Blog, Extract

It’s Not Exactly Champagne Granita Weather, but…

…we can dream! There are times when I need more than comfort food like soup or casserole to lift my spirits. It was the same sort of foul wintry weather we’re suffering at the moment that inspired me to turn up the heating and imagine a holiday in the sun. In my mind I escaped to Greece. Dreaming of  somewhere hot and exotic inspired me to write a book with a hero to match. The result was His Majesty’s Secret Passion, the first book in my Princes of Kharova trilogy for The Wild Rose Press. Here’s an extract…

Find out more at

…when the waiter arrived with dessert, Leo pushed back his chair and stood up. “You’re a ball of tension, Sara. You’re winding yourself up tighter and tighter. One day you’ll be so wound up, you’ll snap. Addiction, depression, suicide…I’ve seen it all.”
“I suppose you’ve got the ideal prescription?”
He strolled around to stand beside her. “Of course I have. Close your eyes.”
“In a public place?” she gasped, but he was serious.
“Do it. Close your eyes and open your mouth.” His commanding voice made her obey.
When she realized what she had done, her eyes flew open again—at the exact moment the cool kiss of silver touched her bottom lip. Leo had piled a spoon with champagne granita, and was about to put it into her mouth. “Open wide.”
“I’m not a child.”
A bead of sorbet fell from the overloaded spoon. It landed on the smooth pale skin at the base of her throat, trembled, then ran down into the shadowy cleft between her breasts. “I can see that,” he purred.
“People are staring!”

“Let them. Open your mouth, or—”

“Or—” Or what, she had been going to say, but as she started to reply Leo took his chance. She couldn’t talk with her mouth full of sorbet and silver spoon, so she clenched her teeth on it.
“I thought you said you weren’t a child?” he teased.
She released her grip on the spoon. “I did that because I’ve got a chill in my teeth.”
“Excuses.” He scooped up another helping of thedessert in front of her. “I’m including a sample of each different flavor, and if you don’t enjoy it, well, I’m afraid there’s no hope for you.”
“Is that your professional opinion?”
“Maybe. First, I’d need to make a full examination…”
She scowled.
“…of the facts? Or something more interesting?” he added, slicing into another scoop of sorbet.
He was concentrating so intently, it was hard not to crack a smile. To resist the impulse, she opened her mouth like a baby bird, ready for the next spoonful.
“On the other hand, perhaps you’d prefer to seek a second opinion,” he said, at the very last moment diverting the next scoop of dessert into his own mouth. Sara was left sitting with her mouth open.
“Hey!” Reaching out, she retrieved the spoon and dish from him. Their hands connected, and he laughed. For one heart-stopping moment, his warm fingers sandwiched hers against the cold porcelain of her dish.
There was a question framed in his eyes, and she knew what it was. She looked away, unable to let him guess her answer. She had been fighting temptation from the moment he carried her up the beach, and she wasn’t about to stop now.
“You’re on holiday, Sara. Loosen up.”
His brutal words brought that dark, dangerous night on the road back to her in a horrible rush. The shock of waking as her car veered over the studs at the edge of the carriageway, with just enough time to think she might be about to die as her car hurtled down an embankment before coming to rest in a farmer’s field…
Leo’s hand went to her mouth, and she realized she was biting her nails. She stopped before he could tempt her with his touch again. “Oh, I can see danger, all right. It’s standing right next to me, Leo.”
“Fine. At least I’m an honest threat. Everything about you, from your beautiful appearance to your delightful conversation, your charm and intelligence promises everything any one could want. Why are you so dead set against allowing any man to take what you have to offer?”
“Because that’s all they do. Take,” she said.
He refused to be put off. “Not me. Where would be the fun in treating a woman like that? I like to give as well as take. You’ll see.”

To find out more, go to

What’s your idea of the perfect holiday? Have you booked to go anywhere this year?
Blog, recipes

The World’s Best Soup Recipe?

You decide…

Soup is the perfect winter meal here, as it’s cooked on our gas hob. That means I can make it during a power cut, while the electric oven, Remoska and slow cooker are all useless.

BREAD_AND_TOMATO_AND_LENTIL_SOUPTomato and lentil soup is so easy, I make sure I’ve always got the ingredients in stock (or in the garden). It’s delicious, too. When I’ve made this soup with brown lentils instead of red, it’s fooled a carnivore with its almost meaty richness.

It’s hard to give quantities as I’ve made this soup so often. To be honest I put the stock cubes into one of the emptied tomato tins, and dissolve them by topping up with some of the boiling water. Then I pour that mixture into the soup pan, and add a couple more cans full of boiling water. This also cleans the tins ready for recycling, but watch your fingers when doing this. Those metal tins get very hot!


A large onion, peeled and sliced

Two big potatoes, peeled and diced

A couple of sticks of celery, chopped

250g lentils (red makes a soup like the photos, brown lentils seem richer and more filling)

Two 400g tins of chopped tomatoes in juice

Three Kallo organic vegetable stock cubes

1.5 litres boiling water


Rinse the lentils well under running water. Put them in a big saucepan with all the vegetables, and the tinned tomatoes. Dissolve the stock cubes in the water (see above for how I do this, but take care) and pour that in, too.

Stir, bring to the boil then turn down the heat. Let the soup simmer gently for about an hour, or until the vegetables are tender and the lentils soft.

Take the pan off the heat and liquidise, or use a stick blender. During power cuts, I use a potato masher—if I can’t delegate the job to somebody else!

Season to taste with salt and pepper, then reheat gently to serve.  Home-made wholemeal or wholegrain bread goes perfectly with this, as you can see in the picture.

A bowl of tomato and lentil soup, and you’ll be ready to face winter again.


Blog, gardening

March Towards Spring?

It feels more like we’re backing into winter!

I was planning to tell you all the things I’d be doing in my garden during March. Today is officially the First Day of Spring here in the UK.

Then The Beast From The East met Storm Emma.snowyshed 2

That sounds like a Fifties B-movie or a wrestling bout. Instead,  it’s a combination of weather systems fighting it out over Europe. The UK has practically ground to a halt. Countries who see snow every year are having a good laugh at our expense. I don’t blame them. Many of our main roads impassable. People have been sitting  in their cars for up to seventeen hours, stuck in endless traffic jams. Airports and trains have been at a standstill from the second snow began to fall.

In our defence, we’ve seen more snow in this country over the past forty-eight hours than we usually see in a whole month during the winter.

We’re simply not set up for bad weather here in England. It doesn’t happen often enough. OH and I used to fit winter tyres to our cars every autumn, but after years with no problems, we never bothered to buy them when we changed our cars. Snow chains are worse than useless unless there’s a good depth of snow, and in any case the lightest snowfall renders the one-in three lane between Tottering Towers and the country road connecting us to civilisation impassable.

So…there are my excuses. Now, down to work. In advance of the bad weather I travelled 40 miles to fetch a full canister of propane gas for my greenhouse heater. That would normally last for a month at the rate I use it. Temperatures have been well below freezing for days, so I dread to think how fast the gas is being used! I haven’t dared open the greenhouse to check. It’s well insulated, all the citrus trees and overwintering cuttings are clustered close to the heater, but there’s a limit to how much cold they can take.

Paperwhite narcissi, flowering in January. I wish you could experience their scent!

I’m not so worried about my fig trees, which also live in the greenhouse. They’re a bit hardier, and still dormant.  The apricot flowers I wrote about a few days ago may be damaged by the extended cold period. I’ll have to wait and see. The strawberry plants haven’t come in to be forced yet, and at this rate they’ll be staying outside! Once I can get into the greenhouse again I’ll be topdressing all the fruit trees with fresh compost. All the bulbs I forced for flowering at Christmas and in the first few weeks of the new year have been moved from the house into the greenhouse, waiting to be replanted in the garden when the weather warms up.  I’ll give them some plant food this month, to keep them going.

March is traditionally the main seed-sowing time, but they’re safer off in their packets for a day or two. I won’t be sowing anything for a while. There’s no point. It’s too cold to keep them growing, once they’ve germinated. The tomato and lettuce seeds I sowed a few days ago are living on my office windowsill, safe inside Tottering Towers, but they’ll soon get long and lanky. They need moving out into the greenhouse, but they won’t appreciate the conditions out there right now! OH wants me to get electricity in my greenhouse so I don’t need to worry about heating and lighting for my seedlings, but Tottering Towers is prone to power cuts. That’s why I rely on a propane heater.

There’s nothing to be done outside when everything’s covered with snow. The shallots I wrote about last week are snug under an insulating layer of snow. I have seed potatoes ready to plant for an early crop, but I’m holding them back.  A sheet of black polythene has been warming the soil in the kitchen garden for them. It’s been there since New Year, but I’m not going to risk planting them yet.

I need to thaw out  the hens’ drinkers with warm water several times a day, and make sure they are shut inside their insulated houses each evening. I bring the feeders in, as rats would soon discover that easy source of food. Fetching them at dusk is a challenge which means floundering downslope in the snow, then back uphill with my hands full. Alex our mad dog doesn’t help the process, dancing round my feet. One day I’ll trip over him and end up flat on my back in the snow, covered in hen food!

What’s the weather like where you are? Do you have any tips for dealing with wintry conditions?

Blog, Extract, Writing

Summer Sunshine For A Wintry Day

Find out more at My Dream Guy

How is your weekend going? Will you be going back to work with a smile, or a scowl? If this cold snap makes your next holiday seem a long way off, treat yourself to my short summery romance, My Dream Guy.

It’s only £1.99 ($2.77) and you don’t need a Kindle to read it. Whatever your device, whether it’s desktop, laptop or handheld, Amazon has an app that will let you read My Dream Guy. It doesn’t matter whether you use Windows, Mac, iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7 or BlackBerry.

My Dream Guy is a story of lost love, past and present. All the fizz has gone out of Emily’s romance with Jack. Will their holiday at Feinwen Farm save the day? Or will the bronzed farmer who bewitched her there when she was a teenager sweep her off her feet a second time?

In the little taster that follows, Emily has dragged herself into work after a terrible weekend. She’s not looking forward to her working week—but things are going to get a lot worse for Emily before they get better!

…As I talk, Grace looks more and more thoughtful. It’s obvious she wants to say something, so I go quiet. If you ever want someone to spill the beans, try the silent treatment. Most people can’t resist filling the void with the sound of their own voice. Grace is no exception. She picks up a pencil, and twiddles it between her fingers. All the time her brow is wrinkling.
‘Em…I never thought I’d say this about Jack, of all people…but you don’t suppose…’ she looks up at me from under her brows. It’s like she’s trying to get me to join the dots, but she’s the only one with a pencil.
‘You don’t think he’s got…’ she swallows, then purses her lips so her next words sidle out in a whisper, ‘another woman?’
‘Jack?’ I squeak. My Jack? My sweet, funny, gorgeous, guy? But he can’t be carrying on with somebody else-he’s my perfect man!
‘Don’t look like that. You’ll get frown lines.’ She says, as though all her fooling around (especially on Saturday nights) hasn’t been the cause of scars in the past.
If Jack is seeing someone else, that would explain all his recent “business trips”. During the week, if he’s not working late, he’s charging all over the country on site visits. I spend half my time missing him, and the other half wondering where the magic went as he nods off in the back row of the movies yet again. I mean, how can anyone get so tired they sleep straight through Fury Road? And when we’re together and Jack manages to stay awake, there’s the chirrup of his blasted phone coming between us whenever things are about to get interesting, if you know what I mean.
Yes…if Grace is right and Jack has got someone else, it would explain a lot…

Download My Dream Guy now, to find out what happens next!

Blog, gardening

That’s Shallot!


It’s been a long, dark winter. Gardening is a great cure for the February blues, but a cold wind is slicing in from the east. The forecast doesn’t give much hope of it getting any warmer for the next week. The garden is still so wet, walking on it squashes all the air out. That’s not good for either the soil structure or helpful mini-beasts like worms. Despite that I managed to plant some shallots and garlic today, by working off  a scaffolding plank. The old rule of thumb was to plant them on the shortest day, harvest them on the longest. Mid-winter weather isn’t always kind enough for that!

I like these big pink banana shallots, Longor, for roasting whole. Slipped in around the roast or cooked on their own in a mixture of butter and olive oil, within an hour they are chestnut-coloured, stickily savoury, and equally good hot or cold.. They go well in casseroles, too. The round varieties  such as Red Sun fit into jars better, so those are the ones I use for pickling in the autumn. A nice, crisp pickled shallot with cheese and crusty home-made bread makes a great snack.

Shallots do well in the garden at Tottering Towers. Garlic struggles to make big bulbs here, but I keep trying. Whatever size of clove I plant, whichever variety and whether they’re planted in autumn, winter or spring, the resulting heads of garlic are always small-to-medium sized. This year I’m trying the variety Marco. I haven’t grown it before, so it’ll be interesting to see if the results are any better.

Are you trying any new varieties this year?

Blog, Growing

Float like a butterfly, pollinate like a bee?

It’s 20th February, the wind is blowing straight from Siberia, but the apricot tree growing in my greenhouse doesn’t care. It could live outside quite happily  if it wasn’t for the early flowers you can see in my photo. They are every bit as delicate as they look.  This cold would destroy them, and all the pollinating insects are too sensible to risk being blown about by the icy breeze. That means if we’re going to enjoy eating our own apricots this summer, I have to do the bees’ work myself.

This is the best-ever flowering we’ve had. Home-grown apricots are such a rare, delicious treat, I’ve never managed to take a photo before they’ve all been eaten. As you can see by the teethmarks on this one, I was only just in time last year!


Once a day,  from the moment the first apricot flowers open until the last petals begin to drop, I dust each one with a fine paintbrush. There’s no skill involved, and  I don’t bother buzzing like a bee while I’m doing it! All I do is nudge pollen from the anthers to the stigmas. With luck, that will fertilise all the flowers. I’ll be able to see where my impersonation of a bee has been successful. Tiny green fruits will soon begin to swell.

This apricot tree is growing in a tub. If it dries out at any point from now on, it will react by dropping its fruit.  Once the compost is nice and moist, I’ll top up the soil with an inch or two of fresh compost. When the little apricots really start to grow, I’ll give the tree liquid plant food as well.

With luck, in five or six months time we’ll be picking warm, sweet apricots in summer sunshine. My dream is to grow enough to make jam. Warm croissants spread with butter and home-made apricot jam is my favourite Christmas Day breakfast. What’s yours?

Christina Hollis, Internet, Online security

Three Warnings For Writers

I’m a bit uneasy about the amount of information available online. There’s something to be found on just about anyone, and it can be accessed by  nearly everyone. Social networking is great fun, but there are three things to keep in mind –

One – Post as though your words were going to be printed in words a foot high and stuck on your front door. Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want your next-door-neighbour to read – in case they do. They probably will.
Two – It’s safest to assume that, like diamonds,  online words are forever.  Yes, some information has been made to vanish from the net like snow in summer, but that was only because some very big players were involved. Even if your tweet, text or mail can be erased, the saying that a lie can be round the world seven times before the truth is out of bed is as true today as it’s always been. Libel is serious – and expensive.
Three – Not so much a warning as a reminder – if things get too heavy, you can always step away from the computer. Cyber bullying is an ugly concept. It’s a nightmare once you’ve been drawn in, so try and stay well away. At the first sign of trouble, remember what Eleanor Roosevelt said: no one can make you feel inferior without your consent, so do the internet equivalent of picking up your ball, and taking it home.