Friday with Friends: I Could Never Be A Writer – Holly Bell

10 Breadcrumbs to Sunken Madley

How does a writer get from illiteracy to writing a cozy paranormal mystery series set in the quaint English village of Sunken Madley?

1. The Trail Begins Here

We are all born illiterate. So before I could read, I was read to, mostly by my brother, some years older than I and the best of siblings. He must have shared his love of the written word with me from my infancy, because I can’t remember a time before he did just that. He would mark the words with his finger as he read. The letters were mystical symbols to me that somehow had the power to grant expression of the story to the one who had the skill. The book I loved the most and asked for again and again was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis, first of the Narnia books.

This fired my imagination like no other story. Treasure Island, fairy tales, Robinson Crusoe and the rest, were all set in the past or in a far off land or make-believe. But the Pevensie children existed in both the reality of the present and a fantastical world of magic. Away from the novel, in my mind, I was off on expeditions through the wardrobe that were all my own. I began reinterpreting the stories, changing and what-if-ing the plot. The characters became part of my imaginary world.

2. A Reader

I started school at four. While at what was styled ‘Infants School, I learned to begin deciphering the magic runes. Not that I learned at school. In fact, during the 11 or so years of compulsory education, I recall acquiring only one fact: the difference between U-shaped and V-shaped valleys, which information has, naturally, stood me in good stead.

One day, our terrifying form teacher began reading to us, his hapless class. As he was refraining from bellowing, hurling objects or striking students, we naturally regarded this as a good thing and listened quietly and attentively. The book was a slow starter, but it had a new word in it, a new species and I was enchanted.

(Hobbit House in New Zealand)

JRR Tolkien had entered my life, for good, with The Hobbit. Rather than wait for the laborious read-aloud when my preceptor felt like delivering it to us, I acquired a copy, and the slow start gathered speed. I learned to read the runes on his map and came to know Bilbo’s route by heart. For the length of the story, I took up residence in The Shire and journeyed through perilous lands to the book’s glorious ending.

3. I Discover Treasure

At home, one thing there was a-plenty: books. Among some battered paperbacks, I found the mystery genre: Agatha Christie, with the title that was to become Ten Little Indians or And Then There Were None. The ingenious plot assembles a party of strangers onto a remote English island, where one after another is found murdered. I was fascinated and soon was seeking the shelves at home, the library and the bookshop for more and more Christie. I feasted, and over the years repeatedly returned to the table for the banquet. What I did not know was that I had met the writer who would one day be hailed as the queen, the godmother, of a new genre: cozy mystery.

(Agatha Christie)

4. Golden Heyer

I began a new school where, at the age of 11, the girl I sat next to gave me a priceless gift. She introduced me to works of the historical novelist Georgette Heyer. A romance writer? You may say with surprise. Yes, because here was a new rich seam of literary delight with Jane Austen-style wit. Book after book in her canon filled my shelves, my mind and heart. I even discovered mysteries among her Regency tales in Cousin Kate and The Toll Gate.

5. Alastair

About this time, my brother showed me one of the action thrillers of Alastair MacClean. Spellbound, I began reading book after book. However, it was the eerie Puppet on a Chain that became my favourite to such an extent that I studied the Netherlands and began learning Dutch.

6. The Return of the King

It was time. The moment had come to unite me with what was to become my all-time favourite book: The Lord of the Rings. Of course, thanks to my brother. We read it at the same time, working our way through the three volumes, picking up a book when the other was busy. For the days it took us to read from first volume cover to third volume close, we talked and thought of little else. JRR Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth was more real to me than reality.

(Lord of the Rings – The One Ring)

7. Medieval Mystery

I can’t recall exactly who told me about them, but it was definitely a good fairy in human guise: The Cadfael novels, set in the twelfth century and beginning with A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters. The writing impressed me in particular because Peters has her monk sleuth solve crimes with only the aid of such technology that was available at the time. On the library shelf next to Ellis was a book by Elizabeth Peters that accidentally checked out one day. A whole new series, this time of archaeological whodunits was now at my fingertips.

8. Sir Terry

(Terry Pratchett)

Knowing I liked science fiction and mysteries, one day, my brother asked me if I’d heard of the Discworld. No. The what? It sounded rather weird at first, but this was my brother recommending it after all. And so, I read The Light Fantastic. I wanted more mystery and shenanigans in the peculiar flat earth of Sir Terry Pratchett’s imaginings. (Photo by Luigi Novi) Eventually, I had read the back catalogue and longed for the moment when the next novel was released.

The book above all that books that captured my heart was the third in the ‘Witches’ series. Witches Abroad is a road movie of a tale as Granny Weatherwax makes her way through foreign fairytale-gone-wrong parts. These of the Witches series were the stories that were to have an influence on my own yet-to-be-created magical world.

Meanwhile, I became curious about actual witches, I read about witchcraft, and later met two ghostbusters. I heard about experiences with the supernatural. I concluded witchcraft was rather a lot of work.

9. Racing Riddles

I suspect that all avid readers are also avid inspectors of other people’s bookshelves, searching for new and wondrous literary treasures. And thus, with Nerve, I think, I discovered a new pleasure. Dick Francis’ murder mysteries are set in the world of horse racing. This was not a sphere of which I had no experience. However, it was his ability to write in first person of such a diverse variety of characters that struck me. I marvelled at how Francis handled romance and intimacy with such deftness, and the cleverness of his plots.

10. The Unhappy Medium and the Happy Outcome

And then … I began to write …. non-fiction, marketing. I wrote more and more of that until I had somehow convinced myself that I was a strictly non-fiction author incapable of penning fiction. A friend kept telling me I could do it, but it was unimaginable. And then … two novels came into my experience that were to change my life.

I met the now bestselling author of The Unhappy Medium, TJ Brown. We made contact as fellow writers and quickly established a rapport. Interested in what he had penned, I read his first and, at the time, only novel. I was captivated. It had all of the components I enjoyed the most. I was bowled over by the ingenious juxtaposition of suspense and hilarity, either holding my breath or giggling helplessly.

That was the first novel. But the second was the clincher: The Unhappy Medium II: Tom Fool. Tim was writing the next in the series and, as I’d done copious amounts of editing, he asked me to top edit it for him. It was the ride of a lifetime. I went through the edits with him on the phone, frequently suffused with laughter, fascinated by the devices he was using to tell his story. I noticed the emotional terrain, and what worked and what needed tweaking. What a learning experience it was!

Tim’s judgment was: if you can do this, you can write your own novel. I was still not a believer. Then one day, on a couple of pages of a large stretch book, in a pub, Tim revealed to me the secret of plotting a novel. He made it look so easy that I believed it was.

Then came The Call. One afternoon, in November 2017. Tim had been told by a fellow author of a new genre. As soon as he heard the news, he was convinced that I could write for it: cozy mystery, and an even better fit: cozy paranormal mystery.

Soon Tim helped to plot out my first novel in the genre: Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth. I wrote the first draft in three weeks. Tim mentored me through the editing process, created the cover and the logo, and helped me conjure a map of the village. Before I knew it, it was published. Even before then, book 2 was forming in my imagination, that spawned book 3, and later 4, then the most recent, book 5, Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths.

Amanda Cadabra’s homicidal witch-clan goes over a Cornish cliff when she is three. This creates what, many years later, becomes the cold case that is the story arc running thought the series. That arc comes to its finale and climax in this, the book I have just written: Amanda Cadabra and The Hidden Depths.

And so the trail has led me home. I love, I adore, creating cozy paranormal mysteries. Nevertheless, since I’ve started writing fiction, reading anything that’s not for research has rather gone by the board. One day I’ll get back to it, but for now, I have a new trail to follow. I can’t wait to see where it takes me … and my readers.

The moral of the story? ‘I could never be a writer,’ you say? The book you’re reading today could be part of your trail of breadcrumbs to the novel that, right now, you’re convinced you could never write. Never say never.

Thank you again, Camilla.

It was wonderful to have you on Friday with Friends, Holly! I very much enjoyed following the trail of bread crumbs to Sunken Madley.

I had the same reaction the first time I read Agatha Christie. I was hooked. I read every single book she had written (may be missing one or two of the rare books), and ended with reading her autobiography.

Deeply grateful to you for this inspiring post. Wishing you all the best, always! – Camilla

To see Holly’s interview previously posted, go here:

Meet the Author: Amanda Cadabra by Holly Bell


Holly Bell is a cat and chocolate lover who lives in London and began publishing novels less than two years ago. After writing reams of non-fiction over the years, a fellow author convinced her she could write fiction. Photography and videography are also things Holly does and has done professionally and for pleasure.

Rainbows, butterflies and honeybees seem magically to show up whenever she’s outside. Holly firmly believes that we are all born storytellers and anyone can write a book, however small.

Connect with Holly:



Twitter @holly_b_author

Pinterest: hollybell2760

Instagram: @ hollybellac


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To support this website and the author’s interviewed, visit Support MTA for suggestions. Thank you! – Camilla, Founder and Host

Meet the Author: Amanda Cadabra by Holly Bell

Today we travel to London to chat with Holly Bell about how photography, chocolate, videography, cats, going with the flow, celebrating holidays, flowers, Georgette Heyer, and Julia Cameron are seeds in the flower garden of Holly’s life.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Holly Bell, and I’m writing from London in the UK. Less than two years ago, I started publishing novels. I have written reams of non-fiction over the years, although I did attempt a science fiction book at the age of 19! But 2018 marked a new horizon. Photography and videography are also things I do and have done professionally and for pleasure. I love chocolate and cats. And rainbows seem to show themselves to me.

In which genre do you write?

Cozy paranormal mystery.

How many published books do you have?

Four in the series so far.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?

I first realised I wanted to be a fiction writer once I began writing Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was to become Book 1 in the Amanda Cadabra series of British humorous cozy mysteries.

One day, in the winter of 2017, a friend, the novelist TJ Brown, whose second novel in his Unhappy Medium series I’d edited, phoned me. Had I heard of cozy mysteries? he asked. It was new to us both. Somehow within half an hour, he’d persuaded me that it was right up my street and I could write one.

Looking for the name of our heroine, the pair of us poured over thesaurus and googled away in search of inspiration. Suddenly Tim said, ‘Amanda Cadabra?’ She was born. Tim helped me to create the bones of a plot. I was off. The spark was kindled. I was soon in flow with the new book, and I knew I was a fantasy mystery writer.

What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know by reading your biography?

I go with the flow. No schedule, no words per day. I just wait for the creative wave and surf it. Once I’m in writing mode I go there, in editing mode, I surf there, marketing, doing something else, with that. It’s an exhilarating way to produce books and to live.

List 3 interesting facts about yourself.

I always buy myself flowers. Second, I love high days and holidays of all kinds: Christmas, Easter, Halloween, the equinoxes and solstices, any reason to celebrate and make a special day or evening. That’s why one always features in each book I write. Third … pecan nuts are my favourite snack.

I mention these three because I’ve learned over the years how important it is to treat yourself even in small ways. You don’t need someone else to do that for you. Of course, it’s a pleasure if they do. Still, you can buy yourself wine, chocolate, flowers, light candles, put on your favourite songs, dance around, walk somewhere green and beautiful, admire the night sky. Celebrate life at every opportunity.

If you could have a fantasy tea with an author from the past, who would it be and what would you ask them?

Georgette Heyer. I’ve read all of her novels at least three times. She was a historical novelist and mystery writer. Her books are very well researched and wonderfully humorous. She is one of my greatest inspirations. I do extensive research for each of my books, especially as each one involves going back in time in some way at some point. So I’d ask Ms Heyer, ‘Could you please tell me about your sources for historical research?’ There was no Google back in her time in the last century. I might pick up tips!

What is the most enjoyable thing you’ve found through writing?

People, surprisingly. My editor, fellow authors, the people at Books Go Social who help me promote my books, my beta readers, my new friends among them. Also the Cornish language community (Parts of the books are set in Cornwall, and all of the main characters are Cornish, you see) that I’ve come into contact with thorough learning Cornish) All of these have … well, swept me off my feet!

The encouragement, support, and appreciation have been absolutely heart-warming. Tim Brown told me it would happen, but I had to experience it for myself. So many wonderful people are assisting me in various ways. The appreciative emails and reviews that I receive move me so intently that I often have to go and repair my makeup!

I had thought that producing novels would be about writing editing marketing and sales. But it has turned out to be quite different. It has turned out to be about love. Because I go with the flow, I love creating the books, honing and polishing them. I love that, through my books, I can change someone’s day, afternoon, moment for the better, make them laugh, smile, feel enthusiastic, engaged, moved, hopeful. All from something that came out of my mind, my experience. It’s a joy and a privilege. I love the people who support me, I love my readers. I love my life. I am living the dream. And it wouldn’t be the dream it is without all of those individuals.

Do you journal write? Has this helped with your published writings? If so, how?

Yes, I’ve kept a journal for many years. It’s a stream of consciousness process. Often ideas and whole chapters even whole books flow out in the process of writing it. Anyone who has even the tiniest of creative seed within them, I’d say do it.

Years ago a doctor, actually it was, encouraged me to read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s a life-changing book. One of the key recommendations she makes is to write your ‘morning papers’ stream-of-consciousness style. If there are any readers who’d say, ‘I’d love to do what you do’ or ‘I’d love to be an artist but ….’ this book is for you!

What’s the last movie you watched and why did you choose to watch it?

Frozen II. I loved Frozen I. It’s magical, it’s funny, light has dazzlingly beautiful graphics and, most importantly, a happy ending!

If you could turn into one of your characters for a day, which one would it be and why, what would you do?

It would be my main character, Amanda Cadabra. We have a lot in common, and I’d have great fun doing levitation spells in her furniture restorer’s workshop. I’d relish spending time with her grandparents, her grumpy cat. I’d like to meet Inspector Trelawney, and his boss, former Chief Inspector Hogarth. How fascinating it would be to find out what the quaint English village of Sunken Madley looks and feels like, as I walked around it, as Amanda. It’s based on a real location you see, one I have often visited in what we like to think of as ‘the real world’!

A giraffe knocks on your door and is wearing a bowler hat. What does he say and why is he there?

‘Good afternoon, ma’am, I have what some may consider a tall story to relate. I think you may be interested in weaving it into one of your future books.’

Do you believe things happen for a reason? Do you have an example from your own life to share why you believe this?

I do. I subscribe to the philosophy of the Law of Attraction: you get what you think about, what you focus upon. I have adopted the view that this world is filled with kindness and love, and I always look for and expect the best. As a result, everywhere I go, every interaction I have is a delight. Even when others say what a bad experience they have had with that person or place, mine are always good.

Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?

A natural inclination towards happiness and hopefulness. It has helped me to realise that everything is always working out for me, even when it seems like it’s not.

What are you currently working on?

Amanda Cadabra 5, preparing for my Cornish grade 1 exam and maintaining a weekly ‘letter to readers blog on my website. I find it’s the best way to keep in touch, even if it means the books come a little more leisurely rate.

Tell us about your most recent book.

The most recent is Amanda Cadabra and The Rise of Sunken Madley, Book 4 in the series.

Finally, may I say thank you, Camilla, for interviewing me. It’s a marvellous opportunity. And what well-thought-out questions! Much appreciated.

It was wonderful to have you on MTA, Holly! I’m a go with the flow person and love Julia Cameron’s work. It’s wonderful to meet a fellow author with such similarities. Wishing you all the best, in every way! – Camilla

Book blurb:

‘Had me on the edge of my seat holding my breath as well as smiling and chuckling out loud.’

Asthmatic furniture restorer and covert witch Amanda Cadabra is a survivor. After all, her family’s bus went over a Cornish cliff. Now the presentable but irritating Inspector Trelawney is dogging her footsteps as he investigates the unexplained deaths. But that’s the least of her problems. Amanda has just got a furniture restoration job at the old English Manor of Sunken Madley with its murky past.

Armed only with a wand and Tempest, her grumpy reincarnated cat, she’s going in. A body, ghosts, hidden tunnels, chills and unexplained lights; can Amanda solve the mystery in time and save the village from the scandal of murder?

Where to find the book(s):

Links: Universal Book Link to all major online retailers for Book 1 of the series:

Book 1 trailer:

Book 4 trailer:

Connect with Holly


Social Media links


Twitter @holly_b_author

Pinterest: hollybell2760

Instagram: @ hollybellac

Link to chapter 1 of Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth(Book 1 in the series)

The Books


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To support this website and the author’s interviewed, visit Support MTA for suggestions. Thank you! – Camilla, Founder and Host