Posts from — May 2013

Sweet Little Something 6

May 31, 2013

A Friday ritual – a wordless post: a personal photograph that captures a moment from the week. One photograph from Hannah, in the Southern Hemisphere and one from Ria, in the Northern Hemisphere.

Don’t forget to leave a “Haikument” in comments inspired by one of these photos. We’ve had some fantastic ones! Check them out here and here. No poetry degree required! You can use the 5/7/5 syllable count rule if you like, or create something unique. 

From Hannah:


From Ria:

photo (4)

In: From Hannah, From Ria, Sweet Little Something

Brownie Testing and Other Hardships 4

May 29, 2013

I think now is a good time to tell you a little about my new book–a few tasty tidbits. [Warning: some of the themes of this book lend themselves far too well to food/writing puns]

Tidbit 1: Food is pretty important to the story. I guess you could say I’m trying to even the food-novel playing field, given that Hannah’s got such a fantastic one to her name already. In my new novel there is a food club, handmade pasta, trifle, and then a climax of baked goods. Oh my, did I just coin a new collective noun? There are many other non-food-related things, such as Haiku (Bam! Weren’t expecting that, were you?), but I’ve got to save some surprises for future posts…

Tidbit 2: There is a certain breed of brownie mentioned several times in the book, a breed I sort of made up (as made up as any brownie can be, given that it’s generally guaranteed that someone somewhere has thrown together the same ingredients. It’s brownies, after all.). And my excellent publisher has agreed to print the recipe at the back of the book! I’m clearly biased, but I do think that all good books need recipes at the back. Even if the books aren’t about food. [Tangent: Wouldn’t it be amazing if the author chose a recipe that reflected the tone, theme or even setting of the book and included it for the reader’s eating pleasure? Hmmm–I smell a good game in this. Quick–what recipe would go with Life of Pi? The Great Gatsby? The Tiger’s Wife?]


So the other night I found myself in the kitchen with an array of ingredients and a much-scribbled-on notepad with a recipe that generally resembled what I was trying to make, but with some important tweaks. As we say around here, Same same, but different.

I’m a big fan of the chocolate-cherry-cream combination that is balanced so well in Black Forest Cake. I make a Pavlova with the same flavours. So I thought, why not try it with brownies? At one point I was thinking of maybe cream cheese, but it was already past 10pm and my freestyling of recipes goes decidedly downhill the later it gets. So I went for white chocolate chunks. It worked. They were gungy, not too sweet, studded with sour cherries and small surprises of white chocolate. Mmmm.

So when the book comes out in September, you’ll be able to make these and deeply understand the connection between story and baked good.


I’ll be able to reveal the fantastic cover for my book in the next few weeks, along with more (tasty) details, so stay tuned!




Ashlyn’s* White Chocolate Sour Cherry Brownies
1 3/4 cups butter
1 1/2 cups chopped dark chocolate
6 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chunks
1 cup dried sour cherries
Put the sour cherries into a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to the boil on the stove. Turn the heat off and leave the cherries to get plump in the water, about ten minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven  to 350 degrees. Line a baking pan (about 13 by 9 inches) with baking parchment or tin foil. Melt the butter and chocolate together in the microwave. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar and vanilla. Measure the flour into another bowl and add the salt. Add the slightly cooled chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and combine well. Then add the flour and mix to get a smooth batter. Add the white chocolate chunks. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth, making sure it’s even all over. Drain the cherries in a colander and press to get some of the water out of the fruit. Sprinkle the cherries over the brownie batter. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Watch them closely and check to see if the centre is just solid, but not fully cooked; you want moist brownies, not dry ones. They will keep cooking as they cool. Let the brownies cool completely before carefully using the sides of parchment as handles to lift onto a cutting board. Cut into squares. Find some friends to help you eat them.
*The character in the novel who loves these brownies to an almost unhealthy degree. It seemed only fair to make them hers, even though, technically, The Author did all the recipe creation–and character creation, for that matter.

In: Food, From Ria, Writing

Rain 1

May 26, 2013


I do love a rainy city.

I lived in London. Then Vancouver. Now Auckland. All three cities renown for rain, rain and more rain. Sideways rain, constant rain, sheets of rain, musical night rain. Rain that upsets all the playground plans you had or the picnic date, the beach visit, the casual stroll. Rain that turns your hair to fuzz and leaves a damp chill in your bones. For all intents and purposes, rain is a pain in the (bleep). But. I love it. I love the colour of the clouds when it rains. I love the sound of it on the roof and the perfume of it, thick in the sky, just before it pours down.


Rain sends me back into memories of other rainy places and rainy times. Pushing my stroller through Vancouver drizzle, watching a grey, London sky-line from the comfort of a warm bed, running through puddles on my way home from school. Here, in New Zealand, I love to stare out at the colour of the clouds, inspiring me to paint walls in our new home grey, and the milky-green of the sea as the rain strikes upon it. I delight in watching B1 splash about in puddles and B2’s puzzled face as the raindrops find her pink, bare cheeks.

I don’t know exactly why I love the rain so much. I know a lot of keen gardeners who love the rain because it means their plants are getting nourished. But I don’t garden, not yet anyway, so it’s not that. Perhaps it reminds me of being in a shower, my holy place for creativity or, listening to jazz, the dancing rhythm of it. Maybe, because I grew up in New Zealand, it just feels right and reminds me of my childhood; a welcome relief from all the Sydney heat we had over summer. And, I’m sure, the upsetting of plans secretly appeals to my inner laziness, my longing to curl up on the sofa or while away the afternoon at the library.


Probably it is all those things and the very most important thing – rain is surely the best weather to read in. Inside, of course : sox on, snuggled up, tea close by. Do rainy cities produce more voracious readers? Has anyone researched a correlation? Surely there is one. For these rainy days I have two personal recommendations. Firstly – my favourite poem of all time – “Rain”. Here it is, animated, in case you too adore the rain and the wonderful and late Hone Tuwhare, one of New Zealand’s most loved poets. My favourite bit?

” the something
special smell of you
when the sun cakes
the ground “

I swear the scent fills my nostrils every time I read that part, a completely indescribable smell – luscious and welcome. Possibly even more delicious than cut grass or basked bread. My second rain reading recommendation is one for the Littles: The Rain Train, by Elena de Roo. It’s my Dad’s favourite to read to B1. Elena de Roo is another New Zealand author with a talent for capturing the percussion and charm of falling rain. And on that note, off I head to the couch to enjoy the wonderful pitter-patter, drip-drop, splish-splash. Book du jour tucked, firmly, under arm.

Do you have a favourite piece of writing about rain? What is your favourite reading weather?


Hannah x


In: Uncategorized

Sweet Little Something 8

May 24, 2013

A Friday ritual – a wordless post: a personal photograph that captures a moment from the week. One photograph from Hannah, in the Southern Hemisphere and one from Ria, in the Northern Hemisphere.

Don’t forget to leave a “Haikument” in comments inspired by one of these photos. We’ve had some fantastic ones! Check them out here and here. No poetry degree required! You can use the  5/7/5 syllable count rule if you like, or create something unique. If you want to find out more about Haiku (and who doesn’t?), check this out.

From Hannah:


From Ria:


In: From Hannah, From Ria, Sweet Little Something

How She Does It: Louise Lamont 3

May 22, 2013

We’re excited to bring you the next “How She Does It” interview! If you’re new to this series, check out our past interviews here, here and here.

This time we put our questions to Louise Lamont, literary agent extraordinaire at AP Watt Ltd. in the UK.

Ria has worked with Louise for several years and when she and Hannah were planning the How She Does It series, she immediately thought: Louise would be amazing to interview. It’s fascinating to get a window into another facet of publishing, one that has things in common with both the writer’s end and the publisher’s. Many people aren’t aware of the amount of editing a manuscript can go through with an agent before it even sees an editor at a publishing house. Louise is an excellent editor, and given her answer below, clearly spends a lot of her life reading and working with manuscripts. So much the better for her clients!

Without further ado, here’s the charming and talented Louise Lamont…

How did you come to be doing what you do?

I’d never really considered agenting* as a career – when I thought of working in publishing, I didn’t really think beyond being an editor. Actually I didn’t think beyond the lunches. But then I did a holiday placement at a literary agency: three of us squeezed into a cupboard/office off our boss’s kitchen, during the hottest summer London has ever known.

I don’t remember doing anything much except be shocked by the presence of a landline phone in their bathroom (to answer, to not answer…). But I do remember how appealing this agenting malarkey was: it came down to the zing of finding good writing and doing something about it. It seemed like fun. BUT DID I FOCUS ON GETTING A PROPER JOB IN PUBLISHING AFTER UNIVERSITY LIKE A SMART PERSON WOULD? No. I moseyed off to do internships** at film companies; found myself working in a designer baby clothes shop; decided the dream was over.Then one day I went for an interview at the world’s first/oldest/longest-established literary agency, AP Watt Ltd. I started a few days later as their receptionist, and have stuck around ever since, like a literary limpet.

*My spellcheck doesn’t recognise the word ‘agenting’. Way to judge, Microsoft Word; I thought you’d be on my side.

** Just remembered I also chose this point to do a Masters, in Canada, in medieval studies. I think we can all guess how useful that has been.

What is your proudest career moment so far?

Being sent to Kensington to buy underpants for the head of Miramax.  (Except the person sending me was too embarrassed to say underpants, so they told me ‘white shorts.’ I went to the shop, couldn’t find their white shorts selection, had to use the shop phone to call the office just to clarify those instructions…). They could have chosen any of the interns, but they picked me! Oh the honour.

Also: answering all 15 questions Ria had about our terms of representation, hopefully to her satisfaction.

Facebook: Louise's pinboard in her office. Notice the Haiku!

Facebook: Louise’s pinboard in her office. Notice the Haiku!

What about your work brings you the most joy?

Truly: any time I get an offer for a book. Whenever that happens, I shoot both my arms in the air and stare at my colleagues like a loon. When things go particularly well, I take to reciting Josh Lyman’s Keg of Glory speech*.

Also: reading an author’s manuscript – either for the first time, or after revisions. That’s the fundamental joy to it all.

Also: being introduced to new things by my clients. Ria, for instance, is responsible for my discovering the pleasures of Issa, certain brands of chocolate, and John Green.

*It goes like this: ‘victory is mine, victory is mine: great day of the morning, people, victory is mine. I drink from the keg of glory, Donna; bring me the finest muffins and bagels in all the land.’

Who is your biggest supporter / cheerleader?

While all my family are very supportive, I have to single out my mother for sheer commitment to the cause. No prospective author within a ten mile radius of her goes unqueried. Christmas lunch has become a chance for her to review APW’s stance on e-books. One year she found out who was on the Booker shortlist before we did. That was a high/low point.

What do you enjoy least about your work?

Turndowns can only hurt when you believe in the author and their book. It’s hard to strike that balance in your response to a turndown between respect for another person’s opinion and…well…the opposite of that.

What quality do you think is the most important for a person to be successful in your field?


How do you juggle the work you do with your other demands or responsibilities?

Reading and editing are done out of the office, and I prefer to have long stretches of quiet afternoon or evening to read a book all in one go: it’s easier that way for me to see if a book holds together. So weekends are mostly given over to that, and there is always plenty of reading to do.

Which book(s) made a big impact on your life? Why?

The two books whose influence I can see most immediately in my life are BOY by Roald Dahl and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by LM Montgomery.

BOY, it turned out, was much better preparation for boarding school than Malory Towers.

AOGG (I have to be honest: I am conflating the 1985 miniseries with the book): everyone thinks of Anne as a drippy, dreamy character – but everyone is probably mixing her up with Pollyanna. Anne is bad-tempered, judgmental and stubborn; her stories are terrible; she knows how to hold a grudge; and, most importantly, she sees no reason why she can’t compete with the boys when it comes to her education – and she never apologises for her ambitions. Jo March has nothing on plain old unromantic Anne Shirley.

"This is an expansion of my Twitter avatar, and also conveys much of my attitude to life: it’s Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart from The Shop Around The Corner (two warring co-workers discover they are pen pal sweethearts: it’s the basis for the Meg Ryan/ Tom Hanks remake You Got Mail). Sullavan is a particularly snippety book-led so and so."

An expansion of Louise’s Twitter avatar, this photo also conveys much of her attitude to life. It’s Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart from The Shop Around The Corner (two warring co-workers discover they are pen pal sweethearts: it’s the basis for the Meg Ryan/ Tom Hanks remake You Got Mail). Sullavan is a particularly snippety book-led so and so.

Who was your favourite author as a child?

I was obsessed with Anne Frank. All my diary entries began ‘Dear Kitty’ and ended ‘Yours, Anne’, and my doll house furniture was rearranged to look like the Secret Annexe.

Digital reader or paper? Why?

I know I have to be open to the possibilities of the digital revolution, and objectively I am (I really am! Nothing currently angers me more than publishers’ unfounded resistance to a rising e-book royalty), but on some level I will always be vaguely suspicious of people who actually prefer digital readers to paper.

Do you eat while you read? If so, what?

A friend of Katharine Hepburn’s once said you could always tell when she’d read a book because of the tell-tale chocolate crumbs between the pages. Good enough for Hepburn, good enough for me.

Also: blueberries. No sugar, no cream. Just blueberries.

Who is on your dream dinner party guest list?

Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges; Joel McCrea and Allison Janney; Barack and Michelle Obama; Tom Lehrer and Judy Garland; Michael Chabon and David Nicholls.

The best meal of your life was….?

The dinner I ordered every night for a week at a hotel in Blois. In particular, the dessert – to this day I don’t even know what it was; I can only describe what it was not. It was like a baked Alaska, but not; the centre had the texture of frozen banana ice cream, but not the iciness; the next layer was like meringue or marshmallow, but somehow lighter; there was coulis; there was a sprig of mint. I will never forget you, Gratin de Banane or whatever you were.

What is the most important non-food thing in your kitchen?

The cookbook my dad bought me during my post-grad studies. It’s called ‘The Reluctant, Nervous, Lazy, Broke, Busy, Confused College Student’s Cookbook’; ten years on, I still cling to it as I try to make an omelette.

If we could “beam you up” anywhere in the world for a meal, where would it be,
what would it be and with whom?

Right now, I’d like to go to Noma in Copenhagen to try out their mad mossy menu (; for company, I’d like the entire cast of Danish political drama Borgen, and Sofie Grabol from The Killing. Tak.

Louise says, "This is Sofie Grabol from the Danish version of The Killing: she plays the single-minded cop Sarah Lund; she’s my idol. I aspire to be that miserable."

Actress Sofie Grabol from the Danish version of The Killing, who plays the single-minded cop Sarah Lund. And whom Louise idolizes for her gift of appearing miserable at all times.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

‘Remember who you are. You are my son and the one true King.’ Maybe Mufasa didn’t direct those words right at me, but still: good to know.

Sum up your life right now in three words.

What the heck.




In: Interviews