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.
If it’s a cozy environment, why have villains in it at all? In a word, contrast. As Shakespeare wrote: ‘How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world’. Our warm and fuzzy setting, while not a naughty world, has dusky elements that only our bright and plucky main character, usually female in this genre, can overcome.
The Scale of Villainy
Baddies come in various degrees of baddiness. On one end we have the uncontrollable psychopaths with no moral compass whatsoever: Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs, Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, Mr Hyde from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
With reference to the photo above, this is a lookielike of James Bond arch-villain Blofeld’s cat. A mention therefore must be made of villains you love to hate. From the beginning we don’t take them seriously so there is a diminished sense of threat. They openly revel in their misdemeanors so there is no mystery.
Next, there are those who perhaps did once have a sense of right and wrong but are overcome by emotion, for example, jealousy: Mrs Danvers in Rebecca and Iago in Othello.
Finally there are good people who do bad things. Jane Eyre’s Mr Rochester makes the best of a bad situation with his first wife. He arranges for private medical care, as it were, while living a lonely and despairing existence. Rochester fights against his growing attraction to Jane which manifests itself as abruptness. However, at last, out of desperation, he attempts a deception that, exposed, leaves Jane traumatised. Good person; bad deed.
The Way You Tell ‘Em
Where do these figure in cosy mystery? Turning to the queen and godmother of the genre, Agatha Christie, we observe her treatment of villains. The author has ‘evil’ in one of her titles and even the apparently mild Miss Marple uses the adjective ‘wicked’. Christie’s murderers are cold, calculating killers who, in pre-1965 Britain would have faced execution.
In the cosy genre we eschew the gore of the rampaging axe-wielder using unacceptable language to express his dissatisfaction. However, we do have our pick of the scale if we present them apparently palatably. Christie accomplished this cleverly. Her murderers appear normal, even likeable or sympathetic, until the dénouement, the unmasking at the end. Then the part of our cosy world with the dark patch of unsolved crime is lit with the beacon of truth.
This leads me to believe that the secret to wring baddies in a cozy mystery, is to do with presentation.
Learning on the Job
I developed much of my own method courtesy of TJ Brown author of The Unhappy Medium, when I had the privilege of top editing his novel Tom Fool, second in the comic paranormal series. Top edit? This is the final check for continuity, flow, and includes analysis of the mental and emotional terrain of the book. The editor looks at how well they work and suggests any way that they might be improved. And here I learned about how to write villains in a fun read.
Tim’s principle baddies are evil, so evil that he nudges them into caricature. His lesser villains he renders ridiculous in their obsessions. (Rather like Cruella de Ville in The One Hundred and One Dalmations) There are scary scenes, moments of chilling fear and split seconds of shock that, with a word, a phrase, or sentence, he artfully switches to helpless giggles on the part on the reader. Tim’s tools: absurdity and diffusing. Of course, all nasties come to a sticky end and justice is served while the heroic goodies live to fight another day.
I learned so much from those weeks working with Tim, who finally convinced me I could write a novel of my own. That was when he told me of a genre hitherto beyond my ken: cosy paranormal mystery.
The Miscreants of Amanda Cadabra
The baddies in the Amanda Cadabra series, similarly to Tim’s approach, are in two tiers: the shadowy witch-clans of the Cardiubarns, Granny’s family, and the Flamgoynes, their cold-war-style foes. From birth, the threat to Amanda is very real and dictates her secretive life-style. Although I prefer to avoid such weighted words evil and wicked it is clear that both clans are thoroughly ill-intentioned. Nevertheless, the amoral fashion in which they do not hesitate to bump each other off tips edges them towards comic.
Each book has its own mystery. However, there are no psychopaths among the criminals, who are driven by emotion such as jealousy and fear. But wrong has been committed and fairness to the victim dictates that they are brought to justice, which of course they are.
This being the world of warm and fluffy (with an edge), no character to whom we have become attached perishes. However, even if it is an outsider, it is still a case for our heroine of ‘ritin’ ‘rongs’, in the words of Richmal Crompton’s incomparable William. When Amanda does so we share the moment with her and our sense of balance in satisfied, our faith in the ultimate victory of light and right restored.
The subject of villains and their treatment in literature is a vast and deep one. This is but my take of an overview and a how-I-do-it.
The manuscript of Book 5 is now laid out on my carpet, a crucial stage in its development. It is growing into the dish that I hope will be for your cozy delectation.
Back next week with more ponderings, revelations and news.
Happy Winter Days,
PS If you want to start the series: