Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Christmas is coming up - Michelle Styles

Possibly not what anyone wants to hear, but over here in the UK, bonfire night has passed and the traditional countdown to Christmas has begun.

The windows at the various department stores have decorated to reflect the season and the Christmas stamps are going on sale.

In fact, if you are sending things overseas by sea mail, you may have missed the last posting date. Some people are very organised and never miss this date. I tend to send my gifts by airmail...

One thing is often made in British households at this time of year are the Christmas cakes and puddings. Because they are fruit and brandy based, they have to sit and marinate for awhile. A traditional date for making them is on the so-called Stir Them Up Sunday (the Second Sunday before Advent begins) -- so called because of one of the lessons. When my children were little, my daughter hated the fireworks that accompany Bonfire Night with a passion, so I used to use 5 Nov to make my puddings, Christmas cake or mincemeat. The idea was inspired by the Dorothy Edwards My Naughty Little Sister books that all my children loved. It worked a treat and my daughter started anticipating Bonfire Night, rather than cowering.

It is also the time of year that all the Christmas themed books start appearing. Harlequin as well as Mills and Boon put out a wonderful selection of books across all the lines just in time for Christmas.

The UK version of my own Christmas offering -- A Christmas Wedding Wager is published this month. It is published as a duo with Helen Dickson and goes under the title of Christmas by Candlelight. I think the cover is wonderfully Victorian. The US version is published next month.

To celebrate the publication, I am giving away a copy of A Christmas Wedding Wager. I will draw the winner next Wednesday ( 14 Nov). To be entered in the contest, please email me with the answer to the following question:

In what city does A Christmas Wedding Wager take place? Hint: the answer can be found in the excerpt.

If you put Tote Bag contest in the subject line, it will make it much easier for me.

As an aside, I know many Americans do not understand about mincemeat pies and their popularity in Britain. I didn't until I moved over here. Mincemeat pies are tartlet sized and don't really feature meat. It is considered bad luck to refuse a pie if offered. And al lthe Christmas concerts and carol serivices seem to offer pies afterwards, rather than Christmas cookies. My next newsletter will feature a recipe for mincemeat pie and can be made with butter instead of beef suet in case anyone is interested.

UPDATE: Cherie J is the winner of the contest. I have contacted her and will post out a signed copy of A Christmas Wedding Wager.
I will be back next month with another blog and a new contest. That one will be a grand Christmas one.
Many thanks to all who entered.


Christina Hollis said...

Hi Michelle - bad luck to refuse a mince pie? That must have been invented by someone who loves them as much as I do!
You're right about those beautiful Christmas covers - what a treat it's going to be, to curl up with them in front of a roaring log fire. Sheer indulgence!

Michelle Styles said...

Christina --
I read somewhere recently about a woman who does her Christmas decorating by simply leaving Christmas themed books around. LOL
And I love reading the various Christmas romances that are available at this time of year. As you say there is something about a roaring fire, a mince pie, a glass of mulled wine or sherry and a Christmas themed story.

Jennie Lucas said...

I loved this post, Michelle! The Christmas covers are beautiful. And thanks for all the backstory about Bonfire Night and Stir Them Up Sunday. I've never been to the UK during this season, but your post helped me imagine what it's like! So dreamy....*sigh* Although it's pretty nice in Idaho right now too, with all the yellow leaves and the warm autumn sun. This is my favorite time of year, with Halloween candy still on my lips and the anticipation of Christmas just ahead!

Donna Alward said...

My mum makes mincemeat and it DOES feature meat! I love it. She makes it in a big canner and when I was little I'd sneak into the pantry where the stove was and spoon out sauce dishes of it on the sly while it was simmering. SO good!

Karen H said...

Not normally a fan of holiday themed books, but I read the except for 'A Christmas Wedding Wager' and I think I'll be adding that book to my books-to-buy list.

Have to say though, I'm not a fan of mincemeat pie but I always thought it smells like what Christmas should smell like!!

Michelle Styles said...

Jennie -- I am so glad you liked the post. It is a nice time of year. I like all the anticipation and the making of treats for Christmas.

Karen -- Yes, mincemeat smells Christmas. I will freely admit that I never liked it (unlike Donna and my mother did make it with meat) until I came to the UK and told to try it by a friend at university and found that I do like it.
It is just as well as every function in the UK seems to have mincemeat pies rather than biscuits.
I do like the Christmas cake now as well -- particularly the layer of marzipan just under the icing...
It surprised how much fruit cake is used in celebratory cakes -- for example christening and wedding cakes tend to be fruit cake over here.

Lois said...

Nope, never had mincemeat pie, but sure read plenty of books that mention it! LOL :)

And I definitely have my Christmas books ready to read next month -- new ones and my tried and true older ones. :) But I don't think I have just enough to decorate the house with them just yet. ;)


Nathalie said...

Mincemeat pie... never heard of it!

Thabks for holding these great contest... who does not love christmas stories!

Michelle Styles said...

Lois --
I love the idea of decorating the house with Christmas books. I put out my childern's Christmas books but had not thought about putting out my own.

Nathalie -- it is my pleasure to hold contests for Tote Bag readers. I enjoy doing it.

Maureen said...

Hi Michelle,
I do like your cover, reminding me of an old-fashioned Christmas. My husband is out Christmas shopping right now, even though it seems way too early to think about it.

Cherie J said...

Love that cover. I will have to look for the mincemeat recipe when I receive your next newsletter.

Michelle Styles said...

Maureen --
As far as I understand it, the artist's brief was to make the cover look like a Victorian Christmas card. (My editor did the briefing and remembered that the sleigh was important) I think the artist succeeded. The UK cover was commissioned BEFORE either I or Helen Dickson had turned the manuscripts in. In September 2006, I sat next to the UK managing editor who proudly told me about this great cover they had chosen and I thought -- gulp well, I gues I had best write the story then. She was very interesting about how they do covers and choosing the right colours etc. Covers are very important.

Cheryl -- the next newsletter should come out on 18November. I was going to send it out tomorrow BUT Kate walker sent me a copy of her new book and on the back cover it had a picture of Christmas by Candlelight and gave the publication date of 19 Nov. It is not in the shops in the UK yet. Anyway, the mincemeat recipe will be there. It is pretty easy to make.

Yvonne Lindsay said...

My late mother-in-law used to make the best tasting Christmas Mince Pies I'd ever tasted. Nothing since has touched them, although that doesn't stop me buying them from the supermarket!

Michelle Styles said...

Ah yes, another person with a mince pie addiction. Homemade does taste best, but in a pinch store bought will do.

I do like my pies warm, rather than cold.
And Gary Rhodes (a British chef) once did a Christmas programme where he used a star cookie cutter to cut out the lid. Heis other great tip was to use a tea strainer to sprinkle icing sugar (powdered sugar) on.
This method works for other cakes that that you are trying to lightly dust with sugar...

Lily said...

I am going to pick up your book... I love christmas novels... especially historicals!

Cherie J said...

Thank you Michelle! I can't wait to read it.

Lily said...

Congrats... lucky girl!