Tag Archives for " Amanda Cadabra "

Partial Cover Reveal – New Cozy Mystery Sequel – 3 Treats for Launch Day

Dear Readers,

A Veil is Dropped

This week it’s time for the partial cover reveal of Amanda Cadabra and The Hanging Tree.

Gift-wrapped book on wooden table with cup of coffee on the left with a white hat and daffodils in the bottom left hand corner. Leaf shaped cutout in the gift wrap showing Amanda's face looking towards the ground with surprise

 What to Expect: Three Bonuses

Over the coming days, not necessarily just on Sunday, there will be a string of reveals: the full cover, the trailer and the first chapter, leading up to launch day.

There will be three special events for this release. First, we are working on releasing the paperback on the same day as the ebook.

New Sequel with partial cover reveal as ebook and paperback

Second, one of the books in the series will be free on the day of the launch.

Third, there will be a 20% discount for a limited period on the new book.

 

Spring Comes To Sunken Madley

Amanda Cadabra and The Hanging Tree begins almost the day of the release, at this time of year. At the end of the previous book, Amanda Cadabra and The Strange Case of Lucy Penlowr, the village, Amanda and Trelawney, enjoyed the Spring Equinox Ball. Join them as they move through the end of the month and April towards the May Day Ball. Here is a visual reminder of our village at this time of year to be going on with.

Happy Spring!

 Holly

 


PS If you want to start the series now:
Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth

Available on Amazon

Paperback, Kindle
and Large Print

Trunk on cottage doorstep. Lid open with light shining out illuminating text: New Sequel Title Reveal in white on black

Title Reveal – New Cozy Mystery Sequel

Dear Readers,

The Unveiling

Here it is at last. The day has come. This is where it begins: the run-up to the launch. And the title of Book 7 in the Amanda Cadabra Cozy Paranormal Mystery Series is …

Title Reveal of the New Amanda Cadabra Sequel. Gold and white text on green enclosed in rope border: Amanda Cadabra and The Hanging Tree

What next?

Today I got the new pass of the cover illustration from Daniel. It’s a final tweak away from being The One. So next stop is the partial cover reveal.

The manuscript is back from Kim, our diligent and intuitive editor, and from our superb team of VIP Readers who have read and checked the book for any amendments. My sincere thanks go out to each of you who have kindly given your time and attention to helping polish the new book to a gleaming shine.

Now it’s time to make those adjustments so that it will be as near perfect fit as possible for both you valued existing cozy readers and new ones yet to join us.

News to come: the surprise I have in mind for Launch Day.

Back soon.

Happy End of Winter (or Summer, depending)

Holly


PS If you want to start the series now:
Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth

Available on Amazon

Paperback, Kindle
and Large Print

New Sequel Launch Engine Firing Up

Dear Readers,

The New Sequel?

I hear you ask. Quite rightly too.

Please excuse the brief hibernation. I hope you enjoyed Valentine’s Day, which I also like to call Friends’ Day. Meanwhile, my love for you, my readers, and Amanda Cadabra is undiminished. But actions speak louder than words, so what have I been doing about bringing you the new sequel?

Words and Art

At the end of last month, I finished the manuscript, and it went out to Kim, our esteemed editor. Next, the front and back matter was edited: the British-American English glossary was updated, and a new plan and a new map were created. This version of the manuscript was sent to the VIP Reader Group (beta readers). That same weekend, a summary of the story went to Daniel Becerril Ureña, our talented cover illustrator.

At this point, I always fondly imagine that I can put my feet up, draw breath, and relax. The train is in the shed. The coal needs to be delivered. The engine needs to checked and tested. In other words, it is at this very moment that I realise how much I need to do to prepare for the launch.

Clapperboard leaning against a treePretty as Pictures

There is a series of Letters to Readers to come. And they all need spectacular images. So, I have been creating: the title reveal, the partial cover reveal, and the cover reveal. Next, the trailer video needs to be conjured.

All of these projects require many hours of research to find the perfect video clips and images. Images have to be edited into slides. Some of the clips have been shot by Chartreuse or me. They have to be carefully chosen. The video project has to be compiled, sequenced, timed, edited, and transitions and titles added. What remains to be done? The opening, closing, credits and music.

The All-important … Cover

The initial sketches arrived from Daniel: seven possible covers. I made a shortlist of three, and he did more work on them to help me decide. As soon as I saw that next wave, the choice of The One was clear. Since then, Daniel has created further layers, and with each of those, I am able to see what tweaks are needed. This morning I sent back what could be the last list. We are now close to the final version.

The cover illustration, once completed, can then be slotted into the video, and, naturally, the cover reveals.

Greasing the Wheels

Meanwhile, there are technical blips to be sorted out that require hours of consultation, but it’s a pleasure to work with dedicated, professional people. The website has to be bright and shiny for any who like to visit and browse the trailers, other videos, first chapters, maps, quizzes, glossaries, Wicc’Yeth dictionary, free prequel or past Letters to Readers.

It’s tremendously absorbing and creative fun. It does, however, take time and patience (especially technical malarkey!). Nevertheless, all of these projects are rewarding in various ways.

The Latest

The manuscript came back from Kim the day before yesterday. I savour going through her notes. Most of the treasured VIP readers have sent back their notes for me. It is a great joy to touch base with all of you, by the way, and I will be creating a special thank you.

Launch then?

We are now around three weeks from launch, give or take a week or two at the most. I like to allow plenty of room for manoeuvre at this stage so that the process remains enjoyable for everyone involved.

The closer we get to pulling all of the threads together, the more specific I can be. And I like to add a little surprise, which I’m working on. However, the train is out of the shed and stands at the platform. The coal wagon is piled high. The engine is firing up.

In the Waiting Room

Here is something new to be going on with. The paperback for Book 2 now has its new cover, and here it is. You can only see this here unless you acquire the actual book. (Personally, I prefer actual tangible volumes that I can hold and mark and love and put on my shelf. I have some that I think of as my oldest friends.)

Can you see what Daniel has so cleverly created? The scene on the front shows a devastated old pub. The back cover rewinds time to when it was pristine. I was charmed when I saw this for the first time.

The next Letter to you, hopefully, next weekend, will be announcing the title of the new sequel. The whistle is about to blow.

Happy February,

Holly


PS If you want to start the series now:
Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth

Available on Amazon

Paperback, Kindle
and Large Print

16th century pub with text: Red Lions and Box Pews. The Cozy Village Trail

On the trail of the Cozy Village — Stanstead Abbotts and Red Lions

Dear Readers,

Today I take a brief break for editing Book 7 in the Amanda Cadabra series to bring you the finale of my 2021 search for the cozy village (which I intend to take up again this spring). Having found the apple of the my dreams, I went in search of lunch at a 16th century hostelry in nearby Standstead Abbotts. 

Why there?

Stanstead Abbotts (also spelled Stanstead Abbott) bears the distinction of having been recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 – a sort of survey of the taxable resources and power bases of the country of that time. The village was called Stanstede, and the Abbotts was added probably because it passed to the abbots of what is now Waltham Cross. Its main claim to historical fame is that, apparently, it was given to Anne Boleyn, second unfortunate queen of Tudor king Henry VIII.

There I found a splendid 16th-century pub with a kindly and knowledgeable host. He showed me around, explaining that the building began life as a monastery in 1538. Thereafter, it morphed into a coaching inn and finally The Red Lion pub. You’ll find a lot of Red Lion pubs on these shores. Why?

The Red Lion Pub, Stanstead AbbottsRed Lions?

There are two schools of thought: one is that it was an emblem on the coat of arms of the house of Lancaster (more of them next week!), which was a major player in the fortunes of these isles. The second is that it dates back to when James IV of Scotland became James I of England in 1603 after the death of Elizabeth I. The story is that, on his triumphant procession into London, he commanded that the Scottish heraldic symbol of the red lion be displayed on all public buildings, including necessarily, inns and taverns. To date, there are 547 Red Lion pubs in the UK.

In just such a setting, with aged beams above and a large brick fireplace warming the room, you would expect to find Amanda Cadabra and Detective Inspector Trelawney discussing murder and lunch. The Sunken Madley pub, of similar antiquity, is, of course, The Sinner’s Rue. The Christmas Ball of Book 2 in the series, Amanda Cadabra and The Cellar of Secrets, is set in the function room above.

 A What?

But back to the Red Lion. The restaurant within the pub is the warmly named Amico Amici, and, from their tempting menu, I ordered lasagne. While I waited, my host brought some historical papers relating to the sale of the pub as it changed from owner to owner. On the yellowing formal documents of sale, written in a fine italic hand, were details of everything a new buyer would find on the premises. My favourite was the mention of a ‘beer pulling engine’. A mystery! Enthralled, I enquired of my host what this might import. It’s what we’d call a tap, the large vertical handle you see on a bar that staff pull to allow the amber nectar to flow into the waiting flagon below.

Bidding farewell to the friendly manager and staff, I set out from The Red Lion. There was one more stop to make. To the 13th century.

 St James

There is a mention of a priest of the village in the Domesday Book, and the original church of St James is thought to have been Saxon. The present structure is primarily 18th century, but there are parts hundreds of years older, so I made sure to photograph the good bits for you.

This porch is 15th century, and the doorway inside is 13th century. As you pass under the small wooden roof and place your hand on the stone as you enter the church, all at once you are united with the hundreds, if not thousands of feet that have trod the same surface, of hands that have touched that same place: worshippers, penitents, crafters, builders, theology and arts students, and, like me, simple tourists who admire architecture and have a love of history. And of course, who are in search of inspiration for a notable feature of Amanda Cadabra’s village: Sunken Madley’s St Ursula-without-Barnet, which is also a medieval church.

 The Cozy Mystery Connection

In the nave, I found the strangest pews I’d ever seen. These, I learned from the guidebook, are called box pews. That’sLeft image: interior of St James showing box pews lining the aisle of the nave. Right image: engraving by William Hogarth showing box pew right, they are literally boxed in with high wooden partitions. Here we have another link to the Amanda Cadabra series. These are shown in an engraving by the artist William Hogarth, namesake of our very own former Chief Inspector Hogarth of the Devon and Cornwall police and Thomas Trelawney’s boss.

You can see the pews in the second of William Hogarth’s series of Industry and Idleness here. The idea was to give the parishioners privacy. Back in the more austere days of the 14th century, there was nowhere to sit in churches. After that, wealthier parishioners got their own seating, in their own private pews, nicely enclosed and even including a table and fireplace! (And affording an opportunity for a covert nap) This did no favours to the organisation of the interior space of the church. So the ecclesiastical establishment gave in and had ordered rows of pews built with a central aisle for symmetry and a, no doubt symbolic, path to the altar.

To Come

Finally, the last photograph taken, I returned to the car and took the road south to what was once the kingdom of Middlesex, and home. The summer, astronomically speaking, was over, but there will be more field trips and photoshoots to come. Not only that, but there are developments with the new book, the seventh in the Amanda Cadabra series, to share with you.

More of that, next time.

Happy reading,

Holly


PS If you want to start the series now:
Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth

Available on Amazon

Paperback, Kindle
and Large Print

basket of fruit including an apple against white dress. Text: in search of the cozy mystery apple

I Meet My Apple – A Love Story

Dear Readers,

The Day We Were To Meet

It was our first date. I chose my clothes with care. I even felt, oddly enough, a little nervous. Would this meeting be all that I hoped? I’d seen photographs, of course, but today was the day when I’d see The One in the flesh. There was something of an age gap. In fact, that was not the only gap.

For I was going to meet the apple of my eye, rare, ripe and two hundred years old. And it felt like a date. This was the day that I would see with my own eyes, for the first time, the Hormead Pearmain. Three years ago, I’d never heard of it, or indeed, thought all that much about apples in general, let alone an obscure variety. And yet, since 2018, it had taken on a life of its own and even a personality.

The Orchards of Sunken Madley

As you may have read in a previous Letter to Readers, when I created Amanda Cadabra’s quaint English village of Sunken Madley, I knew that it would have strong rural connections, in spite of being, technically, in the county Greater London. Nevertheless, it is practically on the Hertfordshire border. I did my research and discovered that, once upon a time, the county was known for its orchards. A hundred years ago, there were 800 of them. Even now, there are a staggering 400.

And so, in my mind, apple trees grew up around Amanda’s village, and the variety would be the Victorian Hormead Pearmain. My journey to find the particular fruit I was to finally to photograph today was one that had taken some persistence and something of a fascinating detour. However, on a fine Sunday morning, summer edging into autumn, I reached my destination.

Tewin

Although, when I chose the Hormead Pearmain, I had confidently imagined I would easily find entire orchards full, it turned out that the trees are scarce and precious. One of the very few places to see one, and bearing fruit, was the Tewin Orchard Nature Reserve. It is a village orchard near the River Mimram and not far from the Hertfordshire town of Welwyn Garden City (pronounced well’-in). The orchard lies only a mile or so from Hertingfordbury, where my round of summer field trips began.

The warden of the orchard is none other than the celebrated Hertfordshire naturalist, Michael Clark, author of a Apples: A Field Guide. When I drove up the little tree-shaded drive, I saw Michael sitting on a chair, reading a book. He looked up with a welcoming smile, directed me where to park and soon we were on a short walk to reach the two apple trees. Michael left me to my photography with an invitation to come up to the cottage afterwards for refreshments.

 The Moment
Hormead Pearmain apple - light green and red on a young tree

And there is was, on the tree which not so much taller than I am, in green and red, plump and perfect: my Hormead Pearmain. As you can see in the photo below, there were, in fact, four apples on the young tree, but there was one that was the best. I photographed and filmed, watching for the best light as the sun went in and out of the clouds. Time flashed by until I felt I had all I could get.

Michael

Up at the house, I met Anna, Michael’s talented and kind wife. I had marvelled at the beauty of the garden, which is her creation. I spent a fascinating hour with them, hearing stories of how they met and the delightful history of the cottage. Michael gave me a map on which he pointed out a breathtaking view of the Mimram valley, and so there is a future destination for a field trip, perhaps in the spring. Although Michael seems to regard himself as but an amateur artist and photographer, all of the beautiful illustrations in the book were painted by him, and he also took all of the photographs.

I came away with a gifted copy of Michael’s book and … the apple, which he invited me to take. I went back for more photographs and film, and my last act was to pick that finest fruit. I stored it lovingly in my car to be taken home.

However, the day was not yet over. I had arranged to lunch in the village of Stanstead Abbotts, some 9 miles away to the east. But that is a story for next week.

Love at First Bite – a Taste of …

This story would not be complete without the purpose of the apples of Sunken Madley being fulfilled: to be eaten.

Tewin Orchard - Young Hormead Pearmain bearing 4 applesThe choice fruit sat there for a few weeks. I kept thinking that I must cook something unique, but there always seemed to be something more urgent or important to do. Finally, the moment came. The Hormead Pearmain is a cooking apple, and I decided to make something very simple, and to be fair, quick. Chopping it up, I couldn’t resist sampling a piece. This was a revelation.

Surprisingly Unique

Over the course of my life, I’ve eaten a few varieties: Golden Delicious, Cox’s, Granny Smith’s, Jazz, Braeburn, Bramley, Pink Lady, Royal Gala and Russet, to name the most popular here in the UK. In my experience, apples are dense in texture, a little tart, sweet, and above all, apple-y in flavour. This is what I expected. However, the Hormead Pearmain was light and airy in texture. Yes, it was a tang of tartness, but then came layers of flavour: not just apple but that of pears, cherries, apricots and peaches. It was astonishing. A world of fruit trees in a single fruit. And that from a cooking apple.

Cooked

I didn’t want it all pureed, so it needed very little heat. I put it in a ramekin and added a topping of crushed pecans and cashews. Every bit was a delight. The pieces melted in the mouth, the nuts put back the crunch and set off the softened fruit that was still sending waves of flavour. I can hardly wait until this year’s apple season to go back for more.

So, there you have it. I do hope that one day you have the opportunity to meet and sample Amanda’s apple for yourself. In the spring, I hope to return to photograph the Hormead Pearmain in bloom and bring those to you here.

Thank You For …

The reviews on Book 1, Amanda Cadabra and the Hidey-Hole Truth have shot up from around 100 to almost 250. I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to everyone who has so kindly taken the time to express their enjoyment of the story. I literally gasped, put a hand to my heart and teared up every time I saw the numbers jump. Also, thank you to everyone, especially in the last month, who has followed me on Bookbub, rated or reviews the books on Goodreads, joined the newsletters, downloaded, read, bought, recommended any of the books and even written to me. I am immensely moved by your appreciation and support, and feel all the more inspired to bring you the best sequel possible, as soon as possible! 

Meanwhile, next week (when I also hope to bring you some news of the progress of Book 7), I shall finish the story of my extraordinary day in Hertfordshire. For there were more delights to follow. This was the highlight of the summer. Of course, at that time, I was not to know what an extraordinary December awaited. But that is a moment I shall always cherish: when I met my apple.

Happy January,

Holly


PS If you want to start the series now:
Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth

Available on Amazon

Paperback, Kindle
and Large Print

twins facing different directions. Text: Cozy Highlights of 2021, and the 2022 Vision

Cozy Highlights: Looking Back, Looking Forward to 2022

Dear Readers,Woman hands holding calendar

Yes, I know, I promised you the apple story, but that was before I realised that today would be on new years day weekend, and I would want to write something to mark this special occasion. So January 9th: apple. Promise. And something extra has happened to add to that tale anyway. You’ll like it.

My New Year Video To You

Just in case you didn’t catch it on Facebook or other social media, here it is:

Link image to video for New Year

Looking Both Ways

So, as you probably know, ‘January’ comes from Janus, a Roman deity with two faces, not in the duplicitous sense but simply because it’s a watershed. A time for looking back on the old year and forward to the new. So let’s do that. What developments occurred in the Amanda Cadabra World in 2021?

Highlights of 2021

Book 6, Amanda Cadabra and The Strange Case of Lucy Penlowr was released, and Book 1 was published in large print.  A Google Map of Amanda’s world, and 5 Cozy Quizzes were added to the website. I made 5 field trips for research, new photographs and stories for your entertainment. Book 1 gained a brand new cover for both ebook and paperback editions and, Book 2 was given a new cover for the ebook. The first and second drafts of Book 7 and the first 2 editing passes were completed. A+ Content was added to the Amazon page for each book. And to top it all, Book 1 attained to a BookBub Featured Deal with Book 1 free for 4 days, resulting in some 25,000 downloads and a welcome host of new readers. Quite a year!

2022

What can we look forward to in 2022? Without making any promises, I now share with you … my vision:

Editing and launching Book 7. Book 8 and, possibly, even Book 9. More large print editions. An audiobook version of, at least, the first book. More field trips. More quizzes, maybe other games being added to the site. A secret project. Another secret project. Yet another secret project.A new paperback cover for Book 2 and a new cover for both editions of Book 3. New readers joining us on the journey.

Special Thanks

Fountain pen writing on left and hand offering bouquet on leftAt this point I would like to extend thanks to all  of you for interest in, and support and enthusiasm for, the Amanda Cadabra series. Special thanks to all of the readers who have written to me and continue to write to me. When I see an email or a message from one of you, it’s like a little light comes on inside me; A little lift and little link.

I write books because I can’t help myself, but I write them with you in mind; I publish them because of you, for you. And out of the thousands who buy, download, read them, there are you few, you happy few, you band who kindle the spark on days when the creative fire might be burning a little bit low. I see your message — it might be only a few words long — and suddenly the flame burns brighter. It always makes me smile and sometimes moves me to tears of joy. (I’ve checked, and that’s normal!)

And there’s more. For all of those who don’t have the time or the words or the means or the inclination to write to me, that’s all right because the few who do remind of you too. I know you’re there. I also know that you’re waiting for the next book. So I’ll go and tend to that, shall I? And make sure the letter to you about Amanda’s and my apple is brushed up for next Sunday.

So there we have it. The year that was and hopes for the year to come. I don’t know how many of the things on my wishlist will appear in the coming 12 months, but I do know that whatever does manifest will be even better. May the same be true for you, dear readers, dear production team, dear friends.

Happy New Year,

 Holly


PS If you want to start the series now:
Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth

Available on Amazon

Paperback, Kindle
and Large Print

Boxing Day Special: How I Made A Cozy Food Quiz For You

Dear Readers,

I built it, but no one came. At least, no one that I was aware of. And so it was left to languish … until ….

A few years ago, I came across a quiz feature on Facebook and thought it might be jolly to make one. And it was. But as I say, it didn’t seem to take off.

Reborn

The seed of the idea was planted about a year ago: perhaps I just hadn’t built it in the right place. The seed itself was something for amandacadabra.com called Quiz Builder. To get technical for a moment, it came from Thrive Themes. (That’s the set of plugins here, on my WordPress site, which helps me make attractive pages more easily than I otherwise would.) The Quiz Builder looked interesting, but the time was not apt.

And Then …

The long-awaited news from Bookbub came, announcing that, after three years and numerous attempts, Book 1 was being granted a space in one of their coveted emails to almost three million cozy readers. This would mean new visitors to the website. What could I do to make it more fun, not just for the new guests but for those precious readers already subscribing and regular visitors? What could I create for a Boxing Day Special for 2021?

The sound of heavenly choirs rang out: Quizzes!

What They Tell You

When you seek enlightenment on this interesting subject, you will be assured, either directly or by implication, that creating a quiz is a quick and simple procedure. In a matter of minutes, you can have yours up and running for the delight of your visitors. 

However

Although that is to some extent true, it only applies if you use the format provided and don’t include images, or just one or two. But you, dear readers, deserve something more appealing, intriguing and exciting. So what’s the procedure?

Questions, Questions

Let’s take a 10-question multiple-choice quiz. First, think of a theme. Let’s take food. Everyone likes food. But, for you, it has to Cozy Food. What is that? Well, in this case, it’s the traditional British food in Amanda Cadabra Book 1. Things like jam roly-poly, crumpets and spotted dick. So off we go with compiling a list of 10 food items from that book. Next, check that they are actually in the volume. Ah … here are two that appear later in the series. Think of two others and check them. Got 10. Good. Next?

 Wrong

For every correct answer, as this is multiple choice, there needs to be three incorrect ones. Simple? But they mustn’t give the game away regarding other subsequent questions. Hm .… Done. Next?

Pretty

Having typed them in, I could see that lines of text could do with some visual enhancement: a photo for each question, to charm and stimulate. On the shopping list: At least 10 images. But where are they to come from? Pending the acquisition of a picture researcher and a Shutterstock account, I set out on the internet in search of public domain images. In case this isn’t your area of expertise, that means that anyone can use them for anything. 

The Sticking Point

However, you can’t always find exactly what you want among them. Either because there is no photo in the public domain, or it isn’t sufficiently high quality. And you, dear readers, deserve the best that I can summon.

Let’s take marmalade roll. In the Cozy Food Quiz that I have written, there is a question with four images, one of which is this scrumptious pudding. The question asks you to pick the correct photo that portrays it. There is no image of marmalade roll that I could find in the public domain that clearly and accurately renders this tasty dish. Where to go? What to do? Leave you marmalade-roll-photoless? Never! And so …

The Hunt Is On

I go to Google, as one does, and type in ‘marmalade roll’ and later also ‘spotted dick’ and click on the ‘images’ tab. I search beyond the Checkpoint Charlie of paid-for-site stock images and look for those posted by websites run by individuals. Again, it’s about clarity and quality. Aha! I find one and dive into the site. I am hot on the trail! And there is the quarry, sitting pretty in a distractingly absorbing blog post. Do I simply seize the prey, make off with it and cast it into my own cooking pot?

Please, Sir, Can I Have …?

If an image is on a person’s website or posted on their social media platform like Facebook, then it belongs to someone. And there are laws about taking other people’s things. It is not only the legal thing and the polite thing, but the fun thing, to ask, ‘Please may I?’ I say ‘the fun thing’ because it can lead to delightful interactions and the discovery of new people with fascinating talents. So I wrote four, what are called, image permissions requests in emails. 

Done with images for now. Quick and easy, yes? I got up at 6.30 and, by 9 am, had 8 of the images downloaded and the four requests sent out.

Some More?

For you, in my view, it is not enough to serve up a generic style quiz. I want to give each one a custom-made look with a background image that will be enjoyable to engage with as you begin and progress through the quiz to the results. That can take quite a while too, but I know it will be worth it. Meanwhile, for the image permissions … I wait.

It Comes

The first reply regarding my request to use a fine photo of spotted dick comes from Neil Buttery, chef, author, blogger and squire of the fascinating site Britishfoodhistory.com (Well worth a visit). Neil kindly grants permission and thanks me for asking. I have a warm glow. It’s nice to ask, isn’t it? This also allows me to ask Neil if he’d do a bake and a piece on marmalade roll as there is confusion about its exact nature. We enter into correspondence about the intricate subject of this literary pudding: no less than the one contrived by Mrs Beaver in the children’s classic The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

That leaves just one more missing image. The elusive and aforementioned marmalade roll …

Rare

Why is an image of this luscious pudding so hard to find? It’s because it can be confused with a Swiss roll. What’s the difference? A Swiss roll is a layer of sponge on which jam or some other filling can be spread and then curled up. A marmalade roll, however, contains suet, which is hard white fat usually from cows. (But you can also use vegetable suet.) If you are a meat eater and think how revolting this sounds, I have to agree with you. It does sound off-pudding, but the experience is rich and sumptuous. Like the marbling in steak. If you’d like to try the recipe, there is one here: Sticky Marmalade Roll.

I’ve never seen a proper one commercially produced. So, where was I to find an image for your quiz that looks like the real thing? But come, we are readers. Where do we seek information on anything? And that is where I found it: amongst the books, in the Librarian’s Lunchbox. Here Lydia posts both book reviews and literary recipes: a beautiful site and another that is well worth a visit. 

Having written to request permission to use the photo of Lydia’s marmalade roll, I received a charming reply. This recipe is sponge but is inspired by the suet version and, from above, does give the impression of Mrs Beaver’s creation. 

Testing Times

The following image stage is editing each photo for colour balance, clarity, framing and size. Put it all together, and it’s time to try it out. I am the first beta tester, and I usually find something that needs correcting. From me, it goes to friend and beta reader David out in Montana to put it through its paces. All good? Time for the unveiling, and it’s over to you.

Have A Go?

So, that’s how I do my quizzing, extending the opportunity for you to indulge in some cozy play. If you’d like to create a quiz and would like some advice, do feel free to drop me a line, and I’ll do my best to help.

Meanwhile, there are now five quizzes up on the site, with more to come. Here they are in case one takes your fancy.

I hope that you are enjoying the holidays. After I’ve scheduled this to appear later today, I’m returning to editing the next book, Book 7 in the Amanda Cadabra series. And then I’m having some Christmas pudding! Back next time with the story of how, this autumn, I met, and fell in love with, Amanda’s apple.

Wishing you a fun, relaxing, literary, and above all, happy week ahead. 

 Holly


PS If you want to start the series now:
Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth

Available on Amazon

Paperback, Kindle
and Large Print

Book research trip to a medieval festival

Into a Medieval Battle for The Next Cozy Book

Dear Readers,

Results of The Big Day

What happened last Sunday? It set off 4 free days for Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth. There were some 25,000 downloads. So this is a quick narrative stop-off to say  a heartfelt thank you to everyone who participated in such a landmark event for me, Amanda and the series.

Journeying Back to 1471

Just so you know what I did last summer, the fourth of my research trips (you can read about the others among these Letters) took me to The Barnet Medieval Festival to see the re-enactment of the Battle of Barnet, mentioned in the Amanda Cadabra series.

Why?

Duke of York's banner - winner of the battle

It’s important to the stories. This conflict would have ranged across Monken Hadley, the real village on which Sunken Madley is based. The re-enactment is an annual event and is key to the plot of Book 4: Amanda Cadabra and The Rise of Sunken Madley.

So much for past books. This was also a field trip for the story I am currently preparing for you, the seventh in the series.

Who Won and Why Does It Matter?

The current monarch, Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is a descendant of the Duke of York, who won the battle on that occasion. And there in the photo is his flag with the lions and the fleurs-de-lis. But because of the dense fog that day, supplemented by the smoke of cannon fire, the battle could have gone either way, and someone else could have ended up in The Big Chair. It was, in fact, a crucial point in the history of these islands.

Medieval Meteorology and Monksfiring hand cannons

The weather conditions that prevailed on 14 April 1471 play a role in the new Amanda Cadabra book. So I wanted, in some way, to experience what it may have been like. On top of that, I wanted to meet a monk, which I did. Two, in fact. One of whom was a genuine, modern, cleric. The other, the Mad Monk of Mitcham, a medieval jewellery specialist and craftsman who serves the re-enactment community with both replicas and the genuine article, was able to show me some pieces that were 2000 years old, and told me about common accessories at the time of the battle. But that is a research story for another future book.

Clothes, Props and Know-how

I was tremendously impressed by the knowledge of the re-enactors, who were kind enough to talk to me after the event. Historical accuracy is key for them. Their costumes were handmade, and many of the props were lovingly constructed by the re-enactors themselves. Others are supplied by re-enactment propsPreparing to march. Woman carrying water. and costume specialists.
Excitingly, I was able to see first-hand how a costume that will appear in the next book was made. I visited a hat stall where I learned about the white linen caps that women wore: required by law at the time to cover their hair. Felt hats could go over the top of the cap.

Fashion Law

During medieval times, there were waves of Sumptuary laws designed to differentiate between the social classes. How much notice was taken of these in practice is debatable (I’m guessing, very little).  In theory, specific fabrics, such as satin and velvet, and certain colours were allowed to be worn only by the élite, for example crimson, dark reds, royal blue and purple. Others, including surprisingly bright ones like blue, russet and yellow, were worn by the lower classes. All of this has Woman firing a hand cannongone into the new Amanda Cadabra book. Women’s dresses were made of linen or wool, and the re-enactor who explained all of this allowed me to feel the weight of her skirt – heavier than any dress I have ever worn.
‘But you get used to it,’ she explained cheerfully.

Women Where?

Surprisingly, there were a fair number of women on the battlefield, as you can see from the photos. We know that certain noblewomen did lead armies into battle over the course of the medieval period. But what about ordinary female folk in Britain? There is evidence that they supplied the fighters with water, medical aid, ammunition and even fired weapons. We don’t know if they did actually fight. But then we also don’t know that they didn’t.

Next?

I hope that this has enabled you to savour some of the excitement I experienced on that action-packed day out and its breadcrumbs to the next books. I have now finished the second draft of the new Amanda Cadabra and have begun the first editing pass. Next stop: I go to meet my apple. An unforgettable, emotional encounter and a remarkable horticulturist made for the high point in and grand finale to my field trips of the season. You never forget the moment you first see …. But more of that to come. Next time, as it’s a festive weekend marked by feasting, I’ll be announcing the new Glorious Cozy Food Quiz, an all new, all picture puzzle for few fun Christmas or otherwise moments.

Happy Holidays,

Holly


PS If you want to start the series now:
Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth

Available on Amazon

Paperback, Kindle
and Large Print

Book covered by gold cloth and question mark on photo of white birds is blue sky above green fields. Text: 4 Free Book sDays, Cover Reveal and Quizzes

Free Book Days, Quizzes and A Cover Reveal

Dear Readers,

4 Free Book Days

Starting this very day, until Wednesday, 15th DecemberAmanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth is free to download from Amazon. Even as we speak, an email is going out from Bookbub to 2,800,000 cozy mystery subscribers and, of course, to our own subscribers to broadcast these glad tidings. Here is a little 30-second video for your entertainment with (a shortened version of) some brand new winter-themed music from the overwhelmingly talented, videographer’s angel, Australian composer Aaron Kenny:

 

A flock of white birds against a blue sky with green fields below. Text: Free 4. Link image to video about 4 free days 12 - 15 Dec 2021 for Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth

 

Where’s the Smoke?

Yes, I did say I’d report from the thick of the historical battlefield, and I shall, next week, but I just have so much to tell you that it needs to keep for another seven days. You see, in preparation for today’s huge event, for which I have been hoping and planning for three years, I have prepared some new goodies. In case you aren’t yet in the know, what is this Bookbub of which I speak?

The Big Deal

In their own words, ‘BookBub is a free service that helps you discover books you’ll love through unbeatable deals, handpicked recommendations, and updates from your favorite authors.’ They have a subscription list of millions. It can take, yes, years for your book to be accepted to be included in one email on one day. They take only 10-15% of submissions (which come from both independent authors and traditional publishers), and the standards, to put it mildly, are high. And, as I say, after three years of attempts, one midnight, I saw the acceptance email and was stunned with joy.

Thank you

I would like to pay tribute, at this point, to all of the readers who posted a review of Amanda Cadabra and the Hidey-Hole Truth, helping it to achieve the milestone of 100 Amazon reviews. I have no doubt that this was a significant factor that prompted Bookbub’s decision to accept it for a highly-prized Bookbub Featured Deal. 

Thanks to Daniel Becerril Ureña for his professional and creative cover, to Kim, our editor, Daria Lacy for her flawless formatting and to Laurence o’Bryan and Tanja Slijepčević  of Books Go Social whose advice, experience and services have helped guide my marketing journey . I would also like to express sincere appreciation again to Kim, to best-selling author and friend Tim Brown, to Paula, Katherine, David, Katherine (yes, I’m lucky enough to know two fine ladies by that name) and all of the dear friends and readers who have always expressed such encouraging and heart-warming faith in me, the books and the prospect of increasing success.

So, the good news arrived. But that was only last month. Not much time to prepare. However ….

Cover Reveal

In honour of this auspicious occasion, our skilled, deft and inspired illustrator Daniel, whom I cannot thank sufficiently, has pulled out all the stops, crammed this extra project into his already busy schedule and, for Amanda Cadabra and The Cellar of Secrets, produced this thrilling cover. Feedback so far has been: ‘I love it!’ ‘Makes you want to read the story’, and ‘fab’. I hope that you like it too.

Quizzes

To provide more fun for you and the new visitors arriving from today, I have added a new feature to the website. So far, each quiz is just ten multiple-choice questions-long. They have been tested by David, a friend and particularly kind beta reader whose fascinating correspondence never fails to give me a lift. Here are the first three, in case you’d like to have a play now. If you want to re-do any of the quizzes, just refresh your page, and you’ll get back to the start. Any feedback would be greatly welcomed: ‘too easy,’ ‘too hard’, or ‘Goldilocks level’.

Link image to three quizzez

And There’s More …

Yes, if you check the Inspiration section, you’ll find more photographs garnered from my field trips in search of the cozy village. Additional ones are coming soon. And finally, at the time of writing this to you, I have taken advantage of a new feature on Amazon that allows me to tell you more about the series. It’s called A+ Content, and mine now includes a pretty chart about the main characters with customised avatars for each one by graphic artist Soodabeh Damavandi, plus a seasonal and historical background to each of the books. Do have a look, and again, it would be wonderful to hear what you think about it.

It has been a pleasure to share my good news with you. If you would like to be a part of the celebration, please consider sharing the video above or this letter to readers with even just one friend. Thank you.

Next Time

Absolutely. Battle, smoke, books past and future. The works. Also, a report on the next four days. Until then,

Wishing you a happy winter week,

Holly


PS If you want to start the series now:
Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth

Available on Amazon

Paperback, Kindle
and Large Print

Building with 1580 on the front, old castle in the top left and scroll in centre: Into The Lost Kingdom

Into The Lost Kingdom – In Search of the Cozy Village

Dear Readers,

Once Upon a Time …Painting of Syon House, Middlesex

A thousand years ago, a kingdom was formed. The name of this kingdom was derived from the West Saxons, to distinguish themselves from the Saxon kingdoms in other directions around them. Its name was Middlesex. It existed for a thousand until, in 1965, it was absorbed into London.

The place where I grew up was once in Middlesex, and also, for a time, was Amanda Cadabra’s village of Sunken Madley. And so it came about, that inspiration for this large hamlet was, by chance, brought to my attention there, one sunny weekend in September. It wasn’t even what I’d been looking for.

Which brings me to apples. 

 The Fruits of Sunken Madley

When our cozy village was forming in my imagination, I knew that it had rural connections. So, I went looking for what Hertfordshire, historically, has been famous for growing. Yes, you guessed it: apples. Sunken Madley suddenly became bordered by orchards, and you may recall that Amanda’s and her grandparents Senara and Perran’s house is number 26 Orchard Way. The orchard itself is next door and has some … rather unusual features that become apparent in Amanda Cadabra and The Cellar of Secrets.

 But, what would be the variety of apples that would be growing in and around the village? It would have to be an old variety with a name evoking warmth and antiquity. Reading about apples, I made a shortlist, and the winner was … Hormead Pearmain. Into the first book it went, whilst I blithely assumed that, somewhere, there would be such an orchard that I could photograph and film for your delight.

The Challenge is On

The truth turned out to be somewhat different but much more interesting. I set about looking up orchards and, with my first phone call, spoke to Alison Rubens, an outstandingly helpful lady who is the founder of the Chorleywood Community Orchard in Hertfordshire. Mrs Rubes explained that Hormead Pearmain was, in fact, now a rarity. However, she kindly gave m a list of orchards with vintage varieties that I could contact to see if any of them had ‘my’ apple.

I worked down the list. ‘No,’ ‘Sorry, no’ and ‘have you tried …?’ ensued until I came to the last name in the list. A gentleman in what was once called Pinnora in the one-time county of Middlesex. While attempting to contact him, I looked up Pinner, as it is now called. Of course, as a north Londoner, I had driven past and through it and never taken much notice of it. And then ….

A Revelation

The internet presented me with an idyllic, chocolate-box photograph of a high street, sloping up to an old church. The thoroughfare appeared to consist almost entirely of 16th-century shops and an utterly charming pub. I gasped. This was El Dorado. Quickly I planned a route.

Then I made contact with Gerry Edwards of Pinner’s Gerry Edwards Orchard Services. Gerry assured me that he had a young Hormead Pearmain tree on his land. However, he was at present away from Pinner working in Dorset. Nevertheless, Gerry promised, on his return, to take some photographs and send them to me. He explained that there is a reason why these old varieties are no longer grown. In simplified terms: they’re no good. That is, not compared with newer types that are hardier and yield more fruit. They are now grown for interest and for the sake of preservation.

To Pinnora

With thanks, I set off on my journey to Pinner, called Pinnora in 1231. I was now filled with a new purpose: not apples but further inspiration for Sunken Madley and photographs for you, dear readers.

On the way, I received a call from one of the contacts on the list. This was none other than the noted horticulturalist and naturalist, Michael Clark, warden of the Tewin Orchard in Hertfordshire. More of Mr Clark next time. I was delighted to hear that, yes, he had two trees and one had fruit. I was welcome to come along and take photographs. 

By then, however, I was on my way to Pinner but promised to call back and make an appointment. As I say, more of that to come.

 A Strangely Named Tavern

Which brings us to where I landed that day. Pinner is just two miles south of the Hertfordshire border, to which I drew closer for lunch. I had planned a visit to a restored 17th-century hostelry at the edge of Harrow Wield, on the ancient ridgetop road of Old Redding. The front looks over to trees, not apple trees but the woods of the common. The view from the back of the pub is truly spectacular, down over the valley of the River Pinn.

This inn goes by the unusual name of The Case is Altered. It derives from the time when the owner of the, then, cottages changed their use to a public house. I spent a delightful lunch hour. Mine host could not have been friendlier or more attentive, and on the deck in the garden looking over the magnificent vista, I must have had the best seat in the house. This spot is an excellent echo of a small place immersed, as is Sunken Madley, in the countryside even though it is, technically, within the borders of Greater London.

The Queen’s Head

Nevertheless, my dream ‘village’ road beckoned, and so I set forth. And it was as wondrous as the photograph. A perfect chocolate-box high street lined with small shops, where Tudor rubs shoulders with Dickensian Victorian, stretches up to the ancient church at the top of the hill. The jewel in the crown was The 16th century Queen’s Head, bright in the sunshine, fronted by parasolled tables with happy snackers and sippers.

I was drawn as to the lodestone rock. ‘Welcome’ barely begins to describe my reception. Naturally, I asked for permission to take photographs of the establishment. It was granted, but the staff were interested in my reason for visiting. I explained, and soon I was chatting to the highly well-informed proprietor. 

Meeting Mr White

Sean White, FRSA (Fellowship of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), is not only an award-winning publican but a sponsor of art, life and all that is fine. He cares deeply both for the welfare of his staff and for those who visit the Queen’s Head. Listening to Sean describe the history and present of the pub was a remarkable experience. 

The Grade II listed building was originally residential, a Wealden hall house. These were built for the staff of a noble household. This one consisted of 4 bays, and in this case, one was the cottage next door. It also had a forge. Then it was repurposed into a coaching inn with stables and was originally called The Crown. A nice safe name that meant you were covered regardless of how the throne might change hands!

However, in 1766 the owner, Gideon Loot, took the plunge and named it the Upper Queen’s Head after Queen Anne. (He had another Queen’s Head at the bottom of the road).

Billows

One curiosity dates from the 1930s when the wealthy and somewhat eccentric Mr Dawson Billows was the proprietor.  He briefly kept a bear in the stables and would take it for walks until, presumably, a more suitable home was found. If this photograph is anything to go by, the household did their best to care for Dawson’s animal guest. 

Mr Billows made extensive refurbishments to, and had his name engraved on, the structure. You’d have to have a keen eye to find it, but Sean told me where to stand by the bar and look up. And above on a ceiling beam … there it was.

Past, Present and Future

Coming into the present and uniting with the past, Sean related that on New Year’s Day, when morris dancers make their rounds, they include at the Queen’s Head on their route, dancing inside and out. I must say, I am tempted to pay a visit on that particular day!

Sean kindly emailed me three documents detailing the history of the pub. And, in addition, he gave me a copy of the journal Proud of Pinner, which offers a wealth of information about the town, including historical anecdotes and photographs. Who knows what choice detail may find its way into the Amanda Cadabra series?

Two Hot Tips

One of Sean’s tip-offs was that most of the Tudor-looking buildings were just that: ‘looking’ rather than actually dating from that period, and built much later. Sean pointed out which ones were genuine, and you can see the best of them here or on the Inspiration page.

The second vital piece of information with which Sean’s kindly furnished me was that the church was preparing a flower festival in honour of its 700th anniversary. This I had to see, and you will know about if you’ve seen the letter to readers here and the video about that extraordinary event that I came back to experience.

The Last Leg

And so I made my progress up the high street towards my final stop: the church of St John the Baptist, where stunning floral preparations were in progress for the coming weekend’s celebrations.

 If you’d like to see and read about that, you can find the letter and video here: 700 Years

There, for the moment, we leave Pinner. I have another reason to return in addition to the morris dancers. Sean informed that there is an excellent museum nearby that it would be well worth visiting.

Next

Next stop: into smoke of a famous battle to find yet more inspirational treasures and research for the next two books in the Amanda Cadabra series.

Thank you for coming along on my journey with me. I hope you have enjoyed this expedition into the lost kingdom of Middlesex and the delights of Pinnora.

Four Free Book Days Coming

From next Sunday Book 1, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth will be available for free download from Amazon, from 12th to 15th December. I’ll remind you next week in case you’d like to check it out or pass on the good news to your friends.

Back soon.

Holly


PS If you’d love to start the series now:
Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth

Available on Amazon

Paperback, Kindle
and Large Print

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