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.
Could you? Ever thought about it? Someone ever told you that you could do this professionally?
What? Make the transition from reader to beta reader to reviewer/blogger to pro beta reader to editor. That’s quite a journey, you’re thinking? You’re a reader, so you’ve made a start. But would it be possible to turn your favourite hobby into something that actually generates income? Well, here is someone who’s done it.
It is my privilege to interview my treasured editor, who has been with the Amanda Cadabra books from the very beginning, Flora Gatehouse, pro beta reader and literary enthusiast:
Flora, I think, people who don’t write at all would like to know how you became a book reviewer.
I have always loved books; I remember as a child reading anything I could get my hands on and that love of reading has stayed with me all the way into adulthood. I’m not quite sure how I became a bona fide book reviewer though. I have always waxed lyrical about my favourite reads to my family and friends, hoping to encourage them to read one book or another. I love it when someone reads and enjoys a book that I suggested; it’s quite a thrill. I eventually decided to use my blog, to put pen to paper, as it were, and put my thoughts and suggestions out there. I have been writing book reviews in increasing frequency over the last four years and have even written a post about it – How Do I Start? – that gives some basic pointers and highlights the questions that I ask myself when I write reviews.
How do you know what books to read?
It may sound obvious but I read the books that I think I’ll enjoy. I’m persuaded by the front cover, the blurb on the back and the general opinions about the story that I find on Amazon and Goodreads.com. Of course, if I’ve read other books by that same author and enjoyed them, I’m already halfway sold on it. Reading is my hobby and my passion, so I want to reduce the odds of the book I pick up, not being to my taste by avoiding genres, themes and authors I’ve read in the past that weren’t my cup of tea.
How do you decide what is good?
Lol! That’s a loaded question, Holly. Deciding what is “good” is a wholly subjective thing. Many of my fellow book bloggers have recently decided to stop “rating” books as everyone’s idea of what is good (or not) is different. For me, I’m looking at the way the story is told as well as the story itself, for example, I don’t like it when the flow is stunted by too many things that a good editor would pick up (spelling, grammar, punctuation, plot holes, inconsistencies, etc), I hate it when a book ends on a perilous cliff-hanger and I always want to be emotionally connected to the protagonists; I wrote a post about some of my expectations regarding the leading female character too (OK, it might have been a bit of a rant, actually so, sorry in advance). If a book can make me laugh, cry and hold my breath, then I’m going to enjoy it more and rate it higher; I want to be swept away and drawn into the adventure.
How do you separate whether it’s your sort of book or not from its worth as a literary work?
That’s a tough one. The definition of literary work is a written piece of art but what is art? I don’t think it’s my job to decide whether a book is a literary work or not. My job as a book reviewer is all about giving other readers my opinion about the story, to help them decided whether a particular book is their sort of thing. As a beta reader, my job of reviewing a book has a slightly different directive; as well as my opinion about whether I liked the story as a whole, I’m also giving the author a detailed critique about every aspect of their unpublished manuscript.
How do you become a professional beta reader? What is that? What criteria do you use?
A beta reader is someone who reads an unreleased work of literature or other writing, who gives feedback from the point of view of an average reader to the author (similar to beta testing in software). The feedback is used by the writer to fix remaining issues with plot, pacing and consistency. Many authors send their manuscript off for beta reading so that they can gain some unbiased insight; ensuring that their book is well suited for readers, is conveying the right message and is enjoyable to read, before they move on to final editing or publishing.
I almost fell into beta reading by accident, although looking back it does feel like a natural transition. As I mentioned before, over the last 5 years I have been reviewing books that I’ve bought or been given by family and friends, but I have also been given ARCs (Advance Reader Copy) from publishers and authors in exchange for my reviews. The combination of my passion for reading, attention to detail and my skill set developed as a teaching assistant, has lead to my hobby developing into a service that I offer authors.
I charge a fee for my beta reading service but what do I do to earn it? Well, as I have already mentioned, as a beta reader I complete a detailed feedback report answering thirty questions about an author’s manuscript. I have arranged these questions into seven specific areas; opening scene, characters & dialogue, plot & conflict, flow & pacing, setting & world building, writing style and overall impression. Answering these in-depth questions, gives an author a comprehensive analysis of their story but if they’d also like to know which scenes made me cry, chuckle or shiver in fear, I offer also offer in-line comments as an additional service. In-line comments are when I write my immediate thoughts, feelings and comments directly into their manuscript using MS Word Comment.
What are your top 2 favourite books?
Lol! Holly, I can’t answer that! It’s like asking me who in my family I love the most! 😉 What I will tell you is what my favourite genres are. In my long history of reading, I’ve read everything from the classics to horror to historical romances to science fiction and loved them. Since getting my first Kindle in 2013, my reading passion has been firmly rooted in the paranormal romance, urban fantasy and cosy paranormal mystery genres. As a cosy paranormal mystery writer yourself, Holly, you are one of my favourite authors; Angie Fox, Victoria DeLuis and Kristen Painter being on that exclusive list too. Please keep writing.
Thank you for wanting to interview me, Holly, for your blog, it’s not often that I sit this side of the table. 😉 I hope that your readers enjoyed it as much as I did. The book blogging community is a wonderful place, full of supportive, kind-hearted souls who love talking about books. If any of your readers were thinking about reviewing the books they read or starting their own book blog, I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve made some amazing friend, met some awesome authors and I’ve loved every minute of it; I can’t imagine my life without it.
Bye for now and happy reading.
Thank you, Flora, that was inspiring. And what a lovely compliment! We can follow Flora on https://florasmusings.com/ and, if you’re a writer find out more here https://brockwaygatehouse.co.uk/
A writer? Yes why not. I’ll tell you how I got from editor to writer. But that’s a story for another day! Perhaps next time, when I’ll be back with news of a new video and plans for a special Christmas event or two.
Recently had the privilege of being interviewed by reviewer, book blogger, and pro beta reader and editor, Flora. She suggested that I share with you what that felt like and some secrets of my writing process. First the interview:
Hi Holly and welcome to Flora’s Musings…
Flora: I have been completely captivated by the world that you’ve created for your Amanda Cadabra series and have lost myself to the village of Sunken Madley and it’s residents; I want to go there – despite the murderous happenings. Lol! What story have you lost yourself in, either recently or in the past, that has left a lasting impression on you even now?
Holly: It has to be Lord of the Rings.
When I was reading it, it felt more real than reality. It was all I wanted to think or talk about! More than any other book it taught me about world-building, especially a world with fantasy elements. It plugged into my love of history, and the richness of the context made the whole saga utterly believable. I revel in Tolkien’s use of language in creating characters and regions, and the emotional terrain is vast. It is glorious escapism, full of valuable life-lessons absorbed by osmosis and has been a how-to for me as a writer. It is one of my oldest friends.
Flora: I have to confess that I haven’t actually read any of Tolkien’s work (I’m ashamed to say the length puts me off) but I LOVED the films; they’ve become some of my favourites. As we’re on the subject of favourites, what are your top 5 favourite books?
… read more
So what was that like?
This is the first time I have been interviewed, and I delighted in the chance to talk about the books I love. It made me feel a step closer to JK Rowling too! The contributions of, and connections with, book reviewers and bloggers are highly valued and immensely enjoyable aspects of being a self-published author.
I’m often asked about my ‘writing schedule’. I don’t have one. I go with the flow. When I’m creating the first draft, that’s where the enthusiasm lies, but it can divert into editing what I’ve written. Sometimes the stream is fast-moving, others slower. What it carries me towards varies too. At the moment it’s formatting the paperback of Amanda Cadabra and The Rise of Sunken Madley, Book 4 in the British humorous paranormal mystery series, and marketing. When I’m in full-flight, story-composition mode, marketing sits on the back burner. By the time the book is out in ebook and paperback forms, the sequel is in the first stages of coming to the boil, gently warming.
This is how I think of it: like a snow leopard pregnant with a kitten, which is for about 101 days. That’s about how long it takes to produce a book, from the first taps on the keyboard to the launch day. Once the process has begun, it has a life of its own. The leopard queen can’t take time off from it and come back later; this cub is coming, it’s being born, all the mother leopard can do is go with it.
Sometimes the growing new book can keep me awake as the characters wake up and start talking one another, or plot twists and ideas come to me. I might forget to eat or drink or keep wandering to the kitchen to feed what’s forming in my brain.
To me, although, I’ve yet to actually try it, the best analogy is surfing. You can have the board, but you need the wave, a creation of nature, a vital force. Once I’m on it, it will carry me up and onto the beach, to the golden sands of completion and the book that will be in your hands and mine, a real, tangible form, which brings me back to … my kitten. When I see the paperback for the first time, I can’t help but coo and say, awww isn’t it cute!
Yesterday a reader emailed me with a comment and link to his review. It was as though the room had suddenly filled with flowers! What a moment. When someone else likes your fluffy newborn and tells you in one way or another, it’s bliss.
I’ve tried writing in other places like cafe’s and parks, but east, west, at home is best, quietest, easiest to take tea-breaks in. Candles lit, wind sighing in the chimney, herbal infusion before me and a day, today, of formatting and other creative alternatives ahead. Including at least 15 minutes of learning Cornish for fun. That’s this author’s ‘schedule’. This author’s life. And it’s sweet.
News to come of the Hallowe’en event!
Happy Pumpkin Season,