Tag Archives for " re-enactment "

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.


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. 


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?


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?


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 …


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. 


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.


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.


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,


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

Available on Amazon

Paperback, Kindle
and Large Print

White Horse Pub in Hertingfordbury with Hertfordshire crest and text: In Search of The Cozy Village

On The Trail of The Cozy English Village – Hertingfordbury

Dear Readers,

What is a Cozy English village? 

English villageSunken Madley is a fictional creation for the Amanda Cadabra series, based on the location of a real place. It has its own distinctive character and characters. Into the mix, go all the most endearing features of both real modern villages and some more traditional ones. 

I remember reading a quote about the ideal English village where it is eternally the summer of 1932, with cricket on the green with scones and homemade jam. ‘Stands the church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea?’ as Rupert Brook’s eloquent, poetic tribute the English village asks.

In Search Of

You can have a taster of this in the Inspiration section of this website. However, this summer, it has been my goal to offer you much more, both in the letters to readers here and in the gallery of photos under the Inspiration tab. And so I set out on a new tour of Hertfordshire, the county just to the north of Greater London.

 What’s So Hot About Hertfordshire?

The village of Sunken Madley, as you may have read, lies just 3 miles south of the Hertfordshire border (and 13 miles north of the Houses of Parliament). It is still, in spirit, a somewhat rural community. To give you some insight into what the village looks like, it is my pleasure to travel through this particular county in search of, in particular, 16th century, cottages, pubs and churches.

And so, on a glorious summer’s day, my pilgrimage to Hertingfordbury, from who sign the above image is taken, began.

Hertingfordbury?Map of London and Hertfordshire showing location of Hertingfordbury

The village has that oh-so-desirable mark of topographical distinction: an entry in the Domesday Book of 1086. There the name is spelt Hertingfordberie, which means “Stronghold of the people of Hertford.’ So it existed before the Normans moved in and started transforming Britain from a Scandi-land to a more French one. 

 For The Curious

At this point in historical documentary research into what was where and who owned what, it does help a bit if you can fathom the depths of such phrases as ‘with sac and soc, toll and team, infangthief and outfangthief’. In case you’re intrigued by this detail, it meant that, if you had all of those, you could charge me, for example, for the privilege of crossing your land, and take me to court if I rustled your cattle or borrowed your garden rake for too long. 

Finding The Village

Getting back to Hertford, though. It is the county town, the capital, as it were. It has a number of notable agéd buildings and so is on the list for a visit. However, as it is a town rather than a village, other places have won priority. Nevertheless, it’s a good way to locate Hertiingfordbury, which is just to the West.

Finding The Thirteenth Century

I began at the church of St Mary’s. The highlight of the interior is the 13th-century set of three tall pointed windows in the east wall (that’s the one opposite the entrance). Or, if you’d like a more tech spec: ‘a triple lancet’, ‘each is lancet having moulded arches and shafted jambs with moulded capitals and bases’.

Little of the 13th or 15th-century church has survived the dreaded Victorian restoration processes. However, let’s not be too hard on the Victorians. The chances are that St Mary’s would, by now, be but a pile of flints and stoneware, oft-raided by local builders over the last two centuries, if eager Victorians hadn’t done the best with what they knew and had at the time. 

Witch Connection?

Now for St Mary’s greatest claim to fame. The churchyard contains the unmarked grave (to be located on a future visit) of one of the last women in England to be sentenced to death for witchcraft. Her sentence was pronounced in 1712, but she died in 1730. How can this be?

Saved by The Queen

Mrs Wenham was reprieved and then granted a royal pardon by the then monarch, Queen Anne — who is probably best known for the style of furniture created during her tenure of the throne. As some of the villagers had ganged up on the widowed Jane, it was suggested that she move to elsewhere in Hertfordshire. Wiki’s account of the trial is entertaining and showed the attitude of the better educated of the time towards accusations of sorcery.

 In any event, Jane lived on and, in our century, inspired two plays.

Two Gentlemen and a Bucket

Now we come to the most exciting aspect of my visit to the church. Whilst wandering amongst the headstones, as one does, I noticed two gentlemen in hi-viz vests near one of the graves. Intrigued, I approached and hailed them. That was when I noticed the bucket.

Soon we were chatting away and exchanging why we each were there. My two fellow visitors were from the CWGC, the Commonwealth war graves commission. Each volunteer visits 5 graveyards near their home and keeps any graves between 1914 and 1945 cleaned and weeded. If anyone knew old churches in the area, it was these two gentlemen.

Having explained my mission, they at once suggested that my next port of call be the borough of Broxbourne and the town of Hoddesdon in particular. There I should find the riches I sought. It being midday, we then made our separate ways, to, naturally, the village pub. 

The White Horse Inn

No, not the Bavarian hostelry of operetta fame but the 400-year-old tavern down the road from the church. Here, at a wooden table, in the sunshine, I feasted on a crisply fresh prawn cocktail and chatted with the amiable staff there. It was an idyllic country lunchtime. But there was more.

Historic Cottages

Opposite the inn were some cottages dating from 17th century, including one intriguingly named The Old Bakery. The deal with very old buildings is that they are more likely to be still standing if they have been in use.

If they have been, in particular, lived in, then it is only reasonable that the inhabitants will have wanted to maintain it to have a desirable level of comfort. This will mean a balance between harmonizing with the existing look of antiquity and modern technology and health and safety standards. 

Consequently, you may see, for example, ye double-glazéd 21st-century windows on a 16th-century cottage. However, the owners are maintaining the house for posterity, while honouring the legacy of the original builders, which was, after all, a cosy place for people to live.

And Then …

Photos taken, local food sampled, the church visited, and the next destination lined up, it was time to up stumps and make for home (and the writing desk, of course).

 Next stop then: Hoddesdon,

Happy reading,


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

Available on Amazon

Paperback, Kindle
and Large Print