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I never expected to find myself in ‘Good Housekeeping’.

I’ve been published in magazines before, but it has almost always been fiction. So when I was given the chance through my publishers, Honno Press, to pitch for an article in the Christmas edition, my first reaction was that it wasn’t for me. The article was about ‘How we remade Christmas’ after a family change, or the dead of a loved on who had been central to family Christmases. What could I write about? My Christmases are very quiet and ordinary. I had nothing to say.Tynysimdde in the snow


DSC_1677By a strange coincidence, I was joining up with my family in the cottage in the wilds of Snowdonia where we used to spend Christmas. Being there, I remembered all those Christmas, fourteen vegetarians sitting down to (a very delicious) Christmas dinner, cooked by my dad, who was always the centre of Christmas. It wasn’t that we were just all vegetarians. The cottage really is in the wild and for many of those Christmases had no electricity (candles were not just for Christmas) and a loo in the pigsty at the bottom of the garden (in an isolated valley with no lights, surrounded by forest – just the thing to develop the imagination …) and several times were snowed in and had to be rescued.

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Candles (and oil lamps) were not just for Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

In the Snow

The cottage is there somewhere!

In fact, it was one of those times were were snowed in at Christmas when I was very small, and were down to our last handful of coal and tins of baked beans, and having to break the ice over the spring to collect water, that became the very first story I ever had published, the story that made me a professional writer. It was something I’ll never forget, following the rest of the family, clutching my doll as my mum clutched my baby brother, making my way through snow that was nearly higher than me, as we made our way over the fields to be sledged down the steep hill to my uncle, who had battled his way along treacherous single-track roads in a battered Landrover.

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The old fireplace with the remains of the range

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Mum at the cottage at Christmas in the 1950s

So, in fact, it turns out the Christmases I thought of as ordinary, were not really ordinary at all. And the way we remade Christmas after my dad died, in Swedish style, reindeer sausages and all, was about as different as you can get. And then there was the fact that this Christmas would have been my dad’s one hundredth Christmas. The Christmas he was born, was in the midst of the horror of the First World War. History is that far away, and yet so close.

 

I’m delighted my article was chosen to be in ‘Good Housekeeping’. I’m not sure what my dad, the child of working-class Victorians, brought up in a level of poverty unimaginable in Britain today, and a proud, stubborn, Yorkshireman to boot, would have made of it all. Although I rather suspect that secretly he would be chuffed to bits, and (as a non-drinker) might even have raised a small glass of wine to the occasion.

And the Swedish bit? Ah, well you’ll have to read the article to find out!

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In anticipation of Trisha Ashley’s sparkly new Christmas book ‘Wish Upon A Star’ this week, I’m reposting an interview from 2011,

when Trisha was celebrating the publication of ‘The Magic of Christmas’.

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The new Christmas Book for 2013

I was very new to blogging at the time, so this interview was put in a place where it didn’t appear in the tags. So here it is again, and will hopefully now appear in the right place.

Bonfire night is over – let Christmas begin!

And I’m hoping to follow up this interview with one for ‘Wish Upon a Star’ very soon.

FIRST POSTED IN NOVEMBER 2011

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.

And so welcome, Trisha, and thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog. My first question has to be: what was the first thing you ever wrote?

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. 

Trisha’s Christmas cake, made for the launch of The Magic of Christmas. Delicious!

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!

Trisha at the launch of The Magic of Christmas

You can see Trisha talking about her books HERE 

TRISHA’S RECIPE FOR GINGER TREE BISCUITS

Ingredients

4oz/100g butter

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)

Method

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!

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Happy Christmas!

Thank you to everyone who entered the Lindsay Ashford competition to win a signed copy of ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’. The winner will be announced after the Christmas rush is over!

A winter view of Snowdon

So a Merrry Christmas to you all, and a happy 2012. See you in the New Year.

And for a touch of Christmas cheer, check out my first attempt at creating a video and uploading it onto YouTube. I haven’t quite worked out how to make the music fade gracefully away – but I’ll work it out for when I do the trailer for ‘Eden’s Garden’ next year. Just click on the Christmas Tree!

Click on the Christmas tree!

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This weekend, I watched a little piece of Swedish magic came to a small town in Wales. It came a little early, as Saint Lucia’s day, the Swedish festival of light, is celebrated on December 13th. But the magic was still the same.

St Lucia is an Italian saint who devoted her life to the poor and was martyred for her faith. She is represented by a girl dressed in white with a red ribbon tied round her waist wearing a crown of candles, accompanied by attendants, also dressed in white, singing traditional Lucia songs.

This Lucia took place in Machynlleth, near Aberystwyth where the publishers of ‘Eden’s Garden’, Honno Press, are based. And next door to the famous Centre for Alternative Technology. As well as celebrating Lucia, the evening was raising funds for a local charity, Hazina, which is raising funds to build a girls’ hostel in Tanzania so that girls can continue with their education into secondary school without having to make a long and sometimes risky journey to and from school each day. They’re doing well so far and you can see pictures of the hostel going up here.

The evening started with a concert by two Swedish opera singers, who had flown in especially for the occasion. Then the lights went down and slowly the sound of distant singing began to emerge from the dark as Lucia with her crown of candles burning brightly in the darkness appeared, making her way slowly through the audience. Since the tune to Lucia’s song is surprisingly familiar (as you’ll find out if you follow the links below) everyone joined in for the English version as Lucia made her way out of the church again.

Then we all tucked into homemade Swedish cakes, including Lucia saffron buns,of course,  accompanied by Glögg, an equally delicious spiced mulled wine.

As you can see, it was atmospheric and truly magical for children and adults alike, and a great way to start Christmas. It’s that thing about candlelight in an old church that somehow not even the swishest of special effects can capture.

Although I think the Glögg might have gone to my head, as I seem to have volunteered to be one of Lucia’s attendants for next year. The long white dress and the tinsel I can deal with – what girl wouldn’t? – but I think I’d better start learning the Lucia song in Swedish straight away! Luckily I have some very good teachers. So if you see me wandering around muttering during 2012, you’ll know I’m practicing …..

We didn’t film our Lucia, but if you want to get an idea, and to hear the Lucia song, there’s a short video of a Lucia from Sweden here:

And because you will know the tune, and you may want to sing along (after all, it is Christmas) this is the English version:

Hark! Through the darksome night

Sounds come a winging:

Lo! ‘tis the Queen of Light

Joyfully singing.

Clad in her garment white,

Wearing her crown of light,

Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Deep in the northern sky

Bright stars are beaming;

Christmas is drawing nigh

Candles are gleaming

Welcome thou vision rare,

Lights glowing in thy hair.

Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

HAPPY SAINT LUCIA’S DAY, TUESDAY DECEMBER 13TH 2011!

And thanks to Dan for the beautiful photographs! (The blurry ones are mine, I should add) 🙂

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