Today, as Christmas approaches, I’ve great pleasure in interviewing the bestselling author of ‘The Magic of Christmas’ : Trisha Ashley.
Trisha is published by Avon HarperCollins, and is the author of twelve romantic comedies. Two of her books have been shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan award for romantic comedy, while ‘Every Woman for Herself’ was voted one of the top three romantic novels of the last fifty years.
Trisha’s books contain some wonderful recipes – indeed she was recently described as the ’Queen of Yummy Lit’ – and you can find Trisha’s recipe for ginger tree biscuits at the end of her interview. (Below the Christmas tree)
Trisha is also generously giving away a signed copy of The Magic of Christmas. Details of how to enter for a chance of winning this Christmassy treat are below.
Hard to remember, really – as a child I was always writing poems, plays and little stories, then moved on to the opening chapters of novels. I finished my first novel at 18 (unpublishable).
And so what was the first thing you ever had published?
The first writings of mine to be published were poems in the local paper, when I was eleven. The first novel was a Regency romance in the early eighties. (I wrote two of those, before returning to my first love, the satirical novel.)
Your books are full of very English eccentric characters in a very English setting. Have you been inspired by any particular village or people when creating your books?
Some of my books also have very Welsh settings and characters, like The Generous Gardener/Sowing Secrets, but many of my recent books have been set in an imaginary bit of rural West Lancashire not far from Ormskirk. I was brought up in that area, so I suppose you could say that I am steeped in the legends and lore of the region and I have condensed it all into my own little world.
Your latest book, ‘The Magic of Christmas’ features a very traditional English Christmas. Can you give an idea of your own favourite part of Christmas?
Obviously, I love to bake the Christmas cake and make mincepies and mincemeat flapjacks, but after that, my favourite time is when I decorate the tree. I do it quite late in December, when the house is (unusually) clean and tidy and already smelling of spice and mystery.
I have a large gold tinsel tree that my son fell in love with at a garden centre when he was two, and onto that go an eclectic collection of ancient and new baubles (forget colour-coding or ‘themed’!) culminating with the placing on top of a papier mache Santa over eighty years old. His red robe has turned a soupy brown and my mother at some point tarted him up with a bit of red glitter glue and a cotton wool beard, but we love him anyway.
That Sounds very festive! I’m feeling all Christmassy now. So can I ask if you were going to be swept away for a romantic Christmas, where would it be, and who would be your dream hero to accompany you – especially if there was a bunch of mistletoe involved?
Rufus Sewell can take me anywhere he likes.
Ah, Rufus Sewell ….. Anyhow, to get back to the interview: you have some wonderful recipes in your book. If you were going to going to tear yourself away from Rufus to take part in the UK TV hit ‘The Great British Bakeoff’, what would be your signature dish for the pudding?
Oh, I couldn’t be faffing about with competitions or trying to impress anyone: I expect I’d just do a variant of Eton Mess using five minute microwave meringue!
Sounds yummy. And can I ask what your signature cake would be?
My favourite cake is the universal fruitcake recipe from the back of Wedding Tiers: perfect for birthdays, Christenings, weddings and just generally eating. Soak the dried fruit for three days in dark rum for a Christmas cake version.
And, finally: ‘The Magic of Christmas’ is an extensive reworking of an earlier book. Did you enjoy the experience of revisiting a work you’d already said goodbye to, and was it easier or harder than starting a new book from scratch?
When I wrote Sweet Nothings, the original, I fell in love with Middlemoss and its inhabitants and always felt there was much more I wanted to say about them all. So I was delighted when it was suggested that I rewrite the book for Avon, to be published as The Magic of Christmas. The heroine, Lizzy, is a keen cook, especially of puddings and cakes and she and her friends in the Christmas Pudding Circle get together months in advance of the season to make sure that every Senior Citizen in Middlemoss gets the Christmas hamper of their dreams!
I think it was harder to rewrite a book than write one from scratch, and this was definitely a one off: I hope my out of print backlist will eventually be reprinted, but they will be as they were.
My new book, Chocolate Shoes and Wedding Blues, is a brand new novel, set in the village of Sticklepond, where A Winter’s Tale and Chocolate Wishes were also set and you will find one or two characters from Middlemoss also turning up…
Sounds intriguing! Thank you Trisha for being a guest on my blog. And Happy Christmas!
To win a copy of The Magic of Christmas, all you have to do is answer the following question:
Which of Trisha’s previous books for Avon HarperCollins was a ‘Times’ bestseller and also shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan Award for romantic comedy?
Please email your answers to: email@example.com
You can find Trisha on her website at www.trishaashley.com where you can write in Trisha’s guestbook, email Trisha or sign up for her newsletter. You can also follow Trisha on Twitter @trishaashley and at her Facebook fan page.
You can see Trisha talking about her books HERE
TRISHA’S RECIPE FOR GINGER TREE BISCUITS
80z /225g plain flour
6oz/175g soft Brown Sugar
1 small egg, beaten
1 level teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinoman
¼ teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
Sieve flour and spices into a bowl, add butter chopped into bits. Rub into flour between thumb and finger (as you do with short crust pastry). When you have a mix like fine breadcrumbs, add the sugar and most of the egg, then knead lightly into a firm dough, adding the rest of the egg if necessary. Place the dough in a bowl, cover with cling film and place in the fridge for at least half an hour to make it easier to roll out and cut.
Heat oven to 190 C , or 375 F, or gas mark 5. Grease a couple of baking trays. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board then cut shapes as desired.
Pierce each biscuit so it can be hung from a thread or ribbon (Trisha uses a chopstick to do this) place on the baking tray, well spaced, and bake for about 10 minutes until light brown at the edges (Trisha says it’s best to keep a close eye on them!). Remove and place on racks to cook. Trisha ices them by mixing a little icing sugar and water with natural food colouring, and brushes this on with a small brush.
Very pretty hung from the tree – and delicious eaten!
Hello Margaret, and welcome to my blog. It’s a real pleasure to have you here.
Thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog, Juliet. I’m delighted to be here.
Having enjoyed your historical novels, such as The Silver Locket, it was a lovely surprise to read your contemporary story for Choc Lit, The Wedding Diary. Can I ask what the inspiration was for such a different bo0k?
A year or two ago, my local writing group ran a plot-generating workshop. So we were all trying to come up with some original what-if situations. The one which popped into my head was – what if you won a competition for which the first prize was a fantabulous wedding in a country house hotel, but you didn’t have anyone to marry?
It’s certainly a great idea! I loved the fairy godmother with such a deliciously naughty streak, is she based on anyone?
I don’t know where Fanny came from. She’s not based on anyone I know. She walked into my head as a fully-formed character saying come along, darling, write about me. All her lines seemed to arrive as if by some kind of celestial dictation. I’ve never written about anyone remotely like Fanny before. I knew from the start that she was essentially benign, but that she was a force of nature, too. A man like Jack would cross her at his peril…
Definitely! Let’s hope he learns his lesson! Did you set out to write a contemporary story, or was it that the idea that was so good you just had to go for it?
I told one of the people in my writing group that although I thought the concept of winning a competition but not being able to accept the prize was quite a good one, I wouldn’t be able to write a novel about that. She said go on, I bet you could. I always like a challenge.
I’m glad you did. And as the owner of a dog who insists on stealing the limelight, I have to ask if you have a particular inspiration for Caspar the dog?
My older daughter had a beautiful and elegant grey whippet who was a bit dim, but was a charming, gentle and much-loved pet. The real dog is now in Whippet Heaven, but she lives on in Caspar, who has a similar sweet temperament.
What were the different challenges of writing a historical and a contemporary novel? You must have to do detailed research for historicals, did you have to do lots of research for this one, too?
The great thing about writing a contemporary novel was that it was comparatively research-free. All I had to do was listen to real people talking, watch television programmes about restoring stately homes, go to Italy and climb the Torre Guinigi myself, and go to the biggest Marks and Spencer in the world. Yes, it’s a hard life!
Now that sounds like my kind of research! Did you enjoy writing from a modern male’s point of view?
Yes, very much. One of the great pleasures of writing fiction is that it allows me to be other people, and it was fun being a thirty-something man for a while. But Adam is a fantasy creation. I’ve never met or heard of any man who is as wonderful as Adam. I don’t suppose such a man exists. Although if any reader knows better, I’d be delighted to hear about a real life paragon!
(sighs) Me too! So for your next book are you planning another contemporary or are you returning to a historical setting
Or maybe both?
I have written the first draft of a historical novel, but I think the villain is going to have to be the hero because heis much more interesting and has a longer moral journey to make than the hero, who is actually (whisper) rather dull. So that book is on the back burner while I finish another contemporary story.
Thank you, Margaret, and I look forward to your next book – historical and contemporary!
The Wedding Diary
If you won a fairy-tale wedding in a luxury hotel, you’d be delighted – right? But what if you didn’t have anyone to marry? Cat Aston did have a fiance, but now it looks like her Prince Charming has done a runner.
Adam Lawley was left devastated when his girlfriend turned down his heartfelt proposal. He’s made a vow never to fall in love again.
So – when Cat and Adam meet, they shouldn’t even consider falling in love. After all, they’re both broken hearted. But for some reason they can’t stop thinking about each other. Is this their second chance for happiness, or are some things just too good to be true?
Margaret James is a British writer of historical and contemporary fiction. She has written sixteen commercially published novels and many short stories and articles on the art of writing. Margaret is also a journalist working for the UK’s Writing Magazine and teaches creative writing for the London School of Journalism.
Margaret was born in Hereford, UK, and now lives in the beautiful county of Devon, UK.
Today’s interview is with Judith Barrow, fellow Honno author, whose new book with Honno ‘Changing Patterns’ is published today, and is the Welsh Books Council’s Book of the Month for June. More about ‘Changing Patterns’ in my next post, but first of all I wanted to ask Judith about her her experience of publishing her own book, and how it differed from being traditionally published.
Hello Judith, and welcome to my blog. Congratulations on the publication of ‘Changing Patterns’! You published your novel ‘Silent Trauma’ as an ebook yourself last November, so I’m sure the experience must be fresh in your mind, too. Could you tell us the differences between the two kinds of publishing? Were there parts that you enjoyed better in one experience than the other? Did you learn different things?
Where to start? The two are so disparate. With self-publishing, unless you have a beta reader, or employ an editor and proof-reader, you are totally on your own. It appears to come easily to many writers whom I’ve met through Facebook but I found it hard. I had a good reason for publishing Silent Trauma myself; traditional publishers were wary of taking on the manuscript as it’s what they call an ‘issue-led ‘story. It’s fiction built on fact; so it’s a novel. But it also includes true facts about a drug called Stilboestrol that was given to pregnant women between 1945-1972, ostensibly to prevent miscarriages. It didn’t, but it did cause internal damage to the unborn children (the facts of which are given in the form of the Introduction and Footnotes). This was why traditional publishers were cagey. So I chose to put it out as an eBook. And I was impatient; I’d been researching it for nine years altogether. I thought it was time.
I did have someone who formatted it for me for Amazon but I had to do a lot for myself and spending so much time on something I found so boring, when all I wanted to do was write, was frustrating. And it took ages for me to hit on the right cover for the book. To be honest writing the story was the only part I enjoyed – that and the satisfaction that I might help to bring publicity to all the women I’d met that were affected by this awful drug.
I doubt I’ll ever write another eBook.
On the plus side, through Create Space, I have printed copies that I can sell. And ten percent of all sales go to the charity: http://www.desaction.org
Being published with Honno meant I got a lot of feedback from the editor. And they found two or three covers for me to choose from. I’m very happy with the result. And, unlike with Silent Trauma, where again I’m on my own, I’ve had advice and help with the promotion of the books.
As you say, the issues in ‘Silent Trauma’ are clearly something you feel passionate about. What prompted you to write the novel?
I’d known for many years that a relative of mine suffered with chronic endometriosis, and that she had anatomical deformities.
- The beautiful Pembrokeshire coast, where Judith is based
Then I heard a Radio Four programme called ‘You and Yours’ which included an article on DES and I realised that a lot of the content applied to my relative. She asked if I could research it for her. Des Action UK was still extant then (they folded last year due to lack of funds and support. From an original twelve DES Daughters, only two stalwarts were left and, after so many futile years of appealing to successive Governments for help and recognition, they couldn’t carry on anymore).
I sent for their newsletter and went online. The more we read, the more we were convinced that my relative had been exposed in utero to Stilboestrol. The more research I carried out the more aware I was of the damages Stilboestrol ((Diethylstilboestrol) had caused. One of the difficulties is that unlike Thalidomide, where you see the damage the minute the baby was born, women who took DES had healthy babies. The problems were hidden until the teens and twenties, by which point they were forgotten about. Many mothers didn’t even remember the name of the drug they were prescribed.
I kept in touch with DES Action U.K and, after a year was asked to write an article for them appealing for DES Daughters and Mothers to come forward and tell their stories, in the hope that the group would get more members and that, if more voices were heard, then perhaps the British Government would listen. The stance of the Government is twofold; that those pregnant women who were prescribed the drug were given it so far in the past that to raise it as an issue now would only cause ”unnecessary concern” – and that it is a problem to be resolved only between the mothers and the drug companies.
Following the article, many women contacted me to tell their stories. Some were heart breaking; one DES Daughter had six miscarriages before giving up the struggle to conceive (she then, happily, adopted a lovely little girl). Another had too many health problems to list but amongst them she suffered from endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and paraovarian cysts. It was no wonder she was depressed. Her mother wrote many letters to the Government. Ultimately the reply came back – “Thank you for your letter, future correspondence will be noted and filed but not responded to…” The mother cried when she told me. I was so angry for her.
Many in the UK are totally unaware of this drug. The more I discovered the angrier I became. That these women are still fighting for recognition; acknowledgement from the Pharmaceutical companies after so long, is a disgrace.
As I’ve said, it took almost nine years to research, to contact many women from different countries; to piece together a story that was an enjoyable read, factually correct, but without being didactic.
I have kept in touch with many of the women. Many of them allowed me to use their quotes at the beginning of the chapters
On a personal level, I was brought up in a patriarchal household where what my father said was the rule. I know the feeling of helplessness, of the unfairness of not being listened to, of being ‘invisible’ if you like. I carried the frustration of having no voice into my adulthood. Luckily (or perhaps by wise choice) I married a man who believes in the equality of the sexes, who gave me a voice. We are still together after forty-five years.
Hurrah for sensible men! Thank you Judith. I had no idea about DES until ‘Silent Trauma’. Good luck with your ebook. I look forward to our conversation about ‘Changing Patterns’ next time.