Thursday, January 22, 2015

**GIVEAWAY** Interview with author Martine Bailey – An Appetite for Violets

Today I'm so pleased to introduce debut author and cook Martine Bailey enjoy our interview learn how she incorporated her love of food into her writing and then enter to win your very own copy of An Appetite for Violets generously sponsored by Martine's publisher St. Martin's Press. Giveaway details below
Bon Appétit!

  • ISBN-13: 9781250056917
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 1/13/2015
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 400


“That’s how it is for us servants. No one pays you much heed; mostly you're invisible as furniture. Yet you overhear a conversation here, and add a little gossip there. Then you find something, something you should not have found.”
Irrepressible Biddy Leigh, under-cook at forbidding Mawton Hall, only wants to marry her childhood sweetheart and set up her own tavern. But when her elderly master marries young Lady Carinna, Biddy is unwittingly swept up in a world of scheming, secrets, and lies. Forced to accompany her new mistress to Italy, she documents her adventures and culinary discoveries in an old household book of recipes, The Cook’s Jewel. Biddy grows intrigued by her fellow travelers, but her secretive and unconventional mistress is the most intriguing of all.
In London, Biddy finds herself attracted to her mistress’s younger brother. In France, she discovers her mistress’s dark secret. At last in Italy, Biddy becomes embroiled in a murderous conspiracy, knowing the secrets she holds could be a key to a better life, or her downfall.
Inspired by eighteenth-century household books of recipes and set at the time of the invention of the first restaurants, An Appetite for Violets is a literary feast for lovers of historical fiction. Martine Bailey's novel opens a window into the fascinating lives of servants, while also delivering a suspenseful tale of obsession and betrayal.

Giveaway is for one print copy of
An Appetite for Violets
Please use the Rafflecopter form below
Thanks St. Martin's Press
Good Luck!

Martine, Hi! And Welcome to The Reading Frenzy.
Tell my readers just a bit about An Appetite for Violets.
Hello there!
The novel is about Biddy Leigh, a feisty young under-cook at Mawton Hall, a run-down English country house. When her new mistress, Lady Carinna, turns up at the Hall, Biddy is forced to accompany her to Italy. Before she leaves the ailing old cook, Mrs Garland, presents her with two gifts. Firstly, she asks her to document her adventures and culinary discoveries in an old household book of recipes, The Cook’s Jewel. Her second gift is a beautiful silver knife, once the possession of the master’s first wife. Of course the reader is already guessing that Biddy may have other needs of a good sharp knife at some future time, on a dangerous journey that will culminate in murder…

Let’s talk a bit about the story behind the novel.
Was it always your intention to combine fiction with food?
For this novel the recipes were definitely the starting point of the book, from when I first saw them in the kitchen of Erddig Hall, near Chester, England. I picked up a few hand-written recipes for dishes such as venison pasty and plum pudding, and immediately they brought the past vividly to life. I wondered how a young servant who worked there might react if she was taken from that tranquil setting to cook and learn about different foods in foreign countries and eventually be forced to use her talents to survive.

Next, I became totally obsessed with the subject of old recipes, especially those that guided women through different rites of passage in their lives. Old recipes tell us there were hot drinks or caudles to help give birth, sweet and spicy goods for festivals, bride cakes for weddings and funeral cakes at the end of life.

I think recipes combine so beautifully with fiction, because recipes are often the only surviving marks on paper left by unvoiced women. So I wanted to convey the way recipes transmitted women’s pleasures down the generations, passing on moments of happiness in hard-won lettering and precious ink.

Martine working on an 18th Century Tweflth Cake

In your bio it says that the novel was originally inspired by the National Trust kitchen at Erddig hall and it’s collection of handwritten recipes. And to keep it epicurically accurate you did a lot of research with food historians.
Are the recipes you found easy to replicate?
Are there some that have stood the test of time and still exist?
I didn’t find the recipes easy to replicate and I needed help. In my earliest attempts at home not everything worked out - I tried to make boiled wheat furmenty at home and however long I cooked it, it was still as hard as pebbles! The downside to the rambling, poetic language of those early recipes is that they don’t give very specific instructions. Many lack all measurements, temperatures and instructions, just stating ‘till enough’ or ‘to your taste’.

With no illustrations you sometimes have little idea about what are going to get, though there are occasionally Biblical references, such as ‘heap like the Shew Bread in the Bible’ or commonplace references such as ‘use as much butter as will cover a penny’. One of my favourite instructions is to use prayers to time a process: ‘boil for one Hail Mary’, meaning 15 -20 seconds.

I was fortunate to have the chance to learn about Georgian cookery with TV food historian Ivan Day. It was thrilling to learn how to cook on an open fire with a jack that turns the spit, to make wafers with irons in the fire, stitch lard into meat with a larding needle, boil a pudding in a cloth, and many other things I’d read about but didn’t understand.

Yes, a number of dishes have stood the test of time, in Britain at least. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding is still hugely popular here for Sunday lunch, along with bread and butter pudding and many of the repertoire of cakes and puddings you see on The Great British Baking Show. In fact the 18th century was the age of the pudding, both hot and cold, including trifles, custards, fools and the invention of ice cream. A few of the dishes in An Appetite for Violets are very much like their modern counterparts, such as Chocolate Ice Cream, Fig Tart and of course Christmas Minced Pies are based on very ancient recipes that once used minced meats along with dried fruits.

What surprises you most about the recipes you’ve discovered from the 18th Century?
At the luxury end of cooking I was amazed at how fabulous it was. The eighteenth century saw the height of dinner party architecture - Classical temples, military monuments and ornate gardens that formed the centrepieces of breathtaking banquets. The secret to constructing so many edible structures was the use of carved moulds that allowed sugarpaste to be ‘mass-produced’ and then assembled. It also saw the invention of the Restaurant in Paris – initially as a Maison de Sante or ‘House of Health’, where a small quantity of bouillon called a ‘restaurant’ designed to ‘restore’ health, was served. The idea of a menu, separate bills and separate tables all became fashionable, based on those early health food establishments.

At the bottom of the food chain it was probably fairly grim. Without refrigeration food had to be preserved quickly and there are lots of recipes for dealing with rotten meats and fish. Nevertheless, a country diet of bread and cheese and bacon, beer, pies, puddings and broths, would not have been too unhealthy for people expending huge amounts of energy on manual work, walking and riding. I did get a  hint of how hard it must have been when I did did some re-enactment, dressing up in an extremely unflattering corset and big skirts (though I did learn that the stiff corsets work like a back support for a working woman).  Re-enactment helped me understand day to day activities like making fire with a tinderbox, writing with a quill feather, gutting and plucking poultry and just how smoky and hot cooking over a fire can be. But I must say that every time my microwave pings or my dishwasher swooshes, I think about how marvelously easy it is to cook in the 21st century.

Along those same lines did your cooking lead to writing or did your writing lead to cooking in other words, which came first the chicken or the pen?
That is a really interesting question and one I’ve had to think hard about. When I was a little girl I loved fairy tales and dressing-up but my modest background meant the idea of being a writer seemed impossible. In those days you could get a grant to study, so my first degree was in English Literature and as a young mum I started baking to save money and feed my son, making local English specialties like Bakewell Tart, pies and cakes.

After graduation I had a career in Human Resources; in fact I was in my thirties and learning about psychometric tests when I had a sort of epiphany.  My own psychometric results told me I had a hidden gift of imagination, so I started writing when I got home from work each night.

While I was writing and not being published, I became fascinated by foreign food and eventually entered a Merchant Gourmet contest with a Spanish dish of Smoky Asturian Stew. I won it and the prize was a French cookery course in Provence. One thing led to another and I became fascinated with French food and then historical food. But it took those handwritten historical recipes to connect the two parts of my life, by giving me a story to tell about food and its history.

What makes your star Biddy so special?
Every publisher will tell you they are looking for a character with a strong ‘voice’ but not how to do it. I stumbled across a voice for Biddy after thinking the early drafts were rather bland, so I tried her out with the voice of the place where I grew up, which is Lancashire in the north of England.  British dialects are in decline now, as a result of TV and mass media, but I could remember my granddad speaking jokily in the language of his youth, all ‘lass’ and ‘thou and thee’, a rhythmic, poetic sort of burr. I also read a lot of diaries and accounts from the 18th century and noticed lots of words like ‘pert’ or ‘saucy’ that suggested Biddy’s characteristics, too. And when you have a character who is utterly passionate about something like food, it all just came together.

Martine I see that a sequel, The Penny Heart will be published later this year.
Will we see the same characters in this novel?
Will it focus on cooking too?
The characters in the new book are different ones, as I feel Biddy reaches the end of her story in An Appetite for Violets. The new novel is called The Penny Heart and is set in the 1790s in the north of England, Australia and New Zealand. It is again about a cook, but this time a former Botany Bay convict who is unwittingly employed by a naïve young wife.   Deceit and double-crossing follow, uncovering a tale of revenge that culminates in murder.

In 2011 my husband and I were living in Australia and New Zealand on a sort of mid-life journey, staying in a series of house-swaps. Looking back in time, I discovered that ‘Penny Heart’ convict tokens had once been engraved on copper pennies by Britons about to be transported to the experimental colony of Botany Bay in Australia. They were mostly engraved with sentimental verses and left with families whom they would never see again. I decided to give these sad memorials a sinister twist, as my cook character Peg is fuelled by revenge rather than heartbreak. 

The novel explores the darker aspects of food –  a fascinating aspect of the era is the world of secret ‘remedies’ and elixirs peddled by criminal quacks and charlatans. Though there are some fine baked goods such as Yorkshire Fat Rascals and Bride Cake in the novel, I did eat some extraordinary food on my travels, including Maori food baked in a Hangi pit oven, kangaroo, crocodile, paua (black sea snails), campfire damper and grubs!

Martine and her husband re-enacting 18th Century working class

Martine this novel is being released in many different countries. Congratulations!
Will you be coming to the states to visit at any time?
Thank you for your congratulations, I am thrilled to be reaching more readers than I ever expected and especially pleased that the book is being translated into Spanish and hope it will reach a number of Spanish speaking countries.

I would love to come over the States as I’ve only ever been over on holidays and loved it. It all depends on how well it sells, I suppose, but if I was invited I’d jump at it.
In the meantime I talk to quite a few US readers on Goodreads and via twitter and my website, and I am always open to friend requests and questions.
Thank you so much for the chance to answer such insightful questions,


 Connect with Martine - Website - Facebook - Twitter - Pinterest

An amateur cook, MARTINE BAILEY won the Merchant Gourmet Recipe Challenge and was a former UK Dessert Champion, cooking at Le Meurice in Paris. Her recipes have appeared in many publications including Good Housekeeping, Olive magazine, and Green and Black’s Chocolate Recipes. Martine lives in Cheshire, England. An Appetite for Violets is her first novel.

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a collection of Jane Austen Gifts
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  1. I love that she incorporated her two loves into this! I bet this is one of those books that makes your mouth water and wish you were there right along with them eating all the goodness. :)

    1. I'm betting you'd be right Kindlemom :)
      I'm anxiously waiting for a lull in my schedule to read some books on my tbr pile this one included :)

  2. I love reading books and I even read all my cookbooks cover to cover which makes An Appetite for Violets sound just about perfect! My tbr pile may tip over soon :)

    1. Hey Julie thanks for the comment. I wish I liked to cook but for me it's just a necessary evil :)
      Good luck!

  3. Ooo I am loving the sound of this always your interview was delightful and informative.

  4. Oh my gosh that sounds amazing! Two of my favorite things. The dinner parties are one of the things I would have loved to experience. Since I'm a veggie I'd have a hard time but I'd still have loved to just seen it all.

    1. Hi Anna, I bet you could find some sumptuous veggie recipes too, oh wait they were probably seasoned with Lard. Oh Well!

  5. It's rare that I will read a post all the way through but, my historical house museum history turned me into a history junkie. But, not just dates and reigns and wars. I love the history of everyday people - I guess more the anthropological history.
    Cooking, I like but since I don't like fattening food very much (or rather I like it too much but don't want to eat it) I don;t cook very complex things and de-fat all my recipes.

    1. HI Steph, I know exactly what you mean :)
      Thanks for the comment!