Should we be trying to change our other halves?

I’m just putting the finishing touches to the final scene of my book, and it’s occurred to me how different my characters are at the end of the story compared to how they are at the beginning.  I realised these changes (which were all positive) were brought about by each other and their emerging relationship.


Does this happen in real life, or do we sometimes change each other for the worse?  Is it right to try to change our partners at all, or does this mean we’re forgetting why we fell in love in the first place?

Perhaps some of us enjoy the challenge of trying to create the ‘perfect partner’ by changing them according to our preferences – ooh dear, that doesn’t sound like it would result in a fairy tale ending!

It most likely wouldn’t.  Remember what happened to the creature Victor Frankenstein created?  Not to mention poor Rocky in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, who was manufactured by Dr Frank-N-Furter.  These beings, made according to their creators’ visions, both ended up coming to a rather sticky end.  As did their creators, actually, which is probably a warning signal for anyone who fancies moulding their partner to fit their preferences.

It’s inevitable that if we spend so much time with another human being, that experience will change us.  If it’s a healthy relationship these changes should, in theory, be for the better.  There is no doubt that my husband has changed me over the years, although I don’t think for a second he planned to.  His laid back nature has tamed my fiery one and made me more tolerant and cooler-headed, thank goodness!  My optimistic outlook compared to his tendencies to see the glass half empty have, I believe, made him less like of a grump – I can’t bear grumps!

In my book the heroine makes the hero face up to his doubts about himself.  Failing to do this in the past have meant he hasn’t found real happiness.  For her the result of meeting him is that she discovers the power of her own abilities and a new found confidence.

All good stuff.  But what about these relationships, and I think we all know someone like this that we want to shake sense into, – where one partner at least seems to spend all their time hoping that their other half will become trustworthy / romantic / caring / considerate / fashionable / hard-working / better at DIY / thinner / get a boob job, etc. etc.  (delete as appropriate)?

Well, to be frank, they’re probably doomed.

Personally, I couldn’t bear a romance that didn’t have a happy end, and that goes for real life too.  If you spend all your time wishing your other half was something they’re clearly not, that happy end is going to be very difficult to find.

Once I make the decision to read a book I don’t like to give up on it, even if it’s disappointing me after the first few chapters.  But sometimes you just have to admit it’s not what you hoped it, and revisit the shelf in the pursuit of that happy end you were seeking.


Neurotic for erotic or find it crude to be rude?

Love literature jam-packed with naughty bits?  Or do you prefer your stories sweet and romantic with intimate detail being too much information?

Following the unprecedented popularity of 50 Shades it seems to have become perfectly acceptable to whip out your erotic novel on the Tube, in the cafe or indeed any other public space without having to feel like the biggest perv out there.  And why not, I say!

Erotic fiction isn’t new, of course, it’s been around for centuries, but never has it been socially acceptable to admit to being a fan, that is until recently.

Since 50 Shades was published erotic literature is no longer banished to a dusty corner of the book shop, where only shameless hussies and women incognito dare tread, it has now been promoted to mainstream top ten best seller shelves.  Rejoice!

But have we had just about enough of hearing about bulging bits and throbbing this, that and the other, or is the appetite for all things racy and raunchy as strong as ever?

Perhaps a graphic love scene is your idea of lit-heaven, or maybe your dream love scene is where the hero carries his heroine to the bedroom and closes the door firmly behind them.

Whatever your preference here are my three recommendations for love scenes on every scale of the spectrum:

The devil’s in the detail!

If for you, it’s a case of the more sexy bits the better, check out Saskia Walker.  I read ‘Rampant’ – and it was!  But it wasn’t just about the naughty parts (although there are plenty of them) it was a cracking story too, all about witchery in Scotland.  It was intriguing, atmospheric and a real page-turner, so much so that I read it from cover to cover in one weekend.

Saskia offers some free reads through her website too – definitely worth a look if erotic literature is your thing.


A balance of romance and naughties for me please!

A Mills & Boon Modern fits the bill if you like a sprinkling of steamy scenes interspersed with fizzing emotion.  It’s good to read a few though to get to know which authors you like, as some barely take their characters to the bedroom, while others don’t even let them get as far as it before they’re ripping off each other’s clothes!

My recommendation for an even weighted sex to romance Mills & Boon Modern would be Melanie Milburne’s Ravensdale’s Defiant Captive.  Melanie certainly knows how it turn on the raunch, but she doesn’t let the sex get in the way of the story, and her characters have depth and passion as well as healthy libidos!


And if you prefer leaving it to the imagination

Then it’s Katie Fforde all the way.  I read my first Katie Fforde book years ago and think I’ve since read just about every one she’s written.  Romance is always an important aspect, but it isn’t the only one; burgeoning friendships and a beautiful countryside location always feature.  Sex scenes are light on detail, if present at all, and the focus is on the romantic side of the relationship rather than the physical one.

If you like to read about finding love, forming new female friendships and pretty settings, then there’s no better than Katie Fforde for a cosy, feel-good and happy end read – highly recommended.

Holding Out For a Hero

When it comes to heroes in women’s literature popular types do exist.  I wonder if this is because they really reflect women’s fantasies or whether it’s just because society thinks they do.  I don’t yet know the answer but perhaps you can help.

Clearly we’re all different so what is attractive to some, isn’t at all to others.  However, perhaps there are some commonalities out there in what we look for in a romantic fictional hero.

That’s why I thought it would be interesting to get your opinion and ask – what are women really looking for in a literature hero?

I’ve found a few images of possible heroes, some of which are popular types.  These are depicted in the picture and are as follows:

Hero 1: Gaining popularity in recent years is the Russian.  A lean machine, he’s fair-haired and blue-eyed, with a tendency to be serious and intense, that is, until you get to know him better…

Hero 2: The Sheikh can be moody and mysterious and always has an interesting back story. A great lover, he likes life in the fast lane and is always ready to take a risk.

Hero 3:  I’d love to be able to describe how the black hero is depicted but I don’t recall reading a book from any publisher of romantic literature in which the hero is black!

Having said that, Mills & Boon do a series featuring African-American heroes and heroines, called Kimani

Do mixed relationships in modern romance exist?  I haven’t come across any – have you?

Yet, in order to be reflective of real life there should be mixed race relationships depicted in the genre, so why is this not often the case?  A separate blog topic in itself, perhaps..?


 Hero 4:  The Spaniard, Italian or Greek hero is probably the most common.  Smooth and refined, he is well dressed and has impeccable taste in just about everything!


In any experiments we need constants, which are true of all our heroes.  Here are the constants you are safe to assume:

  • They’re all perfectly solvent and won’t rely on you for petrol money or to shout them a kebab.  A kebab? – as if!
  • Goes without saying that they’re all amazing in bed – no fumblers here, thank you!
  • They’re attentive without being needy.  Although it’s good to talk, to stalk is bad
  • You are far more important to them than football / the Play Station /fishing / beer (enter any relevant male obsession)

So, please share – which hero would you most like to read about – 1, 2, 3 or 4?

Or perhaps none of the above and your vote is for an entirely different type of hero: a rugged outdoors type, a posh English gent, or – can I say the ‘g’ word? – the ginger!  Think Prince Harry, Ed Sheeran, James Norton (yum!).  Or maybe you prefer the long-haired alternative type, or the blonde surfer dude?

Whatever your preference please let me know – would be useful when creating my next love god of a male character!

Coping with Rejection – when does perseverance become flogging a dead horse?

Writing teaches you a lot about yourself – how able you are to work alone, whether or not you can be self-disciplined and how creative you can be.  It also teaches you something you might never have needed to know before: how well you deal with rejection, or not, as the case may be.

I’ve discovered that I’m much better at coping with rejection than I thought I would be.  Not sure if that’s a good thing or not…

The road to getting published isn’t like working towards passing an exam or getting a promotion, where you have a reasonable level of control over matters, with how hard you work being directly related to your likelihood of success.  No, when it comes to writing, you can work as hard as you damn well like and spend hours and hours on your project, only to receive a generic ‘thanks but no thanks’ response.

I’ve so far submitted four partial manuscripts and had rejections for all of them, but have been surprised at how relatively easy I’ve found it so far to ‘get back on the horse’.

Working in PR for over a decade has certainly stood me in good stead for coping with getting turned down.  If you think, when you start a career in the media, that you can send your fabulous and so carefully written press release out to a few journalists and within minutes they’ll be biting your hand off to get that interview/product sample, then you’ll be sorely disappointed.  In reality, you might tell a thousand journalists about your client’s new lipstick, that is going to CHANGE THEIR LIVES, but if you get one bite back you’re lucky.

And for every one positive response you might get a hundred more telling you what you can do with your revolutionary new lipstick – and it has nothing to do with your face.

OK, that’s an exaggeration – most journalists are nice, and I’ve been lucky to work with some lovely ones, but there have been quite a few occasions I can think of where I have been told in no uncertain terms to ‘go away’.  When I get this, I really, really don’t care.  I might re-think how I approach them in the future but the fact that they don’t want me or my fabulous lipstick doesn’t bother me and I don’t take it personally, it’s just part of the job.  So all I do is bid them a polite farewell and make the next call.  It doesn’t put me off ever calling another journalist again.  If it did, I’d be unemployed.

This is the same with submitting your writing to publishers or agents.  Just because one doesn’t like it doesn’t mean the next will be of the same opinion.  If you have a hundred who don’t like it, there might be that one that loves it and BOOM – you only need that one!

A talented artist friend of mine told me that years ago she took examples of her work into a studio, only to be laughed at by the man in charge, who effectively told her her work was rubbish.  It wasn’t rubbish, it just didn’t appeal to him because art, like literature, is subjective.  Or maybe it did appeal to him and he felt threatened by her talent – who knows!  Anyway, the point is the experience put her off ever putting herself in that intimidating situation again and that was it, potential dream career over, all because of one person who turned her down.  What a waste of a talent, and who knows what could have been if she hadn’t have let that one rejection get to her.

So, are you going to let one negative response pee on your  metaphorical bonfire, or are you going to shrug it off, bid him a polite farewell (always be polite – even if being rejected, accept with dignity), and try again?  I strongly recommend the latter because if you choose the former, the only person who will care or suffer will be you.

If you get anyone who scoffs at your work, that’s baaaaaad form.  Don’t ever deal with them again, they’re not professionals.  If you’re dealing with a reputable publisher/agent even their rejections are very polite.  It’s important to keep in mind that they’re very busy people so if they’ve bothered to give you any sort of feedback at all, that’s absolutely brilliant!  Absorb it, act on it and try again by applying their expert advice.

I get asked quite a lot how many more times I’m going to try before I ‘call it a day’, and I do have a figure in my head of 10 attempts.  If I’m still trying unsuccessfully by then perhaps it is time to admit defeat.

Although I’d hate to give in, I also would hate to waste my life working towards something that might never happen.  My primary ambition is to get a book published but my secondary one is to do a PhD, and as I’m already a woman on the edge most of the time, there’s no way one earth I could contemplate doing both at the same time!

Perhaps if I get nowhere with my writing after 10 attempts I could do a PhD in mechanisms for coping with rejection.  By that point I should, if nothing else, be very well versed to write a thesis on the subject!

The Happy Writer’s Kitchen

During my mother’s annual visit to us in Sussex last year, I noticed her watching me intently as I prepared our special family get-together meal.  I knew she was about to say something and thought it might be:

“Why, haven’t I given birth to a domestic goddess?  I see you have become a culinary genius since you left home.”

Or even:

“I truly admire your incredible skills as a cook.  If only I too could be that talented…”

But, no, what she actually came out with was:

“By ‘eck, you don’t have fanny around.”

To be fair, I was busily blanching almonds (took ages then I forgot to put the darn things in the recipe!), but yes, I do like to ‘fanny around’ as she so delicately put it.

I find cooking very therapeutic and a good way to channel one’s creative output when other artistic alternatives are not viable.  Also, it makes me feel like a better wife/mother/daughter when I cook something that’s taken some effort, even if my 5 year old does turn up his nose and request Crispy Pancakes instead.

“Crispy Pancakes?!”  I cry, looking around the table, guiltily.  “He must have had them at a friend’s…”

“No, mummy, you made them for me yester-”

“Shush, darling, and eat your organic petit-pois that daddy picked from the allotment during the last full moon.”

What I do not enjoy, however, is the tedious, monotonous and most banal Monday to Friday teatimes.  That time of day between the school run and story time when all you want to do is sit in your pants and eat Pringles, but instead you have about an hour to squeeze in preparing and eating a weekday meal which wouldn’t earn you a place in the Jamie Oliver Book of Crap Mothers.

Forget creativity – no time for that!  And if you enjoy ‘fannying around’ you can forget that too, because bish, bash, bosh is the order of the day.

Keeping the tummies of two fusspots full and happy (not me, I’ll eat anything!) makes me want to tear out my hair sometimes, but a quick, tasty and yummy weekday tea means fuss-free meal times and a reasonably happy start to the evening.  This in turn makes my life easier and puts me in a good mood for when story time and tucking in is over, and it’s time to start writing!

And trust me, being in a good mood when you start writing is critical if you hope to write anything you won’t later read back wonder what they’re putting in those Crispy Pancakes these days.

Here are some ideas for quick weekday family meals to make your life easier, your writing time more enjoyable and maintain a (relatively speaking) harmonious household.  


Quorn nuggets with baked beans

Saying you feed your child chicken nuggets gets you zero parent points.  However, serving up Quorn tastes practically the same but with a posher name (and no animals need get hurt in the process)!  Yes, it’s all in the name you see.  Before long you’ll see other mothers in the playground nudging each and looking over at you admiringly, saying such things as:

“You see that woman there, rumour has it she feeds her children Quorn.”

Quorn, I tell you!  It’s the way to go.  Kids love it (tell ‘em it’s chicken if they look alarmed) and other parents and your mother in law won’t think you’re the lazy cow that you really are.  A winner on all counts, I’d say.

Plaice goujons with veggies

Try saying this:

“On Tuesday for tea we have fish fingers, chips and mixed veg.”

Now try saying this:

“On Tuesday for tea we have plaice goujons and skin-on wedges with baby corn and broccoli florets.”

Y’see the difference?  Basically it’s the same thing but you’ll rate higher on the ‘good parent’ scale for serving  up something that sounds like you know what you’re doing.  Ha!  The perfect lazy mother cheat.

Naan bread ‘pizzettes’

OK, so I nicked this idea from Nigella, but it’s a good one!  Basically, you take a naan and pop on it what you will before you bake it to create your own home-made pizza.

It sounds good, it looks very rustic, like something from the pages of Good Housekeeping, and kids love it because they can get involved in putting on the topping.

Nigella does say, however, that ‘shop bought pizzas are vile’.  No, no, no, Nigella, Ginella strongly disagrees – she clearly hasn’t sampled Waitrose’s own, which are yummy and a good alternative if you really can’t be bothered.



An Indoor Picnic

What kind of mother feeds her kids an indoor picnic – a cool one, that’s what!

You are sure to be flavour of the month with this corker of an idea.  If the weather’s nice of course you can have an outdoor picnic but don’t let a bit of rain stop you from enjoying some picnic fun.

I set up lots of little plates on the table with fruit, bread or crackers, slices of carrot, cucumber and pepper (if they don’t like pepper tell them it’s ‘yellow carrot’.  Lying to children is acceptable where vitamins are involved), hummus and – this is the best bit – charcuterie!  Ham, salami, chorizo – you name it, if it’s dressed up as an ‘indoor picnic’ they’ll eat it.

I try to encourage my son to be as adventurous with food as possible as I’m terrified of him ending up like the dull girl at school who’d only ever eat cheese sandwiches in white bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Cheap date though.

Generally if I present him with something he hasn’t seen before he looks at me like I’m trying to poison him.  However, utter the words ‘shall we have an indoor picnic today’ and he’d be tucking into grilled kangaroo testicles if they were served off a gingham tablecloth.

I’d just like to make it clear that I have never served my family kangaroo testicles, although if Findus started putting them in Crispy Pancakes I might give it a try.


Friday is normally ‘I’m out of ideas, let’s go out for tea’ night.  If this is the case I always choose somewhere that’s got an element of the kid-friendly about it.  Somewhere where they offer colouring sheets for children is good and actually pub chains, which aren’t always the most inspiring places to eat, are quite good for this.  Likewise, Pizza Express is fab as they do stickers and paper hats which children love.

If going out isn’t an option then here are a few more ideas to get you through into the weekend without having a kitchen break-down:

  • Cheese on toast with mango chutney – delicious!
  • Pasta with just about anything mixed in is quick, hot and reasonably nutritious.  Tuna and pasta is a good one, or pesto and pine nuts perhaps.
  • Pancakes (as in the Shrove Tuesday type).  I do a pancake two-courser special sometimes: a savoury one to start followed by a dessert one, such as with Golden Syrup, lemon and sugar or chocolate spread.  Be sure to toss to add an element of entertainment into the tea-making process – you get more mum points that way!
  • Fajita or Taco Kit – wam, bam, thank you mam.  Done in a jiffy and scrumptious.


Courses for Aspiring Writers

If you’re an aspiring writer I can’t recommend highly enough going on a writing course. I’ve been on three in as many years and always return home feeling immensely inspired to crack on with my writing.  Not only that, but on every occasion I’ve had a great time, met new friends and learned a lot!

The downsides are that they can be expensive and you might find yourself having to travel quite a long way from home, but if you save up and don’t mind the journey then it’s well worth it.

I don’t mind travelling alone or walking into a room full of strangers, actually I quite like both, but I know it’s a cause for concern for a lot of people.  If you’re worried about either of these things I’d say do something that scares you.  I promise it’ll be worth it and you won’t regret it!  Everyone I’ve come across has been very friendly and welcoming.

You do get the die-hards who all seem to know each other and it can sometimes feel a bit daunting to try to join in, but my advice would be to throw yourself in wholeheartedly, relax and enjoy yourself.

I went on my first writing course in 2014 after watching a TV documentary about how to write a Mills & Boon novel.  Featured on the programme was The Watermill in Tuscany.  I decided there and then that I didn’t care how much it cost, I was booking myself on that course!

A few months later and I was on the plane.  Alone!!

As a busy working mum just going for a wee without hearing “Muuuuuum, can you get me a drink / find my craft set / fix the TV / save the polar bear / be my personal slave” (delete as appropriate) is unheard of, never mind reading a book uninterrupted with a plastic glass of wine in my hand – in the DAY no less!  It was worth the money just for the extra long, uninterrupted wee I had on the plane.

A week in sunny Tuscany later and I’d learned so much that by the time I got back I was itching to start writing.

At the time the course was taken by Sharon Kendrick who is a very inspirational, enthusiastic teacher, with around 100 published M&B titles under her belt.  Sharon provided a great introduction to the genre but I don’t think she’s teaching at The Watermill at the moment.  Their website says there are no writing courses for 2016 but they do offer other arts courses such as painting and knitting, and it’s worth keeping an eye on their site for any future courses.

Last year I went to Kate Walker’s Writing Romance course held in Derby and organised by Lois Bird-Maddox of Relax and Write.

Here I met a lovely bunch of ladies: ‘Walker Stalkers’ as they call themselves.  The ladies knew each other well and I was the newbie but they were extremely welcoming and took me under their wing.  They all had far more staying power than I did and could drink me under the table but they helped make a fun course even ‘funner’!

Kate knows her stuff and has a host of fantastic tips to share.  She’s straight-talking like Sharon, which is an important trait to have if you’re eager to get honest advice on your writing.  When Kate showed us the first chapter of her new book, Destined for the Desert King, I realised why she was the successful author, and I was still trying!

All Books

Most recently I went to the long-running Winter Writers’ Holiday at Fishguard Bay Hotel.  This is organised by the delightful Gerry Hobbs, and my course – The Novel – was taken by romance writer, Rachael Thomas.

Rachael was absolutely lovely; very approachable and friendly, and as a relatively new published author it was great to get her views on writing and learn about her journey to success.

The people in the class were people at their best – relaxed, happy and feeling comfortable enough to share their writing.

For me it was an 11 hour round drive, but it was well worth it, and I came back thinking I might just have the perseverance and confidence to complete a manuscript!


My next adventure will be the Annual Conference of the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association).  This is a new one for me and I’m very excited.

After every course I always think I’ll give it a rest for a while and focus on writing, but at each one I find I pick up invaluable knowledge, which might one day help make me into a published author!


His velvety ridge – and other nice words for naughty bits

When penning sex scenes I often have to stop and think of a nice way to describe certain parts of the anatomy in order to maintain the romance and avoid sounding too clinical.

Here are a few challenges and how I’ve tried to get round them, but if you have any better suggestions, please send them my way!

Avoiding the biology lesson

His penis brushed her vulva = urrr, puke!  : (

She felt his hardness brush over the soft, plump skin of her most intimate part = phew, much nicer.  : )

Don’t be crude!

He thrust his cock insider her = woah, what a brute!  : (

He entered her, slowly, gently at first, and felt her body respond by… = you get the picture : )

It’s a romance, not a comedy

He buried his head into her chest, almost suffocating herself between her huge bazookas = ha ha, but erm no.  : (

He buried his head into her chest, the soft flesh of her breasts, swollen with arousal, pressing insistently against his stubbled jaw = she probably wishes he’d shaved but much better nonetheless : )

So you see, not as easy as it sounds to get across the excitement and the romance without falling into the comedy or biology traps, although an excellent exercise in euphemisms!

Gotta Love an Anti Heroine – the controversial female protagonist

Heroines in the romance genre are often traditionally associated with being:

i) younger than the hero
ii) poorer than the hero
iii) more junior in her career than the hero (if she has a career at all)

I think for many readers, especially perhaps the newer generation of romance enthusiasts, the perception of the traditional heroine can jar with what she wants out of a novel, and what she knows and wants out of the world.

That’s not to say a modern heroine can’t be one or even all of the above, especially if the author writes with sensitivity on her position, and ensures she brings something to the relationship that he can’t, despite his position or wealth.  This could be emotional empathy or artistic discovery, for example.

As readers we’re all different of course so what appeals to one does not necessarily appeal to the other, even within one genre.  And this is a good thing; it would, after all, be rather dull if we all liked the same thing!

I’d never ‘dis’ anyone’s preference, as by their very nature preferences are subjective, so I can only talk about my own personal ones, and I like heroines who put the cat amongst the pigeons where traditionalism is concerned.

These are my top 3  current Mills & Boon titles when it comes to a good, modern anti heroine.  I enjoyed reading all of these, mainly because the female protagonists in them are all somewhat controversial.

If, like me, you enjoy the kind of story in which the female love interest does not necessarily fit into the traditional, then give them a try – you might like them too!

The Ultimate Seduction, Dani Collins

In The Ultimate Seduction Dani Collins steps boldly away from the typical aesthetically pleasing heroine to one who has a facial scar.  This is fairly unprecedented for the genre and I’m grateful to both the author and the publisher for entering into this largely unexplored territory.

It is not unusual for the hero to have some sort of physical imperfection, be it a scar or a disability, but for the heroine it is extremely rare, which in itself says a lot about society in general, not just literature.

As a reader it gives hope ‘to the rest of us’ that if a gorgeous, rich Russian playboy can be tamed by a woman with physical imperfections then maybe in the fantastical world of romance we might stand a chance too, given that most normal women regard themselves as physically imperfect.

Also, it makes us love the hero more as here we have a man who is not seduced by looks but falls in love for the woman beneath them – and that is what, in my opinion, the romance genre is really about.


The Spy Who Tamed Me, Kelly Hunter

Woah, this one takes the biscuit when it comes to the modern heroine.  Not only is she older than him – and older than the usual heroine, in fact old enough to be the mother of a traditional heroine at 40 no less – but she’s his boss!!  I love that.  And I love the fact that neither of those aspects make him feel emasculated.  What a man!

Out of all the (very many!) M&B titles I’ve read this one sticks out for all the right reasons.  It’s modern, empowering and extremely brave from the author’s point of view.  Good on Kelly Hunter!


The Millionaire’s Proposition, Avril Tremayne

Here we have another older woman, which is beautifully refreshing, and one who is sexually experienced.  As a lawyer she has a top job – also beautifully refreshing – and is first and foremost interested in the hero for what he has to offer her in the bedroom.  Of course the plot evolves and the couple fall in love, but at the beginning she’s more interested in him for self-gratifying purposes, as he is her.

This book is fun, sexually-charged and really rather naughty in places, so all together a good, feisty romp, and not one which involves a doormat of a heroine – far from it!


I’m a fan of a solid anti-heroine; a modern, intelligent, sexually-aware (even if she’s a virgin) woman who knows her own mind and body, and I’d like to see more of them coming to the fore within the romance genre.

Good on these authors for exploring these themes, and for M&B for supporting them in doing so.  They don’t always attract positive feedback, probably because they’re a departure from the norm, and it is quite rightly horses for courses, but I for one am flying the flag for the wonderful and exciting anti heroine!

Cooking up a Mystery

I’ve always loved a good murder, especially a light-hearted one, i.e. Midsomer Murder-esque.  I especially like those in which the investigator is female.  I’m not sure why that is, maybe because I find them easier to relate to.

I started with Miss Marple, then moved on to Agatha Raisin, both of which I’m extremely fond, but my favourite by far is Sadie Hoffmiller.  She is the character created by American author, Josi S. Kilpack.  Sadie is a middle-aged, ‘normal’ woman who seems to find herself involved in many a mystery, from murders to disappearances.

In the same way that Jessica Fletcher, the super speedy typewriter from the 80’s ‘Murder She Wrote’ series, is likeable, so is Sadie.    She’s a mum of two grown up children, lives in suburbia and has a retired police detective for a fiance, which comes in very handy when investigating a plethora of crimes.

I discovered Josi S. Kilpack and her heroine by accident while waiting for the toilet in a cafe called Sweet Mermaids in Ketchikan, Alaska (as one who does).  There was one one of those turney book merchandising units where I was standing and there were quite a few books on it, but bizarrely they were all the same – tens of copies of ‘Baked Alaska’.

I picked it up to read the blurb and although it cost a lot (twice as much as it would have in the UK – perhaps due to shipping costs to Alaska?), I knew I needed it in my life!

It had two major ingredients that appealed: a murder mystery plus, and this is amazing, recipes!  What a winning combination.  Basically, Josi S. Kilpack writes her novels with a key difference – that every so often we hear about what Sadie is eating – and of course it ain’t burgers n chips.  No.  It’s usually exciting foods relevant to the location she’s in.  Then – and this excites me – then, we get the recipe for it.  How brilliant is that?!

Another interesting element to Josi’s stories is that they involve Sadie travelling – whether it be within the States or further afield.  In addition to ‘Baked Alaska’ I’ve read ‘English Trifle’ – trip to England of course, a stately home no less; ‘Rocky Road’ where Sadie travels to Utah – very interesting; and Fortune Cookie, which is based in San Francisco’s China Town.  So not only do you feel that you’ve read a good old yarn, you’ve also, in your head at least, travelled somewhere rather exotic, and discovered something about the cuisine there – a recipe for reading success I’d say!

I’m pacing myself with the Sadie Hoffmiller series as Josi has finished writing them and, if what I’ve read is true, isn’t planning on writing any more.  Such a shame!  I’m going to be sad when I’ve finished them all so I’m taking my time, but ‘Banana Split’ is staring back at me from the shelf and it’s very tempting.

I was waiting so long for the toilet in the Sweet Mermaid that I gave up in the end so I never did get to see what the loo looked like, but I did discover something much more exciting, and I’m delighted I did!

Find out more about Josi S. Kilner here:

Most of the titles appear to be available on Amazon

It even inspired me to attempt to make a Baked Alaska, which is what this picture shows.   I have to admit there is a recipe for this in the book but I chose one out of my much loved Howdens cookery book, mainly because it looked almost impossible and I like a culinary challenge!  They actually look much more impressive than they taste (bit bland really) but it’s a show-stopper at a dinner party!

Arty Stuff & Classlessness

Last week I went along to see the play ‘Kiss Me Quickstep’ at The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.  The theatre itself is rather awesome.  It’s in the round, so wherever you sit you have a great view.  We were lucky enough to sit in The Director’s Box, which meant that even if the bloke in front had had a mohican (I’ve had it happen) we would still have been able to see without problem.  You can even sit on the stage, which would be my next choice, although not suitable for those who smuggle in their own refreshments, not that I endorse such behaviour, but all the same…

The play was very enjoyable; enough of the drama, enough of the funny.  It had some nice little ballroom routines in it too, which made me want to be part of it rather than a spectator.  At the end the cast invited some of the audience to dance with them – so bad luck for those seated on the stage.  Even if they had managed to hide their contraband for the duration of the play, they risked mass Malteser spillage at this dicey moment.

The characters each had their own issues, and in one couple’s case it was money, or lack of it.  One of the characters was Eastern European and most of the others were working class northerners.  It got me thinking what a wonderful place the dance floor is for classlessness.  Dressed in acres of tulle, sequins and spandex, and twirling round the floor everyone is equal.

Wealth, upbringing, education and class are not even brought into question.  How very refreshing.

This isn’t the first time this has struck me.  When I’m out dancing I often think how lovely it is that no-one’s judging anyone else on anything other than their capabilities and enjoyment of dancing.  No-one knows, nor cares, about how plummy (or not) you sound, where you went to school, what you do for a job, whether you wear Hunter wellies or Sainsbury’s own, or any such other nonsense that seems to dominate so much of our lives.

Yesterday I returned to the South East after a week up north and instantly started to round off those vowels a bit. I do this in the interest of intelligibility; basically, no-one down here would understand me if I carried on talking like I had been doing for the past week.  “You’ve gone reet northern.  Have you swallowed a whippet?” my Sussex-born husband commented, his brow furrowed in concentration as he tried to decipher my words.

I’ve found over the last 15 years of being a northerner down south that it’s usually met with enthusiasm and positivity – and once or twice fear for some reason!  I’ve only had a couple of instances of out and out hilarious discrimination.  One of those was a few years ago when I was at a lunch meeting with a high end client.  When I ordered a fish finger sandwich (which is very de rigueur these days, I must have been ahead of the times!) Mr client nearly fell off his chair and boomed: “Why, I do love working class girls!”.  I’m glad I didn’t bring up the fact that I was disappointed it was one of those gourmet jobs rather than a good old Captain Birdseye – he might have sent me straight to the workhouse!

I’ve not managed to find true classlessness anywhere else other than where there’s a parquet floor and a disco ball.  I reckon other art forms offer it though.  Think of Adele.  There is so much interest in the fact that when she sings you’d never guess she ‘talked like that’.  Why on earth wouldn’t she?  Can only middle class people with Standard English accents sing?  Of course not.

Writing’s another good place to find classlessness.  When you put pen to paper no-one knows the background of the author (unless the author chooses to make a point of it) and that is liberating.  So when the day comes that I manage to get my book published, the readers will not say: “You know, that northern author”, nor will they say: “That writer, you know, who likes Birdseye fishfingers sandwiched between two slabs of Mighty White”.

Then again, I might choose to allude to it on the author’s page.  I can see it now…

Gina Hollands lives by the sea.  When she’s not writing about romantic encounters, she’s being very cultured at the theatre, going to classical concerts and practising rounding off her vowels.  

As a working class northerner she would sooner take off her jumper at the supermarket and walk topless to her car while using it to carry her shopping rather than pay 5p for a carrier bag.  This is in the interest of economic integrity.  And is of course excellent for the environment.

She also buys vanilla ice cream in square slabs and has been known (on very rare occasion) to smuggle Sainsbury’s own Maltesers into theatres throughout the country.