After a year of considering, researching, planning, collaborating and doing, I am delighted to bring you the first in the Amanda Cadabra series in large print. Reactions are likely to range from ‘At last!’ and ‘Great!’ to ‘Er … why?’
Recent research has revealed the appeal of large print to be much wider than you might expect. It tempts reluctant readers, especially school-age and college students. It suits those who wear glasses who, with a slight hike in font size, can read without them, as well as making reading more comfortable for those for whom lenses are a must.
According to allaboutvision.com, ‘About 75% of adults [in the USA] use some sort of vision correction’ whether glasses, contact lenses or both. Children of all ages may need glasses for varying lengths of time. Believe it or not, some people even elect to wear fake glasses as a fashion accessory or because they feel more intelligent in them. I did read it’s supposed to make you look 3 to 5 years younger too!
But I digress. Large print is where it’s at, and as the majority of my lovely readers do find glasses helpful, I have been planning to provide a more visually pleasurable experience.
Size Matters or What’s the Point?
First, something about the journey and how we arrived at the new edition. There is no definitive sheet with a how-to and what-to for creating your own large print book. Different writers use different strategies. So I began with the basics: font (lettering style) and letter size. Of course, different letter styles are different sizes, as you can see from this poster, but let’s look at the standard fonts you see in books, newspapers and on the internet.
A standard edition book usually has a font 12 – 14 points. A point is a 72th of an inch so in real terms, just for comparison, here is a chart using the famous Times New Roman font.
Large print is defined by the American Council for the Blind as 18 – 20 pt; the RNIB here in the UK has it at 16 – 18, with very large print as 20. Generally, the consensus among authors is anything over 16pt.
How to Choose?
In the interests of keeping the size of the book manageable, I decided to follow the lead set by Vellum. This is the top of the range app used for formatting. Punch in large print and you get: 16 point font and a what’s called the trim size of the book: 6.14 × 9.21 inches. The standard sized Amanda Cadabra paperback is 5.25 x 8. So the new large print edition is just over an inch taller, and less than an inch wider. It’s also only very slightly thicker. There are also plenty of standard print size books that are this size, so you probably already have a shelf where it will fit nicely.
In case you’re curious, the point system stems from the days of printing using blocks of metal. The point was the smallest unit of measurement that was — sort of — agreed upon. It was used to measure the size of the actual block on which the letter sat. The best explanation I have come across is here: https://www.quora.com/How-is-font-size-measured.
If you are an author and would like to know the full specs used for the large print edition of Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth, you can find them in a special post written just for you (and the interested reader too, of course).
At first, I thought I could DIY it. Then I discovered that there’s more to large print than just bumping up the size of the font. I took the path as far as frustration allowed until I knew it was time to turn it over to a professional. The search began. It led me, happily, to the virtual door of Graphic Production Artist, Daria Lacy (on Upwork), over on the west coast of the USA. Although living 5000 miles apart, we hit it off instantly.
Daria reformatted the standard paperback to make it look more professional, then created the large print version. She patiently tutored me through any cleaning up I needed to do, and in the procedure for creating and using her new versions as templates for Book 2, Amanda Cadabra and The Cellar of Secrets. Although involving a bit of a learning curve it was transforming into a joyful experience for me, and having Daria there as a safety net means I can confidently go on to create large print versions of the rest of the series bit by bit.
The Art of Large Print
Finally, there was the cover. Daniel, our wonderful illustrator, was already creating a new one for Book 1, but this was the first larger size cover he’d made. It took a few goes with fine-tuning and proof copies for checking, but at last, the spine lettering was dead centre and the title likewise. The large print version passed Amazon KDP paperback publishing quality control, and now, as I write this, I have the very first printed copy on my desk, all bright and shiny and ready for you, my esteemed readers.
So, you may be wondering, when are the next 5 books going to be available in large print? There was a choice of two paths: either to wait while the covers for Books 2 and 3 were being redesigned Daniel or to bring out large print versions with the existing covers. Soon Daniel will be going to work on the cover for the next book in the series, Amanda Cadabra 7. So the new Book 2 cover will have to wait for at least a month. And that would be just for Book 2.
In the end, it was some words from our editor Kim that crystalised things for me. It seemed logical that if readers who prefer large print enjoyed Book 1, they wouldn’t mind that much what the cover of the next large print book in the series would look like. Nevertheless, we still want to bring you the best and brightest jackets we can, so new coats for Books 2 and 3 are in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, here, for your entertainment, is the new version of the Book 1 trailer featuring the new covers and the new large print:
So … When?
Yes, let’s cut to the chase. I’m now formatting between writing Book 7 and launching the first book in large print, so I can’t give you a date but will keep you in the loop here and on Facebook. The main thing is that as many readers as possible will have the opportunity to try the series on the for size with Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth.
Next time, I’ll be launching something new for Amanda’s world, that you might enjoy playing with. It was immense fun to create. I think you’ll like it.
PS If you want to start the series now:
Available on Amazon
and Large Print
Dear Fellow Authors and Interested Readers,
Having decided to created large print editions of the Amanda Cadabra series, I began my research. No once source yielded a complete how-to. In my hunt for an entire formula, I realised that I would have to create my own.
Everything that I eventually needed is included here below. I arrived at these through reading information kindly shared by various authors, and through consultation with my invaluable Graphic Production Artist Daria Lacy, who is an absolute gem. You can find Daria on Upwork if you need professional advice.
Following Vellum, (the top end app for formatting books) the trim size is 9.14 x 6.21 inches
Font: Adobe Garamond Pro 16pt
Leading (space between lines) 19.2pt
Top: 0.6 inches
This allows space for the running header (image) So if you don’t have one then this margin can be smaller
Bottom: 0.6 inches Leaving space for page numbers
Right (outside) : 0.4 inches
Left (inside): 0.7 inches
Gutter: 0.1667 inch (the space allowed for binding the pages together)
All words are in large print including Opening Quotation, Table of Contents, map, glossary.
Just Be Aware
If you are publishing through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, then for 9.14 x 6.21 inches they only do black print on a white background for expanded distribution, rather than a cream one. (Expanded distribution means making the book available for retailers and libraries to buy. ) My standard print books are black print on cream paper for ease of reading. However, for the extra space over 9 x 6, I chose the 9.14 x 6.21 option for large print to reduce the number of pages.
How Much Extra?
Standard print 8 x 5.25 inches: Number of pages:292
Large print 9.14 x 6.21 inches: Number of pages:355
Extra 63 pages. 21.5% increase.
As you can see it’s not that much of an increase if you opt for a slightly larger trim size.
Do feel free to contact me if you’d like any extra information that I might be able to give you.
Wishing you all the best with your large print project,
PS If you want to start the series now:
Available on Amazon
and Large Print
Three Treats To Come
Today we follow the trail to Denise Fleischer’s ingenious questions that prompted me to reveal … maybe not all … but, well, you’ll see. Denise, through her splendid book review site Gotta Write Network, is kindly hosting a blog tour spotlight of my latest book launched just last month on Kindle and in paperback. This includes an interview, a guest post and an excerpt from the new novel. I’ll let you know when the other two enter stage left.
Behind the Curtain
Back to the Q&Q. If you are curious about the creation of Amanda Cadabra and The Strange Case of Lucy Penlowr, the latest in the Amanda Cadabra series, read on …
Denise: In Book 6 of the British, humorous, cozy paranormal mystery series of Amanda Cadabra, you focus on the strange case of Lucy Penlowr. How are the readers introduced to the case?
Holly: The book begins with a dream that Amanda has while travelling to Cornwall with Detective Inspector Trelawney. She witnesses a fire in a grand house and a murder. Trelawney wonders if it has anything to do with the story of Lucy that they are going there to hear.
Denise: Who is Hogarth and why can’t he stop thinking about a case from 30 years ago where children allegedly began to go missing?
Holly: Retired Chief Inspector Michael Hogarth, of the Devon and Cornwall police, was and is Trelawney’s boss and best friend. He is also Amanda’s honorary uncle. The cold case has unexpectedly personal associations for Hogarth, and links to Amanda and Trelawney. At the end of the previous book, Lucy, from deep in the shadows, tells Amanda that it is time for Hogarth to tell ‘Lucy’s story.’ It may be that Amanda is the key to solving the case.
Denise: What is the history of Bodmin Moor? What’s located in this area?
Holly: Bodmin is a granite moor at the heart of Cornwall, the south-east peninsula of mainland Britain. It is at least 60 million years old, and humans have lived there for at least 10,000 years. Now few people dwell there.
Brown Willy is the highest point in Cornwall, and the moor is rich in Bronze Age monuments, stone circles and ancient burial structures. The landscape is of barren rocks set a lush green of grass, marram, moss and bog. It is perfectly safe during the day but after dark …. It is also known for the legendary Beast of Bodmin Moor, the haunted Jamaica Inn (made famous by Daphne du Maurier), the ghost of a Victorian murdered girl, and witchcraft!
Denise: Is there a reason Hogarth and Trelawney’s father, Kyt, are eager to tell Amanda about the case and about Growan House?
read more …
I hope that you enjoy the interview, and the book. Back soon with news of the next project. Meanwhile, here is the post-launch trailer which includes some beautiful footage of Bodmin Moor from professional cameraman Paddy Scott, and two talented amateur photographers.
PS If you want to start the series now:
Available on Amazon
Paperback and Kindle
What Is Your Pleasure?
Having written to you last week about health matters in fiction, this time, we get down to the nitty-gritty. Do you want the coronovirus, COVID-19, in the next Amanda Cadabra book?
‘Your readers will tell you what they want.’ Three years ago, with the first book Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth newly published, my mentor TJ Brown said this to me. And he’s been right. So without polling, I’ve had to make a decision about whether to include the current health-related situation in the book now being written.
Why There’s An Issue
The Amanda Cadabra books are plotted in real-time. That means the Book 5 takes place during the late winter and early spring of 2020, culminating in the Equinox Ball at The Grange. That date, 22nd March, heralded the onset of the C-19 lockdown in the UK. Should it go in, or not?
Let’s pick this apart.
Where Could Corona Be Welcome?
First, does the virus have a place in fiction at all? Yes, dystopian fantasy, drama, crime, thriller and horror could all comfortably accommodate it. The once fictional pandemic is now a familiar situation.
What about cozy mystery, though? Surely a situation that results in stress and hardship would be anomalous in a cozy setting. Or would it? Just like poison, it could be used as a murder weapon. Admittedly, it would not necessarily be a very reliable one, but nevertheless, it is a possibility.
Furthermore, by its very nature, the conditions resulting from coronavirus have both separated people from those they usually associate with but brought them together with others. Throw this into the mix, and it could make things interesting without actually introducing a single incidence of the illness.
In Sunken Madley?
However, in the case of Amanda Cadabra, the village of Sunken Madley is its own microcosm. The modern political situation is never mentioned (with the exception of a passing reference to library closures in Book 5) nor is it a topic of discussion there. The villagers have what they consider to be more interesting, immediate and closer to hand matters to discuss. Like St Mary Mead, the home Agatha Christie assigned to her sleuth Miss Marple, Sunken Madley operates within its own sphere.
The appeal of Agatha Christie’s cozy whodunits, apart from their puzzles, is their escapism. That’s a vital part of the essence of the genre. Add in the paranormal element, and that takes us even further into that pleasurable zone.
From What You’ve Told Me
Readers and reviewers have expressed their pleasure in the world of Sunken Madley and their time spent there. And when this period of the pandemic is over, is it really going to be something cozy readers will want to revisit or forget?
There is also the matter of, in practice, to what extent would it rock the village? No one gets ill in Sunken Madley. The senior citizens are probably the most physically robust people in the hamlet. The dream team of Mrs Sharma of the Corner Shop and Mr Sharma of the pharmacy would ensure everyone was supplied with all that they needed.
What about social distancing? And there’s the rub. The Corner Shop conferences are highlights and essential of every book. So are the seasonal dances.
Consequently, you can rest assured that the world of Amanda Cadabra will remain COVID 19-free. The only health issue is Amanda’s asthma and therein, as readers know, lies a tale ….
Meanwhile, Amanda Cadabra Book 5 is steadily gaining ground, now at 35% of the way through.
Until next week, wishing you well, and cosily at home with a good book.
PS If you want to start the series:
Amazon, Apple Books,
Kobo, Barnes & Noble and others.
The Fiction Author’s Quandary
This week we travel into the fascinating dilemma that faces every writer: research or writing. Which do I do first? How much? How much research is too much? Do I need to do any at all? If so, why? What are the options? What does it mean for the reader?
Thanks to the kind hosting of Denise Fleischer on gottawritenetwork.wordpress.com the answers to the great research versus writing question are revealed are in my guest post on her website. Here is a taster:
‘In the winter of 2017, I heard two words that were to change my life: cozy mystery. After years of protesting that I was strictly a non-fiction writer, within half an hour, I was persuaded that here was the fantasy-related genre for me.
I was given guidelines, but soon I was off finding lists and explanations of the ‘formula’ for a successful cozy, in my case, cozy paranormal mystery. Yes, it was easy for me, research comes naturally. Nevertheless, there is a difference between fact-checking for informational accuracy and world-building. The question new writers often ask is, do you research first, “look it up” or dive into the creative activity by “getting it down”?’
Read on …
Just two days after I heard from Denise, a second delight beamed into my week. Susan Hampson, reviewer at booksfromdusktilldawn.blog, wrote to say that she had not only reviewed Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth on her website, Goodreads and Amazon but had also posted on 12 other book blog sites! If you are thinking of starting the Amanda Cadabra series or would like to recommend it to a friend, you can read it here.
Exclusive to Inclusive
In the past week, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth has gone from being available only through Amazon to ‘going wide’. That means it is now also published through Barnes & Nobel, Apple Books, Kobo and several others.
Next week I plan to examine The Cornish Connection of the series and to share with you the unexpected places research for that has led me …
PS If you want to start the series:
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and others
We all agree that ‘write’ ‘book and ‘read’ should be spelt just so. Those are the agreed correct order of letters. I promised you a couple of weeks, in my post about misspelling, to give attention to The Rules. Precisely, what happens when we don’t all agree?
What rules are we talking about? So far, what I’ve written would pass the spell-checker, editor, beta reader and eagle-eyed book-fan everywhere. Now let’s try this:
Spot the Difference
I realise I was late for the theatre. But I had a flat tyre. I asked Dr Smith for help, but he said, ‘On my honour, I don’t know how! These wheels are aluminium. Can’t we just have a cosy chat?’
Now, depending on where you live, you may take exception to 7 things in that paragraph and declare about each of them,’ Whoever wrote that got it wrong.’ And if you live in the USA, you would be right. In US English it would read:
I realize was late for the theater. But had a flat tire. I asked Dr. Smith for help, but he said, “On my honor, I don’t know how! These wheels are aluminum. Can’t we just have a cosy chat?”
The first is British (or UK) English. The second American English. If you were taking a spelling test in one and used the other, then you would almost certainly lose points. New Zealand and Australia use mostly UK English. South Africa uses the identical form. Canada, as one would expect from the world’s third favourite nation, is easy-going, recognises both and comfortably straddles UK and US variants.
Pick One And Commit
As an author, that’s what I have to do. Well, sort of. I use British spelling throughout my novels and nearly always in these letters. Nearly? Yes, you may have noticed that I usually spell ‘cosy’ – as we do in the UK – as ‘cozy’. Gasp, shock, horror. Why this anomaly? It is because the title of the genre in which I write the Amanda Cadabra series listed as ‘cozy’. Generally speaking, the subgenre is written as ‘cozy paranormal mystery’. Check on Amazon, Kobo, or Itunes. Yes, but surely British publishing houses …? No, even Penguin describes that shelf with a ‘z’ Which, incidentally, here we pronounce as ‘zed’.
So, often the best you, as an author, can do is to pick a side: with exceptions, where necessary. ‘Why this moral elasticity?’ you may ask? For the sake of clarity. As writers, we are here to convey our story to you, in the most entertaining, enjoyable way possible. As my books are set in a village here in the UK, using British English is my way of seasoning the dish for your delectation. If anything does trip you up, each novel has a glossary of UK-US English terms used within the pages, and here on the website, you’ll find one too.
Your Rights As A Reader
It is reasonable to have certain expectations as the literary consumer. If you’re reading a novel set in Oklahoma in which all of the characters are locals, then you can anticipate that the book will use US spelling. What if someone rides in from England? You would still expect their dialogue to be written using US English because that doesn’t affect the pronunciation.
On the other hand, if the story is set in London, then it will almost certainly use UK spelling.
How about non-fiction? There are no holds barred here. An Australian author writing a treatise for the Australian market on the history of population movement from America may choose Australian English because of the intended target market. On the other hand, if the book was about emigration from Australia to the US and written for the American students, for example, then the author may choose US spelling.
The fact is that on a global level, the rule is that there are variants. The variant is only a letter or two difference. And what is a letter or two between friends? And there are only two versions or each one, as far as I remember. It’s hardly mayhem and revolution. Think of it as two flavours.
What’s In A Name?
In the end, language is a vehicle. It is a means to convey meaning, to create emotion, to enable us to understand one another, to co-operate, to share, to inspire, to co-create even. The widespread use of sign language, the facial expression, the body posture is testimony to the written word as just one way. Of them all, the written word is the love of my life. I love British English. Yes, it looks ‘right’ to me. But who would want to eat just one flavour ice-cream all the time?
Amanda Cadabra Book 5 continues to develop with a brand new minor character. Back next week with more thoughts for your entertainment.
Happy nearly spring!
PS If you want to start the series:
Writing, like having a student, teaches you. Well, of course, it gets you practising your craft, but there are 5 bonus extras.
For example, in the process of writing the Amanda Cadabra books, I have been enlightened on, among other things, joinery, architecture, Hertfordshire, the history of witchcraft, Cornwall, explosions, structural integrity, the paranormal, treatments for asthma, clinic design, reception areas, churches, stately homes, hidey-holes, cats and apples.
Broadly speaking, they all fall in a small number of categories.
The Big Five
Thes are location, history, costume, language, and customs.
Ok, but why go to all this trouble when it’s just a made-up story? Can’t you simply invent it? Valid point, but the background has to be believable for the plot to flow. Anomalies are distracting. I know that my readers are smart and well-informed. The Devil is in the detail …. if you get it wrong. So how does this work in practice?
X Marks the Spot
For Amanda Cadabra, I had to find a village on the outskirts of a big city. Why? Because it takes place in a village, but I’ve never lived in one. So a hamlet with the demographics of a city is something I can work with. I looked on the map and I was in luck. With the first one I visited, as soon as I drove in, I knew I’d found Amanda’s home.
However, some the action takes place in Cornwall, and it’s a while since I’ve been there. I needed Google Maps, Wikipedia, tourist websites, Google images, and YouTube videos. Finally, I began to see the small town where Inspector Thomas Trelawney lives and works at the police station. Researching place names in Cornwall and Cornish, I came up with Parhayle. His boss and best friend Chief Inspector Michael Hogarth, lives in a small village near the coast. I found the perfect candidate on raised ground overlooking the water and called it Mornan Bay.
Your chosen location will dictate the local flora and fauna: which bird is singing in the hedgerow in late June, what flowers are blooming in the meadow in early May.
What if you set your story right where you live? Well, have you ever shown visitors around your town? Probably, as I have, you’ve looked up points of interest. Which bring us to … history.
Back in the Day
Thanks to showing guests around my city, I learned the height of Nelson’s column, including the statue (169 feet 3 inches/61.59m), what the lions in Trafalgar Square are made of (bronze), when St Paul’s Cathedral was built (1675 to 1710), the length of Tower Bridge (800 feet/240 m), and the stone used for facing Buckingham Palace (Bath stone). Everything that exists in a village or town has a history that gives the location colour and texture.
To give Amanda’s home, Sunken Madley, I needed to research what people in villages did, how they lived. I looked up YouTubes of Village of the Year and listened to what residents said about their lives. My mentor, author TJ Brown also made me a present of two books: The British Countryside and The Book of British Villages . All of this helped me to get a sense of the location for the books.
Wearing Those Threads
If you set your story at any time in the past, you need to be able to mention, even if in passing, what your characters are wearing. Their status and income will also have a bearing on their taste in clothes. This helps the reader build a picture of each person.
Samantha Briggs in Books 2-4, is a fashion victim who runs riot with Daddy’s credit card on Bond Street. For her, I had to research high fashion that would be worn by someone in their late teens. Vogue and reports on the various fashion weeks were a great help here.
Amanda loves the colour orange and has a somewhat childlike sense of dress. I looked at a lot of orange clothes! Inspector Trelawney is always immaculately dressed in suit and tie. What sort of suits would he buy on a policeman’s salary? Shopstyle.com was a great help, so was GQ.
Language? Well, that’s easy. English surely? However, as I wrote to you last week, there is a great deal of variety under that umbrella term: dialects and foreign or regional accents. For Amanda Cadabra, I researched the Hertfordshire accent. I found some rare footage and a recording of some elderly folk speaking the way they did in that county decades ago.
One of my favourite scenes that I tremendously enjoyed writing is of two old Cornish friends in a pub in Cornwall discussing the weather. I had to listen to YouTubes and research Cornish dialect so that I could, phonetically, convey the rich flavour of their speech.
This Is How We Do It
Finally, we come to customs. These vary from place to place, just like language. And happily, they include food. I researched Cornish cuisine and reminded myself of traditional British favourites too: pasties, jam roly-poly, Victoria Sandwich, marmalade roll, scones and fairy cakes. Amanda, Trelawney and Hogarth each were given a favourite biscuit.
So there you have it. Novel writing is an education, but researching for your story is so much fun you don’t realise along the way just how much you are learning. You become five departments in your film production: costume designer, location manager, dialect coach, background researcher and local consultant. This is one of the great joys of being a novelist. And I am convinced that everyone has a novel in them.
I know that I promised to write more about writing in ‘English’ and just how elastic a term that is, and I shall come back to that.
Chapter 8 of Amanda Cadabra 5 has gone into the ring binder (which means its in it’s near-to-finshed form), and the book makes steady progress towards its release in the spring. The first of my crocuses opened today, and I drove past the first magnificent display of daffodils I have seen this year. So, the new novel is shooting up with the flowers. Back soon with more titbits from the writing life.
Happy Almost Spring,
PS If you want to start the series:
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.
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:
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.
Researching the Real World
Each book includes settings and details that are new to me. For example, for Book 2, Amanda Cadabra and The Cellar of Secrets, I had to research spies, bombs and air-raids. For Book 3, Amanda Cadabra and The Flawless Plan it was how they celebrated the end of the first world war that Christmas, structural damage, and 1930’s firearms.
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.
In my case, all I can say is that it seems real to me when I am immersed in the creative experience. That is what enables me to make it real to you, so that you might have that door at the back of the wardrobe, the way through the looking-glass, the ticket for The Hogwarts Express, down the rabbit hole, the leap into the chalk drawing.
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:
Next weekend, I’ll have news of the free Kindle days that will be just before Christmas Day to help with your eleventh-hour gifts. Until then,
PS If you want to start the series: