Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mills & Boon Fights The Kissing Ban!

Well here's a protest we can get behind! The ban imposed by Virgin trains made the news nationwide this week and Mills & Boon have launched a protest. Rightly so too! The world is a bleak enough place without banning the right to show affection!!! It's the most ridiculous ban I've ever heard of frankly...

Even the Guardian newspaper has picked up on the protest and you can read what they had to say HERE. Here's the low down from Mills & Boon:

'It's our right to kiss where we like'

Mills & Boon have come out in protest against Virgin's ban on public displays of affection in UK train stations.

“Romantic embraces and passionate kisses are a vital part of life and should never be discouraged.

We don't believe that you should restrict passion to certain times or areas. Lovers should be free to express their feelings whenever the mood takes them,” says Mills & Boon Publishing Director Sarah Ritherdon.

If you're as annoyed by the breach of our fundamental right to kiss in public, please download the posters, join the twitter activists and upload photos of you kissing at stations on Facebook and on our Flickr group.

Join our fight and kiss goodbye to no kissing.

You can join the Facebook group HERE

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Joys Of "Research"


Sigh. It's a tough job... but someone has to do it, right?

So this time next week Natasha Oakley and I are packing our bags and suffering for our craft by tramping across Europe on a 'research trip' to Rome. I see an Italian hero in my editor's future in the next year or so...

It's a trip we've threatened to take for several years now, but for one varying reason or another we've never quite got round to it. Ain't that always the way? But before Christmas we took the plunge (read as: there was an offer on cheap flights) so we went ahead and took the plunge and booked our seats. And as we're both too tight to pay for something and not follow it through, we're actually going! Any second now we hope to have a hotel to stay in too ;)

Since I started travelling in earnest a couple of years back - something that's been a dream of mine for decades - I've discovered that it really is muse fuel. It's one thing reading about places or watching DVD's of them or seeing pics, but it's another being there and seeing the things for yourself; eating the food and breathing in the air and paying attention to all the little details. So we're both hoping that there'll be plenty there to fire our imaginations. From what we've Googled so far there's certainly plenty to see and do, even in what is technically considered off-season. But more than that, it's been a year since we last spent any face-to-face time catching up, so it's an opportunity to chat for hours over a nice glass of red wine and huge plates of pasta. Bliss!

So, usual question for my blog friends and virtual travel companions... what would you go see if you were going to Rome? Anything I should look out for? Take extra pics of?

Meanwhile...

Anyone out there a better baker than I am? If so, and if you're reading my EHarlequin online read, Manhattan Cinderella, (we're up to chapter five now) then here are some of the recipes for the cupcakes featured in the latest chapter…

Let me know how they turn out! And remember... if there's a fire in your kitchen while making them - it's not MY FAULT... this time...

Chocolate with Cabernet Cupcakes

It looks like an ordinary chocolate cupcake until you bite into it, and then - my oh my, what an adult-rated surprise it is - super-rich chocolate with the taste of cherries and the slightest hint of red wine.

Chocolate with Cabernet Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

3/4 cup cabernet sauvignon

1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped

Assembly Materials

18 Chocolate with Cabernet Cupcakes

2 cups lightly sweetened whipped cream

1/4 cup dried cherries, chopped

1 tablespoon cinnamon or cocoa powder, as garnish

Bake the cupcakes
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and prepare muffin pans with white paper baking cups.
2. Into the large bowl of an electric mixer, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cocoa powder.
3. Add the oil, vanilla, eggs and wine.
4. Beat with the electric mixer at low speed for 30 seconds. Turn the mixer speed to high and continue beating for three minutes, scraping the sides occasionally.
5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the dried cherries. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pans. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Assembly Instructions
1. Spoon a dollop of whipped cream on the center of the completely cooled cupcakes.
2. Add five to six bits of dried fruit and a dusting of cinnamon or cocoa powder.

Mocha Cupcakes

The ultimate grown-up cupcake.


Serving: 16
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teasoons coffee powder (use espresso powder if you are a coffee fan)
1/2 cup hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk, plain yogurt, or sour cream
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg

Coffee Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting:
(Makes enough to frost 16 cupcakes)

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 egg whites
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp
1 tbsp hot water
1 1/2 tsp instant coffee

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 18 muffin cups with paper baking cups.

2. Place the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl and mix to combine.

3. Place the coffee powder and water in a small bowl and mix until the coffee has dissolved. Add the vanilla and milk and mix until well combined.

4. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle and beat until light, fluffy, and light lemon colored, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg and beat well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and half of the flour mixture, and beat well. Add the coffee mixture and then the remaining flour mixture.

5. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and fill the prepared muffin tins two-thirds full. Transfer to the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

FROSTING:
Put sugar, egg whites and salt into the top of a double boiler over a pan of simmering water. Whisking constantly, cook until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm (about 160 degrees). Pour heated egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat egg white mixture on high speed until it forms stiff (but not dry) peaks. Continue beating until fluffy and cooled, about 7 minutes total. Switch to the paddle attachment. With mixer on medium-low, add butter two tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. Increase speed to medium-high; continue beating until frosting appears thick, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, stir 1 1/2 tsp instant coffee into 1 tbsp hot water until dissolved, then put it in the refrigerator or freezer until it comes down to room temperature. Reduce mixer speed to low and add coffee mixture. Continue beating 1 minute to reduce air bubbles.


Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

Chocolate cake, chocolate ganache, chocolate spikes - chocolate, chocolate! What's not to love?

Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcakes

1 2/3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 cup sugar

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Dark Chocolate Ganache

4 ounces good quality bittersweet dark chocolate

4 ounces heavy cream

Milk Chocolate Ganache

4 ounces good quality milk chocolate

4 ounces heavy cream

Chocolate Spikes

2 ounces good quality chocolate

Assembly Materials

12 Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcakes

Dark Chocolate Ganache

Milk Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate Spikes

Special Tools

Muffin pan with square cups (optional)

Pizza wheel (optional)

Double boiler


Make the cupcakes
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and prepare the muffin pans with nonstick spray and flour or paper cups.
2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the cocoa and sugar and mix until thoroughly blended.
3. Add the buttermilk, oil and vanilla and beat until smooth.
4. Pour or spoon the batter into the pans, filling at least halfway. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cakes test done.
5. Remove the pans and turn out the cupcakes onto a wire rack to cool.

Prepare the ganache
1. Chop the chocolate fine and place it in a small bowl.
2. Bring the cream in a small pot to a simmer.
3. Pour the simmering cream over the chopped chocolate and stir until smooth.
4. Cool to room temperature.

Make the chocolate spikes
1. Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pour the melted chocolate on it. Spread the chocolate evenly, then let it set.
3. Use a pizza wheel or sharp knife to cut slices of chocolate.
4. Refrigerate until just before serving.

Assemble
1. If you want the distinctly different square shape, you have two options. Use a silicone muffin pan with square cups, or do the old-fashioned thing, and, when the cakes are cool, use a sharp knife to slice the tops and sides square.
2. Place the cooled cupcakes on a wire rack with a baking sheet underneath.
3. Use a ladle to pour the Dark Chocolate Ganache over the cupcakes to cover all the edges. Let it set about 10 minutes on each cake.
4. Using a fork, drizzle the Milk Chocolate Ganache over each cupcake in one direction. Turn the cupcake the opposite direction and drizzle again. Refrigerate the cakes until serving time.
5. When it's time to serve the cakes, place the spikes on top as desired.

ENJOY!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Joining Fellow Authors in Saying: SNOW


Just thought I'd sympathize with fellow authors in the UK who blogged about snow last week. Up until now we'd had the white stuff, but not to the same extent as some places. *insert laughter* Cos we're catching up now... and my poor horses who got a nice haircut and tidy up to make them all pretty yesterday, are now snuggled under huge duvet-like layers of rugs and tucked safely in their stables with large hay nets for the foreseeable...

Not that the white stuff isn't very pretty, as you can see from these pics that I've just taken.

But when you live in the middle of nowhere, you suddenly get kinda... well... stranded. I had a chat with a good friend (hello helpful little fairy!) who came to clip my snorsies yesterday and we were talking about how tough it must have been in the 'olden days' for people who lived in isolated communities in Ireland in this kind of weather. It can't have been easy. No internet, no phones, neighbors who lived a nine mile donkey trek away. REALLY can't have been easy. And they wouldn't have recognized things like S.A.D. and depression in those days. So when we complain about being stuck in the snow now, when we do have internet, phones, central heating, etc (though my gas froze last night so no cup of tea until this morning - BOO! - Natasha Oakley would HATE IT where I live ;)) we're really not as badly off as we might think we are...

It IS pretty though, huh?

And for Michelle's DD and for Mona who emailed to ask about my horsies, here are a couple of pics of Charlie with his new haircut all wrapped up in his layers of winter jammies and brand new bedsocks ;) May I just say he wasn't cooperative about having his picture taken... or his dinner interrupted...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

FREE Online Read and My New Hero's Character Profile

Well, just as we waved goodbye to Mills & Boon's Centenary year - hot on it's heels comes Harlequin's Diamond Anniversary!

As part of the celebrations, each month Harlequin is spotlighting one of the lines and in February, it's the turn of the Romance line...

I'm lucky enough to be one of the Diamond Brides collection with Manhattan Boss, Diamond Proposal that's out RIGHT NOW (hint, hint) in the USA, Canada, the UK and Ireland and to accompany the book I've written my first ever short story for Eharlequin! Would it help encourage you to read it any if I told you it was FREE?!

Yeah, thought so. I know my blog buddies ;)

Anyhoo, it's serialized and will be online twice weekly (Tuesday's and Thursday's) throughout February, starting... drumroll please... TODAY! So if you have a time to wile away on one of my little stories then you can find Manhattan Cinderella - a companion piece to this month's book - online HERE. Leave a comment if you have an account there, and if you don't you can leave one here... (it makes it look like I have friends - OKAY?!)

Aaaannnddd speaking of FREE THINGS - as part of the anniversary celebrations Harlequin is also giving away a BUCKETLOAD of ebooks. There are sixteen in total (a selection across the lines) to a total value of $60!!! So if you want to go select a few you like the look of, or try a line you've never read before then GET THEE THERE and get downloading! You can find them all HERE.

Meanwhile... here on the Blog...

Following on from the post before last where I gave an example of my heroine's character profile for the new book I'm working on, I'm back with the hero's profile.

Once you've read both of them maybe some of you will be able to guess where I'm going with some of the story ;) (BTW feel free to add to my word-count if you like... I can take the much needed words in emails, comments, by carrier pigeon - every little helps at this stage.) So let's meet Blake, shall we?

The Reluctant Billionaire (Working Title)
for the Modern heat/Presents line


Blake Clayton is the son Charles Warren would never acknowledge in life, but who he named as his heir. That means Blake is now a multi-billionaire. But despite being informed of the legacy he has done nothing to step into his father’s shoes or touch the money he inherited. The company’s shares have fluctuated as a result and the board’s MD is putting pressure on the law firm Olivia works for to get Blake to either sell out or become a figurehead. Blake has claimed he needs thinking time and was anything but pleasant to the last representative sent to talk to him. But when Olivia arrives at the home he is renovating for his parents she assumes he’s fearful of the responsibilities he would be taking on. So, despite his obvious amusement, she offers to help him prepare for his new life and ‘settle in’ while he decides what he wants to do. Unfortunately she’s way off the mark, and Blake knows more about having money and running a successful company than she gives him credit for…


As a kid, Blake had a fairly run of the mill middle class upbringing in Queens. As a teenager he became resentful of his absentee father and somewhat rebellious but was happy for his mother when she married and his step-father proved a good influence on his rebellion. He even become an indulgent older brother to his half-sister who is thirteen years younger than him. Over the years he showed an aptitude for science, electronics and software and moved to California to attend CalTech where he founded his own company with a couple of friends. Within a few years the company was floated on the stock market, making each of the three owners multi-millionaires. It’s only when he learns that he’s been left his father’s varying companies under the umbrella of Warren Enter
prises that Blake is forced to look back on his past and the resentment he felt for so long. Turns out the resentment and anger never really went away, and a part of him is sorely tempted to take his father’s companies apart brick by brick, selling them to the highest bidder or simply closing departments one by one; undoing a century’s worth of Warren family history. Whatever he decides, he won’t be rushed into anything; he’s not that kind of guy.


When his father’s law firm changes tactics by sending an incredibly sexy, if uptight female attorney, Blake instantly feels the need to ruffle her - especially when she makes assumptions. He’s interested to see just how far she’ll go to persuade him to make a decision, especially when he realizes how much success and status mean to her…


CHARACTER NOTES:

  • 33 yrs old, six feet tall, brown hair, hazel eyes.
  • Last heir of an old moneyed family who have had similar tragedies to that of the Kennedy’s. His father had the equivalent of a summer fling with his mother when she took a part time job in a restaurant in The Hamptons. Refused to acknowledge his son and denied his existence.
  • Mother (Laura) raised him alone until his early teens when she married (Peter) and had a daughter (Cassie) who is thirteen years Blake’s junior.
  • Despite his step-father earning his respect, and being indulgent of his younger half-sister, Blake has never really felt that he was as much of the new family unit as the others. This detachment is not obvious and his family would be both shocked and hurt by it. But it was one of the reasons he was happy to relocate to CalTech on the West Coast and to set up his company and live there after University – though he does visit on the usual family holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas (for the most part).
  • Due to the fact he made his fortune before he turned twenty five he’s had plenty of time for fun; has travelled the world, enjoys extreme sports, is very outdoors orientated and as he has never had the same worries about money the majority of people do he comes across as pretty laid back. Since Olivia hasn’t made the connection between a successful company on the West Coast she takes this laid back attitude to mean he’s un-ambitious so Blake plays on this by adding cocky, wise-cracking, arrogant, uncontrolled and nonchalant about everything she sees as important – enjoying the fact she’s physically attracted to him while everything else about him rubs her the wrong way.
  • Owns homes in San Francisco, the Bahamas and Aspen. Has plans to sail around the world on a boat he’s been renovating so has been spending time with his family before he leaves; including helping with the renovations on a house he recently bought for his parents. (Olivia assumes he’s a blue collar worker when she meets him)
  • Thinking type: thinks thoroughly through a situation, figures out the problem and takes control to bring about a solution. Makes decisions based on principles, not on feelings. Is logical, objective and methodical. (and unlike Olivia it all comes naturally to him)
  • Sensation person: experiences life through the senses - attuned to physical environment – to colours and smells, shapes and tastes. Tends to live in the present, responding to the things that surround him. (appreciates life and all it has to offer)