The Twisting Current
Cornish pasties, Jamaica Inn, smugglers, and Cornish clotted cream teas. What do they all have in common? Yes, they’re all things for which Cornwall is internationally famous, and they appear in the Amanda Cadabra series. However, it is the last item in the list that is probably the most popular and today we learn its secrets.
Michael and Susan Plant are the creative geniuses behind the café that inspired our heroine’s favourite port of call in Amanda Cadabra and The Strange Case of Lucy Penlowr: The Twisting Current, on the edge of mysterious Bodmin Moor. There Amanda finds her dream treat, astonishes Inspector Trelawney with her capacity for seconds, and can’t resist the opportunity to go back for more.
As readers will know, Amanda is dairy free on account of her asthma. Consequently, when writing the book, I set out on a hunt for a real life café that would serve a dairy-free, proper Cornish cream tea. Casting the net far and wide through Cornwall, I discovered a rare treasure: The Twisted Currant in Porthleven in the far south west, just half an hour from Land’s End, the most westerly point of mainland Cornwall and England. There they make and serve a luscious array of cakes and mouthwatering savouries with choices for dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan visitors.
Michael kindly granted me an opportunity to interview him about the story behind the café and its acclaimed cream teas.
Please could you tell me, what is your and Susan’s connection to Cornwall?
We are not natural Cornish. Susan came down from London with her parents and I was posted to RNAS Culdrose whilst in the Navy. We have both been in Cornwall since 1982. I think the secret to living in Cornwall is to accept the Cornish ways and to go with the flow. I now consider crossing the river Tamar near Plymouth as almost going abroad.
What inspired you to open the café? Do you both come from a restaurant background?
We started a cafe as Susan baked professionally and I wanted to start a small business. We thought that our personalities matched a tea room environment.
The Twisted Currant was furbished only last year, with golden yellow, cream fresh white and warm wood. It looks so appealing that I ad to ask: How did you decide how to present/decorate the café?
We wanted the tea room to be bright and fresh, but homely and a relaxed ambiance. One of our daughters designed the layout and I built the benches and counter.
Clearly Michael and Susan are a talented couple. For the benefit of international readers who may not be familiar with Amanda Cadabra’s favourite Cornish delicacy, I asked Michael,
Could you explain, please, for my international readers, what a cream tea is, what clotted cream is?
A cream tea consists of either fruit (sultanas) or plain scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam and a pot of tea. Scones are made with flour, butter and milk, made into a dough, rolled about an inch thick and cut with a round fluted cutter. They are baked until crisp on the outside.
There is some debate as to the order of the toppings, I gather.
In Cornwall the jam is applied to the scone and then the cream. In the neighbouring county of Devon the cream is applied first, then the jam. Local Cornish are passionate about the correct way to spread the jam and cream and gently chide anyone who gets it wrong.
Where did the inspiration come from to create a dairy-free cream tea?
For non dairy scones we serve coconut cream instead of cream and use oat milk in place of milk when making the scones. We do a lot of gluten free, nut free and vegan scones as well. Susan started making gluten free scones for one of our daughters friends who was celiac. We now try to have a dairy, gluten free or vegan version of everything on our menu so friends and family can all order something from our menu regardless of diet or lifestyle choices.
Susan is the inventor of all our cakes and scones. She invented the chocolate cream tea consisting of chocolate chip scones, chocolate spread and clotted cream. Reactions vary, with some customers stating they are to die for, and more traditional minded customers being scandalised with such decadancy.
What other Cornish specialties can we find at your café?
We try to do as much Cornish as possible and also serve saffron tea cakes and “Thunder and lightning” consisting of slices of white bread lathered with clotted cream and golden syrup.
Where do most of your non-local visitors to the café come from (in a normal year.)
Our customers range from locals to tourists from all over the UK and abroad. Many locals stay away during the busy tourist season but come out in winter when they know they can get a seat.
On Google Maps, I can see that Fore Street where the café is, is also named ‘Stret A-rag’. Do you use any Cornish words in the menu or around the café at all?
The Cornish language is not used in everyday speech any more but some vestiges survive. For instance, in the neighbouring village of Helston they have a dance every year around the town when “Hellys bys vycken” (Helston for ever) is shouted by the participants. The Cornish language is very similar to Breton in Brittany, France, where it is spoken more commonly.
Michael’s words made me feel especially happy to be part of the Cornish language revival, together with thousands around the UK and abroad who are now learning and speaking with one another on a regular basis. Hopefully one day it will again be used in everyday speech. Meanwhile, I asked Michael, the next question:
I read that Porthleven lies within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with breathtaking views from the Porthleven Cliffs and the mysterious Giant’s Rock. But what about Porthleven makes it special to both of you?
Porthleven is special to many locals and visitors alike because it is an unspoilt fishing village which despite the tourist influx has a vibrant community spirit. They do things ‘dreckly’ (like the Spanish manana but slower) in Porthleven so stress levels are lower and life generally is more relaxed.
You’re right by the harbour with green hills and fields to the north. Looks like a Victorian building. Are you able to tell me anything about it?
The Twisted Currant shares a Victorian building with Star Gazey, a gift shop and holiday apartments above. It was originally a grocery store with owners accommodation above but has seen many different businesses over the years since.
Is this the first time The Twisted Currant has made an appearance in a novel?
As far as I know it is the first time the Twisted Currant has made an appearance in a novel.
I was excited to see the word ‘Rodda’s’ on two to the little dishes in two of the photos. It’s the only clotted cream I ever buy when I want a treat. I’m lucky enough to live near a supermarket that always has it and so I can feel that little connection will Cornwall.
We use Rodda’s clotted cream with our cream teas. It is a local business which is now world renowned and is always lip-smackingly good. Clotted cream is understood to have been invented many years ago when a farmers wife inadvertently left a pot of cream on the stove overnight. When she came down in the morning the cream had thickened and clotted cream has been made ever since.
Amanda’s Future Go-To
Michael kindly said that he was ‘happy for you to mention the Twisted Currant in any of your books in the future.’ You can be sure that Amanda will be making a return visit to the literary version of the cafe. Thanks to Susan’s creation of the chocolate cream tea, I can see The Twisted Currant becoming a place of pilgrimage for chocolate lovers, as well as gluten-free and dairy-free visitors to Cornwall. Guest houses, hotels and holiday cottages have now re-opened, if you would like to book your stay in one of Britain’s most beautiful areas, and sample the delights of the Twisted Currant for yourself.
Thanks, More? and The Sequel
It remains only for me to thank Michael and Susan for their sharing their experiences and granting me the use here of some choice photos from their Facebook page. (A rich selection of mouth-watering delights. Deliciously browsable!)
I hope that you have enjoyed our behind-the-scenes visit to one of the special places that have inspired locations and experiences in the Amanda Cadabra books. Please do let me know if you would like some more articles like this one.
Meanwhile, Book 7 has begun its flow. The all-important first paragraphs are written, and more is coming into being every day. And every night, when the characters like to chat to each other! The stream is moving, the blossoms, shops and businesses are opening, and the days are lengthening towards mid-summer. It’s all to come.
How did Cornwall do it? How did worm its way into the heart of a series mainly set an English village to the north of London? Depending on where you live or are from, you may ask, as someone enquired of me, ‘Where is Cornwall?
It’s in the south-west of mainland Britain, the bit under Wales that spikes out into the Atlantic pointing off towards the distant shores of The New World.
What’s So Special?
Cornwall and the Cornish were regarded as a separate place and people until the fourteenth century, by those on both sides of the border. Cornwall has its own language, it’s own flag, customs and heritage. In 2014 the UK government granted the Cornish minority status and the Cornish tongue given funding to encourage its spread and development.
Dead and Gone?
Neither. The traditional opinion is that the last native speaker Dolly Pentreath breathed her last in 1777. However, there is a body of evidence that suggests it never entirely died out at all. Cornwall is a land of remote nooks and crannies, plus families migrated to other parts of the world but took their language with them.
Today there are bilingual speakers and a stream of new learners. The presence of support groups and organisations for students, Cornish books in libraries and schools, events (most famously the Gorsedh), poetry, literature, and songs are all testimony to a living breathing and thriving language.
Oh yes, tales of pixies, ghosts and giants, are coupled with romantic landscape from plummeting cliffs, crashing waves, soft sands, rolling hills and the bleak beauty of the moors. These have drawn artists and writers for hundreds of years. One, in particular, raised Cornwall in the public consciousness: Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Jamaica Inn – haunted, one case a man by his past and the other by strange lights and sounds in the dead of night!
Mist and mystery, the quintessential ‘country’ accent, the ‘oo arr, Jim lad’ of the stereotypical pirate, the crafty smugglers, the lone lighthouse, the golden light of the remote inn welcoming the weary traveller are an irresistible cocktail. All of these make it the perfect association for not just a cozy mystery but a cosy paranormal one.
So how did it entwine itself with the fictional English village of Sunken Madley?
Back to the Roots
For this, we must return to the very inception of the series. Once I had the name Amanda Cadabra, her character and history formed before my very eyes. She was an orphan, her family had gone over a cliff when she was an infant. What cliffs were at my disposal? Cornwall immediately came to mind. Suitably dramatic coastline.
What were they doing there? They were Cornish. Therefore Amanda is Cornish and, therefore, so are her grandparents.
Next, we needed a police presence. He is investigating the cold case of the Cornish accident. Therefore he is Cornwall, and he is Cornish, like his boss, Chief Inspector Hogarth. A typical Cornish name for our hero? Thomas Trelawney, Detective Inspector.
As the plot began to form, I also realised I need the ingredient of a magical language. What alternatives were there? Latin as so skilfully used by JK Rowling in the Harry Potter Books, spells used in Disney films, the Elvish of Tolkein or just plain made-up. So it came to me that a melange would be a way of connecting Cornwall and England. I read that witches, wise women and men, from both sides of the border supported one another, especially during the decades of the infamous witch trials. What if that led to a mixture of Cornish and old English. Using online dictionaries, I cobbled together spells words and phrases. In doing so, I became curious about the structure of each tongue.
The Real Thing
On impulse I began to research. Discovering the Cornish revival, it seemed only respectful to honour it by learning how to speak and write it properly. The flame was of fascination burned higher. I found an online course with Kesva, the Cornish Language Board, and more resources at Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek, the Cornish Language Fellowship. The first email of enquiry was written, I was put in contact with a tutor, I found my way to Cornish language books and the book shops that sell them. At Christmas, I came upon Keur Heb Hanow, a singing quartet, and corresponded with one of them. I dug for Facebook groups and found a home with We Love Kernewek, Our Cornish Language. Everywhere I went, I found kind and helpful people.
And all the while, the dream of visiting grew stronger. That is soon to come true. Amanda Cadabra has thus brought me yet another whole new circle of friends, experience. When I come back from Cornwall, I’ll have new photos, videos and stories to share with you, dear readers.
Meanwhile, I have Amanda Cadabra Book 5 to continue writing and Cornish revision to do! Back soon …
PS If you want to start the series:
What Do We Mean by ‘English’?
Before I first put pen to paper, or should I say, finger to key, on my first novel, I had a decision to make. What sort of English was I going to use? The answer to ‘do you speak English?’ is not a simple one.
If you’ve ever had a new phone, tablet, or other mobile decide, likely you’ve been asked to set up the language you prefer. Sometimes it’s defined by country. Usually as English, as spoken in England, Britain, and conversely as spoken in the USA. At other times, especially in dictionaries, the alternatives are categorised as ‘as spoken in North America’ or outside of it.
What is the difference? For example, here in the UK, we spell words such as colour and neighbour with a ‘u’ apposed to ‘color’ and ‘neighbor’ in the US. ‘Theatre’ rather than ‘theater’, ‘surprise’ rather than ‘surprise’ are two more instances. Which to choose?
The Amanda Cadabra novels are set in Britain, and so, as a British author, I choose UK English. But how to provide for those who might not be 100 per cent familiar with it? Simple; at the end of each book and here on the website, readers will find a glossary of UK-US terms and usage.
Good. So it’s all in UK English, then? Yes, but not everyone speaks in the same way throughout the UK. Accents vary tremendously. The books include Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, Hertfordshire and Cockney ways of pronouncing words. You may, upon a New Year’s Eve, have sung Auld Lang Syne. That’s the Scottish way of saying Old Long Since or, for old time’s sake. Beloved Sunken Madley resident Sylvia is from the East End of London, she’s a Cockney, and so she drops her ‘h’s. Hence she says ‘ello rather than hello.
Of course, there are also ways of pronouncing English that are special to any particular English-speaking country. Consequently, we have the favourite carer at Pipkin Acres Residential Home, Australian Megan, hailing a visitor called Gwendolen as ‘Gwindolen’ and Amanda as ‘Amenda’.
The word ‘foreign’ is a descendant of the Latin word meaning ‘outside’. That could be just ‘outside your village’ even. In Sunken Madley, retired headmaster Gordon French makes a point of reminding Amanda about newcomers. As he puts it, they are ‘not Village.’
In the days when most travelling was on foot, neighbouring settlements even a couple of miles apart, especially over steep terrain, were divided by the time it took to make the journey. In comparative isolation, each hamlet could develop their own unique ways of expressing identical ideas.
To this day, Cornish people, in the south-west of the UK, refer to Brits on the other side of the Tamar River, the traditional boundary of their land, as being ‘Up North’. Here on the other side of the River, we use the same term to mean the part of England up towards the Scottish border.
However, all in all, customarily today, we use the word ‘foreign’ as a designation of another country.
Dialect and Language
Along with accents are words that are peculiar to a region or land. ‘Ken’ can be used in Scotland for ‘know’. ‘Bairn’ can be heard in the north of the UK for ‘child’.
Next we move into actual foreign tongues. The Cornish language term bian frequently appears in the novels, as Grandpa’s term of affection for Amanda, meaning ‘baby’ or ‘little one’. There is a Frenchman in a Book 4, Amanda Cadabra and The Rise of Sunken Madley, who speaks in French. In Book 1 we have some Swedish too. How to deal with these so readers can understand the words and sentences? The convention is put all foreign words in italics. As they will be likely unfamiliar, it will be apparent that the italics are not for emphasis so that flags them up as non-English. How to convey their meaning? There are two ways. One is by context, the other is by direct translation. Here’s an example of the first one
‘Muchas gracias,’ said the girl.
‘You’re welcome,’ he replied.
Even if you don’t know a word of Spanish, you can gather that what she said was ‘thank you.’
For the second method, here is an example from Book 1, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, for the use of the magical language of Wicc’yeth, spoken by the Amanda and her grandparents:
‘Forrag Seothe Macungreanz A Aclowundre,’ Amanda read the title, and attempted a translation. ‘For the Making of … Wonderful
The third way to clarify foreign language usage in a novel is to use English but state that the protagonists are now speaking in another language.
Why Do It?
Why complicate matters? Why not just make everyone in the books English.
First, because adding accents, dialect and terms from other languages words, adds texture, colour, variety and even entertainment in the misunderstandings that can arise.
Second, Sunken Madley is on the outskirts of London. The capital of England is one of the most culturally diverse in the world. So a village on its outskirts would naturally reflect that. This kind of consistency with the real world is vital for creating a story that is believable. The goal is to makes it as easy as possible for you to suspend disbelief and be carried into the narrative, to care about the characters, and to see it as easily as possible in your mind’s eye.
Why make in on the edge of a city at all? Why not make it in the depths of the countryside?
Simply because I want to follow the advice to ‘write what you know.’ I have never lived in a village. I have stayed in them and know people who have lived in them, but I have never had the actual experience. As a city girl born and bred, the edge of London is the best I can do. And you, my dear readers, deserve my best.
Book 5 is now climbing towards 20,000 words, which is about a quarter of the way through. Today I weaved in another strand! Back soon with more insights in the world of creating fiction and news.