Sunday 29 March 2015

Five Recommended Reads for Chocolate Lovers

I love reading books. (You may have already noticed this).

Do you know what goes well with books? Chocolate!

So here are five guaranteed calorie-free reads to melt your heart, not your diet.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

When an exotic stranger, Vianne Rocher, arrives in the French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and opens a chocolate boutique directly opposite the church, Father Reynaud denounces her as a serious moral danger to his flock - especially as it is the beginning of Lent, the traditional season of self-denial.

As passions flare and the conflict escalates, the whole community takes sides. Can the solemnity of the Church compare with the sinful pleasure of a chocolate truffle?

The book has a slightly darker edge than the famous film starring Johnny Depp. I love it for the range of eccentric characters that populate Lansquenet, as different to each other as the chocolates Vianne sells in her shop. A magical and deliciously decadent read. If you enjoy it, there is also a sequel: The Lollipop Shoes.

The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson

Amber Salpone doesn't mean to keep ending up in bed with her friend Greg Walterson, but she can't help herself. And every time it 'just happens' their secret affair moves closer to being a real relationship, which is a big problem when he's a womaniser and she's a commitment-phobe.

While Amber struggles to accept her new feelings for Greg, she also realises that her closeness to Jen, her best friend, is slipping away and the two of them are becoming virtual strangers. Slowly but surely, as the stark truths of all their lives are revealed, Amber has to confront the fact that chocolate can't cure everything and sometimes running away isn't an option ...

The Chocolate Run is one of Dorothy's lighter novels, definitely romantic comedy, and I love the way Amber compares everyone she meets to a different chocolate. As well as the romance, this is also a novel about friendship. (And the cover is beautiful!)

Chocolate Wishes by Trisha Ashley

In the picture-perfect Lancashire village of Sticklepond, Confectioner Chloe dispenses inspirational sweet treats containing a prediction for each customer. If only her own life was as easy to forecast - perhaps Chloe could have foreseen being jilted at the altar…

But when a new Vicar arrives in the village, the rumour mill goes into overdrive. Not only is Raffy Sinclair the charismatic ex-front man of rock band 'Mortal Ruin', he's also the Chloe's first love and the man who broke her heart.

Try as she might, Chloe can't ignore this blast from her past. Could now be the time for her to make a wish - and dare to believe it can come true?

The thing I like best about Trisha's books is that she creates these wonderful little villages populated by lovable but completely eccentric characters. As well as Chloe and her chocolate wishes (like fortune cookies, with little messages inside), we meet her warlock grandfather who runs a museum about magic, her younger brother who's just growing out of an extreme Goth phase, and the new vicar who was once a rock star - and Chole's ex ... One of my all-time favourites!

If you enjoy this, you'll also love Chocolate Shoes and Wedding Blues. (Both books are now available in a box set called The Chocolate Collection.)

The Chocolate Lovers' Club by Carole Matthews

For Lucy Lombard, there's nothing that chocolate can't cure. From heartache to headaches, it's the one thing she knows that she can rely on - and she's not alone. Fellow chocolate addicts Autumn, Nadia and Chantal share her passion and together they form a select group known as The Chocolate Lovers' Club. Whenever there's a crisis, they meet in their sanctuary, a cafe called Chocolate Heaven. And with a cheating boyfriend, a flirtatious boss, a gambling husband and a loveless marriage, there's always plenty to discuss ...

This is another book about friendship as much as romance. Although there are some absolutely hilarious bits, Carole has a gift for mixing humour with life's more serious moments. I just wish there was a Chocolate Heaven near me ...

If you enjoy this, there's also a sequel, The Chocolate Lovers' Diet, and The Chocolate Lovers' Christmas is on its way ...

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan

As dawn breaks over the Pont Neuf, and the cobbled alleyways of Paris come to life, Anna Trent is already awake and at work; mixing and stirring the finest, smoothest, richest chocolate; made entirely by hand, it is sold to the grandes dames of Paris.

It's a huge shift from the chocolate factory she worked in at home in the north of England. But when an accident changed everything, Anna was thrown back in touch with her French teacher, Claire, who offered her the chance of a lifetime - to work in Paris with her former sweetheart, Thierry, a master chocolatier.

With old wounds about to be uncovered and healed, Anna is set to discover more about real chocolate - and herself - than she ever dreamed.

How can you resist a book about chocolate and Paris? A delicious treat of a book and the descriptions of chocolate-making will certainly make you hungry - but a word of warning, have a box of tissues to hand!

Related Posts:

Five Books Which Romanced Me
Five Books Which Chilled Me

Monday 23 March 2015

Dear Diary (or, a sneaky way to add backstory)

This morning I was sorting through my sock drawer (expert procrastinator, remember?) when I found this:

I know, it doesn't look very exciting, but this is the diary I had when I was thirteen. I started off writing very neatly and then, as the year went on, my handwriting deteriorated into a scrawl and there are whole weeks where I didn't write anything at all.

What was the first entry?

Today I start my diary. I hope I can keep it going for 5 year's.

Scintillating stuff. Not to mention inappropriate use of an apostrophe.

Tried straightening my hair. Was very awkward and didn't work.

Some things never change.

Today we bought a puppy. He's a labrodor. We're calling him Elliott.

And just as my punctuation improves my spelling goes to pot.

Being a thirteen-year-old I spent a lot of time talking about boys, using code names - presumably in case the diary fell into The Wrong Hands. (The heroine's sister does this in Nemesis - where do you think I got that idea?). If I could remember who any of these boys were, it might make very entertaining reading. It doesn't help that I've also Tippexed over some entries and cut others out altogether, leaving neat little square holes. (I expect those were the juiciest bits!) Obviously it didn't occur to me that more than thirty years later those Wrong Hands would be mine.

I still have a fascination with diaries and journals, and I love collecting elegant notebooks - although most of the time I can't bring myself to 'spoil' them by actually writing in them. I just like to admire them and stroke them occasionally ...

OK, moving swiftly on.

I've used journals as a way to describe past events  in two of my books Breathless and Something Wicked. Both stories are set in the present day but have a centuries old mystery to solve that I thought would more fun to tell first hand. For example, I could tell you that way back in 1696, herbalist Meg Lawrence was an outcast, despised and distrusted by the villagers she tried her best to help. Or I could allow her to tell you in her own words

"I might as well have 'witch' inscribed on my forehead..."

and allow her wry humour to show through.

Another reason I used a diary to tell Meg's story is because I've often found legend bears little resemblance to the truth - usually because a story has been told so many times it becomes garbled. In my fictional village of Buckley, the legend of 'Magik Meg' and her 'demon lover' has been heavily embellished to pull in the tourists. Back in the 17th century the characters saw themselves differently:

"Demon lover?" Jacob was delighted. "It seems my reputation precedes me."

Something else I had fun with was to have the characters in the present learn part of Meg's story, only for it to be followed by a contradicting entry in the journal. Which version is the truth?

The drawback to having characters in the present using a diary to solve a mystery set in the past is that all the work has been done for them. They know Meg died several centuries ago and that she was a witch. Obviously she was burnt at the stake or hung from the nearest tree. Or maybe flung from the bridge now known as The Drop? All they have to do is read her journal and everything will be revealed, right?

Of course, it's a pity the last few pages appear to be missing ...

Read More:

Beyond the Bridge
Let It Snow

(Photos taken at Plas Mawr, Conwy)

Sunday 15 March 2015

More Ramblings About Tombs

There was one day last week when I really thought spring was on its way. The temperature hit double figures and the sun came out - woohoo! Unfortunately the next day Wales reset to factory settings ...

It doesn't always rain - honest!
When the sun is shining there is no place more beautiful than Wales. When it's pouring with rain there's no place more beautiful than Wales either, it's just a bit harder to appreciate it.

I've recently moved from Anglesey back to the mainland and I'm desperate for the good weather to arrive so I can explore my new surroundings. I used to live in a very rural village, where we could just step outside and go for the most glorious walks down lots of little country lanes - completely deserted apart from the occasional tractor or lost sheep.

One of our favourites walks was to an ancient burial chamber called Bryn Celli Ddu, which means 'the mound in the dark grove'. It does look like something a hobbit might have lived in, but it's located in the middle of a field with barely a tree in sight. OK, so a burial chamber is perhaps not the jolliest place for an outing, but you already know I'm weird eccentric, and it's certainly very unusual.

Bryn Celli Ddu (front)

Bryn Celli Ddu started off as a henge (a Neolithic earthwork) in 3000 BC, with a stone circle surrounded by a ditch and a bank - although now only the ditch remains. Cremated human remains were found at the base of some of these stones, suggesting an altar of some kind. A thousand years later the site was deliberately destroyed. Some of the standing stones were knocked over, some were smashed completely. It was around this time the passage grave was built inside the ditch, to align with the rising summer solstice sun. The burial chamber would have been larger than it is now, sealed off and entirely enclosed.

Tomb Entrance -
a short, narrow passage
leading to the burial chamber

Inside the burial chamber is a very smooth, rounded stone, shaped like a pillar. It's been suggested that this a petrified tree trunk. Outside the back wall of the mound is a replica of one of the original standing stones, which is covered in squiggly carvings. It was found buried inside but has since been placed in what is assumed to have been its correct position. The original carved stone is now in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.

Bryn Celli Ddu (back)
with standing stone just visible on the left

The tomb was originally discovered by a famer looking for 'useful stone' around the end of the 17th century. Apparently he was slightly freaked out by what he found, but still tempted to dig further at the thought of finding treasure. (Sadly, there was none). The site was not properly excavated until 1928, before being reconstructed into what can be seen today.

Inside the burial chamber


Bryn Celli Ddu is maintained by Cadw: Website

Related posts:

Sunday 8 March 2015

A Girl's Best Friend

I've written stories for as long as I can remember. The earliest were children's stories, as I was heavily influenced by what I had read - Enid Blyton and CS Lewis. As I moved into my teens I began reading fantasy, particularly Terry Pratchett, and I wrote my first - and last! - fantasy. It was called The Dreamscape and I still have a soft spot for it.

By now I was becoming more serious about my writing, reading lots of 'how to' books and attending writers' conferences, and it was then I had that lightbulb moment, realising I should really be writing what I was reading. I was in my early twenties and, while I still loved reading Terry Pratchett, I was increasingly reading big glitzy novels with glamorous characters and locations. So I thought, 'OK, what can I write about that's glitzy?' And the answer was diamonds.

Bishop's Palace, Wells

I failed to take into consideration what writers call their 'voice'. I might have loved reading glitzy books and I certainly enjoyed writing what I thought was a glitzy book, but by the time I'd finished it was something else entirely. In other words, the story grew into a typical Louise Marley mix of romantic suspense with a dash of humour.

I think if I were writing the story now, I wouldn’t have characters who are identical twins, because that has become such a cliché. At the time I wanted to write about two sisters and their love/hate relationship. Danielle and Isabel are two of my favourite heroines and I love the contrast in their personalities. Danielle is so obsessed by her work that she’s forgotten how to have fun. Isabel, who does nothing but have fun, needs to become more responsible.

The mysterious Nico is one of my favourite heroes. In the original paperback version he was a lot meaner, but while I was revising the story for the ebook version I had a change of heart and made him kinder. This was the first and last time I ever based the appearance of a character on a real person. Who? I'm not telling, but if you read the book you'll spot the clues!

St Bartholomew's, Botley, Hampshire

I used Bishop's Palace in Wells as Nico's family home and St Batholomew's Church in Botley for St Mary's Church (even though there's no crypt or cliff!). The exterior of Stortford House, where the twins live, is based on Highgrove in Gloucestershire, although the garden, with its topiary, is Levens Hall in Cumbria. I did so much research about diamonds that I swore I'd never write anything requiring that amount ever again! Something I also swore after writing Why Do Fools Fall in Love (film industry) and Breathless (marine archaeology) and - well, you get the idea!

I nearly gave the story the title of Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend, but decided it was just too long. This is the title of a famous song, sung by Marilyn Monroe in the movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - a movie based on a book by the famous author Anita Loos. I've referenced one of her quotes within my story. I wonder if you can spot it?

I had great fun writing A Girl's Best Friend - I hope you enjoy reading it!

A Girl's Best Friend

Are diamonds really a girl’s best friend? Danielle van der Straaten thinks so. Her boyfriends cheat on her, her sister drives her mad and her father only wants to see her married with children - despite all the work she’s put into the family jewellery business. Diamonds are the only thing she can rely on.

Her sister, Isabel, doesn’t care about diamonds, provided she has something sparkly to wear to a party and a gorgeous man to dance with. Life is for living and having fun. And if their money disappeared tomorrow? She’d be in serious trouble.

Jemma Stortford finds it hard seeing Danielle and Isabel living the life that should have been hers. But when she wakes up one morning to find the handsome Nico Morales in her bed, it appears her luck has finally changed. But is Nico who he claims to be? And why is he so interested in the van der Straatens?

As the three women are about to find out, sometimes diamonds aren’t a girl’s best friend at all!

To read an extract, click here

A Girl's Best Friend: Behind the Scenes