About the author
I was born in Whitefield, near Manchester, in the north of England. As a child, loved reading books more than anything else. I always wanted to be a writer but believed it would be impossible. When I discovered that Dodie Smith, author of One Hundred and One Dalmations had also been born in Whitefield I could not have been more amazed at such a being inhabiting the same small town.
I loved writing stories, and when one of my former teachers posted me some of my English exercise books, it contained, of all things, a story about a Tudor servant girl written when I was ten years old. Nevertheless, I loathed school and left as soon as I could, and only because of the generosity of state funded grants I was able to study English Literature for my first degree. An option in American Literature deepened my fascination with the Gothic, especially Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Edgar Allan Poe, and Herman Melville. I also love the more Gothic aspect of Dickens, especially Great Expectations and Bleak House - and of course Wilkie Collins, and Conan Doyle.
Like many people I also enjoy contemporary crime. Ruth Rendell’s A Fatal Inversion is one of my favourite novels, set in a dilapidated manor house during the long hot summer of 1976. And Daphne Du Maurier is of course a huge influence, especially Rebecca.
As a little girl reading E Nesbit's time-travel books , I nagged my mother to let me eat the Edwardian children's' dish 'bread and milk'. I remember it was horrible! Stories and food are invariably linked for me, and I taught myself to bake from Good Housekeeping books. When I was a student I started baking to save money, by making local English specialities such as Bakewell Tart, biscuits and cakes. When more opportunities to travel arrived, I became fascinated by foreign foods and entered a Merchant Gourmet contest with a Spanish dish for a Smoky Asturian Stew. I cooked it at Leith's cookery school in London, won the contest, and the prize was a French cookery course in Provence. At Le'Baou D'Infer the chef was Alex Mackay, former director of the cookery school at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons. I particularly loved learning to make excellent French sweet pastry for a variety of delicious tarts.
For my own wedding I decided to make my own three-tier chocolate cake. I recalled in The Wedding Diaries (written as Laura Bloom), that the summer heat made one after another of my white chocolate decorations crack and splinter like dust. Although with the addition of berries and artificial ivy it passed muster on the big day, I vowed I would never bake again.
My vow soon forgotten, I represented the UK at the Dessert Championships at Le Meurice in Paris, making a cassis, summer fruits and white chocolate cheesecake. As part of the prize the contestants ate at Cafe Procope, founded in 1686, a coffee house and literary haunt of Rousseau, Voltaire, and Benjamin Franklin. The chocolate dessert pictured below was a particular inspiration.
Follow the menu to An Appetite for Violets to discover how the idea to write my debut novel began with a collection of historic recipes at Erddig Hall near Chester. Thanks to TV food historian Ivan Day I’ve learned a great deal about historic cookery, using forgotten techniques and attempting the truly amazing sugarwork skills that confectioners evolved in the 18th century.