that you are enjoying the journey.
Before I go any further, I would like to offer an apology for the paperback release date being delayed for a day. The publication process took longer than it has in the past, however now I am forearmed for future releases.
Also as of the time of writing the paperback has yet to be linked to the other books so here is the direct line to it:
Meanwhile, as you may have noticed, I am writing to you more often. To let VIP Readers and subscribers know when I post a new letter to readers, I am setting up a system to send an email to let you know the title of the article and a link so you can catch up if you’d like.
I’m testing it this week to make it look as appealing and useful to you as possible. It will be offered next to VIPs and then if it passes muster with them, to you who have also kindly agreed to keep in touch. This the first time I’ve done something like this, so any feedback would be a boon.
If you’d like to be included just click: keep me in touch, and know that you can unsubscribe at any time.
A brand new feature that I’m rolling out to give readers and potential readers more avenues to communicate with me is now on the Holly Bell Facebook page. Our illustrious illustrator Daniel Becerril Ureña is creating an image of her.
Her name is Ivy, she is my chat assistant, and she’s a little robot. She’s always there. However, you can click on a ‘talk to a human’ where you can message me personally. I’m teaching Ivy to work here on amandacadabra.com too, so if you’d like to try her out that would be splendid. Even better, if you could let me know you like like her, how she gets on with assisting you to get to know more about the world of Amanda Cadabra, and the creation process.
There is also a new page on here called The Books, a quicker way of you finding the features about them that you want to read, see or listen to.
Next week I’ll be back, I hope to be featuring an interview with a member of the team, my editor. Have you ever wondered what it takes to go from book worm to beta reader to editor? All will be revealed …
Just one more day. The excitement mounts! Tomorrow, paperback fans, you will, literally, be able to get your hands on the real-deal, hard copy of new new British, humorous cozy paranormal mystery sequel, Amanda Cadabra and The Rise of Sunken Madley
Meanwhile, here is the new paperback cover of Book 4, Amanda Cadabra and The Rise of Sunken Madley, beautifully illustrated by our new talented artist, Daniel Becerril Ureña. In addition, he has given Book 2, Amanda Cadabra and The Cellar of Secrets, a makeover, and here it is ahead of tomorrow’s first free day. Daniel has led a fascinating life to date traveling the world, enhancing his skills. An interview with him is coming up here presently. There will also be an interview with professional beta-reader Flora Gatehouse. If you’ve every wondered how to turn your hobby into something more, see how Flora made her journey.
If you’re new to the Amanda Cadabra cozy paranormal mystery series, you might like to watch the trailer for Book 1, to get a taste of it. The ‘Inspiration’page will tell you about the real Sunken Madley, the village where Amanda lives and most of the action takes place. If there is anything you would like to ask me, please get in touch. I would love to hear from you.
Looking forward to being back with a launch report for you, and news of the next highlight.
The moment has come. With Tuesday’s release of the paperback of Amanda Cadabra and the Rise of Sunken Madley, Book 4 in the series and the free days for Book 2 almost upon us, here is a new video made for you in the past few days.
It takes days. First, you need a good quality microphone, and I use the Rode NT, which I can plug into my computer. Some people have more sophisticated setups, but this does the job. Next, you need headphones so you can hear yourself read and also pick up on any interference or background noise that you don’t want. Next, I make sure I have ‘the script’: sometimes a printout, sometimes an ebook version. It helps to sit comfortably and to position yourself the optimum distance from the mic, which is about 6 inches. I use a floor stand for this.
What about background noise?
Without studio conditions, sound echoes off any hard surface: walls, furniture, doors, technology. So I use a foam filter, the shape of half a large tube that sits behind the mic. Next, I plug in the mic and make sure that the program I use and the computer recognise that that is how the sound is going to come in. Also, I set the recording to playback through the laptop or desktop speakers, depending on which I’m using.
If the ‘one, two, three, four, testing, Mary had a little lamb’, and the silence in between is ‘clean’ and clear then, there is a followup step: turn off all appliances that create background noise. That’s the tech set up.
So I can just go ahead and read and record now, right? Not quite. The enemy of voiceovers is mouth clicks. Those are extra noises your tongue makes releasing contact with it’s surrounding walls, floor and roof, so to speak. You want just the right amount of moisture around. How do you achieve this? The night before I make sure I have plenty of water to drink and the next morning too. I have tea or water handy and take sips every few sentences.
What if any get through regardless? Most can be edited out, but it’s time-consuming. I usually make two or three recordings of the whole chapter so that I can cut and paste from whichever one is the ‘cleanest’.
How long does each chapter take to record?
On average, 15 minutes to read. It can take longer. If you stumble over words, misread the script, hear your mouth clicking away, or neighbour slams a door, a car revs outside, a plane makes a low flyover, a helicopter passes … you get the idea. Then you have to stop, wait if necessary and re-read the sentence or phrase.
That’s just the recording. Next comes the editing. It’s a long and painstaking process to get the very best version possible. Additionally, it might sound too nasal or tinny, and that is adjusted using the graphic equaliser that comes with the program I use. I listen through both headphones and the computer speakers to check the quality.
Now the recording of the chapter is settled. What next? I add the introductory music that plays at the end too. This time, in a first-ever, I added some sound effects to signify the scene changes.
While you listen?
All done now? Not yet. I think it enhances your, the reader’s, experience if you have some visuals. This means gathering stills and clips. The still photographs need to be edited so that they are video screen shape. As all of the Amanda Cadabra books involve a trip to the past, one or two may need to be turned into a black and white or sepia version. As they are prepared the video is assembled, the audio track is added, and the stills and clips are synchronised with the text. Credits are added at the end.
Now it’s ready. Time to prepare this letter to you and announce its release. Just click on the screen above to be transported to Sunken Madley, Amanda Cadabra and The Cellar of Secrets. You’ll have 72 hours to download the book, free from Amazon from Tuesday to Thursday, 29th to 31st October. Both Book 2 and Book 4 will unite in a doubt cover reveal before then right here. Yes, Book 2 is getting a makeover!
Call a doctor or search for clues? Amanda Cadabra took the few vital seconds to make the decision.
But then, she had never been impulsive.
‘Mrs Cadabra, with the best will in the world from you and your husband, your granddaughter could not have had a normal childhood.’
In response, the lady seated with regal posture on the chintz sofa, inhaled, and raised an eyebrow, rendering her larger violet eye even more magnified than usual. Her piercing glare demanded an explanation. Detective Sergeant Thomas Trelawney of the Devon and Cornwall Police was not easily intimidated, as Vic ‘The Headbanger’ Hardy could have told anyone brave enough to have asked him.
However, on this, his first visit, to 26 Orchard Row, Sunken Madley, Trelawney needed to make some kind of connection with Senara, Perran, and their beloved granddaughter and adoptee Amanda. These three were, after all, the only witnesses to the day of the incident, 28 years ago, that he was here to continue investigating.
‘Here’ was a village that had grown up out of the rural landscape over a period of 800 years. It lay 13 miles to the north of the Houses of Parliament, and three miles south of the border of Hertfordshire. Herts, as the abbreviation is styled, was home to Jane Austen’s Emma and the seat of the burgeoning aircraft industry in the last century. Since those days, the county boundaries had been moved so that Sunken Madley was now, technically, on the outskirts of Greater London.
Nevertheless, Sunken Madley still was, in spirit, a country village, off the beaten track, hidden by the encircling trees. It was distinguished only by its orchard of Hormead Pearmain apples, and fine stained-glass windows, adorning the medieval church of St Ursula-without-Barnet. Of particular interest to students of the art, was the composition of the saint and the little bear with the bag of apples.
A gust of wind cast a pink handful of cherry blossom against the living room window as Trelawney’s hazel eyes returned Mrs Cadabra’s gaze politely but unwaveringly. He said mildly, ‘In other words, Amanda wouldn’t always have been able to play in the fields, run up and down the garden, maybe eat anything she wanted, like the other children here could.’
‘One couldn’t expect you to know this, Sergeant, not having any of your own,’ Mrs Cadabra pronounced with sympathetic condescension, ‘but,’ and she took a loose hairpin from her white victory roll, ‘children … adapt.’ She speared the accessory back into her coiffure to signal that the subject was closed.
Trelawney hadn’t finished. He thrived on puzzles, bringing order to chaos, and justice to the wronged. However, above these assets, his soon-to-be-retired boss, Chief Inspector Hogarth, trusted his seasoned judgment, especially of when to operate with a light touch.
He swivelled his tall, slim, grey-suited form towards Perran, who smiled kindly and said, with his gentle Cornish-flavoured voice, ‘I know what you mean, Sergeant. But Amanda was always a very special little one. Since she was a bian, a baby, she spent her fair share of nights in the local hospital when we didn’t know if she’d pull through. We did our best to help her, but in the end, she learned the hard way that her choices had consequences.’
‘Did that make Amanda fearful? Wary?’
‘Oh no, Sergeant, just careful, wise even, beyond her years. Though in others she’s young for her age. But, as Senara said, she got used to things, like carrying her inhaler, avoiding certain food, watching the pollen count. Amanda always says, ‘It isn’t terminal, after all, it’s just asthma.’
It was asthma that had brought Amanda Cadabra to this moment, this room … this body.
She felt for a pulse.
It had all happened a great deal sooner than anyone in the village could have expected. Even Dr Sharma, who was in the know, when she told Amanda about the new allergy clinic, had said that it was months away.
Amanda had dropped in, to collect a repeat prescription for her asthma inhaler, on her way to see about a furniture restoration job. An eager trainee from infancy, Amanda had taken over her grandfather’s business.
Asthma and furniture restoration were unlikely bedfellows, with the toxic chemicals, dust, and hard physical labour. This had niggled Trelawney from the first time he had read the case file three years ago.
Amanda’s secret levitation skills enabled her to cope covertly but ably. Trelawney, however, was a long way from even contemplating this possibility. And even if he had been able to, it would have been only with extreme scepticism and inexplicable discomfort.
Still, Amanda took sensible precautions and always had her inhaler handy. Dr Sharma was a respected and gifted physician, and between her own magic and the general practitioner’s medicine, the asthma was under reasonable control.
However, there was no denying that Amanda’s chest momentarily tightened when Neeta Sharma had told her where they were going to build an allergy research centre.
Where do you stand? Is horror more a of the Hallowe’en genre, or do you come down on the side of cozy paranormal mystery as the true seasonal read? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
With the kind permission of Books Go Social, here is an article they have just published in their Hallowe’en magazine. It’s choc full of new books ripe for the pumpkin weeks as well as short stories and extra treats.
Meanwhile, dear readers, here is my case on the crucial question of …
“The True Hallowe’en Genre
Go on .. guess …. Horror, right? Are you sure? Sure you don’t see the one standing behind it, lurking in the shadows, breathing quietly in the night ….
The rival contender is none other than the comparatively new kid on the block: the cozy paranormal mystery. If you haven’t yet investigated its delights, here is a brief summary:
There is a mystery, customarily murder. The sleuth is most likely an amateur female, usually a witch. There are ghosts. There is no explicit engagement of a romantic nature. The untimely death typically takes place off-stage. The language is inoffensive, and descriptions of fatalities and casualties are not graphic.
Here’s a rundown of horror from literary historian J. A. Cuddon: ‘A piece of fiction in prose of variable length … which shocks, or even frightens the reader, or perhaps induces a feeling of repulsion or loathing.’ The cause of extreme unease is often, but not necessarily, supernatural in nature.
Hallowe’en Story Roots
So which of these is most faithful to where Hallowe’en comes from? Where is that? Closely allied to the Feast of Samhain (sah-oo-wn) that celebrated the turn of the season, it was a time to remember the dead. First, saints, then everyone. Presumably, not everyone had fond memories of those who had passed, or had reason to suspect that the deceased had less than fond memories of them! Consequently … the moment had come for some anti-phantom action. Time for a costume change and to see if you could out-ghost them with a scary makeover, and send them scurrying back to the Netherworld.
On the other hand, there was a useful aspect of the three-day spectre-fest. As the veil between the human and spirit worlds was thought to be thinnest at that point in the calendar, what better time to tune in for the inside track on where your future was headed? What you need, then, was a diviner. In short, a witch.
See where we’re going with this? There you have it: witches and ghosts. Furthermore, it would be reasonable to assume that those were the two focal points of the stories that were told on the three nights of the Hallowe’en celebration.
You might appreciate a word on the subject from M R James, a giant of the genre, of what makes a ghost story: ‘A pleasing terror’, no ‘explanation of the machinery’, set in ‘those of the writer’s (and reader’s) own day,’ with an absence of gratuitous physical intimacy or exsanguinations.
Surely cozy paranormal mystery is the closer fit with that list. So, if it really is the grassroots and culture of the Hallowe’en story, how did it get hijacked by horror?
The Horror Connection?
Here’s my theory. It’s all because of a film. A film called … yes, that one: Hallowe’en. Made in 1978, and in case you’re not au fait with the cult classic, here’s a brief summary.
On Hallowe’en night, a 6-year old takes a knife into overly close quarters with his sister, resulting in a fatality. Thought to have some mental health issues, he is delivered into the hands of a secure facility, where he becomes resident. Fast-forward 15 years. He is being transported to a court hearing. It is the same night of the year, please note. He escapes and goes off to stalk an intrepid teen (Jamie Lee Curtis), littering the plot with bodies along the way, and provoking much screaming.
It did well at the box office and has been the subject of analysis over the years. The result for our purposes is that, because of the title and the popularity of the movie, the season became linked with themes associated with horror.
Is Cozy for Horror Fans?
So, even if cozy paranormal is more Hallowe’eny, what if you are a fan of more hardcore speculative fiction, would you enjoy a walk on the perkier side? You’d be surprised how many horror and dark fantasy readers do enjoy a break with a taste of something lighter. You’ll find that cozy paranormals are not less, just different: surprise rather than shock, with puzzles, riddles and laughs out loud. Maybe even making the experience of your favourite genre that much more enjoyable by contrast.
Where to start? The top-selling authors currently, according to the latest K-lytics statistical report on the genre, are Annabel Chase, Amanda M Lee and Tegan Maher. You can check them out on Amazon.
So this year, why not get back to our Hallowe’en story past, dig up a cozy, something not too grave, let it spirit you away to a mystery in a charming village and entertaining characters witch you will love, without a ghost of a chance of a sleepless night afterwards.
I hope you enjoyed the article and, if you are an author or feel you have a book in you, I can highly recommend Books Go Social to ease your path in creating and promoting your book. Highly affordable and tremendously helpful, they have attracted a community of kind, caring and supportive members of the publishing community, writers of both prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction, bloggers, reviewers, editors, and most importantly of all, readers. There is a special group just for them. You can check them out here: Facebook – authors, Facebook – readers, Twitter.
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