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A sweep . . .

. . . but not the kind who cleans your chimneys. My publisher (Berkley, a division of PenguinRandomHouse USA) is running a dedicated sweepstake for my new book Marry in Secret — out July 3oth. The competition is for US readers only — BUT — if you live outside the USA you can email me (through the contact form on my website) and I will put your name in a draw, and send the winner a book, no matter where in the world you live.

The Berkley sweepstake runs through June 5th.  To enter, clink on this link.  If you’re outside the USA and would like to enter in my own private draw, click here and then go to the “contact” link and send me an email.
And no matter where in the world you live — good luck!

No-knead Bread

Baking bread. It’s such a fundamental, timeless thing to do. I’m always amazed when I make bread and it turns out well. I feel triumphant and vaguely historical. And yet it’s really pretty easy. Even easier with no-knead bread.
Years ago, in my shared-house student days, I often used to make bread. It took ages — mixing, kneading for 10 minutes or more, proving, kneading again, proving, then baking. And with a house full of hungry students who’d been smelling glorious smells for hours, the minute the bread was out of the oven it would be ripped apart, slathered with butter, and jam or my dad’s honey, and devoured. In seconds!

The pic below right is the sort of bread I used to make, though often I plaited it into fancy-looking twists — all the better to pull it apart while still hot, my dears. So there I’d be, almost a day’s work eaten in a flash, not a crumb left, my friends, full and happy, gone back to their studies, and I was left to clean up. Little wonder I soon got sick of making bread.

But in recent months, a friend put me onto no-knead bread. The picture at the top of this page is the loaf I baked this morning. It’s a brilliant recipe — it only takes a few minutes to mix the four ingredients and the rest is time — time you spend doing anything you like  — in my case it was mostly  sleeping, because I mixed the bread in the evening and baked it the next day.

The ingredients are simple — plain flour, salt, yeast and water — and you just mix them — not knead or beat, or process with a dough-hook — just stir together until combined. Next you cover it and leave it on the kitchen bench or the laundry or wherever is cool and convenient until the next day — at least 12 hours. (If the weather is hot, I’ll pop it in the fridge and leave it a bit longer.)

Next day pull out your dough —it’s a big sticky mess with a few bubbles — and shape it  into a ball (I use a wide-bladed egg lift because it’s too sticky to handle). Then I plop it onto a sheet of baking paper, cover again and leave for an hour or so to rise again. Half an hour before you want to bake it, turn on the oven and slide in a dutch oven or cast-iron pot with a lid. To bake, you carefully place the dough on the baking paper inside the hot pot, put the lid back on, and bake for 30 mins. Then reduce the heat slightly and bake another 10-15 minutes with the lid off. The original no-knead recipe is here — he says to use a tea-towel or something similar, and drop the dough in, but baking paper (parchment paper) makes it so much easier. I sit the dough on the paper, then lower it, paper and all into the hot dutch oven. You can see in both my photos, the bread is still sitting on the parchment paper.

The toughest part of the whole process is that almost every recipe says to let the bread cool before you cut it. I haven’t yet managed to achieve that yet. But practice, they say, makes perfect, so we live in hope (though not much). I’m also told no-knead bread keeps well. I’m here to say it doesn’t. It gets eaten before it gets a chance to keep.

So try it out and see what you think.

An interview

I’ve been doing a number of on-line interviews lately, and while I can’t share them until after they’re published, it occurred to me I could post some older ones here — assuming you’re interested, of course.

  1. Define “romantic fiction” and “contemporary romance fiction” in your own terms, and offer a distinctive difference between the two terms.

    Anne: Genre romance has the development of the romance as a central part of the story and has a happy (or satisfying) ending, whereas “romantic fiction” is more open, and can include tragic stories where one or both of the romantic couple dies

  2. What is your favourite contemporary romance novel?

    Anne: Do you mean contemporary meaning recently published, or a novel with a contemporary setting? The most recent romance novel I’ve loved was Bec McMaster’s Heart of Iron — it’s steampunk/paranormal romance, set in a fantasy Victorian era. My favourite contemporary romance novel is always changing but I loved Kylie Scott’s YA romance, TRUST.

  3. Who are your favourite heroines and heroes from any romance novel?

    Anne: How long do you want the list to be? <g> Damerel and Venetia from Georgette Heyer’s Venetia, Peabody and Emerson from Elizabeth Peters’s Crocodile on the Sandbank, Daphne and Rupert from Loretta Chase’s Mr Impossible.

  4. What is your favourite sub-genre of romance (such as paranormal, crime, suspense, etc.)?

    Anne: Historical, though I also enjoy paranormal.

  5. How long have you been writing historical and comedy romances?

    Anne: About 15 years.  (Clearly this interview was a few years ago)

  6. What are your opinions on romance novels written by authors such as Marian Keyes and Jane Green, whose novels deal with issues such as alcoholism, depression, domestic abuse and bereavement?

    Anne: I wouldn’t call them romance novels — they’re more relationship novels or women’s fiction. I loved Marian Keyes’s Rachel’s Holiday. I think romantic fiction (and romance) can deal with the tough issues really well. Romance is fantasy, sure, but it can also be grounded in reality — we need both the dark and the light. My own books have dealt with some quite grim issues, but they work their way toward a happy resolution. If it was all skipping through fields of flowers it would be horribly boring. Not to mention twee.

  7. Moreover, what are your opinions on novels written by authors such as Sophie Kinsella and Melanie La’Brooy (i.e. novels featuring successful – albeit flawed – women who are often perceived as “ditzy”)?

    Anne: I love Sophie Kinsella’s non-shopholic novels — I haven’t read Melanie La’Brooy. Kinsella’s novels are fun and entertaining and that’s fine by me. I don’t think novels of any kind need to “be “responsible” or “represent women.” There’s a huge variety of novels out there and I think that’s what represents women — the variety.

  8. Do you think romance novels are criticised for their occasionally unrealistic portrayal of the romantic hero?

    Anne:  I think romance novels do get a lot of flack about “unrealistic expectations” but IMO it’s because they’re written by women for women. People don’t criticize novels by men with heroic characters like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, or Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe, or movie heroes like James Bond or Indiana Jones — for being unrealistic portrayals of men —they just enjoy the fantasy and the adventure. I think we should do the same for romance heroes. We’re all grown-ups here — there’s no harm in a bit of fun and fantasy.

  9. What is your opinion on the standard, frilly pink jacket covers for contemporary romance novels? Do you feel that the covers adequately represent the content of the novels?
    To Catch A Bride by Anne Gracie
    They’re not all pink and frilly, but while they’re not my personal cup of tea, it’s a branding thing. If you don’t signal “romance” on the cover, readers who are looking for a romance novel will miss it. My worst selling book had a “nothing” sort of cover — a browny-yellow background with a  bunch of roses. (On the right)  Yet it was listed on several prestigious “best of” lists in the USA and nominated for several major awards. That cover let the book down because it didn’t signal anything about the story and the sales were dismal. My next book had a bride in a really gorgeous dress (see below) and my sales shot back up. Branding is important.The Accidental Wedding by Anne Gracie
  10. Finally, what does the future of romance fiction look like? Do you think the genre will remain a prevalent genre in wider society? Why/why not?

    Anne: Who knows what it will look like? The genre itself is constantly changing and expanding and has been doing so all the time I’ve known it —most people have no idea of the variety within the genre. As well, the face of publishing is changing rapidly with the advent of easy self-e-publishing, and all kinds of books that would never have been taken up by a publisher in the past are becoming bestsellers—without the aid of a publisher.
    I think romance will always remain a prevalent genre mainly because it is always reinventing itself and growing and changing as society changes. And also because love and the search for love is deeply rooted in the human psyche. It sounds like a cliché but I think it’s true that romance novels speak to people’s hearts—at least the good ones do.