Monday, 25 July 2011

My New Spiritual Home

Well! Unless you unleashed me in a chocolate factory with a spoon I couldn't have asked for more! We (me, The Toyboy Trucker, Elle and The Doctor) went to Southall Broadway to shop for wedding clothes... And I was entranced, bedazzled, completely overcome with dizzy excitement. So many fabulous shops. All those rainbow colours... All that glitter and sparkle and twinkle... Total, absolute bliss.

The Doctor's brother is getting married next month, in a traditional Hindu/Jain ceremony - which involves several events (not just the wedding - and even the reception takes place the day AFTER the nuptials) so we needed suitable outfits - naturally. Well, The Toyboy Trucker and The Doctor are wearing suits, but Elle and I felt that as "family" we should be bedecked in as much Indian splendour as possible... It wasn't just an excuse for yet more clothes shopping, honest...

So, we went to Southall to buy something stunning and authentic - and I absolutely adored it!!!! It's vibrant, jam-packed, lively - and looks and smells and sounds as if you've just stepped into a Bollywood movie. There's no "death of the High Street" in Southall, I can tell you. And oh, what bliss to be served by people who actually cared. Who were interested in what we bought and why we were buying it. Who said - and proved - that nothing was too much trouble.

Elle, determined to look fabulous and girly and not at all like a marquee (even though she will be nine months pregnant on the wedding day) homed in on swathes of sari silk in lilac and silver, turquoise and gold - all of which floated and fell beautifully round her bump - set off by matching softly-gathered salwar trousers encrusted with sequins and embroidery - and the most fabulous matching dupatta stoles, and looked like a princess. Albeit quite a large princess....

I settled on a salwar suit in purple and gold... I'm now convinced that I shall live in salwar suits for the rest of my life. Why have I never discovered them before???? So comfortable, so elegant, so flattering, so pretty - they're light and drifty to wear, hide a multitude of sins, and made me feel like a - well, no not a princess (too old, too fat) - maybe a sort of Bhangra Queen Mother????

By the time Elle and I had ooohed and aaahed our way up and down the Broadway, and eventually made up our minds, and then dived in and out of a zillion jewellery shops for the necessary matching multiple bangles and ear-rings, The Toyboy Trucker and The Doctor had become a bit bored with all the glitz and glam and girlie shrieks of glee, and wandered off to Jalebi Junction, one of the most famous food stalls Southall has to offer.

Jalebis are sticky, glorious, made-on-the-spot sweets. Spirals of fresh dough are piped into boiling oil and fried while you wait and watch. The dough takes on the characteristic orange colour in the deep frying process and is then dunked into another container of sugar syrup. The jalebis are then cooled on a wire rack until they can be popped into a brown paper bag and handed to you with the warning that they're very, very hot. Yes they are, but I defy anyone not to eat them while they're very, very hot. Even though you can't speak and get covered in syrup and look pretty disgusting... They're the most delicious things I've ever tasted - well, apart from the Gulab Jamons of course (the nearest thing to Rum Babas - and heaven - I've ever found).

Eventually - after eating our body-weight in an Indian veggie buffet restaurant - we made our way home, tired, full-to-bursting, and deliriously happy. All I hope now is that the baby stays put and we can wear our finery at the wedding - otherwise at the next Romantic Novelists shindig I'll be the fat one in the Salwar Suit and far too many bangles....

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Never Can Say Goodbye

Yes, I know NCSG isn't out until February next year (hardback in Sept this year) but I absolutely LOVE the cover, so I'm making no apologies for using it as the illustration for this post. I think it's just so girlie and pretty... I've got a copy pinned on the wall in front of me and I just sigh wistfully over those gorgeous frocks and the fabulous trailing roses and the to-die-for handbags... Thank you so much to Louise Anglicas, the clever, talented artist, for producing something so totally beautiful.

And as Never Can Say Goodbye is about a retro frock shop run by Frankie, the heroine, and has a DDG florist, Dexter, as the hero - then the frocks'n'flowers combination works so well. Yep - it's official - I'm in love with this cover...

Of course, there's a lot more to NCSG than just frocks'n'flowers. It's winter in the quaintly old-fashioned Berkshire village of Kingston Dapple - a very, very cold winter - and Francesca's Fabulous Frocks in the market square is home not only to a mass of vintage dresses, but also to a collection of very odd people. There's Brian from the kebab van; Biddy the bitch; Lilly, Frankie's air-head flat-mate; Cherish, the worst colour-palette-advisor in the world; Maisie the useless medium - and of course Dexter, the philandering Beckhamesque florist and his many conquests. Several of my previous characters appear too: Slo and Essie, Phoebe, Amber, Clemmie, Sukie etc, and all the cooks from The Way To A Woman's Heart - oh, and of course there are also ghosts... ghosts with attitude... ghosts with issues... ghosts with frock-envy... funny ghosts... sad ghosts... and even ghosts who don't know they are ghosts.

I've always wanted to write a rom com ghost story and am so pleased that Never Can Say Goodbye rounds off my practical magic series nicely.

So, yes - the good news - I've just been offered a new deal by my lovely publishers Piatkus/Little,Brown (thank you!!!) - and the bad news (maybe?) - it's the end of the current series. After eight books, we've all decided that it's time to say goodbye to the magic and hello to a whole new world.

So, while I'm still going to be bucolic frolicking in rural Berkshire, it's goodbye to Hazy Hassocks, Bagley-cum-Russet, Fiddlesticks, Lovers Knot and Winterbrook and their inhabitants - and hello to Nook Green, Daisybank, Bluebell Common and Maizey St Michael along with a whole new set of characters having a whole new set of romantic and hopefully funny adventures.

I think it'll be hard for me to leave the Hubble Bubble world behind - but I'm very excited about getting to know my new villages and meeting the people who live there. And as the first one (currently imaginatively titled Book One) in the new series has to be written, finished and delivered by Feb I really ought be popping off to Nook Green right now...

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Ghod Bharai - and My Bindi

Elle had her Ghod Bharai on Sunday - and it was absolutely brilliant. I hadn't got a clue what it entailed - but the Ghod Bharai is a Hindu baby shower thrown by all the Indian female rellies when the 7th month of pregnancy passes into the 8th - yep, it's gone that quickly! It's a lovely colourful happy celebration (and held - fortunately - in the mum-to-be's own home) when they bring traditional gifts and money and jewellery and bless her and the baby and eat a lot! There were some prayers and some funny traditional stuff like passing a small child between Elle and The Doctor seven times for luck (fortunately one of the cousins-in-law had brought a small child so we didn't have to go out and find one - this might have involved having to answer a lot of awkward questions). The Toyboy Trucker and I loved every minute of it! I had to present her with a kilo of rice washed by the waters of the Ganges (so not Tescos!) and a coconut with a swastika on it - the swastika being a Hindu symbol of happiness, well-being and joy...

In the absence of the necessary sisters-in-law, Elle's female cousins-in-law plus her sis-in-law-to-be had to dress her in a ceremonial sari which had to be attached to a rope-thing tied round her bump and then pleated - it took ages and yards and yards of material and because it was heavy (emerald green silk covered in gold threads) she could hardly move. And she looked like a marquee. However she was very good and didn't scream or bite anyone so that was a blessing.

The full-on Hindu wedding of The Doctor's brother and the beautiful Nisha is imminent (two weeks before Elle's due date - eeek!) and all the cousins agreed there was no way Elle could wear a sari for that - so if she's okay (she's enormous and has SPD and some scary foot/leg/hand swelling - the Dr and midwife say her BP is normal and she's doing fine - so maybe it's just me that's worrying), we're going to Southall next week with the girlie-cousins-in-law to find something more comfy and suitable for her to wear at the wedding - probably a sari suit with a long flowing jacket over stretchy silk trousers with elasticated waist. I'm going Eastern as well and am hoping to find a sari in purple and gold.... I'm so looking forward to it as I love all things colourful and glittery and don't mind in the slightest looking like a marquee (par for the course for me).

The very best thing about Elle's Ghod Bharai for me, was the bindis. They're the face jewels for Hindu celebrations. Elle had to have seven in a rainbow across her forehead, but I had one as mother of the mother-to-be and it was a tiny tear-drop ruby surrounded by diamonds between my eyebrows. Fabulous! I'm still wearing it! And no, sadly, that isn't me in the picture - ooooh, I wish...

Oh, and the food was amazing too. Elle and The Doctor had provided the food - an entire veggie Indian banquet - and the rellies cooked it - the kitchen was just filled with women of all ages in multi-coloured saris all cooking away and chattering like magpies and we ate it in the sunshine in the garden and it was the most fabulous spread ever - and we didn't move for the rest of the day!

When the baby arrives they're all coming back on the 6th day to have a similar ceremony for the Naming of the Child. I do love the way they celebrate things, and all the colour and laughter and sparkle. And the food... Oh, and especially the bindis...