Monday, 7 January 2019

Recipe from the Book: Mincemeat Flapjacks by Trisha Ashley

Introducing a brand-new series: recipes from your favourite Novelistas' books!

So, Christmas is over, the decorations are packed away, every mince pie has been eaten... and you find a half-eaten jar of mincemeat lurking at the back of the fridge. What do you do?

(a) Reach for a spoon?
(b) Chuck it in the bin?


(c) Make more mince pies?


How about trying this recipe for mincemeat flapjacks from Trisha Ashley's The Magic of Christmas. They are easy to make, taste good all year round, and are not just for Christmas!

Trisha Ashley

Mincemeat Flapjacks

4oz butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
2oz Demerara sugar (or a soft, dark brown sugar, if you want a slightly ‘treacly’ taste)
5 heaped tbsp of mincemeat, either bought or homemade
5oz rolled oats


Preheat oven to gas mark 3, 160⁰C, 325⁰F and grease a seven-inch baking tin. If using a cake tin instead, then I would line the base with baking paper, too.

Melt together the sugar, butter and syrup in a pan over a low heat, then stir in the mincemeat and, once warmed through, the oats.

Remove from the heat and mix well, then spoon into the baking tin and spread it out, flattening the top.

Put into the oven for about half an hour: it should be slightly golden brown. Remove and leave to cool for fifteen minutes before marking into squares or slices.

When cool, store in an airtight container.

The Magic of Christmas by Trisha Ashley

In the pretty Lancashire village of Middlemoss, Lizzy is on the verge of leaving her serially unfaithful husband, Tom, when tragedy strikes. Good job she has welcome distractions in the form of her Christmas Pudding Circle, a circle of friends swapping seasonal recipes, and a simmering rivalry with cookery writer Nick Pharamond – a rivalry set to come to boiling point after he snatched the Best Mince Pie prize away from her at the village show.

Meanwhile, the whole village is gearing up for the annual Mystery Play which takes place on Boxing Day. But who will play Adam to Lizzy’s Eve? Could it be the handsome and charismatic soap actor Ritch Rainford, or could someone closer to home win her heart? Whatever happens, it will certainly be a hard act to follow next year!

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Our Fab-Yule-ous Decorations...

In which the Novelistas tell us about their favourite Christmas decorations!

And if you'd like the chance to win a fabulous Novelistas' book bundle, scroll down to the end of this post and we'll tell you how!

Trisha Ashley

My Santa tree topper is made of painted papier-mâché and is over a hundred years old. I know this, because it was bought with her pocket money by my mother's older sister when she was a little girl, and my mother is now 93... His red suit has faded into a soupy brown over the years, but in a misguided moment Mum tarted him up with glitter glue and a cotton wool beard.

Valerie-Anne Baglietto

My sweet and sorry-looking little snowman has graced the mantelpiece during the festive season for several years now, since my daughter ‘adopted’ it at her primary school Christmas fayre. Another child had made it anonymously, but out of all the other sock snowmen for sale it was the one my little girl chose to bring home, and somewhere along the line it lost an eye, yet that only makes it more precious. I wish that anonymous child somewhere could know that their creation found a good home with us, but I suppose that child is a stroppy teenager by now who might not care (although secretly in their heart, I hope they do!)

Annie Burrows 

I don't have a favourite ornament. But every year I do tend to pick up a few new ones. This year's addition to my Christmas collection is this cute Santa doormat!

Sophie Claire

Many years ago, before I was married, my future mother-in-law taught me how to make these hand-sewn decorations. Back then my day job wasn’t creative, so I was thrilled when after a couple of hours I had made something – and that’s when I caught the sewing bug.

Over the years I’ve moved on to bigger projects like patchwork quilts, but each Christmas I return to making these little decorations. I love to personalise them, picking fabrics with particular friends and family in mind, and when the children were small they used to help too, cutting out circles of fabric.

Making these decorations has become an important part of my Christmas preparations and I really look forward to cosy evenings spent stitching in front of the fire.

Beth Francis

In the late 1940s, a group of young German children were brought from their bombed-out cities to my home town to stay with local families for a few months. My grandmother looked after two of them.

They never forgot her, and every Christmas they would send a card with a small gift for her grandchildren. One year there was an advent calendar, rare here at that time; no one else in our street had one. Another year we were sent a tiny doll. Dressed with scraps from my mother’s sewing box, she has topped our Christmas tree ever since. She’s old and faded, but conjures up so many memories of Christmas over the past seventy years that she’s irreplaceable.

June Francis

Last year I visited Liverpool's Anglican cathedral shop just before Christmas and my eyes alighted on these bright sparkling miniature glass Christmas trees. I just had to have one. After buying one, I thought my tree lacked an angel, so I went around the shop and discovered a host of angels. I chose Angel Florence, thinking of my father's sister Florence who was found drowned in the Leeds Liverpool canal during the Second World War.

My middle name is Florence and I like to think of my aunt looking out for me, my sort of guardian angel.

Juliet Greenwood

The Christmas decoration with special memories is the fairy that stood on the top of each Christmas Tree for as long as I can remember. Since I was a little girl, it was always tied on first, before the tree went up. Then came the lights, followed by the tinsel and the rest of the decorations. Those old family Christmases have long gone, but I have inherited the fairy, along with some of the other decorations, which are now interspersed with ones I’ve collected over the years. So the day the fairy goes up on top of the tree is still the day Christmas begins.

Cheryl Lang

My favourite Christmas ornaments are two snowmen and a later addition of a little girl. This is me being sentimental. When my first son arrived, he was only a couple of months old for his first Christmas, so we had to have a tree. I began collecting baubles and I found a jolly snowman and decided this was his special one. Some years later when son number 2 arrived, I remembered the snowman and amazingly found another one. Go forward a number of years, my daughter arrived and before her first Christmas I found this little girl with blonde plaits. This, I imagined might be how she’d look in a few years’ time.

Louise Marley

When I was little my father would take me everywhere - probably to give my poor mother a break - and I can remember going into a petrol station when I was about four, seeing this Nativity scene and falling in love with it. I don't know why. Perhaps I thought it was some kind of dolls' house. But my father bought it for me and I spent many happy hours playing with it - until I was told it had to be packed away because it was a 'Christmas decoration'! But it came out again the following year, and the year after that, and perhaps this is why it has lasted so many years. The Star of Bethlehem fell off very quickly, to be replaced by a milk bottle top, and at some point I lost one of the sheep. And a few years back my husband accidentally crunched it underfoot! But a bit of Superglue later and it was soon as good as new!

Related Posts:

Rum Cake and Tinsel (Trisha Ashley)
Christmas Traditions (Cheryl Lang)
A Satsuma and a Sugar Mouse (Trisha Ashley)


Win a Novelistas' Book Bundle!

If you'd like to be in with a chance to win a Novelistas' Book Bundle you can enter via Rafflecopter below. It's simple to use and the more clicks (follow us on Twitter, follow us on Facebook, etc) the more chances you have to win. The competition will run from 9th December to 16th December 2018. Due to the pressure on the postal system at this time of year, we're afraid your prize will probably arrive after Christmas!

Terms and Conditions: We're sorry but this competition is only open to those living in the UK. No alternative prize will be offered. Your personal details won't be stored for longer than the competition runs and your details won't be passed onto anyone else. We will only contact you if you are a winner. If the winner does not respond within 48 hours of being notified, another name will be drawn.

Tips: It sometimes helps if you are already logged onto Facebook or Twitter before you try to enter. If you have trouble entering via a mobile phone, try a laptop/desktop computer instead. If you don't wish to use the Rafflecopter app, you can also enter via our Facebook page.

Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Gladfest 2018: Joanna Cannon Talk

Gladfest 2018

Two weeks ago I attended the annual literary festival known as ‘Gladfest’ at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, North Wales. A mix of informal chats, talks, readings, and workshops, the speakers this year included Joanna Cannon (The Trouble with Goats and Sheep), Sarah Perry (The Essex Serpent), Miranda Kaufmann (The Black Tudors) and Lucy Mangan (Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading). The festival started on Friday evening and lasted until late on Sunday afternoon.

Gladstone's Library, Hawarden

Although the festival is mainly aimed at readers, some of the authors offered tips for would-be writers. In particular, Joanna Cannon spoke at length about her working day and how she became published, and I thought readers of this blog would be interested in what she had to share. As I didn’t take written notes, I have paraphrased.

Joanna Cannon

Joanna tries to avoid giving writing advice. In fact, she jokingly said that her writing advice would be to never give writing advice! She never dreamt her books would be so successful and she finds it mind-blowing that her books have been translated and are available in countries all over the world.

She likes to write about characters that would ordinarily be overlooked in society. Her writing day starts at 3.00 am (it's deliberate! She finds she works better that way), when she walks her dog across the fields near her home and thinks about the story she’s writing. She doesn’t plan her books. She has a vague idea of what is going to happen and how the story will end. She writes about 1,000 words a day, reading back over what she has written the day before and editing it before writing something new. Rather than writing a rough first draft, she writes and polishes as she goes along. She doesn’t have a study but prefers to move from sofa to sofa around her house.

When Joanna wrote her first novel she wrote it for herself, never believing it would go on to be so successful, or that people would start analysing it – or that American publishers would want to change her words and characters to suit an American audience! When she wrote her second novel she made the mistake of wondering how others would judge her work and if readers from other countries would understand what she was trying to say, and she found this really stifled her creativity. The way she moved past that was to realise you have to write your story the way you want to write it. It has to be your story, that only you can tell. If readers like it, that's great, but she now accepts you can never please everyone all the time.

Joanna’s first book, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, was published after she attended a writing conference. She had no idea if her writing was any good, so she entered a competition where writers had to read the first 500 words of their book aloud to a room of publishing professionals. She won, and by Monday had offers of representation from seven literary agents. A few weeks later she had a publishing contract.

Joanna admits to reading her reviews, good and bad, and says that as a writer you do have to laugh sometimes at the one star ones. For example, in her first book, set firmly in 1970s England, one of her readers had been disappointed that there was no mention of Battenberg cake. So she made sure it was in the second book, joking that she knew at least one reader would be happy!

She has the voices of the characters in her head before she starts writing and tries to find something to pull the reader into the story, to make them keep reading. As a reader, she’s a sucker for books that have a secret. Although her books have been labelled ‘uplit’ by the media, personally she enjoys reading dark, twisty thrillers. And as she tends to skip any kissing scenes, there is no kissing in any of her books!

If you'd like to listen to Joanna's talk yourself, it is available via SoundCloud here for another two weeks.

The talks by some of the other authors can also be heard on SoundCloud here.


Photograph copyright (except book covers): Louise Marley