Thursday, 12 December 2013

Juliet's Mum's Christmas Cake

Do you remember the cake from the Novelistas' Christmas party? Juliet Greenwood made it, using one of her mother's recipes. It was absolutely delicious! So, if you'd like to have a go at making it yourself, here is the recipe.

8oz/227g  butter/margarine
8oz/227g  sugar
8oz/227g  self raising flour
3 eggs
1 small tin of pineapple (chopped)
2oz/57g  glace cherries
2oz/57g  candied peel
1 orange
1 lemon
1 grated eating apple
2oz/57g  sultanas
2oz/57g  currants
2oz/57g  walnuts
4oz/113g  toasted almonds.
1 teaspoon of mixed spice

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs gradually. Beat well. Add fruit and nuts and rind of orange and lemon. Fold in the flour and mixed spice.
Place in greased cake tin (7inches/18cm) and bake for 1 hour at 180 (160 for fan-assisted) or gas mark 4. Turn out onto a plate to cool. While still warm make holes in the cake with a knife and feed in a little of the orange and lemon juice, and either some of the pineapple juice or a tipple of your choice (brandy or sherry work nicely). When cool, ice with butter icing flavoured with a little lemon and decorate with cherries and toasted almonds.
Can be made the night before Christmas, and the fruit and nuts can be adjusted. Just put in what you like best! Simple and delicious – enjoy!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Scones with Mr Darcy by Annie Burrows

Novelista Annie Burrows writes historical romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon.  This month, pretending it was research, she went on the hunt for Mr Darcy...

This year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice".  As part of the celebrations, a huge statue of Colin Firth is on tour throughout the UK, at locations where various parts of the 1995 BBC series were filmed.

I'm lucky enough to live close to Lyme Park, which stood in for Pemberley, Mr Darcy's home. 

And yes, that is where he dived into the lake, got his shirt soaked, and won Lizzy Bennet's heart (according to the Andrew Davies adaptation!)  And it is at Lyme Park where the 12ft fibreglass statue will make its permanent home.

First off, my chauffeur and I went to the tea rooms.  The scones were enormous, fluffy on the inside, and crispy on the outside.  While the chauffeur was warming his hand on a mug of tea, I went off to try on some Regency gowns, which I'd noticed that visitors could try on.   

I had great fun dressing up as a Regency lady, and imagining myself the owner of a stately home.

On the day I went to Pemberley (ok, Lyme Park, but I was starting to get into the spirit of things by the time I'd tried on the costume), visitors could also take a horse and carriage ride.

There was also a collection of the costumes worn during the filming of the BBC series.  Below are:
Lizzy and Mr Darcy's walking costumes


Lizzy and Mr Darcy's wedding costumes

That Shirt! 

Finally, we wandered round the grounds until we came to the lake, into which Mr Darcy (or rather Colin Firth) dived to cool off on that memorable day when Lizzy Bennet came calling.  And there he was, dripping wet and twelve feet tall.

Annie's next book is out in January.  "Courtship in the Regency Ballroom" contains reprints of two of her early stories: "His Cinderella Bride", and "Devilish Lord, Mysterious Miss."

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Writing and the Novelistas by Anne Bennett

Anne Bennett writes:
All right, I thought it time to write about me and about the lovely Novelistas group that I am part of.  Who are we?  Well Val has told you already, but altogether there are twelve of us and we were formed initially as one of the writing groups affiliated to the Romantic Novelists' Association, that they called Chapters.  What  has evolved from that is a feisty bunch of us who write children's books and fantasy, as well as sagas, historicals and straight romance, both in traditional books and those in e-book format.

I feel this diversity is an enormous benefit and the support given one to another whatever their chosen genre is amazing and what most of our meetings are about, when we all have a chance to relate news as we do a round robin.  We cheer people's successes and commiserate with bad news, and  we also have  a lot of fun and much laughter and we really know how to celebrate launches when people have books published.  Many of you will have seen pictures of these adorning Facebook pages with the cakes and the bubbly and why not?  Life could get very dull if we didn't make time for a little jollification now and then.

And what do I think about the publishing world today?  This is a question I have been asked many times at talks etc around the country.  Well, I think it is an exciting time for writers especially those not as hampered by technology as I am, for if a book cannot be published in the normal way it can be published as an e-book on the net.  Never before has it been so easy to do that, though I am sorry for the publishers that have gone to the wall in the recession.

And what of the future?  Who knows what that will bring? No one does so let's look forward to a new technological age, even if I have some trepidation, it must be overcome because that is the way the world is going.  However difficult it is I feel we must embrace it or be left behind and that is where the Novelista's help is so invaluable.  Thanks to each and every one of you.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Wish Upon a Star - Book Launch

There is nothing the Novelistas enjoy more than a book launch and last week it was the publication of Trisha Ashley's latest Christmas novel, Wish Upon a Star.

Trisha made her famous chocolate rum cake!!

There were star-themed goody bags too, containing a pretty little star brooch, a Christmas decoration and one of Trisha's stained glass biscuits.
And it wouldn't be a Novelistas launch without champagne, to toast the book's success.
Stop Press: Wish Upon a Star hit the bestseller chart this week at #5.
Congratulations, Trisha!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Ready, Set... Write! by Johanna Grassick

This weekend I took part in a marathon, but there was no sweat, no lycra and no medal at the end of it – only words!

My local writing group organised a writing marathon, timed perfectly to kickstart the month of November when many people take up the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing a 50k word novel in a month. I’m not NaNoWriMo-ing this year, but I signed up for the marathon because I was excited at the prospect of an intensive day of writing. Left to my own devices, I write a steady 1000 words per day, but what could I produce if pushed? Would I reach a deeper state of creativity? Or would I freeze up and have a blank page while everyone else was scribbling away madly?

I needn’t have worried. The organisers, Susan and Karen, had prepared warm-up exercises to gradually get us into our stride, and there was inspiration all around us in Bury library which doubles as a museum.

Bury library & museum
Some of us were regular writers, others had come along because they had ideas for books, screenplays or projects which they hadn’t had the time or the confidence to begin.

On laptops or by hand, the aim was simply to write - not critique - and boy, did we write!

I filled pages of my notebook with unexpected new characters who may form the basis of future stories, and by the afternoon I was itching to work on my novel in progress so I took myself off to the library cafĂ© and got stuck in. At the end of the day I'd written around 3000 words, and everyone else agreed they’d found it productive too. Some people had had fun experimenting with new genres, and others recounted how they’d broken through personal barriers to begin a project they’d long dreamed of.

Here’s wishing the best to everyone who took part. I do believe there are similarities with long-distance running: writing is about endurance, discipline, and dedication. There may even be injuries along the way...

That writer's gremlin: RSI
But the satisfaction of completing a story and being able to show it to the world is a reward in itself and, in my opinion, beats a medal any day.


Friday, 1 November 2013

Hallowe'en or Bonfire night? by Annie Burrows

 Novelista Annie Burrows writes historical romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon.  This month she delves into the history of Bonfire Night...
Last night my house was besieged by small children begging for sweets...all on the pretext of celebrating Hallowe'en.

In grumpy old woman mode, I huffed that this was just one more thing we've imported from America.  What about keeping up with British traditions, like Bonfire Night, for example?  Much more wholesome than celebrating ghouls and ghosts and mischief making.  I mean, trick or treat?  It's blackmail!  Fancy letting our children go round threatening to do something mean if we don't give them sweets!

Only...then I started to look up the origins of Bonfire Night which comes one week after Hallowe'en, on 5th November.

It started off as a lovely, patriotic sort of thanksgiving, didn't it?  Because the men who were conspiring to blow up the houses of Parliament, with all the Lords inside, were foiled...dramatically at the last minute.  The kegs of gunpowder were actually discovered in place, in the cellars, all primed and ready to go.
People lit bonfires round London, to celebrate the fact that King James I had survived the attempt on his life, and the next year, the day of celebration was made mandatory by Act of Parliament.

However, the more I read about the way the day was celebrated, the more my blood ran cold.  I'd forgotten the tradition of placing a "guy" on top of the bonfire.  Isn't burning someone in effigy just as ghoulish as anything that goes on at Hallowe'en?  In the past, the effigy on top of the bonfire didn't always represent Guy Fawkes either, but various other unpopular Roman Catholic figures, right up to, and especially, the Pope.  In early times, the day often turned into an expression of hatred for Catholicism in general - don't forget the names of our oldest and most traditional fireworks, the Roman Candle, and the Catherine Wheel.  (Because in the 4th Century, St Catherine of Alexandria was tortured on a wheel, hence the name for any rotating device which spits sparks and emits screams.)

Then again, there were the traditional rivalries between various gangs of youngsters building their own bonfires on patches of waste ground, often stealing their wood from rival's fires, and even getting into fights over it.
Ah, yes, the good old British tradition of the street fight...

And actually, now I come to think of it, children have always gone begging from door-to-door - only before the popularity of Hallowe'en, they asked for a "penny for the guy".  Everybody knew they were going to spend the money on sweets, or fireworks.  The law has tightened up now, but I can remember newspapers full of stories of children getting terribly disfigured playing with fireworks they'd bought and let off unsupervised. 

All in all, Hallowe'en is starting to look tamer and less unwholesome by the minute.  It's the children who dress up, rather than dressing effigies as unpopular public figures.  And they beg for sweets direct rather than the money to buy them.

And they may throw eggs, or squirt you with silly string, but far fewer people get their fingers blown off by playing with fireworks these days.

Annie's latest story "His Wicked Christmas Wager" is in an anthology called "A Scandalous Regency Christmas"
Available from Amazon UK

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Strictly Regency by Annie Burrows

Novelista Annie Burrows writes historical romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon.  This month she shares how a bout of research has been triggered by  Strictly Come Dancing!

I absolutely love the celebrity challenge show, Strictly Come Dancing, particularly because I'm a keen amateur ballroom dancer myself.  As this season's opening show ended with a beautiful, glamorous waltz, it set me wondering...just why was this dance considered so outrageous in Regency times?

Today, we think of the waltz as rather romantic, but a bit staid.  But when it first came to England, it even shocked the notorious Lord Byron.

So, I got searching...
During the Regency era, most of the dances were rather like our country dances.  If you've ever been to a barn dance, you would have been at home in a Regency ballroom.  People lined up to dance in sets of four or eight, and the figures performed would be shouted out by a caller.  Even though you would have a partner, you wouldn't be in any sort of hold with him, except for short bursts.
But the waltz was very, very different.

It began with the "March" which was a very brief side by side promenade.  This turned quickly into the "Pirouette."  The partners would take each other in one of several holds, one of the more popular of which had the partners facing in opposite directions, hip to hip, with one arm across the front of the partner's body and the other hands holding in an arch above the head.  In this hold, they would rotate very slowly, with their gaze fixed on one another.

The next was the "Sauteuse."  At this point, the dance got a bit more energetic, with dancers working a little hop into the step.  The hold would also change - one possible option would be the man holding both the lady's hands behind her back.

The routine would finish with the "JettĂ©", which was even more energetic.  But even so, the partners would be in bodily contact with each other the entire time.  And because the only floorcraft required was keeping one's place in a circle of others, all moving in slow progression round the room, there was no need for the man to take his eyes off his partner to watch where he was going.

And Lord Byron's objection?  The hands could rest on any number of body areas, and linger...

Let's face it, the Regency waltz was the equivalent of the slow smooch at the end of the disco...

Annie's latest story, in an anthology called "A Scandalous Regency Christmas" will be available from 8th October from Amazon UK

Friday, 6 September 2013

A writer's holiday... by Annie Burrows

Novelista Annie Burrows writes historical romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon.  This month she shares how research doesn't stop, even when she's on holiday...

One of the great things about being a writer of historical romance is that it gives me the perfect excuse to visit the many historical sites of England - under the guise of research.
But even when I go abroad on holiday, I can't resist poking around in museums to find out about the history of wherever I am.
This year I went to Madeira, and took a look behind the scenes at Blandy's wine merchants.  Not being in England, there were no scones, but I managed to tempt my husband onto the tour by pointing out we got a tasting session of the various wines at the end.

Our tour guide told us that John Blandy (whose life could serve as an example of how Regency men made their fortunes) was first posted to the island in 1807, as part of the British garrison which was guarding the island from Napoleon.  But there is also a letter to some wine merchants of the day, giving another explanation: 

‘Sirs! At the desire of our particular friend, Richard Fuller Esq., Banker in this City, we beg leave to introduce Mr John Blandy who visits your Island on account of ill health, and wishes to obtain employment in a Counting House. We shall be obliged if you can promote his views, and accordingly recommend him to your attention.’
The letter is dated 23 December 1807

Well, however the company started, Blandy's is now world famous as a producer of Madeira - which is a type of fortified wine.
The island of Madeira started supplying wine to the New World (or the United States as we like to call it nowadays) almost as soon as it was discovered.  But the voyage across the tropics sometimes caused the wine to "cook" in the barrels.  Although early customers complained this had spoiled the wine, and returned it, the suppliers realized that in fact it preserved it.  In its "cooked" state it would keep almost indefinitely.  Our tour guide told us that an opened bottle would last eighteen months.  (Not in our house it didn't!)  It soon became very popular in America, particularly in the hotter states where it was difficult to store wines in the cool conditions most of them require.  Madeira wine was the drink used to toast the Declaration of Independence.  George Washington apparently drank a pint of Madeira at dinner daily.  (Which made me feel less bad about getting through our souvenir bottle in less than a fortnight).
Nowadays the wine is not sent on a long voyage across the tropics to "cook" it.  Instead the process is done in the winery itself.  In fact the day we went round, they were pumping wine from the massive holding casks into the smaller oak barrels where it is naturally heated by the power of the sun.  The air smelled so rich and fruity it was like inhaling Christmas cake.
They've also made some changes to the process of making the wine.  The early growers of grapes used to be scattered all over the island.  They would each have their own press, and would send the juice down the mountainside in goatskins, carried on the backs of farm labourers.
When they set out, each goatskin would hold about 40 litres of juice...but there was often hardly anything like that on arrival as the thirsty labourers would drink it on the way down.
Hence the expression "having a skinful"
Nowadays, growers send grapes down the mountainside to be pressed at a central location.

(Annie's next book to be released in the UK is a short, spicy story in an anthology called "A Scandalous Regency Christmas"  For more details, visit Annie's website )

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Why Pixel is a Four-Letter Word by Louise Marley

When I first decided to self-publish it didn’t actually occur to me I’d have to do everything myself. I soon found out that while I owned the rights to my traditionally published books, I didn’t own the original cover art. I would have to produce my own. I might have a GCSE in art, but there is a reason my entire house is painted in magnolia and that I only ever wear black. But, you know, whatever! How hard can it be to design a book cover?

I soon found out.

The part that took the longest was sourcing the illustrations. The girl on the cover had to look something like my heroine, but not be too cute and certainly not too slutty! She had to appear friendly, but also as though she’s up to no good.

This was my first attempt for Why Do Fools Fall in Love. The original illustration cost me £30. It was on a white background, which was fine, but Amazon stated that any white cover had to have a black border around it, and at that stage I hadn’t a clue how to fix that. I decided to change the background to pale blue which, with hindsight, looks terribly wishy-washy.

A year later and I wanted my covers to appear more similar, like a ‘brand’. I therefore redesigned Why Do Fools Fall in Love and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes to match A Girl’s Best Friend.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes was simple. I took three illustrations - a man, a woman and some smoke (see what I did there?) and set them against a black background.

Why Do Fools Fall in Love proved more difficult. I bought a new background illustration because I liked the trees with the fairy lights, but when I added the hero and heroine it looked too ‘busy’. It also had the Eiffel tower in it and my book is set in Bath! So I stripped everything away until I was left with the trees - and then I put back the fence because it looked too bare. And the fence did have little hearts on it, which went with the title. Coloured jeans were in fashion, so I changed my heroine’s to yellow, which I also hoped would make the cover look less Christmassy. One of the tricks I’d picked up since my first effort was to use as few colours as possible, so my hero got a makeover too and ended up in urban black and grey.

I experimented with different background colours and decided on a rather classy dark blue to resemble the evening sky. Unfortunately, once the cover had gone through two software programs the dark-blue turned purple! My computer then crashed three times over the course of a weekend, losing all my work. It was coming up to Christmas and I had a mass of deadlines, so in the end I just muttered something that didn’t sound remotely like ‘whatever’ and hit ‘publish’.

I’ve now designed the covers for most of my books. I could admit it’s because I’m a complete control freak, but do you know what? Despite all the cursing and complaining I actually enjoy doing it!

Book Jacket Photos: Louise Marley
Illustrations: iStockphoto


Friday, 2 August 2013

It's Only Skin Deep by Annie Burrows

Novelista Annie Burrows writes historical romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon.  This month, she shares some Regency era beauty tips...

My daughter took me for a "makeover" yesterday, as part of my birthday present.   

Not much to do with being a writer, you may think, but as a writer of historical romance, I have had to research not only the places my characters might have lived, but also the details of their everyday life.  And as the make-up artist was applying a thick coat of primer to my skin, (to conceal what she termed imperfections, and I've always called broken veins,) I couldn't help comparing it to the white lead which ladies used to use, to pretty much the same effect.

Nowadays cosmetics are all carefully tested, to make sure they're safe to use before a company can sell them.  But during the eighteenth century, women risked their health to make their skin look flawless as porcelain.  By the time of the Regency, which is when I set most of my books, my heroines no longer painted their faces and arms white, as their mothers had done.  But they still used soot to blacken their eyelashes.  Then had to procure remedies for the "red-eye" which was often the result!

They would have hated having superfluous hair, too.  And you might be surprised to learn that not only did nineteenth century women shave and tweeze out all those annoying bristles that sprouted on their chin, they also had a go at making depilatory creams.
This is a recipe for one, which I've found:

Take quicklime and orpiment (a yellow sulphide mineral). Place these in a small linen sack and let them boil until they are cooked. If the depilatory be too thick, put fresh water in it to thin it. Take care it is not cooked too much and does not stay on the skin too long. It causes intense heat. (I'll say!)  And note that the dried powder of this is good for abrading bad flesh and for making hair grow again on the heads of people with tinea (ringworm infection). But first the affected place must be anointed with oil or honey. Then the powder is sprinkled on.

 In another book, I found the advice to test to see if a similar cream would be effective, by dipping a feather into the brew.  If the feathery bits fell away from the quill, it was ready to apply to the human body. 

All I can say is ouch!

(Annie's latest book is "Reforming the Viscount" in which nobody paints their faces, tweezes out stray bristles, or suffers third degree burns from applying home-made depilatory cream.  But you can buy it anyway, from

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Romantic Novelists' Association Conference 2013 by Johanna Grassick

There’s nothing like a writers’ conference to reenergise the creative spirit! No, seriously, it really does, and that’s why I try and go to the RNA conference every year.
Seeing and mingling with published authors (the likes of Katie Fforde, Julie Cohen, Judy Astley…) reminds me of what I’m aiming for, the workshops provide tips on how to get there, and then there’s the added benefit of catching up with good friends.
Sonia Duggan
This year the venue was Sheffield University and the sun was shining on us in more ways than one. I went to workshops on writing ‘hot’ scenes, theme and romantic structure, and life coach Sonia Duggan’s advice for how to ‘feel the fear and write anyway’. 
There were also panel discussions, and a hot topic this year was diversification: more and more authors, it seems, are writing across different genres, sometimes under different pen names, and part of the reason for this is digital publishing and the opportunities it’s opening up for writers. It seems ideas are buzzing for new ways to reach readers: e-stories published in weekly instalments, tiny short stories delivered directly to readers’ phones, romantic writers writing crime and vice versa. Publishers are setting up new digital imprints and there was applause for the many romantic novelists who have signed their first contracts this year and can now call themselves published authors. All very exciting and inspiring for a new writer like myself. J
Gathering for the gala dinner

The gala dinner was another highlight of the weekend.
Jacqui Cooper, Anne Stenhouse, Rachael Thomas
and Sarah-Jane Volkers

The chance to don our sparkly frocks, and time for the announcement of the Elizabeth Goudge trophy winner.
This competition is open to any published or unpublished author attending the conference, and all entries are anonymous so even the judges don’t know the winner’s name until they open the envelope accompanying the winning story. This year we were asked to write the opening of a novel on the theme of 'ice'. Sadly, my entry wasn’t a winner but these lovely ladies came first, second and third:

Winner of the Elizabeth Goudge trophy, Kate Johnson (right),
with runners up Morton Gray (left) and Jacqui Cooper (centre)

These are exciting times for writers, was the message I took away from this year's conference, and the sun is shining down on writers and readers and lovers of romantic fiction.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Sunbathing by Knight by Valerie-Anne Baglietto

OK, OK. Forgive the pun in the title. I just couldn't resist, though. How else could I bring together two very different books, connected by one launch party? Anyway, before I get a barrage of comments, I'll drop in a photo of some cakes, to distract you all.

Did that work?

Well, Friday 5th was the official Novelistas' joint celebration for the launch of the Belinda Jones' Travel Club SUNLOUNGER anthology and THE TROUBLE WITH KNIGHTS IN SHINING ARMOUR. Louise Marley and I both have short stories in SUNLOUNGER ('An Indecent Proposal' and 'Genie of the Rock') and the KNIGHTS book is my latest release.

Cue, another pic:

You can see I brought suitable props. Stripey goody bags, great for the beach, and knight's helmet and sword, courtesy of my son's dressing up box. And, yes, I did have a fit of the giggles before I even had one sip of champagne! 

You might be forgiven for thinking my latest story is an historical, but both the KNIGHTS book and SUNLOUNGER are very much contemporary women's fiction. 

For Sunlounger (and KNIGHTS, too) Louise and I had to draw heavily on our imaginations and memories to craft our stories, as they're set during long, sultry, summer days, but were mostly written when snow and ice lay thick on the hills and valleys of North Wales.

SUNLOUNGER - the Ultimate Beach Read!

My SUNLOUNGER story is set in Gibraltar, and possibly features a genie, but you would have to read it to find out for sure!

Louise's SUNLOUNGER tale takes place in dreamy Sorrento, for fans of hunky, rumpled rock stars, ice cream, and Limoncello. A fun and evocative read. Highly recommended!

In fact, the entire collection of SUNLOUNGER stories, over forty in total, offers a varied selection of fabulous stories, truly something for everyone. And each one is set in an exotic foreign location, so you really do get a world trip for the price of one book.

The Trouble With Knights In Shining Armour
As for my my new release, THE TROUBLE WITH KNIGHTS IN SHINING ARMOUR, the action unfolds on a rambling old country estate in North Wales, where things are not quite what they seem; a modern day fairytale for fans of Once Upon a Time and Merlin. (Currently at the promotional price of 77p.)

All in all, the launch lunch went very well, although we were missing a few Novelistas, who were there in spirit. The only upside to this was more cakes and champagne for the rest of us, but I would have gladly swapped my share to have everyone there to join in the fun!

Novelistas Ink has now 'broken up' for the summer, although we'll still be posting on this blog and our Facebook page,, so keep in touch.

Let's enjoy the sunshine while we have it, and make the most of these gorgeous summer days and knights (sorry, sorry)! 

All best wishes,
Valerie-Anne x