The Cornish Midwife is out now!

I suppose I was always destined to write about the sea, having been born in a house high up on the top of a hill that looked out towards the English Channel. There’s something about the evocative change of mood, when the weather rolls in across the sea, that inspires me to write in a way that nothing else quite matches. I don’t mind whether it’s a day bathed in sunshine, or if there’s a gale lashing against the sea wall so dramatically that the only option is to watch the white horses dance across the waves from a safe distance.

I’ve only ever lived more than a short drive from the sea once in my life, spending a year in lovely, but land-locked, Warwickshire and I missed the salt in the air and even the sound of seagulls circling overhead more than I’d ever thought possible. I was in beautiful Stratford-Upon-Avon, living in a tiny white-cottage, with colourful barges bobbing on the canals everywhere I looked, but I still missed the sea far too much to stay.

In The Cornish Midwife, the first novel that follows the community midwives in the quaint seaside village of Port Agnes, on Cornwall’s Atlantic coast, Ella Mehenick is feeling that pull towards home too. Staying in London, and building a career that will make her parents proud, might be what her head is telling her she should do, but the heart wants what the heart wants and there’s only one place Ella will ever really call home.

Sadly I’ve never been a midwife, but one of my close friends, Beverley Hills, whose daughter I am godmother to, has been a complete inspiration to me, qualifying as a midwife in the midst of raising her own large family and all the challenges that come with that. I’ve been able to chat to Bev about some of her experiences and check some of the technical details too, but just observing her life as a friend has also allowed me to envisage how my own cast of characters, in the Cornish Midwives’ series, might balance the rest of their lives with the sort of job that can only really be described as a vocation. It’s a vocation that’s only for the strong and courageous, too, with moments of high drama and the whole gamut of emotions to deal with for the women they look after, regardless of whatever else might be going on in the personal lives of the midwives themselves. All of that is reflected in the series and I hope my readers will love reading the midwives’ stories, as much as I loved writing them.

As to why it had to be Cornwall… For me there’s a kind of magic about a place where land really does seem to end, and the dramatic coastline leads into sheltered harbours, with rows of cottages clinging to the hills and cliffs above, like the spine of a sleeping giant, as if they’ve always been there. If you’re looking for magic, there’s plenty of it to be found for real, in places like Tintagel, where the legend of Kind Arthur is alive and well! There are so many beautiful places in Cornwall and on the Atlantic Coast in particular. So, with villages like Boscastle and Port Isaac, you might ask why I decided to create my own seaside village of Port Agnes, and the neigbouring villages of Port Kara and Port Tremellien that comprise the Three Ports area featured in the series. The simple answer is that the location came fully formed into my head and I could picture it so clearly that it just had to be the setting for the series. After all, you can never have too many Cornish villages, can you?

Start reading The Cornish Midwife now!

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Easter Reading List

Spring into April with these uplifting and whimsical reads – perfect if you’re looking to spend your Easter weekend curled up with a good book!

Name: This Changes Everything
Author: Helen McGinn
For: the reader who loves a virtual trip to Rome, with a side of Cornwall sunshine. Join Helen McGinn for a timeless, joyous, unforgettable journey through love, family, and long-forgotten dreams.  A novel to hold to your heart and treasure, perfect for fans of Elizabeth Noble, Cathy Kelly and JoJo Moyes.
Purchase here

Name: A Place To Call Home
Author: Fay Keenan
For: the reader who loves a slow-burn romance set in gorgeous countryside. When Charlie Thorpe met Holly Renton, they were not a match made in heaven… Let Fay Keenan whisk you away to a world of glorious country views, unforgettable characters and once-in-a-lifetime love. Perfect for all fans of Fern Britton, Veronica Henry and Erica James.
Purchase here

Name: The Village of Lost and Found
Author: Alison Sherlock
For: the reader who loves a long, hot summer setting and stories of community coming together. Over a long, hot summer, friendships are made and hearts begin to heal. And, with the help of a stray dog, perhaps Lucy and Tom can find their very own new beginning…
Purchase here

Name: Dreaming Under An Island Skye
Author: Lisa Hobman
For: the reader who loves a virtual staycation on the Isle of Skye. During her time on the island, Juliette clashes with brooding single dad and artist, Reid Mackinnon and is befriended by his son Evin and dog Chewie. It’s clear that divorced Reid is struggling and scarred by his own painful experiences. Can these two lost souls find a lifeline to rescue each other? Or will their pasts scupper their second chance at real happiness?
Purchase here

Name: Summer Kisses at Mermaids Point
Author: Sarah Bennett
For: the reader who loves a glorious romance full of family and community with a delicious cast of characters and a heart warming setting. Warm, escapist, feel-good and altogether brilliant story-telling from bestselling author Sarah Bennett. Perfect for all fans of Trisha Ashley and Milly Johnson.
Purchase here

Name: New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow
Author: Jessica Redland
For: the reader who loves a trip to the Yorkshire Wolds and cute hedgehogs! For both Samantha and Josh it’s a season of change and for figuring out whether the past can ever truly be forgotten. Escape back to wonderful Hedgehog Hollow with top 10 bestseller Jessica Redland for the perfect uplifting read full of love, hope and forgiveness.
Purchase here

Name: Home on Folly Farm
Author: Jane Lovering
For: the reader who loves escaping the rat race in a gorgeous country-filled book. Needing an escape, Dora swapped city living for life as a shepherdess on her grandad’s Yorkshire farm… Let Jane Lovering whisk you away to the beauty and serenity of the Yorkshire Moors, far away from the noise of the city. Just right for fans of Emma Burstall, Holly Martin and Kate Forster.
Purchase here

Name: A Springtime to Remember
Author: Lucy Coleman
For: In amongst the beauty and splendour of the French countryside, a story of lost love, rivalry and tragedy unfolds. Can Lexie and Ronan right the wrongs of the past, and will France play its tricks on them both before Lexie has to go home? Will this truly be a Springtime to Remember…? Get swept away with this perfect feel-good love story. Just right for fans of Holly Martin, Sue Moorcroft and Heidi Swain.
Purchase here

 Here is the first one of several instalments of the fantastic plant-based tapas recipes from Sabores….

One of the most exciting parts of travelling to distant lands is tasting the wonderful local foods and wines. When Molly and Nell travel to Spain, they sample local dishes, from octopus to churros.

Then, when Molly goes to Mexico, she continues to enjoy the culture, visiting the historical sights and taking part in many local activities.

She visits a tapas bar called Sabores, meaning Flavours, and is intrigued by the interesting plant-based tapas on offer there. One of the recipes is below. Try it out and enjoy your own tapas bar at home.

All recipes can be served with wine, soft drinks, fruit punch or, if you want that authentic Sabores taste, beer or Tequila.

**********

RECIPE 1

Molly’s friend Betty, who is from Texas, asks if they serve steak in the tapas bar and the owner, Liliana.

Ranch-style cauliflower steak

To prepare the cauliflower, cut off all the leaves and trim the stem. Cut it through into ½ inch steak slices. Carefully place the steaks on an oiled baking sheet. Drizzle it with olive oil and rub with a mixture of: a teaspoonful of siracha, cumin seeds, coriander, smoked paprika, chili powder, salt, and pepper.

Carefully turn the cauliflower over and season the other side. Place in a medium oven to roast for 30 minutes, flipping over for the last ten minutes. Eat by itself or with aioli, mayo or chimichurri sauce. Great too with a dressed mixed green leaf and tomato salad.

RECIPE 2

Canapés

‘Cheesy’ and Spinach filo canapés

For the ‘Cheesy’ filling

  • 125 g of raw cashews
  • 150 g firm tofu
  • 4 tsp white miso
  • 4 tsp nutritional yeast
  • juice of a lemon

For the Spinach Filling

  • 250g fresh spinach
  • Sprinkle of mace or nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • ½ tsp olive oil

Also:

  • 1 packet filo pastry, defrosted
  •  3 Tbs olive oil

 To make the ‘cheesy’ filling:

  1. Soak the cashews for at least 1 hour in some warm water.
  2. Blend the cashews with a tbsp of their soaking water until completely smooth.
  3. Add the tofu and blend again.
  4. Add the miso, lemon juice, nutritional yeast and salt. Blend again.

For the Spinach Filling

  1. Sauté the garlic in a frying pan.
  2. Add the spinach
  3. Add the mace/ nutmeg and dill.
  4. Leave to cool and roughly mix with a dollop of the ‘cheesy’ mixture.

To assemble the canapés

  1. Brush one sheet of filo with olive oil.
  2. Cut it into half length-ways and fold it over length-ways so you end up with a long strip of pastry.
  3. Place a heaped teaspoon of one of the fillings on the pastry.
  4. Fold the filled side over and fold again so it makes a triangular parcel. Put it on a greased oven proof tray.
  5. Repeat with all the other pieces of filo pastry and both fillings, until you run out of filling or pastry. You should be able to make about 15, using generous dollops.
  6. Bake in the oven 220 degrees for around 15 minutes, then check that it’s crispy and golden brown. If it isn’t, cook for another five minutes and check again.

 

RECIPE 3

Kristof, the Sabores chef, makes a variety of plant-based frittatas for Valeria and Jose’s wedding on the beach. Here’s his recipe.

Individual Frittatas, five ways

Ingredients

For the basic frittata mix

  • 600g silken tofu (2 packets)
  • 100 g gram (chickpea) flour or more for texture.
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp Kala Namek (Black Himalayan Salt. This is optional but it’s great for an ‘eggy’ flavour.)
  • 5 tbs nutritional yeast
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 3-4 tbs water, as needed

 Filling 1

  • A handful of frozen peas
  • Plant-based bacon or crisply fried shiitake mushrooms or crispy bits of oven-roasted aubergine, finely chopped
  • Herbs of your choice

 Filling 2

  • Chopped broccoli florets
  • vegan pesto (or make your own with a handful of basil, pine nuts, some lemon juice, capers, 3 tbsp nutritional yeast.)

Filling 3

  • Shredded kale or spinach, cooked lightly
  • Plant based vegan cheese/ cream cheese
  • Black pepper or a sprinkle of mace

 Filling 4

  • Cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • Green olives, chopped
  • Plant-based cheese
  • Mixed herbs: thyme, oregano, dill, coriander, parsley

Filling 5

  • A variety of chopped cooked vegetables such as mushrooms, potatoes, onions, broccoli, peas, cauliflower.
  • A pinch of turmeric, cumin seeds, diced coriander and crushed cardamom.

Instructions

  1. Grease or line a muffin tin.
  2. Turn your oven on to 220C
  3. Blend/ mix/ mash well all the frittata ingredients
  4. Separate the frittatas into five separate bowls and distribute the fillings by adding them to each portion of the mix.
  5. Spoon 3-4 tbsp of the frittata mixture into each muffin tin and bake for 15-20 minutes. After 15 minutes, check the progress: the frittatas should be golden and springy to touch.
  6. Allow it all to cool. You might need to run a knife around the edges to release the frittatas.
  7. Serve with crusty bread, a nice green salad, tomatoes, olives.

 

RECIPE 4

Black bean dip with tortilla chips

 

  • 400 g tin black beans
  • 4-5 sundried tomatoes
  • 1 tsp chipotle paste
  • A handful of coriander (cilantro)
  • Juice of a whole lime
  • Black pepper/ sea salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Drain the black beans, don’t throw away the liquid.
  2. Blend all ingredients except the lime juice. Add a little of the reserved black bean liquid to help it become a smooth dip texture.
  3. Add the lime juice. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve in a pretty dish, garnished with thinly sliced tomatoes or onions, olives or slices of avocado.
  4. Eat by dunking tortilla chips. Make your own by baking some corn tortillas, cut into smaller triangles and lightly brushed with oil, for 7 minutes on a hot oven.

Cream ‘Cheese’

  1. Soak a generous handful of cashews in boiling water for an hour.
  2. Drain them and add to a blender with a couple of tbsp of lemon juice, coconut cream, wine vinegar, and a pinch of salt and onion powder. Blend.
  3. Stir in some fresh dill or herbs to taste. Works well with some broken walnut bits stirred in instead.
  4. Serve on your favourite savoury biscuits with a twist of cucumber, an olive or a slice of tomatoes.****************

Enjoy your meal. Or as we say in Mexico Buen provecho.’

Casting Chasing the Sun as a film – and how my choice of the star role took me completely by surprise.

Judy Leigh

 

When I write a novel, I have a picture of the characters in my mind’s eye. As the novel progresses and the characters develop, I still maintain the same image. It is never based on a real person, although sometimes writers can’t help creating unintended composites or including a hint of someone whom they may know, although it’s never my aim to write a character who is close to anyone actual. Imagination is far too much fun to take ideas from real life.

A while after I’d written Chasing the Sun, I went out for a walk and I was thinking about Molly, my main character who has her 70th birthday as the novel opens. She lives alone; she’s restless and ready to explore new adventures. She’s an impetuous, kind-hearted woman with a sense of humour and an inclination to launch herself into a situation she later regrets.

For no reason, I suddenly thought of the actor Dawn French: although Dawn is a little younger and does not particularly resemble the image I had of Molly when I first wrote her, it immediately occurred to me that she’d be perfect to play the character in a film. She has all the zaniness, warmth and mischief of Molly; the more I thought about it, the more I just thought, yes, yes of course, absolutely.

I’ve sort of met Dawn, in the way that people are all in a crowd together. Dawn is chancellor of Falmouth University and so our paths have crossed several times. She is a live wire, articulate, and with a great sense of fun. She’s perfect for Molly and, as the character develops during the book and Molly has various epiphanies about being alone and considers what she wants from life, Dawn has the warmth and compassion to bring the character’s feelings to the surface and to exploit the most comic moments.

Molly drags her half-sister to Spain. Nell, a little younger than Molly, has just split with her husband of forty years and so Molly believes a holiday in the sun will be just the remedy to take her away from all the heartache. Of course, my next logical thought was: Jennifer Saunders as Nell. Why not? Although Nell’s understandably short on confidence at the beginning of the book and Jennifer is a strong personality, by the end, Nell is determined, feisty and resolute. Jennifer is ideal for the role. And the sisters have an easy,  natural rapport which would be replicated in Dawn and Jennifer’s performance.

With this in mind, I considered other British actors for some of the other roles. Ian McKellen would be great as the poor Colonel, grumpy and unhappy; Bill Nighy would be perfect as lovelorn sailor, Ronnie. I’d select Eddy Izzard as the inspirational Lourdes. In Mexico, I’d pick two American actors to play the characters Molly meets there: Blythe Danner would make a perfect warm and friendly Betty. Harrison Ford would be ideal as Ryan, the hunk who thinks he’s still in the nineteen sixties and becomes Molly’s housemate.

I still haven’t managed to cast anyone as Kristof the chef (Gabriel Byrne, perhaps?) or Alejandro the dance teacher. I’m sure someone else will come up with the perfect contender when they’ve read the book. If you have a great idea, do let me know.

But Dawn is perfect for Molly, who sails her way through the picaresque that is Chasing the Sun: she’d be exactly right for the ludicrously comic moments, the poignant moments and the romantic ones too.

And certainly, that final image of Molly racing along towards the beach on the moped is just Dawn to a tee. I can think of no-one better.

 

 

 

Originally given the working title The Hokey Cokey Woman, I set out to write a story about Molly, a seventy-year-old widow who leaps into situations with complete abandon, later realising that what she’s chosen isn’t for her and she should have considered all options and thought more wisely. But part of Molly’s charm is that she’s spontaneous; she is caring, full of positivity, enthusiasm and she has natural joie de vivre. In the novel, she finds herself in several situations that are the result of her impetuosity, because she acts before she has thought out the consequences. Although her spontaneity might be endearing, and she has boundless energy and enthusiasm, her life isn’t perfect: she’s always seeking something new, chasing something elusive, but she doesn’t always know what it is.

Nell, her half-sister, is a few years younger, wiser and more sensible. But when her own seemingly-solid marriage is in crisis, she appears on Molly’s doorstep, her world suddenly shaken.The husband who had become part of the fabric of her life wants something else and Nell is shocked that the comfortable existence she knew is in the past.

Molly’s reaction is to leap straight into a new adventure, to change the scenery in order to prevent Nell from further heartache, so she drags her off to Spain for a holiday. They have a wonderful time, although Molly’s impetuosity leads her into a few more scrapes, but they both make new friends and initially life appears idyllic. However, after a while, Molly has itchy feet and she yearns to move on and to discover more.

I am always interested in the themes of companionship and love, and how different people make different choices about whether to stay single or to choose to be in a relationship: loneliness can affect us all, whatever our age. Molly is a widow, she is independent and has learned to live alone, so she doesn’t stop to consider whether being single is a problem. Nell, however, has had a partner in her life for forty years: she hasn’t known solitude before and being by herself is a novelty. So what interests me in this part of the story is the way both women react to the choices of new love and friendship. Are friends needed to keep loneliness at bay? Is any partner better than no partner at all? Or can solitude and self-reliance be an alternative to loneliness: sometimes we find satisfaction in being alone, and sometimes we yearn for love and companionship. Both Molly and Nell face decisions about their future paths several times in the novel and their responses are very different.To live life independently or to accept a new partner, that is the question. As one character says, being single is not the opposite of being happy. And as the other suggests, once you have tasted champagne, why would you opt for flat lemonade? So the title Chasing the Sun is not simply about wanting to be in warmer climes, it is also about how the characters consider bringing warmth into the cold empty space of their own lives.

The setting of the novel was also an important choice. I began writing Chasing the Sun at the start of lockdown, having previously intended to go to Spain for a few days to practise speaking Spanish and to research the location. When the trip was cancelled, I researched the coastal area of Murcia online.

I’d been to Mexico several years ago and my son was living there at the time that I was writing the novel, so I took my character to a location and a culture where I had some background knowledge already, which was a useful starting point for research. I wanted to offer the reader the chance to experience vibrant, sunshine-filled locations and a rich cultural heritage as a form of escape from what had become the lockdown norm. My intention was that if we can’t go on holiday physically, then we’ll go vicariously, with a character in a novel.

To that end, I hope the readers will enjoy Molly’s voyages to the sunshine, and also I hope that they’ll like the exploration of the choices between independence, loneliness and romance, the life-choice options considered by Molly and Nell, two very different characters with very different experiences. Chasing the Sun is out in April.

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