Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Bouquet of Spring Cookbooks

Just in time for the beautiful spring produce arriving daily at our farmers' markets, three new cookbooks have been published.  Each one of them highlights seasonal recipes and inspires us to get into the kitchen and start cooking! These books are beautiful and even though we are not supposed to "judge a book by its cover," these three beauties tempt us with their looks.  Luckily they are also filled with fantastic recipes.  They should give us plenty to cook as we enter this season of the very best vegetables and fruits of the year.  By the way, have you noticed how beautiful food photography has become?  Food stylists and photographers are producing gorgeous images that make us want to cook as well as decorate our kitchens and homes.

Cookbooks today are so much more than just a collection of recipes.  These books feel personal.  They are often as much about the authors' lifestyle as they are about their cooking style.  The warmth that infuses these cooks' invitations to dinner is often an overall characteristic of their personality.   We usually learn that nurturing and feeding others is a big part of their lives.  Their passions are cooking and making a warm and cozy home.

I am inspired by the role that food and the kitchen play in the lives of these cooks.  No wonder we can read a cookbook from cover to cover.  We are learning about serious cooks and their cooking life, which is centered around food and feeding their family and friends.  And it is always inspiring to see other people's kitchens and pantries.  For me the best cookbooks remind us of how much pleasure there is to be had in cooking and spending time in the kitchen.  I really treasure the moments in my kitchen and when I bring new cookbooks into it, a whole new world of cooking opens up for me.  Not to mention the delights of adding a new piece of crockery, a handy new utensil, a beautiful new bottle of olive oil, or an overflowing bowl of tomatoes -- these are the elements that add up to the warmth and beauty of a kitchen.      

In "Ripe, A Cook in the Orchard,"Nigel Slater offers delectable recipes for dishes that he prepares with the fruit that he grows in his beautiful garden in London.  As in his previous book "Tender," there is much information here about his vegetable garden and orchard.  Slater is a devoted gardener and talented food writer and there is great inspiration here for gardeners as well as cooks.  The photos are just beautiful!  


"What could be sweeter than a life with friendship and food at its center"?  This is the theme of  Beatrice Peltre's new cookbook "La Tartine Gourmande."  Peltre, who was born in France, is the creator of an award-winning blog by the same name.  In this cookbook she offers her favorite recipes as well as the inspiration behind each dish.  This cookbook is the story of the author's life as it revolves around food.  These recipes look fresh and delicious.   


In "Very Fond of Food," English cookbook writer Sophie Dahl has given us a year in recipes.  Her  beautiful new cookbook is filled with stories about each meal.  The food feels old-fashioned and healthy at the same time.  Dahl's memories and stories about life with her family and food make for good reading -- this a book you can sit down and read from cover to cover.  And the photography -- gorgeous!  As I read this book, I felt as if I had fallen into a cozy cottage in the English countryside.

The lovely Sophie Dahl

Happy Cooking!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Reading Muriel Spark

Do you have favorite lines from the books you read?  I may have discovered a new one to add to my collection.  It is from "Loitering with Intent" by Muriel Spark:

"And so, having entered the fullness of my years, from there by the grace of God I go on my way rejoicing."

It is always exciting to discover an author to add to our list of favorites.  Muriel Spark is now on that list for me.  I had read "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" many years ago and loved it.  But since then, Muriel Spark has not been part of my reading life.  A recent blog post from Simon Thomas at "Stuck in a Book" announced that he was hosting a MURIEL SPARK READING WEEK.  I decided to take the challenge and read "Loitering with Intent."  What a good decision that was. As I read the last page of this funny and brilliant book, I smiled.  The smile came from the satisfaction of reading a really good book.

The novel is written in the first person, in the guise of a memoir.  The main character Fleur Talbot is a famous writer in the middle of a successful writing career, looking back and remembering her early days as a young woman living in London.  She remembers a specific day, sometime around 1949, when she was quite young and trying to finish her first novel, "Warrender Chase." She is sitting in a Kensington graveyard eating a sandwich and writing a poem.  As she lingers there, trying to avoid her landlord, she thinks "This was the last day of a whole chunk of my life but I didn't know it at the time."

Although she is alone and penniless, searching for a job to support herself while she tries to get her book published, she is far from unhappy.  She recognizes "a daemon inside me that rejoiced in seeing people as they were, and not only that, but more than ever as they were, and more, and more." She is filled with joy about the creative experience of being a writer.   She thinks "How wonderful to be an artist and a woman in the twentieth century."  She is "loitering" around London with the intention of gathering material for her writing.  She has just quit a terrible job, and is wondering what comes next:

"At that time I had a good number of marvelous friends, full of good and evil.  I was close on penniless but my spirits were all the more high because I had recently escaped from the Autobiographical Association (non-profit making) where I was thought rather mad, if not evil.  I will tell you about the Autobiographical Association." 

And so we learn what has been going on in the last ten months preceding that day in the Kensington graveyard.  She has taken a position as secretary to the very strange Autobiographical Association, a group of slightly mad eccentrics who have been collected by Sir Quentin Oliver and convinced to write their memoirs.  These egomaniacs are interested in gaining fame while Sir Quentin is interested in controlling them with blackmail (which Fleur later discovers).  As secretary Fleur records the members' very dull stories, but cannot resist rewriting them to add greater interest and narrative structure.   The veracity of memoirs and how what is written is often shaped by the author for entertainment value is an ongoing theme in the book.  

The members of the Autobiographical Association begin to play a role in Fleur's life and as she gets to know them she cannot help looking at their behavior and personalities as material for future novels.   But when the manuscript of her novel is stolen, she suspects one of them.  And in a very strange turn of events, the group's memoirs begin to sound like Fleur's novel and the members begin to act out scenes from Fleur's book.  Is art imitating life or life imitating art? As the plot thickens, the action of the novel includes villains, theft, blackmail, drugs, and adultery.  Spark gives us much to think about regarding truth and memoirs, and fiction and reality.

And, in fact, the issue of memoirs seems to be very much on the narrator's mind as she frequently quotes from her favorite books, the autobiographies of Benvenuto Cellini and Cardinal Newman.
"All men, whatever be their condition, who have done anything of merit...should write the tale of their life with their own hand." -- Celiini.
"I must, I said, show what I am, that ...the phantom may be extinguished which gibbers instead of me." -- Newman

The book is clever, mischievous and funny.  The humor is sly and we laugh as we watch the characters get tripped up by their own foibles.  The narrator is the smartest character in the book and we are enlightened by her wisdom as she observes and evaluates all the other characters and their behavior.  And the characters are wonderful creations.  They include the sinister Sir Quentin, his ancient and grotesque mother Edwina, the bitter and interfering Berly Tims (Sir Quentn's housekeeper), the vengeful Dottie (wife of Fleur's ex-lover )who pretends to be Fleur's friend, and the wonderful Solly, a hard-working journalist who was injured in the war.  He believes in Fleur and is her only real friend.   Rounding out the cast of characters are the members of the Autobiographical Association.

But more than anything else, this book is about Fleur's growing passion for the life of the writer.  It is a portrait of the artist as a young woman.   She is in love with the imaginative process and her feeling of exhilaration about her sense of creative power dominates this book.   Interwoven throughout the twists and turns of the plot is an overwhelming sense of joyousness about being a writer:

"My 'Warrender Chase,' shoved quickly out of sight when my visitors arrived, or lest the daily woman should clean it up when I left home in the morning for my job, took up the sweetest part of my mind and the rarest part of  my imagination; it was like being in love and better.  All day long, when I was busy with the affairs of the Autobiographical Association, I had my unfinished novel personified almost as a secret companion and accomplice following me like a shadow wherever I went, whatever I did.  I took no notes, except in my mind."

As readers we can laugh at the sly comedy of this book and also marvel at the deeper meaning beneath the plot and the comedy, the joy of being an artist.  We watch as Fleur continues to follow the passion of her life, on her way, "rejoicing."  And for those of us who are just discovering the pleasures of reading Muriel Spark, there is the knowledge that there are many more books by Spark to be read.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

English Garden Moments

I wanted to share with you some beautiful "English garden moments" that I encountered while on a tour last week of the lovely Spanish home "La Casa Pacifica" in San Clemente, California.  This old and gracious house is built on a cliff above the Pacific Ocean and is nestled in a Monterey Cypress grove.  Next week I will write a blog post on visiting this house and gardens.  But for now here is some garden inspiration for your weekend.

Walking through a garden on a beautiful spring day is one of the great pleasures in life.  It is always exciting to see what the gardener has done and to find inspiration to take back home.  I couldn't wait to wander through the charming garden retreat at "La Casa Pacifca."  What a surprise to discover that this property includes a romantic English style garden.  The homeowners are enamored of English gardens and go to the Chelsea Flower Show in London each year in search of new ideas for their garden.  They installed a brick-walled double-axix garden directly imported from the grounds of the Chelsea Flower show and it is really something to see.

Roses growing on a brick wall and little garden rooms with cozy nooks to dream in...These are some of the elements that give this garden poetry and magic.  I can see myself with a cup of tea and a good book settling in for the afternoon.  This is a garden lover's dream.  

Have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Muriel Spark Reading Week (April 23-29)

Sometimes we just need to shake things up and try something new.  Recently I was in a bit of a rut with books.  My book group had a meeting and I discovered that it was my turn to pick the next book.  I needed some inspiration and so turned to some of my favorite literary bloggers.  After reading a few blogs, I decided to go with "The Shooting Party" by Isabel Colgate.  Rachel at Book Snob recommended it.  There are so many excellent book blogs out there!  One of my favorites is "Stuck in a Book." Simon Thomas writes reviews and recommendations of his favorite books and I often find myself reading through his archives, looking for a book to read.  Yesterday I noticed that he is hosting a MURIEL SPARK READING WEEK from April 23-29.  I've never participated in one of these and have decided to try this one.  I am very excited!

Simon suggests that we read one or more books by Muriel Spark, let him know that we have done so, and then at the end of the week he will post a collection of our comments and reviews.  Since most people have read "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," he is hoping we will branch out and read one of Muriel Spark's other books.  There are 22 all together and most of them are very short.   I am going to read "A Far Cry From Kensington" or "Loitering with Intent" and will write a review of it on my blog during the week of April 23.  I hope some of you will join me in this fun literary event. When you go to Simon's blog,  click on the "MURIEL SPARK READING WEEK" post that you will find on the sidebar to learn more about it.

I am looking forward to learning more about Muriel Spark and her books through this community reading event. "The Prime of Miss Brodie" is one of my favorite books (the only one I really know well) and the film based on it with Maggie Smith was excellent.  "Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she will be mine for life," says Miss Jean Brodie as she brags about her influence on her girls.  Can't you just hear Maggie Smith delivering that line in her trademark style?

I did a little research on Muriel Spark and learned a few interesting things about her life:

Muriel Camberg was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on February 1, 1918.  She attended James Gillespie's High School for Girls, where she became one of the "creme de la creme" students selected for a specialized and somewhat unorthodox curriculum by Christina Kay, the teacher who would become the model for Jean Brodie.
Muriel married Sydney Oswald Spark at age 19 and moved with him to Africa where he became a teacher.  The marriage did not work out but it produced one child, a son.  She kept her married name.  She returned to England in 1944 and worked in London in the Foreign Office for the remainder of World War II.  After that, she had several different jobs before becoming a full-time writer and actually lived out of Britain for much of her life.  When she died in 2006 she had been living in Tuscany for many years.

This will be my first Reading Challenge.  I would love to know if you have ever participated in an event like this.  Have you read any of Muriel Spark's books and, if so, which would you recommend?

If you get a chance, please check out some of these excellent blogs.  You can always rely on the writers to send you on an interesting reading adventure and you will never be without a good book to read:

Stuck in a Book
Book Snob
The Captive Reader
Roses Over A Cottage Door
Vintage Reads

You will feel part of a literary community when you start reading these wonderful blogs.  Happy Reading!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert's first novel "Madame Bovary" was published on April 12, 1857.  It was about a bored housewife who has multiple affairs to stave off the emptiness of her life.  The beautiful Emma Bovary is married to Charles Bovary, a provincial doctor.  Together they lead an ordinary life in a small French village, but she harbors fantasies of an elegant and passionate existence.  She reads romantic novels which only increase her dissatisfaction with her own life.  She spends all their  money on expensive clothes and furnishings for their house and runs up huge debts with the all the shopkeepers in town.   Motherhood brings her no happiness.  She embarks on two love affairs and suffers no guilt. The novel caught the attention of the authorities and Flaubert was charged with corrupting public morals.  He was acquitted and the publicity from the trial made the book a bestseller.

"Madame Bovary" is thought to be the first masterpiece of realistic fiction.  Flaubert attempted to tell the story objectively, without romanticizing or moralizing.  This style was the reason for the outcry on the part of the authorities who deemed the book immoral.  It was so lifelike that many women claimed they were the model for Emma Bovary. Flaubert took five long years to write the book and was fastidious about each word.  He wanted to find a style "as rhythmical as verse and as precise as the language of science."

Here is the famous (and shocking at the time) cab ride that Emma and her lover take:

"From his seat the coachman now and again glanced at a tavern with a despairing eye.  He could not understand what mania for locomotion was compelling these individuals to refuse to stop.  He would sometimes try, and he would immediately hear exclamations of rage behind him.  Then he would lash his two sweating nags all the harder, but with no regard for bumps, catching a wheel on one side or the other, not caring, demoralized, and almost weeping from thirst, fatigue, and gloom.

And at the harbor, among the drays and great barrels, and in the streets, at the corners by the guard stones, the townspeople would stare wide-eyed in amazement at this thing so unheard of in the provinces, a carriage with drawn blinds that kept appearing and reappearing, sealed tighter than a tomb and tossed about like a ship at sea.

Once, at midday, out in the countryside, when the sun was beating down most fiercely against the old silver-plated lamps, a bare hand passed under the little blinds of yellow canvas and threw out some torn scraps of paper, which scattered in the wind and alighted, at a distance, like white butterflies, on a field of red clover all in bloom.

Then, toward six o'clock, the carriage stopped in a lane in the Beauvoisine district, and a woman stepped down from it and walked away, her veil lowered, without turning her head."


This edition of "Madame Bovary" (pictured above) has the most recent translation by Lydia Davis.  And isn't the cover beautiful!  It has been hailed as the best translation of this great classic.  Reviewers have written that it honors the nuances and particulars of a style that exists in the original French version and gives new life in English to Flaubert's masterpiece.  If you want to reread this great book, this edition would be an excellent choice.  After reading the passage above and realizing how important each word was for Flaubert,  I cannot wait to read this new translation and savor the beautiful language.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"In Wonderland"

"Frida and Diego Rivera" by Frida Kahlo
Kahlo portrays herself as miniature alongside her "greater" husband Diego Rivera 

Sometimes we see an art exhibition that makes us vividly aware of the creative process.  Looking at the art reminds us of the exhilarating human experience of creativity.  The artists have not only created astonishing art work, but the theme of their art is creativity.  This was my experience when I saw the art exhibition "In Wonderland:  The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and The United States" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

If you would you like to meet some extraordinary women who boldly explored their dreams and subconscious through their art, then this is an exhibition you should not miss.  This groundbreaking exhibition of surrealist art by women in Mexico and The United States is the first of its kind.  It brings iconic works from well-known artists such as Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington and Louise Bourgeois together with those of lesser known female artists, all of whom used the tenets of Surrealism to explore identity, creativity, gender, and personal narrative.  Two characteristics of this show that stand out are fearlessness and enlightenment.      

"The Lady Magician" by Sylvia Fein

The essays in the catalogue that accompany this exhibition explain why it is groundbreaking.  The surrealist movement in art is mostly identified with male writers and artists, such as Andre Breton, Man Ray and Salvador Dali. These men often cast women in their paintings and books in secondary roles.  Women  functioned primarily as symbols and objects of desire and inspiration, simply there to satisfy male fantasies.  They were looked upon as muses rather than independent beings.  

The exhibition at LACMA offers a fresh new look at Surrealism, through the eyes of women.  Their art is an expression of their search for self-knowledge and realization.  They delve into their own subconscious and dreams for their subject matter.  They allow themselves to be transformed by the creative process and to create works that reflect the mystical and magical act of creativity.   These women surrealists made important contributions to the surrealist movement and because they were practicing in North America (as opposed to Europe where most of the male surrealist artists were) they found the freedom to produce important art that made a difference.  The time frame of the art in this show is from the 1930's to the 1960's.

"Europa" by Juanita Guccione
This painting combines imagery from a battlefield and a cemetery

The art works are honest and brave creations that convey messages about life as a woman.  I went to this show last week with a friend and haven't been able to stop thinking about it.  The images are compelling and take the viewer on a journey into the dreams and psychological worlds of some introspective and independent women artists. These women were obviously passionate about exploring issues beyond the domestic realm and allowed their minds to get in touch with their subconscious.  This exhibition will give you insights into the imaginations of some fascinating and unconventional women.  Their art is filled with dream-like and personal imagery, and make us aware of how rich and powerful the creative experience can be. 

"Self-Portrait (with Landscape)" by Helen Lundeberg

In some of these works, the artist's creative life merges into her being.  For example, Remedio Varo's  painting "Creation of the Birds" shows a woman painting an image of birds and turning into a bird herself.  Really, it is fantastic to see!   Worlds of imagination and creativity meld into the bodies of women in the paintings to produce some very compelling visual art.  These images are haunting and arresting.

"Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird" by Frida Kahlo

"My Dress Hangs There" by Frida Kahlo

"Celestial Pablum" by Remedios Varo
This woman seems to be turning stardust into food to feed the moon, suggesting ideas about cosmic powers and creation

"Self-Portrait," also known as "Alice in Wonderland" by Alice Rahon
Alice Rahon was a French-born surrealist artist who was inspired by pre-historic and Pre-Columbian culture and artifacts.  She moved from Paris to Mexico City.

"The Escape" by Remedios Varo

"Mimesis" by Remedios Varo

"The Chess Queens" by Muriel Streeter
This made me think of "Alice in Wonderland," a book that is referenced by some of the artists

"Creation of the Birds" by Remedios Varo
 The artist has become a bird as she paints an image of a bird.   Everything is interwoven here and seems to be expressing the artist's immersion into her art.

"Harmony" by Remedios Varo
   This painting seems to suggest the hallucinatory quality of creation

At the end of the exhibition is a wall that contains photos and biographies of all the artists in the show.  This continuous biography of the artists was fascinating to see.

The American writer May Sarton wrote about the creative process,
 "It always comes back to the same necessity:  go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard." 
These women surrealists went deep into their imaginative world and produced some startling and fascinating art.

The first five photos via here

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Map of the Scottish Highlands

I have developed a serious case of wanderlust because of this map.  What is it about the Scottish Highlands that makes my heart sing?  Maybe it's because Scottish poet Robert  Burns once wrote, "In heaven itself, I'll ask no more than just a Highland welcome."  And of course many writers have written about the Scottish Highlands and those writings are in my mind.  I have always been aware of the legendary beauty of this part of the world.  There are the craggy, heather-clad mountains with their rushing streams that beckon.  And I know there are many appealing things to do in the Highlands -- walking and hiking, visiting castles, historic sites, beautiful gardens, and staying in country hotels.  It is well known that the Highlands is a place of wild and poetic beauty.  And yet I have never been there.  Not really.  About ten years ago I visited Edinburgh and Perthshire, and enjoyed the gorgeous natural scenery.  That trip included a visit to Glamis Castle, the childhood home of the late Queen Mother and the setting for Shakespeare's "Macbeth."   But I've never taken a trip like my friend Connie took and has written about on her blog --  Hiking the West Highland Way for seven days.   As she writes, it was "seven days, 95 miles, mist, heather, sheep, Highland cattle, 18th century inns, salmon, scotch, scones and sticky toffee pudding."  Okay, sign me up!
When I saw this small map of her trip to Scotland made by Connie Brown of Redstone Studios, I had an epiphany.   There is life that just passes us by and then there is life that we record in order to enjoy it for years to come.  I have gone on many trips and taken photos of course.  Going back and looking at the images is always a joy.  But to have an art work such as this little map to look at forever, that records your own personal journey, is something beyond photography.  It is one of the little detailed treasures that add to the many layers of a well-lived life.  If, as St. Augustine wrote, "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page," here is a lovely page to add to the "book" of the world.  

She provided me with the following photos

I am in awe of all this beauty!  The Scottish Highlands has just moved to the top of my Travel Wish List.

Read more about Connie Brown's maps here

Photos by Meg Moulton

Monday, April 2, 2012

Major Pettigrew Comes to Los Angeles

I may be the only person who has not read "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand."  It has been on my nightstand for a while and I have been meaning to get to it.  Last week I went to a wonderful lecture at the Beverly Hills Hotel given by the warm and engaging author Helen Simonson.  I am now on page 100 of the book and loving it.  Helen Simonson, author of the very popular Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, gave an entertaining and humorous talk about how she came to be a writer.  And I have to say that although most of us in the room don't have her talent, we all left encouraged to follow our dreams and turn them into a career.  I walked away wondering, "Could I write a novel?"  At least now I felt I might try...

Helen Simonson is that kind of encouraging and modest speaker.  We all came to the lecture knowing certain things about Helen.  Everyone in the audience knew that her book "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" is widely admired and beloved.  We all knew that it is a well-written book about the romance between a quintessential English man Major Pettigrew and the lovely Pakistani shopkeeper Mrs. Ali.  The story takes place in the village of Egdecombe St. Mary in the idyllic English countryside.  It is also widely known that the book is a best-selling novel and, as we learned at the lecture, is going to be made into a film. 

And there was the biography on the dust jacket that gave us the following information:
Helen was born in England and spent her teenage years in a small village in Sussex.  A graduate of the London School of Economics and a former travel advertising executive, she has lived in America for the last two decades.  After many years in Brooklyn, she now lives in the Washington D.C. area with her husband and two teenage boys.  This is her first novel.
But who knew how funny and personable Helen Simonson is? 

As her lecture began, I felt that I could have been sitting in her kitchen over a cup of tea and scones, listening to her easy and lively conversation: 

She began by telling us that before she wrote the book, she was a happy stay-at-home mom living in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.  She knew she needed a creative outlet and she decided to take up gardening.  "I am British and so I garden," she told us.  But gardening did not work out as she did not care for weeding.  Next she took up modern dance and joined a little dance group that gave recitals at convalescent hospitals.  Noting that she and the other dancers were not exactly twenty- somethings, she gave a hilarious demonstration of some of their moves.  We were laughing and sympathizing at the same time. 
Moving on, she decided to take a creative writing class. She had met a young man who was a CPA.  He told her he was writing a novel and she thought how can he be writing a novel?  He's a CPA.  And so she decided to shed her English mindset about identity being so fixed and adopt the very American philosophy that we can do whatever we want and change our identity.  She would expand her mind and envision herself as a writer. She enrolled in a MFA program in creative writing.

She tried to write a contemporary, gritty type of novel, but it just wasn't her.  She decided to return to the Sussex countryside of her youth and as she constructed in her imagination the cottage in Edgecombe St. Mary where the novel is set, she opened the door and there stood the Major.  She advised the writers amongst us to avoid trying to imitate our favorite writers but instead try to find our authentic voice.  This is the only way to do it, in her opinion, even though it can be scary.  She realized as she wrote her book that this is who she is and her book needed to reflect her own voice.  

She wrote the first chapter and submitted it for evaluation; it was highly praised and won a writing award.  Three years later she finished her novel and contacted a literary agent.  The agent quickly took Helen on after reading the book and sent it to Random House who purchased it. It was on the bestseller list almost immediately.  She has been on the book tour circuit ever since and in her lecture described many of the delights of her travel experiences.  When asked how her life has changed since the publication of the book, she remains exceedingly humble.  She owes her humility to her sons who hadn't particularly noticed she had written a book, until they heard it may be made into a movie.  
Helen had a specific goal in writing this book.  She wanted to write about the real England, not the idyllic England of the past, but the multicultural England of today and so she created Mrs. Ali.  She marvelled at the fact that someone like Mrs. Ali who grew up in the same England as Major Pettigrew would always feel like an outsider. She wanted to write about what happens when you open up to the "other" and also the idea of who is to decide who your life partner should be. 

After hearing Helen Simonson talk about her book and her writing career, I am excited to spend some time in the small English village of Edgecombe St. Mary and to get to know the Major and Mrs. Ali.  A pot of tea and some scones may be in order.  I sense that this will be an enjoyable and delightful reading experience. 
And about that novel that I've always wanted to write, well, I now have some very good writing advice from Helen Simonson. Maybe one day...