Christina Hollis is a writer and broadcaster living deep in the Gloucestershire countryside. When she isn’t writing, she is cooking or pottering around the garden, hindered by varying amounts of livestock.
I’ve been writing all my life, and one of the most important tips I can pass on is to remember the words of Norah Ephron’s mother: “Everything is copy”.
This was brought home to me when I was studying eighteenth-century European history, and finding the course heavy going. It was only when I read through the notes I made while on a potentially disastrous holiday to Paris that the subject came alive for me. My then-boyfriend booked a week’s holiday in the city of romance for us - and his mother came too. His excuse for this passion-killer was because she had always wanted to see Paris, and he couldn’t bear to disappoint her. Luckily the holiday wasn’t too bad - considering the circumstances - and it made me think how a cuckoo in the family nest might have livened up all those starchy pre-revolutionary French aristocrats.
I used my notebooks as a source for Lady Rascal, which was brought out in print by Harlequin Mills and Boon as part of their Masquerade Historical Romance Line. Madeleine is a penniless Parisian who dresses in stolen clothes during the French Revolution and is mistaken for an aristocrat. “Rescued” by Philip Adamson, a genuine and gorgeous English gentleman, she lives in fear of discovery. The tension mounts as their attraction for each other is hampered by her guilt at living a lie. Then disaster strikes - and only Madeleine’s street-smart skills can save the Adamson family fortunes.
I’ve now released Lady Rascal as an ebook on all platforms, including
I love the bright red of the cover - I think it suggests the danger of Madeleine’s situation as well as her feelings, and at this time of year it adds a festive touch.
I assumed I’d have loads more free time when I started working from home rather than commuting. That hasn’t turned out to be the case! Work expands to fill the time allotted to it, and spills over into everyday life, too. I always used to produce a traditional rich fruit cake for Christmas, covered in marzipan and royal icing - all made by hand. With the pressures of writing to deadlines, editing and publicity work, time is now at a premium so a Chocolate Mincemeat Cake is the new centre-piece of our Christmas tea. It can be made quickly, a day or two before the main rush. To decorate, I simply tie a red ribbon around it, and add a spring of (non-edible) holly from the garden.
CHOCOLATE MINCEMEAT CHRISTMAS CAKE
150g softened butter
150g soft brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
185g self-raising flour
40g cocoa powder
400g mincemeat (I use my own recipe)
20g quartered glace cherries
50g blanched almonds, chopped
100g of white chocolate dots (you really need white chocolate - ordinary milk-chocolate dots would be virtually invisible in the finished cake)
Pre heat oven to Gas Mark 3/Electric 160 deg. C, Fan 140 deg C.
Line a 20cm/8” tin with a couple of layers of greaseproof paper.
Place all ingredients in a large bowl and beat for 1- 2 minutes, until well mixed.
Spoon into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for between 90 minutes - 2 hours, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. You’ll probably need to cover the cake with tinfoil toward the end of the cooking time, to stop it browning too quickly.
Leave the cake to cool in its tin for a while before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
This cake doesn't freeze and is unlikely to keep for as long as a traditional rich fruit cake, but this doesn’t matter as it’s always eaten up in a very short time.
Finally, be careful what you wish for when it comes to Christmas presents. Look what my sister got...triplets!
What is the most unusual Christmas present you’ve ever received? There’s a signed book from my Mills and Boon backlist for a comment picked at random.
Find out more about Christina
Her website is http://www.christinahollis.com
And you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org