Mapping Cakes

A guest post today from Angela Wren, whose latest crime novel, Montbel, has recently been published by Crooked Cat.  She’s here today to talk about her love of French cakes.  Mmmmm, I can smell them already ……


I’ve realised that I’ve spent so much time travelling in France that I’m able to wear out maps. I’ve just replaced my last one. Of course, each replacement – and there have been quite a few – means that I have to transfer all my notes from the old to the new. I’ve been doing that recently and I couldn’t help noticing how many notes I have about food. From restaurants in Sées or Montbel, to bakers in Arques or Saverne, to markets in La Roche or Millau and just about everywhere in between. But it’s the notes about pâtisserie that have particularly drawn my attention this time around, there seem to be so many of them. I even have notes of regret… Like this one about a favourite pâtisserie in Auxerre which had become the place to go for Mille Feuille. I also have notes about closed restaurants, or establishments where the menu has changed radically or where the place no longer exists. Imagine my disappointment having arrived in one village looking forward to having lunch in the restaurant on Sunday, only to find the place had been destroyed by fire some months earlier. That may have left a big black scribble on an earlier map, but it did provide the spark of an idea for the story that has now become Montbel.


But let’s get back to the cakes! Flicking through the pages of my atlas of France I can say that the absolute best amandines come from Baugé-en-Anjou in Maine-et-Loire (49). The pastry is ultra thin, light and crumbly. The circle of marzipan at the bottom of the pastry case tastes of fresh almonds, the almond sponge to fill the case is light, fluffy and very almondy and the top is covered with lightly toasted almond slices and then dusted with icing sugar. The very best Tarte au Citron – my favourite – can be found in Prémery in Nièvre (58). Fabulously light pastry case filled with a really sharp lemony curd and topped with a rich, dark chocolate button in the centre.

Boulangers and pâtissiers are artists and this is never more apparent than for specific seasons, festivals or local saints’ days. In September I found this fabulous display outside the local pâtisserie. Of course I had to have a closer look – the theatre director in me propelling me forward to investigate. A lot of the display was made from what I would call ‘prop-dough’. The pâtissier would probably refer to it as Pâte à Sel (Salt Dough). It’s very simple to make – a fixed amount of flour, half that amount of salt and some water. Then mix until smooth and turn out on a board and mould to any shape you like. I’ve created various props for stage, mostly food, with it. Once you have your shapes or models, put them on a lined baking tray and cook in a slow oven for two or three hours until rock hard. Leave to cool and then paint. And if you have the talent that this pâtissier has, you can create mushrooms and toadstools that look real!

But it’s not the inedible salt-dough that I am here for. In this particular shop you can get some of the most scrumptious nougat, made with honey. My favourite is the red berry one. It contains cranberries, raspberries and cherries and is delicious. Don’t keep it in the fridge, though; it will cause it to become brittle. A wrapping of baking paper in an airtight box is fine and, unless you’re like me, it will last for up to three months and maintain its softness. Enjoy!


A clear-cut case?
A re-examination of a closed police case brings investigator, Jacques Forêt, up against an old adversary. After the murder of a key witness, Jacques finds himself, and his team, being pursued.
When a vital piece of evidence throws a completely different light on Jacques’ case, his adversary becomes more aggressive, and Investigating Magistrate Pelletier threatens to sequester all of Jacques papers and shut down the investigation.
Can Jacques find all the answers before Pelletier steps in?



Angela Wren:  Bio

Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre. I’ve been writing, in a serious way, since 2010. My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.

I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work. My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical. I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio. The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.


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Dictators in History: Bashar al-Assad

Time for another in my occasional series of posts discussing real-life dictators and comparing them to Carlos Almanzor, the fictional dictator in my novel Revolution Day. This time I have decided to look at Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, having recently watched the intriguing BBC TV series about him.

Assad is different in many ways from the other dictators I have looked at in this series. For one thing, the others are no longer in power and, with the single exception of Robert Mugabe, are all dead, whereas Assad is still very much alive and in power. Another key difference is that whereas the others typically seized power in a coup or revolution, or in some cases (e.g. Mugabe again) gained it initially through a more or less constitutional process, only to subvert or discard such processes later on, Assad is unique in inheriting it from his father, Hafez al-Assad.

Whilst Hafez was pretty much the archetypal strongman dictator, Bashar is a very different character, at least at first sight. Born on 11 September 1965, he was the second son and thus not expected to succeed his father – that role was earmarked for his more charismatic brother, Bassel. Shy and reserved, Bashar studied medicine, first at Damascus University, and subsequently at the Western Eye Hospital in London. However, everything changed when Bassel died in a car accident in 1994. Bashar returned to Syria and from then on was groomed as his father’s successor, taking over power on Hafez’s death in 2000. In December of that year he married Asma Akhras, who was of Syrian parents but born and educated in the UK.

At first, it seemed like the new regime was interested in reform. There was an amnesty for political prisoners, and Asma toured the country engaging with local communities and championing causes such as women’s development. Even fairly early on, however, there were signs that some things had not changed. The political debate which had been tolerated at first was soon suppressed, and there were some suspicious deaths – notably of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafic Hariri in 2005.

Matters came to a head during the Arab Spring in 2011, which led to protests in Syria, as in other Arab Countries, calling for political reform. The regime responded with violence, and the clashes escalated into what would become the Syrian Civil War. This continuing conflict has had a ruinous effect on the country, with up to half a million dead so far and almost half the Syrian population displaced. At times, Assad’s days seemed numbered, but with extensive support from Russia he held on and has latterly gained the upper hand in the conflict. In doing so, however, he has relied on measures every bit as brutal as those employed by other dictators featured in this series, including chemical weapon attacks on his own people. Thus, while Assad has clung on to power, the hopes for moderation and reform that were raised when he first succeeded his father have been well and truly dashed.

Bashar and Carlos

Bashar Al-Assad was not one of the various dictators I had in mind when I created Carlos. However, watching the BBC series drew my attention to some striking parallels between the two. Both originally pursued a professional career – Assad as a doctor, Carlos as a lawyer. Neither was initially expected to take power and they came upon it almost by accident, albeit in very different ways. On taking charge of their countries, both initially seemed disposed towards reform – and both were supported down this route by a politically active and charismatic wife.

Nevertheless, the regimes of both men ultimately descended into autocracy and repression – and Assad, despite his mild manner, has presided over atrocities far worse than anything I attributed to Carlos. There remains some scope for debate about the extent to which those atrocities have been instigated by Bashar himself, or reflect an inability to control (and/or a need to placate) hard-line factions within the regime and his own family. One thing that he has displayed very clearly, however, is an iron determination to stay in power and a willingness to accept whatever measures were necessary to achieve that end. This too is something that he shares with Carlos.
As to his motivations, it is interesting to speculate whether, like Carlos, he has convinced himself that he alone can be trusted with the stewardship of his nation, or whether – like Carlos’ nemesis, vice-president Manuel ¬¬– he craves power for its own sake. With someone as inscrutable as Bashar Al-Assad, it is difficult to tell, but it is tempting to see him as the living embodiment of the phenomenon I tried to dramatise in the novel: the way power corrupts even those who begin with honourable motives.

You may wish to know that, for a few days only, the e-book of Revolution Day is available on Amazon for 99p or equivalent. You can find out more about the book, including excerpts and reviews, here.

Agricola’s Bane

Today I welcome old friend Nancy Jardine, to talk about Agricola’ Bane, the latest book in her Celtic Fervour series, set in Britain almost two thousand years ago.  Welcome back, Nancy!


Hello Tim. It’s excellent to return to your blog to share news about the brand new addition to my historical series.

Agricola’s Bane, the fourth book in my highly acclaimed Celtic Fervour Series, published with Ocelot Press, is now available to Pre-order on Amazon!

(EBook launch 15th November 2018. Paperback launch event at a local Heritage Centre 22nd November)

For readers of the series, like you have been, Book 4 continues the tales of the Celtic Garrigill warrior clan, this time featuring Enya of Garrigill and Nith of Tarras. The date at the outset of Agricola’s Bane is mid-November AD 84 and the location is Caledon territory. (Modern-day Aberdeenshire/ Scotland) The Late Iron Age tribal warriors who have survived a very recent battle against the Ancient Roman armies take refuge in the hills. General Agricola has continued to march northwards in his quest to claim even more territory for the Roman Empire but discovers that he is thwarted by more than the local warriors who continue to be very adept at guerrilla warfare. Going near the Roman legions means risking a stabbing death under a Roman gladius, but the Garrigill warriors must also evade the notice of the traitorous Vacomagi who have signed up for Roman coin!

For those not familiar with the earlier books of the series, I’m hoping those readers can enjoy the story just as much as a stand alone novel. It might just whet an appetite to find out more about other members of my Garrigill Clan!

Here is a little bit more….

AD 84 Northern Roman Britain

Nith of Tarras aids Enya of Garrigill in the search for her kin, missing after the disastrous battle at Beinn na Ciche fought between the Caledon warriors and the mighty Legions of the Rome. Enya soon has a heartrending choice to make – should she tread Vacomagi territory that’s swarming with Roman auxiliaries to find her brother? Or head south in search of her cousin who has most likely been taken captive by the soldiers of Agricola?

General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola – Commander of the Britannic Legions and Governor of Britannia – is determined to claim more barbarian territory for the Roman Empire, indeed plans to invade the whole island but finds not all decisions are his to make. It increasingly seems that the goddess, Fortuna, does not favour him.

The adventures of the Garrigill clan continue…

Buy via this Amazon Pre-Order Universal Link


Nancy Jardine writes contemporary mysteries; historical fiction and time-travel historical adventure. Her current historical focus is Roman Scotland, an engrossing pre-history era because her research depends highly on keeping abreast of recent archaeological findings.

A member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Scottish Association of Writers, the Federation of Writers Scotland and the Historical Novel Society, her work has achieved finalist status in UK competitions.

She lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, with her husband but life is never quiet or boring since her young grandchildren are her next-door neighbours. She regularly child minds them, those days being cherished and laughter filled.

You can find her at these places:

Blog:  Website:   Facebook: &

email: Twitter

Amazon Author page


Customer Service

It’s a while since I posted one of my little stories on here.  So here’s one I wrote a little while ago at Holmfirth writers.  A shopkeeper deals with two customers with unusual requirements.


“So …” said the shopkeeper, “…. that’s four square yards of plastic sheeting, two dozen heavy duty waste bags, one large roll of duct tape and three gallons of bleach. That’ll be 37 dollars and 50 cents, please. You guys doing some pretty serious cleaning, huh?”

“Man, you don’t know the half of it ,” replied Duane. “I’m tellin’ ya …”

“Oh, my brother’s exaggerating again,” Crystal butted in. You see, our Mom has just moved out to live with her sister in Florida and we thought we’d take the opportunity to do a little spring cleaning. There’s an old shed that needs some work.”

“Yeah,” added Duane, “now it’s our house and all. She left it to us in her will.”

Crystal rolled her eyes. “Duane, don’t you think you’re being a bit premature. I’m sure Mom has many happy years ahead of her. I think what my brother means is that it’s effectively our house, now Mom has moved away.”

“Lady, your family business is none of mine,” said the shopkeeper. “Now, is there anything else I can help you folks with?”

“We-ell,” said Crystal tentatively, “you all wouldn’t happen to have a power saw, would you?”

“Lady, this is a hardware store. You name it, we got it. If you folks would just like to follow me ….” He led the brother and sister into another room. “…. now this here’s the Treemaster. Top of the range. This beauty will fell a Giant Redwood in three minutes, tops. On special offer today at 349 dollars.”

“Awesome!” enthused Duane. “And can we just, like, plug it into the wall?”

“Oh no, sir. The Treemaster is a petrol driven saw, only suitable for the Great Outdoors. A forestry saw, really. But its little brother here, the Bushmaster, is available in mains or rechargable versions. Now this little guy can handle anything you’re likely to need in the garden or that shed of yours. It’ll do small trees, planks, you name it.

“Is it just for wood, though?” continued Duane. “I mean, can it cut stuff that’s a bit harder?”

“Not a problem, my friend. There are special blades available for brick, tile, even metal.”

“How about, um, bone?”

“Duane, shut up!” scolded Crystal.

“Hmmmm,” said the shopkeeper. “Forgive me if I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I’m thinking: plastic sheeting, waste bags, duct tape, bleach, power saw. I can’t help wondering if you guys have got a body to dispose of.”

“Oh no, no, no,” insisted Crystal. “It’s just this deer that Duane shot the other day. We can’t fit it in the freezer.”

“Why are you even bothering, Crystal? He knows already.”

“I can see I’m onto something here,” continued the shopkeeper. “Well, if only you folks had told me earlier, I could’ve pointed you to the right saw straight away. This here’s the Excelsior 5b: light, compact and the best damn bone saw you ever did see. That’ll be 199 dollars. It’s been a pleasure doing business with you!”

Dear Algorithm …

I have an unusual guest post today from fellow Crooked Cat author Tom Halford.  A story, in the form of a one-sided conversation with a Twitter Algorithm.  Ah, the lengths we authors will go to, to sell our books.  I just feel sorry for the goat ….

Dear Algorithm,

by Tom Halford

7:00 AM

Dear Twitter Algorithm,

Deli Meat is being released today.

A review:

“Really enjoyed reading this. Didn’t know what to expect next and had a handful of some serious belly laughs. Very fun read.”

Will you make me trendy?


Tom Halford

9:00 AM

Dear Twitter Algorithm,

I have a confession. Last night I drove to top of a mountain, a goat bleating in my trunk.

Dragging it out and gazing at the circuitry of lights, I pulled a blade from my pocket and shouted, “For the Algorithm!”

More soon,


12:00 AM

Dear Twitter Algorithm,

My confession continues.

Blue and red lights flickered against the goat’s eyes. I turned.

“Sir, what are you doing with that goat?” asked the officer.

I heard hooves trotting off, down the hill.

Will write soon,


4:00 PM

Hi again Twitter Algorithm,

My confession continues.

The officer stared at me and said, “You better catch it. You wouldn’t want to upset the algorithm.”

We sidestepped down the mountain but couldn’t keep up with the goat.

Will write soon,


8:00 PM


Sorry to write again Twitter Algorithm,

“The Algorithm will be furious,” said the officer, who tripped and crashed down the rocky slope.

A flock of tiny blue birds seemed to flutter up out of the lifeless body.

More soon,



Dear Twitter Algorithm,

It is night here. I did not become a trendy hashtag. Oh well.

It’s almost as if I can hear the goat’s hooves now, tapping down the street.

I reach for my knife but for what?

Good night,


Deli meat.jpgTom H

Effie Pitts is not your typical hero of a crime novel.

Looking for her husband who disappeared during a bachelor trip across the border, Effie stumbles onto a hidden connection between a series of crimes plaguing the citizens of Plattsburgh, New York.

Tourists and shoppers have been disappearing for four years, and locals are certain a serial killer is prowling the streets of the small border town—that is until a mysterious cult known as The Pure White Hand surfaces.

Effie travels to the United States looking for answers, but she only finds more questions.

Where is her husband? Has she bitten off more than she can chew?

You can find Deli Meat on Amazon here

Poetry Jam

I had a great couple of hours today at the Poetry Jam in Marsden, part of the Jazz Festival.  It was completely packed, and there was lots of excellent poetry, in a wide range of different styles, all expertly compered by the indefatigable Julian Jordon from Write Out Loud (pictured – sorry about the poor quality).  Here’s one of the two poems I read:


Christmas Card Friends

Do my words hang in corners

by snow-covered trees

and the unremarked faces of angels?

Do you look for my messages,

old secrets gift-wrapped in rhyme?


I choose pictures with meanings

and couplets that recast the spell.

I send you magic:

you send me ‘Joyeux Noel’.


I share the same greeting

with old friends from school

whom you pass in the street without knowing

yet my lips touch the rubber-stamped

crosses that never touched yours.


Long ago, we were lovers;

for me, even old love transcends

the dead sheets of paper

that pass between Christmas card friends.


Welcome, Jo!

Today I am joined by fellow Crooked Cat author Jo Fenton, whose psychological thriller, The Brotherhood, was published in July.

Welcome, Jo, tell us all about The Brotherhood!

The Brotherhood is a psychological thriller set in a religious sect in the English countryside. The setting is an Abbey, which adds hugely to the feeling of claustrophobia and creepiness.

A young woman, Melissa gets caught up in the sect when she’s at her most vulnerable, and becomes drawn into a life of rules, punishment and restraint. This is made even worse when the sect leader, Dominic decides to get involved…

What plans do you have for future novels?

I’m very excited about yesterday’s announcement that the sequel to The Brotherhood will be published by Crooked Cat. The Refuge is due for release in 2019.

I also have a series planned for a female, Manchester based detective…

I see that, like me, you’re an avid member of writing groups. How do you find this helps your writing?

Writing groups are invaluable. My first group came about as a direct result of a set of writing workshops. When the workshops ended, we wanted to carry on meeting up. Regular critique sessions help to hone writing skills, and are a good incentive to get writing when faced with a blank page and a critique session next week!

Both my writing groups provide fantastic support, encouragement and advice, as well as writing feedback.

You’re also a scientist. Would you like to say anything about your work?

I couldn’t resist including some Clinical Trials in The Brotherhood. It’s an unusual twist for a religious sect, and I managed not to dump a load of unnecessary information into the book. It’s always a challenge when writing about something you know well, to avoid telling the reader everything you know!

I love my job in Clinical Research. It’s challenging, complicated, and very worthwhile.

How do you balance the demands of writing, work and your family?

That’s the age-old question! With difficulty is the true answer.

In some ways, I’m very lucky. I have 2 nearly grown up sons who are fairly independent and an extremely house-trained and supportive husband, who does more than his share of household tasks.

On the other hand, my job is very demanding, and takes a lot of time and concentration.

Fitting in writing is a constant juggling act, requiring discipline, motivation, planning, and the occasional glass of wine!

You grew up in the South. How do you find living in Manchester?

I love Manchester. I’ve now lived here longer than I lived in the South. There’s a really friendly vibe here. Everyone pulls together in times of crisis, and I’ve seen incredible examples of strength of character.

It doesn’t rain as often as people think either.

Finally, what question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?

What was the first thing you ever wrote?

And what is the answer?

I wrote a talent show sketch for my youth group. It was performed at a competition, with Maureen Lipmann as the judge, and apparently had her crying with laughter.

It was a strange cross between Noddy and The Magic Roundabout.

Many thanks for those fascinating answers, Jo!  Best wishes for The Brotherhood – and its successor! 

You can find The Brotherhood on Amazon here

and Jo’s author page here

The Brotherhood