Fig Cake with Fig Leaf Cream

In Tangier, at the very edge of the casbah overlooking the strait, is a house called Dar Zero. An old property, with white, crenelated walls, this is where Samuel Pepys lived in 1683, during the English occupation of Tangier (1661-1684), when he was employed as a secretary to George Legge, Lord Dartmouth, who had been tasked with abandoning Tangier and destroying its fortifications. In Dar Zero, Pepys wrote sections of his famous diaries, often seated beneath the shade of a huge fig tree that continues to grow in the garden to this day…

Dar Zero, in the Casbah

Dar Zero is very much an inspiration for Dar Portuna, the grand house in An Echo of Scandal. So, in honour of Pepys and his fig tree, here’s a recipe that uses ripe, seasonal figs, alongside fresh fig leaves. It’s a riff on my favourite Smitten Kitchen strawberry cake. Fig leaves have a wonderful aroma, somewhere between floral vanilla, coconut and tobacco. Here, they’re made into a syrup and mixed with whipped cream, to create a gentle, fragrant indulgent pudding that’s perfect to eat as the last golden rays of summer sink into autumn.

Fig Cake with Fig Leaf Cream

Ingredients:
For the cake:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 190g golden caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 190g self-raising flour
  • 120ml milk
  • 1 tsp of vanilla bean extract
  • 2-3 fresh figs (if you can’t find fresh you can used tinned, or dried figs soaked in a little water to plump them up a bit)
  • 1 tbsp of caster sugar

For the syrup and cream:

  • 2-3 fresh fig leaves
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 250ml double or whipping cream

Method
The Cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350/gas mark 4. Grease or line a 10in pie dish, or a 9in springform cake tin.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
  3. Add the egg, along with a tablespoon of flour to stop the mixture from splitting and beat in.
  4.  Stir in the milk and vanilla extract.
  5. Gently fold in the remaining flour until no streaks remain.
  6. Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin.
  7. Cut the figs into halves or quarters, depending on size, removing any woody stems, then press gently into the surface of the cake at regular intervals.
  8. Sprinkle the surface with the remaining sugar, so the fruit turns jammy.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes before turning down the heat to 165C/325F/gas mark 3. Bake for another 35-40 minutes, or until the surface is golden brown and a skewer comes out cleanish.

The syrup and cream:  

  1. Rinse the fig leaves, pat dry, and cut off any remaining stalk. Place them under the grill for a minute or two, keeping a close eye on them and turning when necessary: you want them to be gently toasted/browned but not burned. This releases the scent of the fig leaves.
  2. Place 2 tbsp of caster sugar in a pan along with around 8 tbsp of water and the fig leaves (don’t worry if they crumble).
  3. Press the fig leaves into water and stir about until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Bring to a gentle boil for 3-4 minutes, until the water starts to reduce to a syrup.
  5. Leave to cool, before straining through a tea strainer or muslin into a jug.
  6. Spoon 2-3 tbsp of syrup over the cake while it is still warm, so that it soaks in.
  7. Pour the double cream into a clean bowl.
  8. When the syrup is completely cool, stir 4 tbsp (or more, to taste) into the cream, then whip until soft peaks form.
  9. Serve the cake cut into wedges, with a dollop of fig leaf cream alongside.

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Where the Wild Cherries Grow: US Release!

Last week was a great one here; Where the Wild Cherries Grow was released in the US by St Martin’s Press in a beautiful hardback edition.

IMG_0678

The response from readers and bloggers so far has been wonderful; a huge thank you especially to Erika Robuck for hosting a recommendation, review and giveaway on her blog, and to Deborah Kalb for hosting a Q&A. Thanks, of course, go to the team at St Martin’s Press for all their hard work too.

Keep your ears out for the audiobook version from Macmillan Audio! Where the Wild Cherries Grow has also been translated into Italian (as La Ragazza delle Ciliegie) and German (as Der Duft von Meer und Thymian). Details on the Books page!

You can pick up a copy of Where the Wild Cherries Grow at the following places: Indiebound / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Books-A-Million / Powell’s

… or of course, your local library. 🙂

L x

The Secrets Between Us Blog Tour

As part of the release of The Secrets Between Us, my wonderful publicist Hannah has put together a blog tour!

LauraMBlogTour(1)

Writing is a lonely business, and the first weeks of new book’s release can feel especially daunting, before you’ve quite used to the idea of other people reading your words… So I’m grateful for the support and hard work of bloggers, readers and reviewers who all help to kick-start a book’s sales and get the word out there. I’ll share links to the individual blog posts on here as and when they are published.

Many thanks again all; I owe you a glass of wine! (Or a cake. Or both).

L x

 

The Secrets Between Us: OUT NOW!

My new novel, The Secrets Between Us, is out NOW in ebook format, and the rest of January you can grab it for only ÂŁ0.99p! (On Kindle and Kobo at least). That’s six months of my life, a lot of swearing, many glasses of wine, a trip to the Alpes-Maritimes, not much sleep, a lot of reading and even more editing, deleting, re-writing and refining for less than a coffee or a fancy croissant!

secretsbetweenus

Here’s the cover blurb:

A gripping mystery with a heart-breaking revelation, The Secrets Between Us is a sublimely satisfying story of lost love, betrayal and the dangers of war. Perfect for fans of Kate Morton’s The Lake House and Dinah Jeffries’ Before the Rains.

High in the mountains in the South of France, eighteen-year-old Ceci Corvin is trying hard to carry on as normal. But in 1943, there is no such thing as normal; especially not for a young woman in love with the wrong person. Scandal, it would seem, can be more dangerous than war.

Fifty years later, Annie is looking for her long-lost grandmother. Armed with nothing more than a sheaf of papers, she travels from England to Paris in pursuit of the truth. But as she traces her grandmother’s story, Annie uncovers something she wasn’t expecting, something that changes everything she knew about her family – and everything she thought she knew about herself…

So if it sounds like something you might enjoy, please do give the ebook a punt. The paperback is due out in April, so physical book-lovers will have to wait until then, I’m afraid. Links below.

As always, it’s an incredibly odd feeling, a new book being released into the world, but so far, I’ve had some great support and reviews from readers and bloggers alike. THANK YOU all!

Now I’m off to work on the next one…

L x

Amazon

Kobo

Google Books 

iTunes

 

Cover Reveal: The Secrets Between Us

It seems like yesterday that I was going through the page proofs for my new novel with a red pen, thinking “well, I’ll have a few months at least to get used to the idea of this being a real book”. But then, a surprise came through from my publisher: it wouldn’t be months to wait at all. In fact, they were going to be publishing the ebook on the very first day of 2018! (Although you’ll have to wait until April 2018 for the paperback, I’m afraid.)

The team have been working hard over the past few weeks to make sure the book is ready in time, from page proofs to cover copy, to – of course – the cover itself.

So, I’m delighted to be able to share with you all the cover for my third novel, The Secrets Between Us

A gripping mystery with a heart-breaking revelation, The Secrets Between Us is a sublimely satisfying story of lost love, betrayal and the dangers of war.

High in the mountains in the South of France, eighteen-year-old Ceci Corvin is trying hard to carry on as normal. But in 1943, there is no such thing as normal; especially not for a young woman in love with the wrong person.

Fifty years later, Annie is looking for her long-lost grandmother. Armed with nothing more than a sheaf of papers, she travels from England to Paris in pursuit of the truth. But as she traces her grandmother’s story, Annie uncovers something she wasn’t expecting, something that changes everything she knew about her family – and everything she thought she knew about herself…

The Secrets Between Us will be released on January 1st 2018, so if you’re looking for something to read while hiding in bed with a hangover, this one might be the book for you! It’s available to preorder now (as an ebook for ÂŁ4.99 and a paperback for ÂŁ6.99). If you’re interested, please do pre-order; it really does help authors immensely.

The book is currently up on NetGalley, for any bloggers and reviewers out there! Keep an eye out for promotions too, which should be running around the release date.

This has been – so far – the hardest book to write, and I’m pretty nervous about how it’s going to be received by readers… But I’ll just have to wait and see, and hope that people enjoy it.

More from me later!

L x

Les transbordeuses: the forgotten female activists of Cerbère

He had brought a large basket with him. From it came tumbling oranges, impossibly bright against the old, scrubbed wood.
‘Where did these come from?’ I asked ClĂ©mence, fetching a clean knife to copy AarĂł’s peeling and slicing. ‘I haven’t seen any groves.’
‘Spain. They’re why this town exists. Buy an orange or a lemon anywhere in France, or England for that matter,’ she slid a look at me, ‘and it will have come through Cerbère.’
‘How so?’ The air around me was a spritz of juices, fresh and sweet.
‘The trains,’ she said. ‘Oranges have to travel somehow.’
Where the Wild Cherries Grow, p.204

If you were to walk through the bustling Les Halles market, “the belly of Paris” at the end of the nineteenth century, you would have come across barrows full of citrus fruits, their skins gleaming bright against the grey winter city.

A luxury for the wealthy, those oranges and lemons arrived in Paris after a journey of nearly a thousand miles. In 1900, lorries and commercial haulage didn’t yet exist. Canals were too slow for perishable goods, always at risk of spoiling. No, there was only one way to ship the precious cargo of winter citrus fruit from the southern coast of Spain all the way to the chilly, fog-wrapped Northern cities of Europe. The railroad.

On the surface it might seem simple, to load crates or oranges and lemons into a freight compartment in Spain and send them on their way, to arrive in Paris a few days later. It would have been, had it not been for a hitch: the gauges of the tracks in France and Spain were – and still are in many places – different sizes. This one distinct problem was a catalyst, bringing together the citrus freight, the railroad and a group of indomitable female workers into a remarkable, if forgotten, story of bravery, industrial exploitation and activism.

Cerbere Beach

The setting for this story is the small frontier town of Cerbère, the last station in France before the border with Spain, at the very edge of French Catalonia. Cerbère is a child of the railroad and the sea; a place that manages to be many things at once. French and Catalan, rural and international. For many years, it could only be reached by boat or by walking the goat tracks over the arid maquis.

Before 1870, Cerbère was a sleepy place, home to a few wine-growing families, fishermen, and the odd customs official trying to stop smugglers from crossing the border. But on January 21st 1878, the French Chemins du fer du Midi and the railway company of Tarragona met at the Cerbère border. There, they encountered the problem that was to give rise to one of the most fascinating chapters in Cerbère’s history, and in the history of women’s labour. The French rail gauge was set to the European standard – 1,435mm – while the Spanish was 1,668mm. As a result, nothing could roll from one country into the other. Any passengers or freight needing to cross the border had to be unloaded and reloaded, every time.

The solution that presented itself was both simple and indicative of the Victorian-era, when industry built profit upon the backs of the labouring poor. To move the freight, all that was required were hands, and a lot of them.

Soon, freight forwarding companies were springing up on either side of the border, eager to exploit the situation. They began to employ women specifically to move the citrus cargo, believing that they would treat the fruit more carefully and dextrously than male haulers. These women became known locally as les transbordeuses.

https://i1.wp.com/cessenon.c.e.pic.centerblog.net/74ab3aca.jpg

The job was hard and the pay was meagre – 75 centimes per team for every wagon loaded, and 1 extra centime for the team leader – but for several months of every year, these women were an essential part of the supply chain, moving vast quantities of fruit between carriages. It was tricky work; the oranges were a valuable winter crop, a luxury had to be expertly packed to prevent spoilage on the long journey north, to Paris, Brussels, sometimes even as far as Russia.

Five women worked every compartment. Two “remplisseuses” unloaded the oranges into straw-padded baskets, two “passeuses” carried those baskets across narrow gangplanks to the French wagons, where a last woman, the “videuse”, carefully stowed the oranges in stacks, inserting long, hollow reeds throughout to ensure airflow around the fruit.

Between November and May every year, the women often worked sixteen or seventeen hour days, from six in the morning to eleven o’clock at night, hauling twenty kilogram baskets back and forth. Due to the seasonality of the work and the intense, busy hours, women would end up as the breadwinners of their families, sometimes earning twice as much as their husbands or fathers.

Soon, however, the freight companies began to find ways to abuse their workforce. They created a hierarchy of teams; the fastest and most loyal workers were at the top, and would win the most wagons. Those at the bottom might not get any work at all. This resulted in huge wage inequalities, and bred resentment, rather than cooperation between teams of women.

But by the beginning of the twentieth century, with change sweeping across Europe, the transbordeuses had had enough of poor working conditions and even poorer pay. On 26th February 1906, one hundred and seventy of the women went on strike, demanding a 25% pay increase and an end to the hierarchy system. After twenty-four hours, with three-quarters of the citrus wagons blocking the station and at a risk of spoiling, the freight forwarding companies gave in, and agreed to the pay-rise as well as a fairer rotation of teams. As a result of this victory, the women went on to form one of the first working class women’s unions in France; the Syndicat des transbordeuses d’oranges.

The newfound accord was not to last. Soon, tensions began to grow. Some workers were encouraged by the freight forwarding companies to start a union of their own to counter the Syndicat. The freight companies then refused to recognise the “red” Syndicat as an official trade union, while simultaneously signing a contract with the new, “yellow” union, promising them priority. The fair rotation scheme was destroyed, workers pitted against each other.

Throughout 1906, Syndicat members fought fiercely against the injustices, including abuse and unfair dismissal. In late autumn, they went on strike again and blocked the station doors, stopping “yellow” workers from reaching the wagons. The situation eventually grew so tense that the state dispatched two companies of infantry soldiers to the area. Fruit businesses in Spain appealed to the Spanish ambassador in Paris, begging him to try and resolve the situation.

But the women of the Syndicat refused to be bullied or threatened into going back to work. For two long months, they stood firm, all the while wreaking havoc at Cerbère station. On 29th November, they even lay down on the tracks in front of a train from Perpignan in protest, not moving until the train was finally called to a halt only two metres from where they lay.

In December, with the busiest months imminent, the freight forwarding companies and the Syndicat were finally brought together to discuss the situation. As a meeting, it was not without conflict. But in the end a solution, of sorts, was reached. The outcome was not what the Syndicat had hoped for; the freight forwarders demanded and won the right to give priority to their own “yellow” workers, though only during morning work hours.

Although the final outcome of the long strike left many of the transbordeuses angry and disappointed, it does not diminish the importance of their actions. By standing up for better pay, for fairer hours, against unjust dismissals, they made history by staging one of the first all-female strikes in France. They also formed one of the first women’s unions, captured international attention, and fought for the rights of the individual worker against company exploitation.

By 1930, buoyed by freight, Cerbère a thriving border station. Villas and ornate customs offices were built into the hills; a new road for touring cars, and a grand art deco hotel that jutted out above the sea like the prow of a ship. Passengers could travel along the coast, taking in the glittering bays of the Côte Vermeille, and alight at Cerbère to spend a night or two at the elegant Hôtel Belvédère du Rayon Vert, perched above the tracks. When their papers had been stamped by officials, they could re-board and continue their leisurely way into Spain.

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/f1/39/2b/f1392b9f419b37ba389bced68ea56acd--vintage-travel-posters-vintage-poster.jpg

And all the while, the transbordeuses worked, passing the trade down from mother to daughter over the years. Amongst the glamour and money that came to the Cerbère thanks to customs taxes, it is easy to forget the women who made it all possible.

By the 1950s, with the introduction of the variable gauges and gauge change systems, work for the transbordeuses dried up. As the decades went on, freight passing through Cerbère began to decrease, as long-distance haulage, cheap shipping and air freight were introduced. The railroad was no longer an artery, feeding the town, and traffic at the once hectic station slowed to a trickle.

Cerbere tracks

Today, Cerbère must be one of the quietest international stations in the world, with one or two freight passenger trains passing through, on the long journey between Paris and Barcelona. Most of the ornate customs houses that line the track are derelict, home to pigeons. The imposing Hôtel Belvédère du Rayon Vert was left to fall into disrepair after being occupied during World War II, but is now being renovated, slowly, a room at a time. Thankfully much of its art deco charm, its floor tiles and auditorium, grand dining room and entrance hall remains intact, albeit a little battered and faded.

 

Cerbère’s history as a border station makes it a fascinating place; humble yet grand, proud yet wry and welcoming, somehow more real and vivid than other nearby seaside towns like touristy Collioure.

Until last year, it was possible to take the sleeper train from the Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris at ten o’clock at night, and wake up at the feet of the Pyrénées-Orientales, and in Cerbère, in time for breakfast the next morning. Sadly, the train company have discontinued this route (although there’s a rumour that it might start up again soon) so I’m glad it’s a journey I was able to make while I could; tracing the route that the orange cargoes would have taken over a hundred years ago, packed by the hands of the courageous transbordeuses.

Cerbere Transbordeuses statue

How to get there:

Cerbére can be reached direct by train from Paris in around six to eight hours, for as little as €20-€30, if booked in advance. Alternatively, fly to Carcassonne, Perpignan, Toulouse or Barcelona and take the train from there.

Places to Stay:

HĂ´tel la Dorade

This modest but friendly family-run hotel is right on the seafront, and was the inspiration for the CafĂ© Fi del Mon in Where the Wild Cherries Grow. Yves, the owner, knows the history of the town inside out. Onsite cafĂ© and restaurant that serves Catalan-style food and fresh fish, still using many of Yves’ mother’s recipes. (Tell him I sent you…)

http://www.hotel-ladorade.com/index.php

La Dorade – Front de Mer 66290 Cerbère (00 33) 4 68 88 41 93

contact@hotel-ladorade.com

 

 

Hôtel Belvédère du Rayon Vert

Belvedere Room

It’s possible to stay in one of the renovated apartments in this fascinating hotel, complete with 1930s furniture. Don’t expect five star luxury, but if you’re after a truly unique experience, this is the place for you.

Avenue CĂ´te Vermeille
66290 CERBERE
TĂ©l. +33 4 68 88 41 54
sinjeancharles@hotmail.fr

 

 

Where the Wild Cherries Grow: Book Launch

I’m so excited; Where the Wild Cherries Grow is finally being released into the wild THIS WEEK.

WTWCG1

It feels like it’s forever since I sat in front of a fire, in a cottage in west Wales, writing the first few chapters of what would eventually become this book. But now it’s finally going to be available in the shops, and I can’t wait to wave it on its way!

Which I’ll be doing this week with a launch event at Waterstones Exeter Roman Gate on Thursday 15th June.

Living and working in the South West as I do, Devon holds a special place in my heart, especially as my family home is only a half an hour drive away, by the sea. And Exeter Roman Gate Waterstones is doubly important, since my sister – fantasy novelist Lucy Hounsom – also works there! So the launch will be something of a family affair.

Come and join us from 6.30pm on Thursday 15th June for a short talk and a reading by me (and free wine!) to help us launch Where the Wild Cherries Grow into the swirling currents of the bookselling world.

WTWCG close

Also keep your eyes peeled for a special recipe to accompany this book, which I’ll be posting on Thursday…

 

 

Five Hundred Years of The Kitchen Cat — Katzenworld

Minette, Julia Child’s first kitchen cat “Cats gravitate to kitchens like rocks gravitate to gravity.” – Terry Pratchett For as long as there have been kitchens, there have been kitchen cats: rodent hunters, defenders of the pantry, guardians of the warmest spot by the hearth, always on the look out for a stray piece of…

via Five Hundred Years of The Kitchen Cat — Katzenworld

Above is a piece I wrote about art, pop culture, food, chefs, kitchens and cats for the lovely folk at Katzenworld. Enjoy!

La ragazza delle ciliegie

It’s always an apprehensive moment, seeing cover designs for the first time. Do the designers share the same ideas about the book as me? What visual cues have they taken? Which colours have they focused on? Something that always surprises people is how little an author is usually involved when it comes to design; I tend to send mood boards and visual references to the publisher, but really, it’s down to them and their design team to come up with something that will both represent the content and catch a reader’s attention on a shelf. Not an easy task.

Nevertheless, it’s exciting too, and slightly unbelievable, when someone creates an book cover for a thing that started life as a word document on your computer.

I find it particularly interesting to see how different countries respond to cover design for the same book. The cover for the French version of The Confectioner’s Tale, (Le Portrait de l’oubli) is a case in point! Compared to the UK version, it’s definitely different, and not what I expected, but I love it.

So, I’m excited to reveal the cover for the Italian translation of Where the Wild Cherries Grow, published as La ragazza delle ciliegie by Piemme in June 2017. I think they’ve done a brilliant job on the design, both with the cherry blossom, and a hint of wild, windswept shore beyond. Bravo, Piemme!

la ragazze delle ciliegie

For contrast, here’s the cover for the German translation, titled Der Duft von Meer und Thymian, published in July 2017 by Bastei LĂĽbbe, which is different again, somehow less moody, but also lovely.

der duft von meer und thymian

But of course, it’s the UK version that I’m going to focusing on over the next few weeks, seeing as it is released on the 15th June. I’m so excited that the book will finally be available in the shops, and can’t wait to hear from future readers.

In the meantime, watch this space for articles, recipes and book launch event info!

L x

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Where the Wild Cherries Grow: a playlist

To celebrate the e-book release of Where the Wild Cherries Grow on the 23rd March, I thought I’d put together something special: a playlist of songs that inspired my writing, remind me of the characters, or just seem to fit the tone of the novel. This is a very mixed bag, from classical nocturnes to Hendrix, but hey, that’s the joy of playlists, right? Without further ado, here we are, a Where the Wild Cherries Grow playlist. I hope you enjoy it.

Laura x

  1. Gotta Get Up, Harry Nilsson (1972)

Yes, so I know that WTWCG is set in 1969, but 1972 is close enough, ok?? This is a great song, makes me think of Bill squeezing through the crowds of 1960s London, but it also captures the general mood of a generation, living fast, exhausting themselves. It’s a sort of Sergeant Pepper the morning after the night before…

2. Train Song, Vashti Bunyan (1966)

Anyone who’s read The Confectioner’s Tale will know that I’m a more than a little bit obsessed with trains, and WTWCG is no exception: train journeys are a fairly major feature of the text. So I couldn’t leave out this Vashti Bunyan classic.

3. Spiegel im Spiegel, Arvo Pärt (1978)

“Somewhere past the end of the cliff he stopped rowing, put the oars up and let us drift, tiny as a leaf on the dark water. The moonlight caught upon the ripples and scattered, until it seemed we were floating through stars.” (p.95, WTWCG)

4. Nocturne pour violin et piano, Lili Boulanger, 1911

This is an intriguing piece, written by Boulanger when she was only eighteen… It’s quite Emeline, simultaneously old and new world, impressionistic in places, with early jazz tinges in others. Boulanger sadly died at the age of 24, from pneumonia and Crohn’s disease, but we’re lucky some of her beautiful work survived.

5. Cosmic American, AnaĂŻs Mitchell (2004)

Totally anachronistic, but who cares: this is one for Emeline and Puce, riding the freight trains in the dead of night.

6. Every Day’s a Lovely Day, Gulliver (1970).

I’m pretty certain Jem’s old, battered, green Citroen 2CV wouldn’t have had a tape deck in 1969, but if it did, this is probably what she’d be listening to, bombing around the dusty lanes of Norfolk with Bill in the passenger seat. (And yes, that is Daryl Hall, pre-Hall and Oates fame!)

7. Foxey Lady, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, (1968)

Come on, I had to. So long William Perch Esq, hello Bill. This one goes out to Matti, Javi and Luci.

8. Wonderful World, Sam Cooke, (1960)

This song is Bill, through and through. I always think of it at the end of the novel when… well, you’ll have to read it for yourself!