Thursday 27 September 2012

Saved By Cake Challenge - September

I have decided to challenge myself to bake a different cake/biscuit from Marian Keyes' book, Saved By Cake, each month, between March and December. I am a beginner at baking and use the same recipes over and over again so it'll be nice to try something new. I will take photos and post them on here each month - the good, the bad and the ugly.
Very Chocolatey Macaroons
This month's challenge was full of firsts; I'd never made a macaroon before, I'd never even tasted a macaroon before and I'd never separated an egg before. But now I've done all three.
Making the macaroons was very simple, as I've found with all the recipes so far. When I divided the mixture on the baking sheets, it looked like... well, dog poo.
Thankfully they came out looking much tastier (and like the photo in the book), although they were huuuuuuuge.
After allowing them to cool, I made the chocolate buttercream and sandwiched the macaroons. The buttercream was lovely and smooth and gorgeous. Best buttercream. Ever. The macaroons were nice too - crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle. As suspected, they were too big and so I could only eat half at a time so next time I'd make sure I divided them up much smaller!

For more Saved by Cake Challenges click here 

Tuesday 25 September 2012

I'm Back! (Warning: There Will Be Photos)

Just over a week ago, I finally married The Partner (who will now be known as The Husband - I'm inventive like that). The following Sunday we took our girls away to Mallorca for a week of sun.

We had a very simple wedding, with just me, The Husband and our daughters. The witnesses were two (very kind) members of staff at the town hall. None of us wore traditional wedding attire and we let the girls choose their own outfits and accessories. I didn't have a bouquet but The Husband bought me some gorgeous flowers.

We had a brilliant holiday with gorgeous weather (so it was a shock to come back to a freezing, rainy England). We went to Club Mac in Mallorca, which was huge and full of fun things to do, from pedalos on one of the lakes, swimming in one of the many pools, kids' clubs and activities, family films in the evenings and entertainment shows.
There was a fantastic playground and the surrounding mountains were stunning. One evening, hundreds of guests lit floating candles on the lake and made a wish, which was lovely.
The beach was a few minutes drive away and the hotel provided a free bus service there and back every half an hour.
We've already been to Marineland in Costa Brava but we enjoyed it so we booked a trip to the one in Mallorca. While it's a lot smaller, this Marineland seemed to centre more on the animals rather than the water park which we found in Costa Brava. There are three shows - parrot, sealion and dolphin, which were all brilliant and funny. We had lunch at The French Coffee Shop, which was just outside Marineland and not only was the food lovely but the staff were too.
Behind Marineland is a gorgeous little beach and a short walk away (we went the wrong way to the beach) there is a harbour with very big, very posh boats.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

The Booker Award

For moi? Thank you, Kate!

This auspicious award targets literary and book-centered blogs and the rules for this one are simple:
1. Post your top five books of all time.
  • Rachel's Holiday - Marian Keyes
  • The Animals of Farthing Wood - Colin Dann
  • One Hit Wonder - Lisa Jewell
  • Babyville - Jane Green
  • Matilda - Roald Dahl
2. Post the Booker Award icon.
3. Nominate other bloggers to do the same.
My nominees are:

How Do You Plan Yours Part II

A while ago, I asked How Do You Plan Yours? I seem to planning more and more with each book and hadn't realised just how much planning had gone into Book 2 until I took it out of its file and spread it out onto the table. Here it is:

Each piece of paper is really a stapled together bunch of papers, ranging from 2-3 pages to 10 pages. I have everything there from the first sketchy outline, a newspaper cutting of a Rose Queen and mayor through to the notes for the third draft.
I suspect that in the end, the planning of Book 3 will be even greater. I'm gonna need a bigger file...

Tuesday 11 September 2012

A Chat With Sophie King

Sophie King has written many novels, both as Sophie King and Janey Fraser. This week I have reviewed The Au Pair and Tales From The Heart, a collection of Sophie King's short stories. Sophie King has very kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions.

When did you realise you wanted to become a writer?
It was never a sudden dawning. More of an inner knowledge – just like I knew I could talk and walk. However, I did panic when I was a teenager, about how I was going to earn my living. For a time, I dallied with the idea of social work or teaching but then, after uni, I was lucky enough to get a place on the Thomson Graduate Trainee Course for journalists. Then I worked on magazines and started my family so had to put off writing my first novel for some years.
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication?
I’ve mentioned a little of this, above. Basically,  I always knew I wanted to write a novel but there wasn’t much time! Then I wrote something called Amersham Wives and got an agent. She was enthusiastic but didn’t sell it.  She suggested I wrote another! To cut a long story short, I wrote a book a year for ten years. Two got taken into editorial meetings by big publishers but were turned down because they were similar to other books which were about to come out. Then I wrote THE SCHOOL RUN under Sophie King. My seventh novel has now just come out, eight years later.
You have published full-length novels and now a collection of short stories. Which form of storytelling do you prefer and why?
I love both. They fulfil different needs at different times.  A short story is great if I get a quirky idea and need to write in a short burst. A novel is much more like a long, intense love affair. I can’t do both at the same time as it requires a different mind set so I tend to write lots of short stories in between my novels.
Which story from your short story  collection, Tales from the Heart, is your favourite?
The heroine in Other People’s Children. She’s like me. Loves her children but is driven mad by them!
Who has been your favourite character to write to date?
Possibly Mel in The Wedding Party. She’s a stunning vicar (ex-advertising) who has to face contemporary problems like infidelity and loss.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Write about your passions. Write every day. Give your characters a serious series of problems to tackle. Make the reader laugh. Make something happen in every chapter. Read. Don’t give up.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
I also write novels as Janey Fraser so I am working on the next one. I never talk about ongoing stories as it takes away the urge to write them. I’m also publicising the latest Janey Fraser novel THE AU PAIR as well as, of course,  TALES FROM THE HEART.
*     *     *     *     *
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
The Au Pair and Tales From The Heart are out now.

Tales From The Heart by Sophie King

Tales From The Heart is a collection of 20 short stories from novelist Sophie King, ranging from fun to heart-wrenching. Most of the stories have some sort of twist and are centred around love and families; mothers and daughters, old flames and new love, celebrations and loss.
The stories are all very quick reads, meaning you can dip in and out of the book whenever you get a few spare minutes. They're great for when you want to read but can't commit to a whole novel and the quick completion of the story is very satisfactory.
I thought all the stories were lovely and well-written but a couple that stood out for me were Other People's Children, which I thought was light-hearted and with a fun twist at the end and The Party, which was quite tragic and moving but my favourite story from the collection was No Presents Please. The story contained a whole timeline of history and the tale was poingnant but uplifting.
As well as the 20 short stories, Tales From The Heart contains a sneak preview of Sophie King's novel, Divorce for Beginners.
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review. I will be chatting to the author  today.

Monday 10 September 2012

The Au Pair by Janey Fraser

Jilly and her husband, David, are worried when, due to cut backs in his company, David is forced to take a reduced income. The bills soon start to pile up and it seems the only solution to their financial problems is for Jilly to go back to work but it has to be something that fits around their three children. After listening to her friend complain about the standard of au pairs she's employed recently, Jilly has an idea. She'll set up her own au pair agency and run it from home.

18 year old Marie-France has recently discovered the name and location of the father she has never met so when she spots an advertisement for an au pair agency in the town her father is from, she applies and moves from her home in France to England in a bid to find him.

Widower Matthew is struggling to come to terms with his wife's death but it has been nine months since Sally died and he must return to work. But Matthew's daughter, Lottie, doesn't want him to go back to work and makes it her mission to drive away every au pair who steps over the threshold.

Jilly soon discovers that running an au pair agency from her kitchen table isn't as simple as she first thought but she is determined to make her business a success.

The Au Pair is a fun read, the kind you can curl up with, with a cup of tea and a biscuit (or two) and lose yourself in the amusing world of Corrywood. I loved the confusion over English sayings and phrases as the au pairs arrived as well as the mispronunciation of words. There are lots of fantastic characters, from Turkish Fatima to the villainous Antoinette and Dawn but my favourite character was Marie-France. The poor girl goes through a lot during her quest to find her father but I loved her feisitiness and determination.

Finally - and rather superficially - I loved the cover for The Au Pair. It's so fun and full of character, much like the book, and has lots of little details.

The Au Pair is the first novel that I've read by Janey Fraser but I really enjoyed it. It was fun and light and so the perfect book to relax with.

Thank you to Janey Fraser for sending me a copy to review.

I will be chatting with the author tomorrow.

Friday 7 September 2012

A Chat With Poppy Dolan

The Bad Boyfriends Bootcamp tells the story of Molly and her endeavours to transform lazy and inattentive men into perfect boyfriend materiel. You can see my review here and author Poppy Dolan has kindly agreed to answer a few questions.

When did you realise you wanted to become a writer?
I always loved writing stories and poems at primary school, and then did some creative writing courses while at university (think awkward, tortured poetry and you'd not be far off). But it wasn't until I was in my twenties that I realised the thing I wanted to write was the thing I loved to read: romantic comedies.

What was your inspiration for The Bad Boyfriends Bootcamp?
Well, bad boyfriends! Those I've had in the past, those I've heard urban myths about because they were so bad... but the things is, these rubbish boyfriends aren't all bad people, they just get things wrong sometimes. I wondered what would happen if I let a group women loose on a gaggle of disappointing men, sorting out their wardrobes, beer bellies and dating technique. It was a nice daydream!

Who was your favourite character to write?
It has to be my heroine, Molly. She's bossy, talkative, kind and caring (the bossy bit she definitely got from me) and in trying to sort out bad boyfriends, she realises she's not exactly a great catch or so wonderful at the dating malarkey herself...

You self-published The Bad Boyfriends Bootcamp. How have you found the experience? Was it easier/harder than you imagined? And were there any problems you didn't anticipate?
Self-publishing has been a rollercoaster, but definitely a good one. It is pretty much a full-time job in itself, as you don't have a publishing house behind you, so you have to motivate yourself to meet deadlines, find freelancers, double check every detail and get your book out there to readers. I've learnt an absolute tonne of great stuff (some trial and lots of error) so I'd recommend it to anyone who's thinking of trying it for themselves, but do be prepared for a long slog. My dream is still to be traditionally published one day, so fingers crossed and touch wood.

What advice would you give to other writers who are thinking of self-publishing their book?
Don't rush into anything, although it's tempting - take your time and do your research. Go on recommendations of the people who've been there and done that. Most of all, join the online writing community wherever you come across it: forums, Facebook, Twitter. Writers tend to be the warmest, most helpful and astute people, in my experience, and always talkative. And Twitter is also brilliant for celeb gossip, of course, so not to be missed.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only one book (conveniently) about your person, what would you like it to be (bearing in mind you may be stranded for months on end with nothing else to read)?
I don't think I could ever point to one book as my favourite of all time, forever and ever amen - that's just way too much pressure! But I might cheat and say I'd take a huuuuuuuge fat notepad to doodle things, write notes to myself and keep a diary of desert island life. Also, knowing what a sieve-like memory I have, I'd have to use it to write myself little to-do lists: Go fishing. Build a fire. Scream for help. I do love a good list.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
My new book is called None in the Oven and it's about relationships, baking and finally growing up. I'm a big chunk into the first draft and really loving it, so hope to have it ready to publish by the end of 2012.

*     *     *     *     *
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Poppy. I like to do a bit of (amateurish) baking myself so your new book sounds fab.
The Bad Boyfriends Bootcamp is out now.

Thursday 6 September 2012

The End x 4

I've gone through three drafts and a final read through and now I think Book 2 is done! Woo!

The word count has crept up the teeniest, tiniest bit to 84,513 but I'll let myself off (I'm nice like that).

I need to write the synopsis now but I've decided to hold off submitting until after I get married (in 8 days. Not that I'm counting or anything). But I will submit it. I promise not to chicken out and if I do, the whole internet has permission to kick me up the arse. There. It's in writing.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Insecure Writer's Support Group - September

The idea of the Insecure Writers Support Group is for writers to blog on the first Wednesday of the month about their fears, struggles and triumphs they have experienced with their writing.
Having almost completed Book 2, I am about to embark on the most terrifying part of writing for an Insecure Writer - the dreaded submission process. I got nowhere with Book 1, which doesn't help the old confidence but I know it's something I'm just going to have to get on with. If I don't submit my work to agents, I'll never get one. I tell myself this but it doesn't make the prospect any easier.
But confidence or no confidence, it's going to happen. I have paper, I have stamps and I have an almost finished manuscript. Eek!

Tuesday 4 September 2012

The Bad Boyfriends Bootcamp by Poppy Dolan

Molly's younger brother doesn't have much luck with the ladies. After seeing Sam miserable after being dumped yet again, Molly steps in with a few hints and tips on how to meet women and, most importantly, how to keep the relationship going beyond a couple of months.
Molly has been trying to follow in her entrepreneur mother's footsteps and create a profitable business for years. She has the ideas and the passion needed but, like all the other ventures she has cooked up and abandoned, her latest business has failed. But then she sees how successful Sam has been since she guided him on how to improve his relationships with women and when his friend is in need of some advice too, Molly spots a gaping hole in the market and sets up The Bad Boyfriends Bootcamp. The bootcamp aims to transform lazy, scruffy singletons into caring, attentive boyfriends. And perhaps, while creating perfect boyfriends, Molly can find one for herself along the way.
The Bad Boyfriends Bootcamp is an amusing book, which had me laughing out loud in places (particularly the Oxo Tower part). Although she wasn't perfect (as her friends discover along the way), I really warmed to Molly. She was warm, funny and caring and I loved the close bond she had with her brother, Sam, and the banter between her and Sam's friends. I also loved the friendships that were built up in the book and thought that, despite a few niggles, Molly, her best friend, Rachael and new friend, Josie, made a fantastic team.

There was humour throughout the book, making The Bad Boyfriends Bootcamp an immensely enjoyable read.

Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy to review. I will be chatting to Poppy on Friday (7th September).

Monday 3 September 2012

The School 'Summer' Holidays

We haven't had much of a summer this year but the Mama J household has had quite a nice, relaxing six weeks off from school. We did manage to get out at times but we still had fun indoors too.

One of the activities we did was Adventure Golf at the Trafford Centre. We had a lot of fun competing (and I won - woo!). My 3 year old got bored towards the end but there were 18 holes so she did really well.

We did some baking - the partner made the moster cakes with the girls and I made the orange buns with them. One evening we all made banana splits. I sliced open the bananas and let the girls loose with the toppings. We did end up with sprinkles everywhere but it was worth it.

The girls signed up for the summer reading challenge at the library and did a bit of colouring in while there. One day we went there were Moshi Mosters pictures to colour so they were very happy as they love Moshi Monsters.
The girls love museums (and I do too because they're free). While we were there they made Egyptian wrist bands and necklaces.
One day we had a pamper day with chocolate face masks, hair straightening and manicures and pedicures. I only have photos of my 9 year old's nails because I ran out of time to do my own! But don't feel too sorry for me - I did have time for chocolate.

One of my favourite activities we did was make summer placemats (the partner cheated and printed out a superhero picture - what's summery about that? tsk). We made the pictures out of coloured paper and card and laminated them so they can be wiped clean. Easy peasy, almost free and lots of fun.

And lastly, we spend the day at Uppermill, a lovely place only a bus ride away. We took a picnic with us (I do love a picnic) and ate it at the park. The Bubble Man was at the park too, blowing huge bubbles, which was fab. We fed the ducks, had a ride on the barge and the kids played on the park. There was a great atmosphere that day as there was an event on called 'The Yanks Are Back In Saddleworth' so there were lots of people in wartime clothing, old cars and some shops had displays of old newspapers and products and the pubs were playing wartime music.

I've been going to Uppermill since I was little and the big stepping stones (top left) are still my favourite bit.

So that was our summer in a nutshell. My 9 year old is back in school tomorrow and my 3 year old starts nursery in a week. Now I just need to label and iron their uniforms. Why did I leave it until the last minute?