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Are you thinking about Christmas yet? Are you getting in the mood for feasting and merriment?

No doubt if you’ve been to a supermarket recently you’ve noticed a proliferation of Christmas fare on offer, from mince pies to gingerbread houses, stollen to macaroons. But have you spotted the traditional confectionary from Cádiz, Andalucía, setting for my new novel Legacy? If you don’t live in Spain, you most likely haven’t come across this delicious treat in your local shops – which is why today I’m sharing a recipe so that you can try it for yourself at home.

pan-de-cadiz

[Picture credit: Tamorlan]

First, a little background on Pan de Cádiz. The name translates to ‘bread of Cádiz’, but in fact it is not a bread, it simply looks a little like a loaf. It is also known as Turrón de Cádiz (Cadiz nougat) or Mazapán de Cádiz (Cádiz marzipan), which more aptly convey the content of the sweet.

Various varieties exist, but the core recipe for Pan de Cádiz always includes marzipan made with ground almonds, sugar, egg yolk and candied fruit, and it often includes sweet potatoes (and sometimes crystallised pumpkin). The Moors, who once lived in Cádiz, had much to do with the uptake of turrón, a nougat made from almonds, honey, egg yolks and sugar, and back in the nineteenth century the people of Cádiz would eat marzipan rolls with fruit. But it was a pastry chef named Antonio Valls Garrido put the two together and pioneered the Pan de Cádiz in his pastry shop, the Pastelería Viena, on the corner of San Miguel and Novena streets in the city.

If you’ve never tasted Pan de Cádiz, you’ve missed a treat: it’s sweet and flavourful, with a lovely moist and creamy texture, and the candied fruit within makes it fun and colourful. The people of Cadiz – and, indeed, in surrounding territories – eat Pan de Cádiz at Christmas, when it is handmade at home or bought from bakeries.

Traditionally, the process for Pan de Cádiz is as follows: Make a syrup with water and sugar – heat, and then cool. Add to well-beaten egg yolks and stir until thickened. Mix in ground almonds, sugar and cinnamon. Knead the ‘dough’ well, and form into the preferred shape (often a loaf), scattering into the layers the candied fruits. Brush with egg yolk and bake until golden. Then leave in a cool, dark place for several days to mature.

I follow a much simpler recipe when I make Pan de Cádiz, which incorporates sweet potato. You can use this recipe as a base and experiment with different additions, like your choice of candied fruit (I especially like to add the citrus fruits lemon, lime and orange).

 

Ingredients

500 grams almond flour

500 grams caster sugar

200 grams candied sweet potato (yams)

3 large eggs

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F).
  2. Mix the flour, sugar and two egg whites. Knead.
  3. Mix in the sweet potato and two egg yolks to one-third of the marzipan.
  4. Halve the remaining marzipan and roll out into two rectangles.
  5. Spread the sweet potato mixture onto one marzipan rectangle, and then place the other marzipan slice on top.
  6. Shape as desired (I favour the traditional loaf shape).
  7. Brush with the remaining egg yolk.
  8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the loaf is a dark golden brown.
  9. Allow to cool, and then slice.

 

I serve Pan de Cádiz for guests over the seasonal period as part of a platter of sweet treats from around the world, with either tea or a sherry – which of course originates from Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucía, and so is the perfect accompaniment.

If, like me, you enjoy exploring different cuisines in your own kitchen, and the Mediterranean flavours of Spanish cuisine appeal, I can recommend this new cookbook by British food and travel writer Paul Richardson, which offers more than 100 easy-to-follow and delicious recipes that deliver authentic Spanish cuisine to home cooks everywhere:

cookbook

First on my list to try? The authentic Spanish Hot Chocolate – perfect for the colder, darker nights.

love-that-lasts

Have you seen the recent theatrical trailer for the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? In the trailer, author J.K. Rowling explains how while writing her Harry Potter series a very minor character (who is only mentioned, not featured) captured her interest. She explains that she knew so much about Newt Scamander and that he became so real to her that eventually he inspired this new film.

J.K. Rowling is touching on an aspect of being a writer that I find fascinating: all the knowledge the writer has about a story world and its inhabitants that is not shared with the reader. There is never scope in a book to include everything – indeed, I usually feel when I write that I am sharing only a small part of a story. What happens next, after the ending?

To date I have published five romance novels: Burning Embers and The Echoes of Love (standalones), and the Andalucían Nights trilogy comprising Indiscretion, Masquerade and Legacy. For the standalone novels, I leave the reader with the expectation that the future for the protagonists will be rosy – but of course I cannot set that in stone. While I write about falling in love, first and foremost, I am also fascinated by how it is to remain in love for the rest of your days; that is the kind of strength of love I write of, and I wish I could explore it more.

I granted that wish for myself in a small way with my Andalucían Nights trilogy. Each focuses on two people falling in love, but because Masquerade and Legacy follow the next generations, there was some scope to revisit the characters of the preceding books. So in Masquerade, once more the reader meets Alexandra and Salvador, the protagonists of Indiscretion, and in Legacy the reader is reunited with Alexandra and Salvador and with Luz and Andres, the romantic leads in Masquerade. I confess I very much enjoyed writing the scenes in which these older characters appeared, most of all because it was so heart-warming to show them still together and as in love as they ever were.

There is a norm in the romance genre that you write of new love, often first love: pure, daunting, overwhelming, exciting, exhilarating. I love to write of the heady sensations and electric connections experienced in this stage of love; I love to be swept away into emotional, epic romance. But sometimes I wonder why there is less emphasis on writing of love that lasts, not simply through delivering a happy-ever-after promise at the end of the book, but by demonstrating that the love has endured.

I think perhaps the reason for the success of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series lies with its focus on a love that endures: the story spans many years and follows the same characters, Jamie and Claire, who are in love. The publisher struggled to categorise the series into a genre, because it spans several, and ultimately did not class it as pure romance. Is romance only that early stage of a relationship, or does romance endure: should, in fact, all romance by about love that lasts – is that the true definition?

Do you enjoy reading stories in which the love lasts? Is this something you look for in a novel? Do you like to revisit characters after the happy-ever-after and check in with them? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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When was the last time you read a romance novel? This week, I hope, or at least this month, because the benefits of reading romance are powerful.

Here’s my top ten list of reasons to be an avid reader of romances:

  1. Blissful escapism.

Romance is pure, heavenly escapism. Whatever’s happening in your life, you can step away from it with just the turn of a page – you can put aside being a wife or a mother or an employee for a little while and be transported into another time and place. It’s the ultimate little break, a form of meditation, and when you put down the book you’re calmer and better equipped to live reality once more.

  1. A chance to ‘meet’ Mr Right.

It may be fantasy, but fantasy is a lot of fun. When you read a romance novel and click with the hero, you enjoy the reading so much. Love is a beautiful thing, and falling in love a little with a character can only make you feel happy.

  1. Simple therapy.

At its core each romance novel is a story of two people struggling with emotions, just as we all do. ‘Gives me the feels’ has become a common description in romance book reviews: we read not simply to observe, but to engage – to feel. Reading romance novels is cathartic, and the very best novels can restore wavering faith in love and life.

  1. A guarantee of happy closure.

When life hands you lemons, put them down and pick up a romance book. In happy-ever-after romance novels, you can truly escape and unwind, knowing that the ending will not leave you dangling, uncertain and frustrated, and will reinforce the message that life is good.

  1. A long and distinguished history.

Look at the great works of literature. Almost every story that has stood the test of time in some way relates to love. People have been engaging with romance stories for centuries. When you read romance, you’re part of a strong tradition.

  1. A plentiful supply.

Romance is the biggest genre in publishing, in terms of volume of books published and sales. That means your ‘to read’ pile never need be anything less than teetering. Whenever you’re in the mood to read, you can get hold of a romance book.

  1. So much choice.

Whatever your particular brand of romance, someone somewhere is writing it. Whether you like sassy, steamy rollercoaster rides or beautiful, evocative love stories (like mine), you can find plenty of books to read. And if you feel like dipping your toe into the water of a different style of romance, you have plenty to choose from.

  1. A chance to learn and grow.

The best romances offer an opportunity for readers to learn about something new, such as an interesting occupation or a place. In my own romance, I take readers to fascinating locations around the world, like Venice and Cadiz and the plains of Kenya, so that my books are like a passport to travel virtually.

  1. An inexpensive habit.

My novels Burning Embers and The Echoes of Love are currently just 99 pence/cents in ebook format. Compare that to the price of a cup of coffee! Clearly, developing a romance reading habit isn’t going to break the bank.

  1. Membership of a community.

No romance reader is an island. There are so many ways to share your love of romance books with others, from book clubs to Goodreads groups. The international community of romance readers is friendly and inspirational, and I’m very proud to belong.

Do you have any reasons to add to my list? Do you read romance novels – exclusively, or as well as other genres? What do romance novels mean to you?

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I love the city of Cadiz, Andalucía, that ‘lively and luminous’ city known as ‘the Bride of the Sea’, so much so that I set not one but two of my romance novels there: Masquerade and Legacy.

Cadiz is the very oldest city in Spain, and one of the oldest in all of Western Europe; consequently, the city is steeped in history and legend, which of course is very appealing to a romance novelist!

Did you know that, according to mythology, Cadiz was founded by none other than Hercules himself, while on his journey to the end of the world to take on the monster Geryon (his tenth labour)? In addition, in ancient times a temple was erected there by the Phoenicians to honour Kronos, leader of the first generation of Titans, and father of Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Demeter and Hera, and it is said to have been the site of the pillars of Hercules.

The temple stood on a little islet that juts out from the emblematic La Caleta beach in the city. The temple is long gone, but what has been constructed there since has an interesting history.

Cadiz is the city of watchtowers, and one such tower has stood on the little island for centuries, to be used for defence (over the years the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans penetrated Spain at this point), and also for protection, wherein the light cast by the tower acted as a lighthouse to warn sailors of the islet’s presence.

In 1457, when the plague infected a boat from Venice, the crew were forced to quarantine themselves until they recovered, and while doing so the city of Cadiz permitted them to use the islet. There, the sailors built a chapel dedicated to Saint Sebastian, patron saint of the plague stricken.

In 1706, it was decided that a watchtower was insufficient defence for the city, and the San Sebastián Castle was built. The castle, which was further developed in 1860, is notable for its irregular shape, the outer walls following the lines of the island.

Nestled within the safety of the walls is the lighthouse, this iteration built on the site of the old Moorish watchtower back in 1908, when it was fabulously modern, being only the second lighthouse in the country to be run on electricity. It towers over the castle, some 41 metres above the sea.

Originally, the island was cut off from the mainland, but in the late nineteenth century a causeway was built. Today, visitors to Cadiz walk along the causeway, the Paseo Fernando Quiñones, out to the island and through the magnificent old archways into the fortress.

I did this walk while researching my Andalucían nights series, and was so inspired by the perspective I got of the city; the views really are worth the long and windy walk along the causeway. Because the fortress is not wholly restored and polished into a tourist attraction, I got such a strong sense of history and legend out on that little islet.

But it’s not just my imagination that’s been captured by this fortress on an island. If you’re wondering, having looked at the picture above, why San Sebastián Castle looks familiar, it may well be because you saw it in the James Bond film Die Another Day. Although the action is meant to be set in Havana, Cuba, that country has been off limits to film-makers since its revolution, and so Cadiz was chosen as a substitute. The iconic scene where Halle Berry walks out of the sea? That was filmed at La Caleta beach. The island with the clinic? That is the San Sebastián Castle.

Have you ever visited San Sebastián Castle? Would you like to? Do you enjoy exploring old castles – ruined or renovated? Do you find an air of romance within the old stone walls?

bestseller

In the past few weeks a non-fiction book has taken the publishing world by storm: The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel. Written by a former literature lead researcher at Apple and an associate professor of English, the book has a compelling blurb:

What if an algorithm could predict which manuscripts would become mega-bestsellers?

Girl on the Train. Fifty Shades. The Goldfinch. Why do some books capture the whole world’s attention? What secret DNA do they share? In The Bestseller Code, Archer and Jockers boldly claim that blockbuster hits are highly predictable, and they have created the algorithm to prove it. Using cutting-edge text mining techniques, they have developed a model that analyses theme, plot, style and character to explain why some books resonate more than others with readers. Provocative, entertaining, and ground-breaking, The Bestseller Code explores the hidden patterns at work in the biggest hits and, more importantly, the real reasons we love to read.

The authors, Archer and Jockers, scanned nearly 5,000 novels into a computer, amongst them 500 New York Times bestsellers, and then programmed the computer to predict which would succeed. Their algorithm returned 80 per cent correct predictions.

Most authors don’t set out with the express aim of writing a blockbuster (unless they have fantastically large egos); they are like EL James, who has said, ‘I never set out to do this. Getting to number one in the New York Times bestseller list wasn’t even a pipe dream.’ As for publishers, they do their best to predict what will sell, but will openly admit that there is no exact science to publishing a blockbuster – remember that JK Rowling was rejected over and over again with Harry Potter.

So a formula that can predict a bestseller is surely very exciting for publishers (can it be applied to the ‘slush pile’?), and for authors (by studying this book’s analysis of theme, plot, style and character, can we write a guaranteed bestseller?). The idea of a computer telling us what to write and publish, however, doesn’t prove to be inspirational.

First, most of the findings of the analysis amount to common sense for writers – for example, that ‘human closeness’ is key in a popular book.

Second, there’s just no predicting the mood of a time. As Knopf editor Carole Baron said to The Atlantic, ‘Can you predict the future in literature and art when you can’t factor in the zeitgeist? We’re always surprised.’

Third, where is the art in analysing books, spotting ‘must haves’ and then inserting them into your fiction – to writing not from the heart but to a formula? What would the future of literature be if books were increasingly written to rule, and purely in order to be bestsellers (remember, some of the very best works of literature are not bestsellers)?

Finally, what about meaning – writing and publishing for the love of it and the fun of it? Where is the meaning and enjoyment in success no longer being at least in part random?

What do you think about analysing books and then writing to rule? I would be very interested to hear your thoughts.

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