Publication day, Writing news

Publication day: Finding Mr Right in Florence

imageToday is the official publication day of my 84th book for Mills & Boon, Finding Mr Right in Florence.

It all started because I love the TV series ‘Fake or Fortune’ – actually, I’ve wanted to do an art mystery book for years (that probably owes a bit to an episode of the TV drama ‘New Tricks’).

And if it’s art, it has to be Florence, right? So we ended up in Florence, researching the location. I rather fell in love with the Duomo (the best bits for me were climbing inside the Duomo, and seeing the amazing Roman mosaic peacock in the crypt – not to mention 13th-century tombs that still had their colour – have I mentioned before that I adore church architecture?). We also visited a lot of art galleries – the Uffizi made me cry (Botticelli), but I really loved the ‘modern’ art gallery. Now, my taste in art is very much 19th century (Burne-Jones in particular) or medieval (so Florence was right up my street), but ‘modern’ in Florence is 19th century. I loved the Macchiaioli paintings, so I borrowed some of them for my book – but my Florence painter is completely from my imagination.

I wanted this to be called ‘The Girl in the Window’ (after the painting in the book), but I never get to keep my titles. But I did get to enjoy Florence. And the poppy fields – this one wasn’t far from me.

If you’re wondering what happened to publication day for book 83 – I forgot to sort it out. Bad Author. Rubbish at pubicity! So I’ll leave you with a card from my publisher for book 84: Happy Book Birthday to me 🙂



The Unlardy Project – end of week 9

Weight change this week: 2.5 lbs down (total loss 9.5 lbs)

Exercise this week: daily dog-walk; Wednesday, C25K training; Thursday, lots of steps in London (!);  Monday, C25K training (w2 d1 – 1.5min running intervals); Tuesday, HIIT circuits.

What worked well/tip of the week: Planning round meals out

Bits where I had to think: Dinner out in London on Thursday, afternoon tea in London on Friday, dinner out on Saturday – planned it in advance so I had zero-point breakfast and dinner on Friday in particular.

What needs to change next week: nothing – keep up the good work!

Mindset: pleased with the results so am keeping going

Favourite/new recipe this week: cottage pie with caluiflower topping – serves 4



  • 1 large cauliflower
  • 250g 5% fat beef mince (could use poultry mince or Quorn)
  • 1 X 400g tin of chopped tomatoes in juice
  • 1 red onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 red (bell) pepper, deseeded and diced
  • 150g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 large stick celery, sliced
  • 1/2 a medium courgette (zucchini), diced
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 40g reduced fat cheese, grated (use the fine side of the grater)


Steam the cauliflower, then mash it.

While the cauli’s steaming, brown the mince in a pan (if it’s non-stick you won’t need oil); then drain the mince, add all the other ingredients except for the cheese, and simmer for 30 mins until the carrot’s soft.

Place the mixture in a large casserole dish, top with the mashed cauli, sprinkle the cheese on top, and bake at 180 degrees for 40 mins.

(The sauce also works really well as a pasta sauce, with a jacket potato or rice – and you can mix things up a bit by adding beans/chilli/smoked paprika, or changing the the veg.)


The Unlardy Project – end of week 8

Weight change this week: 1.5 lbs down (total loss 7 lbs)

Exercise this week: daily dog-walk; Thursday, week 1 run 1 of c25k (for 10k Race for Life training – basically warmup walk, run 1 minute/walk 1.5mins x8, cool down walk); Monday, week 1 run 2 c25k (as run 1);

What worked well/tip of the week: Plan, plan, plan

Bits where I had to think: quiet social week – next week, however, is challenging!

What needs to change next week: need to increase my steps on non-gym days

Mindset: pleased with the results – that’s half of the Christmas/NY damage gone. And I need to be a bit kinder to myself. Frozen shoulder continues; my physio is a sweetie but has nixed more weights moves. Just as well I’m concentrating on the running training 🙂 It’s bearable, but at the moment I need to build up my endurance. Speed – well, I’ll do my best once I’ve cracked the length of the runs.

Favourite/new recipe this week: Nothing new this week as I’ve been busy! However my WW coach today suggested zero-point banana mug cake – mash one banana and beat with two eggs, cook for about 2 mins on high in the microwave. I haven’t tried this yet, but she did say use a large mug because it comes up like a soufflé. Let me know if you try it before I do!


The Unlardy Project – end of week 6-7

Weight change this fortnight: 3lbs up (total loss 5.5 lbs) – disappointed in myself, but I guess it could’ve been worse. And I am refocused. Plus at the six-week tape-measure thing I’d lost two inches off my waist, which is a very good thing. Onwards and upwards.

Exercise this fortnight:  daily dog-walk (no time for gym!) and there were a couple of really long beach walks in addition.

What worked well/tip of the fortnight: Planning for meals out first and then fitting in what I’m cooking for lunch/dinner. Banning shortbread from the house completely over the Christmas holidays (I’m the one who likes it and everyone else isn’t fussed, so it wasn’t depriving anyone else!).

Bits where I had to think: Christmas. I navigated lunch perfectly (I was cooking, so I had turkey with all the trimmings and lots of veg, fresh pineapple for pudding, a small portion of cheese and crackers, a glass of wine and a Bailey’s coffee), but I made the mistake of having a glass of wine and a bowl of nibbles in the evening. (Brown food!!) I did have weekly points set aside for it, but I felt horrible the next morning because there was wayyyyy too much salt. And also sitting on the sofa next to someone who is scoffing stuff is the quickest way to derail myself 🙁 So I need to refocus and develop a strategy of having healthy nibbles in the house (home-made hummus and crudités would work – no breadsticks!)

What needs to change next week: need to go back eating food that makes me feel good, and exercising properly (and definitely stretching properly before and after the gym)

Mindset: I’m a perfectionist and I was so cross with myself for being stupid with the nibbles. (I tracked them, and that one bowl was as much as my greedy lunch!) The point here is to draw a line, refocus and carry on with what makes me feel good, rather than repeating past mistakes. The irresistible stuff is out of the house now, so that will make it easier!

Favourite/new recipe this week: Chickpea purée (based on a Moro recipe but I’ve halved the oil – loving the the cookbook my dear friend Michelle Styles sent me for Christmas) – serves 2 – nice as a side with meat or fish (or a big plate of mixed roasted veggies – currently very keen on butternut squash misted with oil, sprinkled with ancho chilli flakes and very thin slices of garlic, roasted for 40 mins; sliced courgettes, diced peppers and quartered mushrooms take 20 mins)


  • 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 15 threads saffron, steeped in 1tbs boiling water
  • 2 tsp olive oil


Whizz the chickpeas with about 6 tbs cold water in a blender until smooth and roughly the consistency of slightly runny mashed potato.

Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the onion, garlic and cumin, and saute for about 4 minutes.

Add the chickpea purée and saffron infusion and simmer for 5 mins.

Season to taste and serve.

Unlardy, Writing life

The Unlardy Project – end of week 5

Weight change this week: 1 lb down (total loss 8.5 lbs)

Exercise this week: daily dog-walk; Thursday, chipper and step circuit (no time for gym because Christmas parties, physio and meetings)

What worked well/tip of the week: Planning ahead for meals out

Bits where I had to think: Christmas dinner (got husband to eat my roast potato so I had enough in my budget for pudding); Christmas party (zero-point breakfast, zero-point soup before the party so I wasn’t super-hungry and would therefore choose sensibly); Birmingham to see Def Leppard (I wanted my pizza and a bottle of Peroni to go with the gig, which meant being mindful and budgeting for it)

What needs to change next week: *really* need to increase my steps on non-gym days (but I have plans for next year that will fix it, as in training for the 10k on non-weights days)

Mindset: pleased with the results so am keeping going

Favourite/new recipe this week: Prawn and mango tartlets – makes 12 (based on a BBC Good Food recipe)



  • 2 large seeded tortilla wraps
  • 100g cooked prawns, chopped
  • 150g mango, chopped into small dice
  • 1 lime
  • oil spray
  • fresh coriander (optional)


Cut out rounds from the tortilla with a 6cm ring cutter (you should get 6 to a tortilla); place them in the microwave for about 5 seconds to soften them, then put them in a non-stick 12-hole tartlet tin and press down. (A mini muffin tin would probably work better because you’d get a deeper cup.)

Spray with oil (1 spray per tartlet – spread it with your fingers) and bake for 5-6 mins at 180C until golden and crisp. Cool on a rack.

Meanwhile, mix the prawns and mango with the lime juice.

Just before you’re ready to serve the tartlets (ie to stop them going soggy), divide the prawns and mango between the cooled cases and top with a coriander leaf.

(I’m thinking about adding a little chopped fresh chili to this mixture. Obviously you could do all sorts of things for fillings; I reckon chicken and pomegranate with a little bit of harissa-spiced yogurt would be nice. As for the trimmings – spray with a little oil and bake for 5 mins and they’re good with dip.)


The Unlardy Project – end of week 4

Weight change this week: 2.5 lbs down (total loss 7.5 lbs)

Exercise this week: daily dog-walk; Thursday, weights and CV circuit; (and I haven’t had time to go to the gym as I’ve been rushing round sorting out stuff including my physio appointment)

What worked well/tip of the week: plan everything!

Bits where I had to think: Tricky Christmas entertaining! I planned in advance for lunch out on Friday but we were shocked to discover there wasn’t a proper Christmas dinner as there usually was – so we ended up having afternoon tea instead, which was a bit harder on my budget. I’d already planned a low-point breakfast and soup for dinner, which kept me on track. For Saturday, I planned Christmas dinner so I could still have two cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon, just one roast potato, and a pudding of raspberries and Skyr (instead of salted caramel ice cream – we don’t do Christmas pudding in this house) so I could have cheese. I also discovered that Tiptree raspberry gin is very nice (and one pub measure equates to half a glass of red wine…)

What needs to change next week: try to fit in more gym days – going to be hard, though, with physio appointments (knee) and a gig. That’s going to be tricky because it means eating in a service station on the way to Birmingham (so I’ll be studying the Starbucks menu) and fast food at the concert hall. So I need to plan it. (And I have Christmas lunch out this week, too…)

Mindset: pleased with the results so am keeping going

Favourite/new recipe this week: Caponata sauce – serves 3-4 (partly based on the recipe from Smyth & Deli-cious; my tweaks are baking the aubergine rather than frying it, and adding some extra veggies and chickpeas because it’s a nice combo and adds protein – could use other pulses; and goes well with chicken or fish or steak for non-veggies)



  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 medium aubergine (eggplant), diced
  • 1 red (bell) pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 rib cel
  • half a small courgette (zucchini), diced
  • 1 red onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped finely
  • Olive oil spray, to mist
  • pinch chilli flakes
  • 10 pitted black olives in brine
  • 1 tbs capers in brine
  • 1 tsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 x 400g tin chickpeas in water, drained


Put the aubergine on a baking tray, mist with oil and roast at 180 degrees C for 20 mins.

Mist a pan with oil spray, saute onion and garlic for 3 mins, then add the rest of the ingredients except the chickpeas and pomegranate molasses, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 20 mins. (Keep an eye on it as you might need to add a little water.)

Add the pomegranate molasses and chickpeas and simmer for another 10 mins. (You can leave them out – I just like to add protein for the house vegan! Pic above is just before I added the chickpeas.)

Serve with pasta (also works with a baked potato, couscous, rice or bread; or as a side dish with grilled tuna/chicken/whatever; and it’s nice cold as part of a platter with artichokes, more olives, etc etc).


Unlardy, Writing life

The Unlardy Project: end of week 3

Weight change this week:  2 lbs down (total loss 5 lbs)

Exercise this week: daily dog-walk; Wednesday, weights and CV circuit; Friday, ‘chipper’ circuit and step circuit; Monday, ‘chipper’ circuit and step circuit

What worked well/tip of the week: planning ahead for last-minute meals out

Bits where I had to think: looking at menus and making sensible choices!

What needs to change next week: definitely need to increase my steps on non-gym days.

Mindset: very pleased with the results so am keeping going

Favourite/new recipe this week: Enchiladas (based on a WW recipe) – serves 4


  • 300g chicken fillets (or 400g block of tofu)
  • 1 small red onion, sliced
  • 1 red (bell) pepper, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 200g can sweetcorn, drained
  • 1 400g can kidney or black beans, drained and slightly mashed
  • 300g passata
  • 4 wholemeal tortillas
  • 100ml reduced fat sour cream
  • 40g grated parmesan
  • oil spray for misting


Bake the chicken fillets (or cubed tofu) for 20 mins at 180 degrees C. Shred the fillets once cooked

Meanwhile mist a large pan with oil spray, saute the onion, garlic, pepper and cumin.

Add 200g of passata, the beans and the sweetcorn, and simmer for 5 mins.

Divide the veg mixture between the wraps, top with chicken (or tofu), roll them up and put in an ovenproof dish, seam-side down.

Mix the remaining 100g of passata with the sour cream, pour over the top, and sprinkle the cheese over.

Bake at 180 degrees C for 20 mins; serve with salad.



The Unlardy Project: end of week 2

Weight change this week: 1/2 lb off (total 3 lbs loss)

Exercise this week: daily dog-walk; Wednesday cardio and CV circuits; (knee hurting Thursday and off to London Friday – walked a *lot* in London); Monday ‘chipper’ circuit and step circuit;

What worked well/tip of the week: Went through M&S with the barcode reader for the app – very interesting! Mostly I cook from scratch, but for days when we’re pushed for time then M&S ‘balanced for you’ meals are lower in points than the ‘count on us’ range 🙂

Bits where I had to think: in London on Fri and Sat, so used my weekly points to budget for it, had plain Skyr and fruit for breakfast, and thought about what I chose to eat while we were out. Home late on Saturday so we had a Chinese takeaway – I did manage to find something within my points ‘budget’ but I think in future it’ll be a ready meal in that situation (or frankly a grilled steak and salad would do!)

What needs to change next week: definiutely need to increase my steps on non-gym days

Mindset: I am trying very hard not to focus on numbers – I’ve focused well this week and am a bit disappointed that I didn’t lose a little bit more. But I did make myself go to the gym on a day when I really didn’t feel like it (last week’s skip was sensible because my knee was grumbling – is better this week). Struggling a little with work but didn’t resort to baking!

Favourite/new recipe this week: mushroom, spinach and chickpea curry (based on a WW recipe) – serves 2



  • oil spray, to mist
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 inch piece of root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 a medium courgette, diced
  • 1 tsp tomato purée
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp mild chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 400g tin of chopped tomatoes in juice
  • 400g tin of chickpeas in water, drained
  • 160g baby leaf spinach


Mist a large pan with cooking spray, add onion and garlic and cook until softened, then add ginger, spices and tomato purée and cook for 2 mins.

Add the mushrooms and saute for 3 mins.

Add the chickpeas and tomatoes, simmer for 20 mins.

Add the spinach and stir through until wilted.

Serve with rice or naan bread.

[This was a hit with the house carnivore as well as the house vegan!]