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Visiting Western Shores

A couple of months ago I started writing Western Shores, #4 in the Compass Series. Usually, the first step of my creative process is to travel to where my book is set, in order to soak up the atmosphere and gain insight and inspiration, but due to other commitments I wasn’t able to do that this time. Full of optimism and faith that I could create a world from my kitchen table, I went online to do my research, spoke to people over Skype, Facetime etc, and immersed myself in documentaries about marine life.

Six weeks later, I was 60% into the manuscript and hated it. I had no affinity with the characters or the story, and was afraid my readers wouldn’t feel it either. My characters had no chemistry – not because of the age gap (it’s an age-gap romance), but because I couldn’t relate to their lives. Dread crept up on me that I might have wasted those six weeks, so in order to save what could be saved, I booked my ticket to Northern California. The moment I got there it became clear how wrong I was not to have done that in the first place. Here’s a little update on my time on the Western Shores …

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I had chosen Santa Cruz as my ‘hub’ because it’s quite central, and within reasonable distance from everywhere I needed to be. The sunsets are amazing there and so is the morning light. It’s also riddled with pelicans and psychics, neither of which I’d ever seen in the wild before. I’m not sure where all the people were though, as it was zombie-apocalypse-quiet in town, even on the weekends.

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Capitola, a 15-minute drive from Santa Cruz, is the setting for Western Shores, so I’ve been spending time there in the mornings, taking in the atmosphere and writing. It’s a quaint and very colorful little village, noticeably more bohemian than most other towns in the area. I felt at home there and miss it already. The people are sweet, life is slow-paced and all in all it’s just very, very chilled and very beautiful J. Maddison, Hannah’s half-sister will be moving here soon, and I think she’s going to like her new life!

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To get a feel for the coast (and because my editor implored me to go as it’s her favorite place in the world), I drove along the Big Sur Highway 1, and holy fuck it’s pretty! Honestly, I did not expect such beauty and almost crashed twice, distracted by the scenery. I ended up driving for way longer than I’d planned because I was scared of missing out on whatever was just around the next bend.

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Maddison is a marine biologist (she was still in college in Southern Roots and now has her Masters), so I wanted to know about her world. Thankfully, there’s a wealth of information and inspiration in this area when it comes to marine wildlife. Monterey is a lovely city, and also home to an amazing aquarium that aims to inspire visitors to think about ocean conservation. It certainly inspired me, so I went out in search of wildlife myself, primarily obsessing over harbor seals and sea lions. I could watch them for hours, and indeed did.

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Before I left, I’d arranged to meet with Dr. Noren, a lovely lady who has devoted 25 years to research on marine mammals. Truly admirable and great fun! We need more people like her in the world… She filled me in on what it takes to work in her field, and it’s helped me a lot as my knowledge on the topic is extremely limited.

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The beaches along Monterey Bay are beautiful, and my favorite one was Sunset State Beach, which is often covered in a thick mist in the mornings. It was eerily quiet and felt like the end of the world. I found two sand dollars here and apparently, they bring luck!

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Apart from beach-hopping and staring at sea lions, I also got lost for three hours. Satnav didn’t work and I had no idea where I was, but it was really pretty so it was okay J.  Then my car got stuck in the sand and I had to dig it out before helping other geniuses like myself, who thought it would be a great idea to drive next to the dunes without a 4×4. Once safely back in town, I was then approached by two different people who asked to pray for me, and another man who offered me money to get in his car, all of which I politely declined. This had me worried for a little while about the image I’m projecting to others, and I made a mental note not to stand smoking next to motel containers after nine pm, wearing thigh-high boots and a furry coat, sporting wild hair from driving all day.

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All in all, it was an incredibly inspiring and informative experience. Not only regarding the book, but also in a personal sense, as I now have sleepless nights over the future of our oceans and have embarked on a mission to reduce my carbon footprint. But the culmination of my experience has been the insight I’ve gained about my writing process: since I started writing I’ve tried to live by ‘write what you know’. This one time I disregarded it and paid a heavy price: 30.000 words went in the bin. Six weeks of hard work wasted, but an incredibly valuable lesson learned and hopefully, the book will be better for it.

Fireflies has been translated into Spanish!

It’s a big day and I’m so proud! I’ve just had my first book translated into Spanish 🙂

Luciérnagas will be out on the 1st of November and is now available for pre-order!  Thank you Rocío Toboso F for your brilliant translation, and thank you Irene Niehorster for proofreading . It’s been so great to work with you and I hope we can work on many more books together.

‘Luciérnagas’, la traducción en español de ‘Fireflies’, estará a la venta el 1 de Noviembre y está disponible para reservar en la tienda Kindle.

La sobrecargo Mia Donoghue siempre está en movimiento, dejando poco tiempo para ella. No le importa estar ocupada, la distrae de recuerdos dolorosos y de su lucha diaria por mantenerse sobria.

La capitán Ava Alfarsi acaba de ser ascendida, soportando más responsabilidad de la que tuvo nunca antes. Como mujer capitán soltera, joven y atractiva, Ava no tiene problemas en conocer mujeres, pero sus problemas por controlarlo todo y el temor a que la gente averigüe que está muy lejos de ser perfecta, le impide conectar con otros en más profundidad.

Cuando las dos se dan cuenta de los secretos más profundos de cada una, encuentran confort al saber que no están solas. La atracción es innegable mientras se embarcan juntas en un viaje de curación. ¿Podrá Ava aprender a dejarse ir? y ¿podrá Mia reconciliarse con su pasado?

Ambas luchando por encontrar la fuerza para combatir sus demonios, nunca pensaron que encontrarían esa fuerza la una en la otra. Pero ¿será suficiente la pasión para mantener el fuego ardiendo?

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‘The Good Girl’ by Madeleine Taylor

Lise Gold Books is proud to be publishing ‘The Good Girl’, the debut novella by Madeleine Taylor, a new author of lesbian erotica.

Look out for the release date in November. This book is hot!!!

I’m a good girl. I work hard, look like your average girl next door, do everything in moderation, and I certainly don’t make a habit of going into a stranger’s hotel room dressed in sexy lingerie and killer heels. That is until I meet her.

When a mysterious woman buys me a drink at a hotel bar in New York, I never expect her to impact my life the way she does. From the moment she lays eyes on me, there’s little point fighting my desires because she seems to know them better than myself…

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A day in the life of an indie author

There seems to be a misunderstanding about what working from home is really like. A lot of my friends keep commenting how lucky I am to be able to do that, and that they’d love to swap places with me. Even my family is convinced I get up whenever I want, take my time having three coffees and slowly wake up before I sit down, slap a few words on paper, and the money rolls in. They are wrong.

Okay, so here’s the thing: Yes, I do feel really lucky to be able to write full time, but let me tell you, it’s not the life people seem to think it is. Of course there are perks. I travel regularly for inspiration as I write travel romance, and I get to be my own boss, but I make long days and I work really hard, six days a week. I don’t mind working hard because I love what I do, but I thought I’d share a typical day in my life for those who are curious about what being a full-time indie-author really entails.

05:45 Today I’m getting up really early as I’m driving my wife to work. I’m an early riser anyway, but four times a week I’ll take her to her early shift at the local hospital. If I drive her to a later shift, I’ll take the dogs with me and take them to the park right after.

06:45 I sit down at the kitchen table – we have an office but it’s never been used as such and is currently serving as our cat Tittie’s private bedroom – and check my emails and social media channels over my first coffee. I aim to always answer everyone personally, which sometimes takes a bit of time, but I actually really like interacting with readers. I also check for new reviews because it’s essential to me to know what people think of my books. Luckily, I have pretty thick skin so negative reviews don’t affect me very much. If they’re non-informative, I just shake them off and if they contain constructive criticism, I’ll keep it in mind for future books. Thankfully, they’re usually positive.

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07:30 Eastern Nights is currently being turned into an audiobook and I have to approve the last 12 chapters. Addison Barnes is an amazing narrator, so it’s a pleasure listening to her. It’s still always strange to hear your own work being read out loud though.

08:45 Another coffee while I create my audiobook cover as I’m unable to approve the book without the cover being uploaded first. This is a fairly small job because the paperback and Kindle covers are already done. I use Illustrator and Photoshop for my covers and do all the graphic design work myself, but I’m considering using freelancers in the future as the whole process (Kindle, audio, paperback, social media banners, post images, website banner etc) takes up a lot of my time, which means less time for writing.

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09:30 My cover is done, and the audiobook approved for retail (Amazon, Audible and iTunes) so I start reviewing my WIP. Usually my wife proofreads chapters right after I’ve written them. I’m looking at four chapters she read last night and re-work some of the dialogue over breakfast.

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11:00 Onto writing now. I tend to check into a Facebook group with fellow authors where we talk about our plans for the day and set a daily target. Unless I’m planning on meeting friends or running errands, my target is 2000 words a day. Anything more is a bonus, but I do try to stick to this minimum wordcount. I’m not a slow writer but I’m not a very fast one either. I don’t plot because it just doesn’t work for me, so sometimes I have to delete quite a lot and re-write it if I change direction. This is probably the most painful part of the process.

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My current WIP is titled Living and tells the story of Ella, a Hollywood actress who is in a very bad place after losing her twin sister. When she decides to end her life and walks into the ocean one night, she’s dragged out by Cam, a yoga teacher who lives on the beach. Depression is a difficult topic to write about, but as always, my emphasis is on the romance aspect of the story, so I aim for the novel to be hopeful and uplifting. The backdrop is LA and there are a couple of chapters situated in Palm Springs. I usually travel to where my book is set and start writing there but as I’m already going to Pittsburgh for the GCLS conference this year, I’ve decided to skip LA. In my last two jobs I spent quite a bit of time in LA, so I feel I know the city well enough to immerse my readers in it. I’m currently 74000 words into Living and am planning to release it by the end of July, unless my editor has other ideas :).

I don’t have lunch as such because I don’t really stick to mealtimes, unless I feel like cooking (which I love but it takes time) so I mostly tend to snack throughout the day, and that’s not always a good thing when you’re working from home (and in the kitchen)!

16:00 Around this time the dogs will start staring at me pointedly because it’s their self-allocated time for the big walkies (they get a short one in the morning too if it isn’t raining). The kitchen door is always open unless it’s freezing so they can go in and out the garden whenever they want. El Comandante tore a ligament while humping a rottweiler a while back and he’s still not fully recovered so we can’t go too far. Nottingham is a great place for dog walking and there are lots of nice parks with friendly dogs. Since I’ve basically been sitting on my ass all day, the walk is good for me too. I didn’t have my phone with me today, but here are the pooches:

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17:00 My wife is home and has brought a chicken for the dogs and the cats (bought not hunted, although we think they’re convinced that is what she does all day). It goes in the oven to roast and we catch up over a coffee.

18:00 I check my campaigns. These are mostly Amazon marketing campaigns but can also include Google or websites that market my books. Amazon gives live feedback which is great because you can adjust your budget accordingly. I’m currently working on trialling banners in India on a couple of popular websites. Marketing is expensive, whether it’s online or in magazines, so I set a percentage of my monthly royalties aside for this. If people don’t know you exist, they won’t read your books. Self-publishing is like running a company where you get to do all the jobs yourself. Apart from writing, you need to think about graphic design and house style, formatting, printing, distribution, editors, proof readers, beta readers, arc readers, narrators, producers, marketing, events, social media, planning, finance and I’ve just added translation to the list as I’m going to have my first book translated into Spanish! This is very exciting, and I’ll share more about this once I’ve ironed out the details. Languages on my wish-list are Spanish, French and Hindi to start with, but it’s a slow process involving a lot of investment.

19:00 I enjoy my wife’s homemade chilli while I order paperbacks to bring to the GCLS conference in two and a half weeks. My book Fireflies has been nominated for a Goldie in the Contemporary Romance Long category, so I decided to attend this year. I’m going by myself as my wife has to work, and I’m really excited to meet some of the American authors and readers. I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, so if anyone has tips on what to see and where to go, let me know :). The UK author community is quite tight-knit, and I know a lot of the lesfic authors here, but I haven’t met any of my overseas colleagues yet.

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20:00 One last hour of writing with a G&T before I call it a day. I’m writing my last sex scene of the book and writing steamy scenes is always easier at night with an alcoholic beverage! I’m on 2500 words for today, which I’m happy with.

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21:30 Netflix in bed with my wife (actual Netflix lol), currently binge-watching Good Girls, alternating with my wife’s beloved Korean horrors.

Northern Lights and cookie recipes

cookiesMy upcoming release, Northern Lights, will be out on the first of December. The romantic novella is set in Kirkenes, Norway, and will be available in e-book, paperback and audio format. Writing it really got me in the mood for Christmas, and I hope it will awaken the Christmas spirit in you too! Here’s the blurb:

Hannah Hudson decides to take a break from her busy restaurant and her life in London after her girlfriend, who she thought she’d share the rest of her life with, suddenly walks out on her. She travels to a small boutique hotel in Kirkenes, Norway, hoping to spend a peaceful and relaxing Christmas by herself.

Kristine Miller loves adventure. A bank manager living in a small town in Louisiana, she’ll take every opportunity she can get to explore the world. Kristine travels to Norway hoping to see the famous northern lights but when she meets Hannah, a fellow guest at her hotel, she realizes soon enough that the northern lights might not be the most fascinating thing there.

Both women expected Christmas in Norway to be special but neither of them expected it to bring magic into their lives…

 

I put some of my mother’s recipes for Norwegian cookies in the back of the book, so you can join in with Hannah & Kristine and give it a go yourself, but for those of you following my blog – and apologies for the fact that I haven’t blogged much lately, it’s been super busy- you can start early if you like! I’ve substituted two kinds of cookies that appear in Northern Lights with other recipes that are also popular Christmas cookies in Norway, as I am assuming no one outside Scandinavia will have the special irons required to make these. Therefore you should only need standard kitchen equipment to make the recipes listed below, you can even substitute a rolling pin for a wine bottle—it works just fine. I’ve personally tested all the recipes to see if they could be made without an electric mixer, and although I couldn’t lift my right arm the next day, the cookies tasted great! With tsp, I mean a regular teaspoon you stir your coffee with, and with tbsp, I mean a regular spoon you eat soup with, so if it doesn’t fit in your mouth, it’s too big… ! One final note – please be aware that these recipes make big batches, they are made to be shared & are often given as gifts to friends & family at Christmas.

So, here we go!

Pepperkaker

Makes about 40 small cookies

 

100 gr butter / 0.4 cup / 3.5 oz

85 gr sugar / 0.4 cup / 3 oz

300 gr white flour / 2.4 cup / 10 ½ oz

100 ml golden syrup / 0.4 cup

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp baking soda

 

 

  1. Cream the butter until light and fluffy, then beat in the sugar (this can be done by hand or using a mixer).
  2. Add in the spices, the golden syrup, then the flour and continue to mix until everything is blended well.
  3. Leave the dough to cool in the fridge for 2 hours.
  4. After cooling, roll out the dough and use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. I like to use Christmas tree shapes for this recipe. If you don’t have cookie cutters, you can simply roll the dough into a sausage shape and slice off rounds.
  5. Line your baking sheet(s) with parchment paper and bake the cookies in a pre-heated oven for 10 minutes, 180 C / 360 F / GM 4.
  6. After removing from the oven leave the cookies to cool down and firm up. Easy!

 

 

 

Smultringer

Makes about 40-50 small doughnuts

 

2 eggs

125 gr sugar / 0.6 cup / 4.4 oz

50 ml full fat cream / 0.2 cup

100 ml sour cream / 0.4 cup

390 gr white flour / 2.4 cups / 10.2 oz

3 tsp baking powder

½ tsp cardamom

Sugar and icing sugar to decorate

Vegetable oil to deep-fry

 

  1. Beat the eggs and sugar together until the mixture starts to stiffen (this can be done by hand or using a mixer).
  2. Add in the cream and the sour cream, then add the flour, the baking powder and finally the cardamom.
  3. Mix again until all is blended well. The dough should look a little stringy at this stage.
  4. Leave the dough to cool in the fridge for half an hour.
  5. Flour your work surface, your hands and your rolling pin and roll out the dough to a 1cm thickness. Use basic round cookie cutters of two different sizes, or an espresso cup to create the outer edge, and a small bottle top to cut out the inner part. After you’ve created your shapes, simply tear away the dough in between the circles and the inner parts of the doughnuts and use the scraps to make another batch.
  6. Heat up frying oil in a big pan (or set your deep fat fryer to 165 C / 330F). When the oil has reached temperature place the smultringer in the oil. They will float to the top so don’t put too many in the pan/fryer at the same time. Turn them after a while so they’re a nice golden brown on both sides (not too dark or they will be dry), then put them on a paper towel to drain most of the excess fat off.
  7. To finish, mix icing sugar and sugar together in a bowl and coat the smultringer on both sides while they’re still hot, then lay them on a cold plate to cool.

 

 

 

Berlinerkranser

Makes about 30 cookies

 

2 hard-boiled egg yolks

2 raw egg yolks

200 gr sugar / 1 cup / 7 oz

320 gr white flour / 2 ½ cup / 11.2 oz

225 gr butter / 1 cup / 8 oz

1 ½ tsp vanilla sugar

Pearl sugar to decorate

 

 

  1. Cut the butter into small chunks and leave them out of the fridge to soften.
  2. Mix the cooked and raw egg yolks together in a bowl until you get a smooth mixture. Set the raw egg white aside for later.
  3. Mix in the sugar and vanilla sugar and then combine the flour and the butter, adding alternatively until the mixture resembles a soft dough. You can do this by hand, which will give you a rigorous work-out, or with a mixer.
  4. Leave the mixture to cool in the fridge for at least an hour.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 175 C / 350 F / GM 4.
  6. Take chunks off the dough and roll into thin sausage shapes of around 12 cm long, about the thickness of your fingers. Now, create a wreath shape by folding one end over the other, letting them cross, this should leave a small hole in the middle.
  7. Brush the cookies with egg white and decorate by sprinkling them with pearl sugar.
  8. To finish, place the cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet, making sure to leave some space between them as they will expand in the oven. Bake them for about 15 minutes, then let then cool down. They will become harder as they cool and your kitchen will fill with the scent of vanilla!

 

 

 

Sandkaker

Makes about 30

 

225 gr butter / 1 cup / 8 oz

255 gr white flour / 1.8 cup / 8 oz

130 gr ground almonds / 1 1/8 cup / 4.6 oz

1 egg

100 gr sugar / ½ cup / 3 ½ oz

For the filling:

200 ml full fat cream / 0.8 cup

200 ml sour cream / 0.8 cup

Berries of your choice

You will also need tartlet or muffin tins to make these.

 

 

  1. Rub cubed butter into the flour until you’re left with a mixture that resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Mix in the ground almonds, the sugar and the egg to the mixture. The mixture should now be forming small clumps and have a sand-like texture to it. Leave the dough to cool in the fridge for an hour.
  3. Pre-heat your oven to 175 C / 350 F / GM 4.
  4. After you have removed the dough from the fridge, press it firmly into the tartlet tins before then placing them onto a baking sheet. Bake them for about 13 minutes, or until they are slightly brown around the edges. Let them cool down completely before you even attempt to remove the cookies from the tins.
  5. Mix the cream and sour cream and place a dollop into each sandkake, then, top them up with berries of your choice. Yum!

 

 

 

Sirupsnippers

Makes around 50 cookies

 

150 ml cream / 0.6 cup

150 ml golden syrup / 0.6 cup

150 gr sugar / 0.6 cup / 5.2 oz

100 gr butter / 0.4 cup / 3.5 oz

450 gr white flour / 3.6 cup / 15.9 oz

¼ tsp ground star anise

¼ tsp ground black pepper

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground ginger

¾ tsp baking powder

¾ tsp baking soda

1 egg white to glaze

Almonds, blanched, for decorating

 

 

 

  1. Melt the butter in a pan.
  2. In another pan bring the cream, syrup and sugar to a boil and then add in the melted butter before removing from the heat.
  3. Whisk in the dry ingredients and kneed into a dough. Leave the dough in the fridge overnight.
  4. The next morning, remove the dough from the fridge – it should be quite tough in appearance at this stage.
  5. Preheat the oven to 175 C / 350 F / GM4, and flour the worksurface, your hands and the rolling pin.
  6. Roll out the dough until very thin, turn it around, and repeat until the dough is almost transparent. It might appear too thin or too flimsy for a cookie, but this is correct. Cut out into diamond shapes, place them on a parchment lined baking sheet and push half an almond into the middle of each cookie. Glaze them with egg white and bake for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. Place on a plate to cool down. They will make your kitchen smell really Christmassy!

 

 

Fattigman

Makes about 35 cookies

 

4 egg yolks

2 whole eggs

7 tbsp of sugar

120 ml cream / ½ cup

385 gr white flour / 3 cups / 13 ½ oz

1 ½ tbsp brandy

A pinch of salt

½ tsp vanilla essence

1 tsp ground cardamom

Vegetable oil or sunflower oil to deep-fry

Icing sugar to decorate

 

 

  1. Mix the eggs with the brandy and have a shot while you’re at it!
  2. Add the vanilla, cardamom, salt and cream, then fold in the flour. Do this by hand, preferably with a wooden spoon. It should not be beaten, just folded and blended gently until it’s all mixed together. Add extra flour to the mixture if it’s still a little too sticky to roll out.
  3. Dust your work surface, your hands and your rolling pin with flour and roll the dough out thin. Cut out diamond shapes and make a small cut in the middle of each diamond. Fold one end of the diamond through the hole in the center and pull it out on the other side. You now have a ‘bow’ (ish) shape. Don’t worry if they don’t look pretty, they’ll puff up when you deep-fry them.
  4. Heat up frying oil in a pan or set your deep fat fryer to 165C.
  5. When the oil has reached temperature place the fattigman in the oil. They will float to the top so don’t put too many in the pan/fryer at the same time. Turn them around so they’re golden on both sides. Let them cool down, then dust with icing sugar on both sides.

 

 

Kokosmakroner

Makes around 30 cookies

 

8 egg whites

400 gr sugar / 2 cups / 14 oz

2 tsp vanilla sugar

400 gr dried coconut flakes / 4 cups / 13.6 oz

 

 

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C / 360 F / GM 4.
  2. Whisk the egg whites in a big pan (off the heat) until you see small bubbles appear in the mixture.
  3. Gently fold in the sugar, vanilla sugar and the dried coconut flakes.
  4. Place the pan on a low heat and stir until the mixture turns gloopy and sticks to your spoon.
  5. Take the pan off the heat and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a tablespoon place dollops of the mixture onto the sheet and make sure to leave some space in between them.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then let them cool down so they can set. By the time they’re cold, they should be golden on the outside and white and gooey on the inside