Waiheke Weekend

I feel as if I’ve had a month’s holiday! On Friday I drove up from my little rural paradise to the big smoke of Auckland. I had a very enjoyable lunch with my publisher, promotions and sales managers (HarperCollins) and a delightful gentleman from PaperPlus. *Caution: this blog will have a lot of food in it* We dined at Prego in Ponsonby and I had delicious Saltimbocca chicken and a glass of Pol Roger Rose. In addition, I found a copy of  ‘The Keeper of Secrets’ in a classy second-hand bookshop on Ponsonby Road and had to buy it and I bought some handmade dog treats for my favourite canine, Broddie.

At 5pm I caught a very busy ferry to Waiheke Island and was met by my delightful host for the weekend Claire Lawford. We went to the Gala launch of the Festival, lots of nibbles and wine and a discussion with Roger Horrocks on his book about the late Len Lye.

Claire cooked me dinner that night, fresh fish, baby potatoes and asparagus and a bottle of Rose from Obsidian Winery. We discovered lots of things in common and it was a lovely evening.

To work the next day! After a breakfast of almond croissant and hot chocolate, I went to a couple of other writer’s sessions and had a wander down the main street of Oneroa. The sun sparkled on the sea and everyone looked so happy! Lunch at ‘Wai’ restaurant was a sumptuous plate of scrambled egg, avocado, hot smoked salmon on sourdough toast and a maple, cinnamon and banana smoothie. Yum!

My session was 2.15pm and it was fun. Lots of people and they asked really interesting questions. My second book was partially set on Waiheke Island and this fascinated them. I did a short reading from the beginning of ‘Rachel’s Legacy’ and signed some books. Loved the open air poetry readings going on in the quadrant and it was an opportunity to sit in the sun and soak up the atmosphere.

Saturday night Claire took me to a dinner party. I’d forgotten about these, I used to host them many moons ago but I haven’t been to one for ages. It was at a truly stunning house, a good friend of hers who was hosting the wonderful Stephanie Johnson and her husband. I won’t go on about sitting out in the evening air and eating prawns cooked on the BBQ and broad bean puree dip, while we sipped Sangria and set the world to rights. Or how we came inside to chicken cooked with mandarins followed by homemade ice-cream and talked till after midnight.

Sunday morning Stephanie, Anna Smaile and I read from our books to a very appreciative audience. I chose a part of “Blood, Wine and Chocolate” where Vinnie and Norman Lane clash at the Waiheke winery, guns are fired and someone drowns in a vat of wine. More signing and then off to the ferry across the sea to home.

It is an idyllic place and it mesmerises you. It makes you believe that one day you would like a little writer’s retreat beside a beach, on an island, where the food is pure and the wine flows. Once you wrestle yourself away and drive back to your rural paradise with trees, cows, a very affectionate cat and lots of rain…you realise that this is home. This is where you belong. With weetbix or toast instead of almond croissant or cinnamon brioche scroll and diet lemonade instead of banana smoothie. But it was a wonderful break and it does one no harm to be enchanted by Waiheke Island every now and again.


Time changing and time saving

Every so often you read something that proves to you yet again how much our society has changed. This morning I read a twitter quote about Ivor Novello, who was one the premiere composers of the 1920s and 1930s, then in WW2 he was caught cheating with his petrol coupons and his reputation was ruined. It never recovered. How would people view his crime now? Perhaps a few cross words and then the next song would be a hit and all would be forgiven. Standards and criteria for what is right and wrong have changed so much. For the better? You decide.

Another quote that tickled me was that Beethoven and Rossini met once and Beethoven was deaf so the whole conversation had to be written down and passed between them. Is this the first example of twitter?

I am corresponding with chocolate companies and foodies and wine people and learning much about the making of chocolates flavoured with wine and other yummy things. All in the name of research. One of the discussions led me to share one of my favourite quick recipes and it was received very well, so today’s blog includes a recipe:

Very Quick Chicken Veronique
One can of condensed chicken soup
One cup of good white wine (the end flavour is influenced by the variety of wine, Sav Blanc will make it sharp, Riesling will make it fruity etc.)
One cooked chicken – either pick up a roasted chicken on the way home or boil one if you want plump chicken meat
One tablespoon of sour cream (can use cream but it makes it very rich)
Handful of green, seedless grapes

Put can of soup and wine onto simmer for five minutes, don’t let it boil hard because the wine flavour will be all but lost, but the alcohol content is gone so it’s fine for teetotalers. Then strain through a sieve to make the sauce smooth. Pull apart the chicken in large pieces and add to sauce. Put into hot oven until bubbling. Just before serving add sour cream and grapes. This is beautiful with rice or short egg pasta or mashed potato. Lovely warming and tasty Winter dish and very good for a short notice dinner party.

It’s a beautiful Autumn day here, not a cloud in the sky and the sun is beaming down. It’s my favourite time of year, weatherwise, cool nights and crisp mornings and evenings and lovely days. Chloe, is stretched out on the window ledge, balanced as only a cat can, soaking up the sun. Some things never change!


What an interesting day! I went on a research excursion this morning and it was all about that vital food group, chocolate. I needed to do some research into making things with chocolate for the next book in the trilogy.

So I took Mother and we went along the back way from Cambridge to the Rotorua road and this meant driving past many of the farms she remembered from 60+ years ago. So I’m driving along to a chorus of ‘who lived there’ and ‘that farm was called this’ and ‘I remember when’..

We made good time to Rotorua (bubbly mud pool and geyser city about an hour south) and found the home of a local chocolate company called, appropriately, Bliss. It’s a family run operation and they do everything. They invent product, they make the moulds, they melt the buttons to make liquid chocolate and keep the machine filled, they make the product, they create labels and print them off on the computer, they create the wrappings and they hand wrap the product.

They’re wholesalers and their product goes out to distributors. They make over 300kg of chocolate sticks a month and send them to a local bakery who put them inside croissants and send them out around the country. But they also make a whole range of real fruit filled chocolates, novelties, bars, a whole chessboard and chess set from chocolate. I learned a great deal and I left with some lovely chocolates!

On the way back we stopped at Mamaku Blue which is a blueberry plantation on top of the Mamaku Hills. They soak blueberries in liqueur to make a really scrummy blueberry liqueur and then they send the booze-soaked berries to Bliss, who mix them into a blueberry fruit flavour and make an astonishingly good blueberry chocolate bar. Two uses from one lot of berries. Ingenious. And the blueberry jelly…..sublime!

I DO like the research phase when writing about such fascinating subjects as wine and chocolate.    

And R.I.P little Davy Jones. Hey Hey we’re the Monkies. It was part of my childhood, I especially loved ‘Daydream Believer’ and I had a VERY soft spot for Davy Jones. Did you know that another David Jones changed his name because there was already a Davy Jones, to Bowie? It’s nice to imagine that there are some great jamming sessions in heaven, Elvis, Luciano, Whitney, Ray, Frank, Louis, Janice, Jimi, John, George and others too numerous to mention. 

Good Lord, look at the time, it’s chocolate o’clock!


“In Vino Veritas” A Book Uncorked

Once again a blog of shameless self promotion…well you have to admit it has been awhile since the last one. And today I have something to celebrate…

After months of writing, rewriting, reading, rewriting and correcting, my new ‘baby’ is done, cooked, bottled and has been unlaunched on the unsuspecting public. It is a ‘wine crime’ book, now, who knew that was such a sub-genre of crime fiction? If you give your characters glasses of wine to drink, then kill them, does that make it a ‘wine crime’ book?

So I took the finished manuscript and I formatted it for Amazon, which means a page break after every chapter and all the right “stuff” in the front and back pages. It goes through three different conversion formats and then…no problem at all, it is reviewed and a few hours later it is ‘Live’.


and for the UK


You need to write a Product Description to entice people to part with a little of their hard earned money in return for your entertaining world of characters. But there are things I didn’t want to give away, so I constructed it carefully:

“Vinnie Whitney-Ross is passionate about wine, he sells it, he talks about it, he lives it and he drinks it. He, and his wife, Anna, enjoy their life in the heart of London, a life that revolves around wine and chocolate. Then a twist of fate puts him in the wrong place at the wrong time and he witnesses two gruesome murders. By another twist of fate he knows the murderer, from another life long ago. He’s left with no choice and in order to survive he must commit a terrible crime.

In return for testifying against his childhood friend, he receives immunity and both he and Anna are placed in witness protection. He fulfils his dream, instead of selling wine he gets to make it. They buy a boutique winery on an island off the coast of New Zealand and, with new names and new identities, they continue Rocky Bay’s fine tradition of exquisite Bordeaux blends.

But festival success brings recognition and recognition brings danger. Some very nasty men are hunting Vinnie to convince him to rescind his testimony. Everything is at stake, his precious wife, his dog, his winery, it is time to stand and fight…and add to the rising body count.

“In Vino Veritas” is the first in a trilogy of crime novellas featuring Vinnie and Anna Whitney-Ross and Detective Inspector Peter Harper. Death by a bottle of Petrus, death by drowning in a vat of must…In Wine, Truth. ”

So far, so good. Then I had to format it for Smashwords and that is waaaaaaaaaaaaay harder. I do the nuclear method, which means you take your manuscript and copy it and put it into Notebook. That ‘nukes’ all the formatting, all the italics and all the subscript etc. and then you copy it back into a clean, empty word document. Then you re-enter all the formatting using their guide to the absolute letter of the law. Then you submit it and cross your fingers. And it comes out approved!! So you do a small dance around the room at 11.45pm and pat yourself on the back. This means it’s approved for the Smashwords Premiere Catalogue and will be distributed to all the other e-retailers, itunes, Sony, Barnes and Noble etc. I had a record to maintain, none of my books have ever been rejected on the first attempt and I wasn’t going to give that record up without a fight!


Then the promotion starts, a Facebook page:


And Tweets and posting on forums and blogs. I had a list of people who had emailed and said lovely things about “The Secret Keeper” and asked to be notified when new work was uploaded, so I have contacted them.

Is is selling? Yes, it has sold a few, but it is only Day One and this is a marathon, most definitely not a sprint.

The most important thing is I can call myself a writer. I have sold 21,000 copies over five months and have several lovely reviews. This is all I’ve ever wanted to be and I could, honestly, die tomorrow and be perfectly happy and content with my achievement. I have the start of a trilogy up there and now I have to fulfil my promise to my readers and write the next installment.

If you like wine, crime, witty dialogue, unusual ways to die, gorgeous vineyards and you just want to give an indie writer a hand, have a look at “In Vino Veritas.” If you know anyone who might also like all of the ab0ve, spread the word. I shall pause, with my fingers above the keyboard, and know that you have and I shall smile.


Mice Pies and Book Promotion

A comment on yesterday’s blog. No, we did not eat mice pies, do not believe everything you read. Actually the only difference between a mince pie and a mice pie is that in a mice pie you leave the ‘n’ out of the mix.

More craft yesterday, more swimming, more cartoons and a new game that involved painting with dinosaur feet and heads and then scrubbing them clean. Actually the dinosaur footprints on the mirror glass tiles look very cool.

I heard a wee while ago that there has been a hot air balloon tragedy in central New Zealand this morning. Eleven people have died in the basket of a hot air balloon. It caught fire and was just a wall of flame when it hit the ground. My heartfelt sympathy to all and the families, what a tragic thing to happen on a glorious Summer morning in a part of the country well-known for hot air ballooning. My Dad always used to say, ‘if you’re going up in the air, have wings and an engine.’ I have to admit you couldn’t pay me enough money to try a hot air balloon. I suffer from vertigo and that includes cable cars and ski lifts as well.

I woke up to a lovely surprise. A website called “Books 2 Heart” has an author feature home page. Look who it is today!! (and tell your friends)


I have also been asked to do a guest blog on a well-known book blog, Katheryn Lane. I shall include a link to it when it’s up. It will be about ‘The Secret Keeper.’

Downloads are at around 12,700 combined and it will be four months on Monday. I have created the cover for the next book and am making steady progress (a little slow when I have tiny people around as well).

The next baby in the pipeline

If you know anyone who would review the book when it comes out, do let me know. It is a black comedic drama, with at least seven murders and LOTS of wine.








Gardening, Pamphlets, Polls and Wine!

Well just call me Maggie Barry/Alan Titchmarsh, I am a gardener! That might be a slight exaggeration but I have been doing work in the garden. Yesterday we picked up leaves and dead-headed flowers (yes Mum, I get it, remove the dead ones) and created sacks of waste to add to the compost heap somewhere else. And this morning I mixed up six large buckets of Miracle Grow/water and ‘fed’ everything. Haven’t done the front garden yet but will do so later. A few minutes after completing that I went to hang the washing out and was disappointed to find all the shrubs and plants weren’t ten feet taller. I guess even Miracle Grow takes time.

Yesterday afternoon I delivered election pamphlets to some areas of Leamington. They have pictures of John Key and Louise Upston and messages about the promises of a bright and better future etc. I met two big labs who wanted to lick me to death and an old black lab with a grey muzzle who barked at me, but was behind a wire fence so I could still put my little blue pamphlet in his letter box. And I met a man on a horse riding up Wordsworth Street, using an Oak twig to encourage the horse in the right direction. Ah well, it is Cambridge. I shall do a little every two days as my joints allow me until my allocation is finished. Nice walk, nice reason to listen to the iPod and enjoy the sunshine.

I belong to a group on a book site called “Good Reads” and they have nominated ‘The Secret Keeper’ as their November read for the book club. Goodness! They had a poll with four books and mine won. I have to make myself available to answer questions about the book and they will comment, maybe they might even post some reviews.

And the next novel is taking shape, well into Chapter Three and we’ve had three murders! It is called ‘Love and Wine’ and it is a story I originally wrote as a screenplay. One of the interesting exercises when you rewrite a concept as a novel is the change of tense. From present to past. And the addition of thoughts and reactions and feelings. Cardinal rule of screenwriting:only what the audience can see and hear. Cardinal rule of novel writing: there are no rules. My main character, Vinnie, is a wine buff and a bit of a rogue. He’s murdered someone already with a bottle of Petrus, but it was self-defence, still, the most expensive wine in the world… 

And I have to say, Wales beat themselves last night. If they’d played all game the way they played at the end…who knows. Never mind, they came fourth and they can hold their heads up. Goal kicking a problem again as it has been all tournament for some. And Cooper did his knee. I don’t gloat, I feel sorry for him. He is a mercurial player capable of brilliance and sheer stupidity, in the same move. His goose was cooked with the NZ crowds because he deliberately hurt Richie McCaw during a tri-nations match earlier in the year. We don’t forget and neither do the ABs and we feel very protective of Captain Courageous. Every time either he, or Dashing Dan, were tackled all tournament Mum would say “Don’t you hurt him!” at the TV. Bit redundant in the case of Dashing Dan, he hurt himself. But she still says it when Richie’s involved. Still tomorrow’s blog before THE match, but I am getting some practice in. We are the World Champions in waiting, we will savour the moment. Go the ABs, you DO make us so proud.