Saturday Cake Day – Practice Cake

Exciting news, I’m making a baby gender reveal cake. Two friends who actually met at my wedding, got married in December 2018 and are expecting their first baby in November 2019 (which coincidentally is about a week after sister-in-law Gabby’s wedding, which this friend will hopefully be a bridesmaid for. Unless she pops on the day).

Last time I dyed icing was the fateful third birthday cake that looked bloody awful. So best I practice. And… well it’s a good job I did.

I bought the bog standard food colour dye from Asda. Mistake. The blue sponge and icing were green. The pink sponge didn’t change colour. The only successful part was the pink icing, and that still wasn’t a strong colour. Lesson learned, I’ve purchased top quality dye for the actual cake!

The icing is the less sweet buttercream I’ve mentioned before. As it took so bloody long to make before, I tried to improve on the recipe by boiling the milk before hand. Another mistake, the flour burned instantly. Brown bits everywhere. Solution? I mixed in some rainbow sprinkles and you couldn’t tell.

My three-year-old Dara helped decorate this one. And we squirted the leftover buttercream into each others mouths, because… parenting. It was delicious. Next Saturday I’ll show off the actual baby gender reveal cake, and it looks so so sooo much better than this!

For any interested, sister-in-law Gabby and I have started up an Instagram featuring these cakes, along with all our other favourites treats and drinks.

The Sarah Project

Welcome to another Friday book cover blog! This week the book in question is The Sarah Project by Tyler Savage.

Tyler had a clear idea of what he wanted for his cover, with concept sketches that immediately caught my imagination. I absolutely loved the idea behind it and couldn’t wait to see where it took us. And I rather like the outcome. No, I love it!

 Taylor Marshal is a 21-year-old genius who had almost completed his dream to get an engineering degree, before developing schizophrenia and dropping out.

Condemning himself to an abandoned, modified power station, with no one but an overly-sarcastic robot for company, he develops the project of a lifetime: to create life.

Taylor must hide his illegally-created subject, Sarah, from the law, criminals, and the general public, at all costs, in order to prevent Sarah from getting killed, experimented on, or worse: missing.

As Sarah learns what it means to be alive, Taylor will have to determine whether Sarah is just a subject of his mad experiment, or something more.

How exciting does this sound? I’m getting modern day Frankenstein vibes. With the complex issues creating life is sure to raise, this sounds like an intriguing book indeed!

And here’s Tyler’s thoughts on the cover making process:

Working with Lauren has been an absolute treat! She asks the right questions to fit the intended cover you’re looking for. She listens well to every concern and suggestion, and she’ll do any necessary tweaking. When she created my cover, it turned out better than I imagined. So yeah, props to Lauren for a job well done!

Don’t forget to check back next week for my next cover blog featuring The Pole That Threads, by Crispina Kemp.

Saturday Cake Day – Marble Whale

So if you’ve spotted a theme, yes I like marbling icing. I’m making my sister-in-law’s wedding cake (she’s put a lot of faith in me, this is all my practising), and she wants grey marble.

One criticism myself and others had of the last cake was that the buttercream icing was too sweet. My child self would be appealed at me for saying that. But it’s true. So I scoured the internet and found a recipe for a less sweet buttercream. And it is soon much more involved than regular old buttercream. It says prep time 10 mins, make time 12. I have no idea what wizard achieved that feat. You have to cook milk, sugar, and flour at such a precise temperature for so bloody long to thicken it. And don’t get impatient like I did and turn up the heat, or the flour burns and you end up with brown lumps. So it’s an absolute pain in the arse to make, but wow does it taste good. A lot of that icing did not make it to the cake!

I’ve discovered that a cake is not a cake if it’s not filled with biscuits. So I blended up a few packs of oreos and mixed this with the buttercream, and because that wasn’t enough I then layered whole oreos in there, softened by milk. Delicious!!!

This time I decided to try Renshaw icing. It went on the cake so much better, no tearing, no creases. But it really stuck to the rolling pin and mat. I was dusting down constantly with icing sugar, and it still stuck. Nightmare.

Practicing for a layered wedding cake, I went for two layers. The cake tins were different sizes, God knows how a managed to make two layers practically the same. Whoops.

This cake was made for my son Walt’s first birthday. I doubt he appreciated the design, but he certainly loved eating it! And there was approval all round. I expected to be eating this cake for days (it had two layers after all). But nope, the whole thing was gone!

In Search of Enchantments

With everything going on at home, it’s taken me a looong time to get round to blogging about all the book covers I’ve done. I shall be rectifying that, posting a new cover/illustration every Friday in order to play catch up.

In Search of Enchantments was designed for S. Aneel Hotz (Stephanie). I was lucky enough to meet her whilst in search of beta readers for my book Made of Earth. And she was fab. After informing me it could take a while, my questionnaire was returned two weeks later, and was super helpful. I completed work on a book cover for her, and will soon be working on a map to go with it.

During a discussion about what she would want for her cover, Stephanie spoke of the significance of mountains, mist, and a stag within her book. And so I ran wth an idea, and this was the outcome. I’m pretty pleased with it!

Mira is student at Avlans Institute, one of the many schools in Simora that trains mages to fight for their Kingdom. However, after years of failure Mira’s lack of improvement in spell-casting forces her to question how she could possibly help her Kingdom endure the upcoming war.

In an effort to maintain peace and equality within the Kingdom, the Simoran Council has placed regulations on magic education by outlawing the use of unpredictable physical and innate-based magic in favor of spell-casting, a more reliable form of magic known as Enchantments. As a consequence, Mira’s infatuation with strength and combat-based skills soon makes her the Queen’s target, whose regulations permit all forms of untamed violence.

Caught between a desire to contribute to the welfare of the Kingdom, and her increasing distrust of the Council’s rulings, Mira sets out in search of the Queen’s true motives in hopes of understanding why she has issued a warrant for her arrest. Departing from the South to explore the Distant Lands, Mira meets a group of rebel mages hoping to expose the Queen’s oppressive rule to the Kingdom’s citizens. Thrown into a world of political and social unrest, Mira is forced to confront her inability to Enchant while determined to find another way to aid the good citizens of Simora.

Well, I’m a sucker for a bit of political intrigue and magic. Hopefully I’ll get to beta read this one once it’s complete!

And here’s Stephanie’s comments:

Lauren did a fantastic job of listening to my requests for this cover. She took my ideas seriously, and combined it well with her own creativity, allowing for a well-thought out cover. This cover fits perfectly for a YA Fantasy story. As someone who was not quite sure what I wanted for my cover, and with only a vague idea of what I was looking for, her suggestions and artistic vision made the cover-making process very quick and smooth!

Saturday Cake Day – Pink Marble

Recently I’ve been throwing myself into a new hobby. And that hobby is cake making.

Pink Marble Cake

I’ve always been able to make a tasty cake. But one that looks good? Never. And this has always felt like quite a failure, given that I’ve worked in design however many years. After a truly atrocious birthday cake made for my oldest son’s third birthday, I decided to rectify the situation. Both Dara and I have become a bit addicted to Man About Cake, and we’ve been baking nonstop. Disclaimer, I decorate it by myself, save from sticky fingers eating all the icing before it makes it to the cake!

One thing I’ve really taken from Man About Cake is to have fun with the filling of the cake, so for this one, we have a red velvet cake with a cheesecake filling. Yup. Cheesecake filling. Because I’m too lazy to read a recipe, I bought a cheesecake, scraped off the yummy topping, whipped it up, and banged it in the cake. And ate the bottom of the cheesecake, ‘cos you know… I get hungry.

Delicious cheesecake filling!

I nipped to Hobbycraft and bought Culprit icing. It was on offer and pretty cheap. I found it didn’t stick much to the rolling pin or mat, but was impossible to get onto the cake without creasing it. Perhaps someone better than me could manage, but I found it ripped and creased, so not too great. I spent quite a while making some icing flowers to cover up the creases, up till bloody midnight!!!

This cake was made for Mother’s Day, a gift for my mother-in-law, who wanted to host the day. Those who’ve read my blog about her will know that this came not long before we found out she had but weeks to live, and I’m so glad she brought us all together to celebrate.

Awen Rising

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of working with author O.J. Barré, who shall soon release her debut novel Awen Rising, the first in a series. As I continue to work on more and more book covers, I meet more and more amazing authors, and I’ve loved working with Olivia. Since commissioning me to work on her cover, we’ve exchanged notes on each others blurbs, she’s read the first three chapters of my book, and I’m reading through hers, readying a review for release. And more still, we’ve offered support when the other has needed it. So, without further fuss or sentimental typing, I shall reveal the cover!

In 2042CE, Earth is besieged by storms and geologic events. The fight for the planet is about to begin. Only Emily, the druid heiress, is missing.
In her Venice Beach hideout, everything is going wrong for Emily. She’s lost her fiancé, her nerve, and her job as disaster specialist. Now she’s stalked by an omnisexual shaman sorceress. She needs a new identity and somewhere to run.
When a registered letter arrives from Atlanta, Georgia, dreams of an ancient past begin. Emily is the druid priestess Awen and must save the planet—by snatching a young William the Conqueror from death.
Could this druid identity be the answer to Emily’s current plight? Or will Awen’s destiny spell Emily’s demise?

Guys, I’m a history and science fiction fantasy nerd. How could I not be super excited by this book? Plus I love cats.

Working with Olivia on this cover was fab. She had a clear view of which finer points needed to be conveyed, while also giving me free rein artistically. And I love the outcome!

Here’s what Olivia thought:

I’d like to thank my design artist, Lauren Willmore, for taking my cover idea, creating this beautiful artwork, and making it shine. Without Lauren, my cover would’ve ended up looking like an afterthought. Or like an amateur’s design. And who wants to buy a book with a cover like that?

Not I.

Besides providing a professional finished cover, Lauren was (and is) a delight to work with, providing several revisions, along with expert advice and feedback. Lauren is a prolific reader and author herself, so her suggestions are relevant and timely. I’ve asked her to design the covers for the other books in the trilogy/series and look forward to working with her again in the future.

I’m so excited to begin work on the next books in the series, Awen Storm and Awen Tide (along with reading them!). Keep an eye out for my review of the book 🙂

Fran

To return to my blog, I thought I’d say something first of my absence.

What a tough year it’s been (understatement). In April last year my second son Walt was born, and days later we found out my mother-in-law had leukaemia. She spent most of the year in and out of hospital for chemo treatments, with the seriousness of her condition fluctuating from doctor to doctor. By November she was in remission, yet by March of 2019 the cancer was back, prognosis 2-3 years. As we all struggled to come to terms with this, attempting to make the most of the time remaining, she had further results. At the start of April she was given weeks if not days, and a week before Walt’s first birthday, she passed away.

Fran, the day Alex and I told the family we were pregnant. She already knew.

It’s something commonly said, but my mother-in-law, Fran, was a truly incredible person. She was born in Durban in South Africa, to a black mother and white father (who had to renounce his white status in order to marry). Depending on which parent she was with she would be treated as either black or white, and both she and her many many siblings have stories to share about this that are both heart warming and heart breaking.

Now I say many many siblings, because I’m never completely sure how many there are. Just when you wrap your head around those you would class as blood relatives, you learn there are more and more adopted. It was her family’s way to take in any who needed a home or a mother, something that Fran continued through her life. My brother and I lost our own mother very young and have no family in the area. In all but paper work, we were adopted by Fran. You could expect this treatment for me, I married her son and gave birth to her two grandchildren, but how common is it for the daughter-in-law’s brother to be so accepted too? When a home was needed he and even his girlfriend were given a room in Fran’s house, no questions asked. When he was saving for a house, she helped. One of the recurring compliments made during Fran’s funeral was how much of a mother she was to everyone, feeding (excessively), clothing, and housing all the waifs and strays she came across.

A little snap of some of the extended family. That’s Fran at the back doing her own thing.

After escaping a South African convent (yes, this actually happened), she undertook the boat ride alone to come to the UK to work as a nurse, soon joined by her sisters. There are too many stories of their time in London together for me to write, or to be believed. They involved birds and motorcycles and penis shaped puddings. There are always so many new stories to hear, I’m just sorry I can no longer hear them from her.

She worked as a district nurse when I met her, and had both the best and worse bedside manner I’ve come across. If you were sick she’d be on hand straight away to baby you and make soup (luckily she gave me the recipe for her amazing leek and potato!). After having surgery following my second son’s birth, she gave me all my injections, with words of what a poor baba I was, as if she’d not just been diagnosed with cancer. Yet she also once told a patient she couldn’t find a vein to take blood because this patient was far too fat. Yikes.

Fran taking care of Dara after he fell at nursery

Fran was the queen of back handed compliments. She’d ask if I had a new conditioner because my hair didn’t look nearly as frizzy. Different make up as I looked much better than usual (I don’t even wear makeup…). But never nastily done. She also loved innuendos, a love we share. Like the time her husband Jeff emptied his sack. She meant bin bag, but… well, she knew what she meant. And her favourite medical treatment was to have a poo. Tummy problems? Have a poo. Sore throat? Have a poo. Likely the cure for a heart attack is having a poo too!

Fran, Nanna, baby Dara, me and Alex. Nanna also loved a good back handed compliment!

After a false start at retiring, Fran finally gave up work when her first grandson was born, taking care of Dara three days a week so I could go back to work. She didn’t want to be known a Gran or Grandma or Nannie; she thought that all sounded too old. During one debate on what to call her (she just wanted Fran), she said she’d happily be referred to as Arsehole, which we decided not to teach our then one-year-old son to say. In the end we settled on Franma, which he still calls her. I’d always chuckled at the idea of a twenty-year-old man talking about his Franma. Perhaps that will still happen. I hope.

Fran with a baby Dara

Dara still talks about Franma all the time. Not only did she child mind for him those three days, but she was here every day. As I look out of my study window, I can see what was Fran’s front room. This is how close we lived, hers is the house opposite. Most mornings we’d hear the front door open (there was never a knock, I’ve been interrupted on the loo countless times!) and Dara would shout, “It’s Franma!” He’d run from the table and give her a hug. Even while she was ill, even in the last few days, she’d look for excuses to take him to her house and bake or play or draw on her sofa. (I say excuses as I was concerned she’d tire herself looking after him). Looking back now I’m glad I always let her get her way, the time spent with both Dara and Walter was precious. I hope Dara remembers it well, though I know Walt will be too young.

Fran and Walt

If you ask Dara where Franma is now, he always gives the same answer, which will make those unready for it cry. “She’s on her island in my heart.” (The island part comes from Benji Davies Grandpa’s Island, a children’s book we began to read to Dar in the hopes he’d begin to understand what death meant.)

A week before we found out about Fran’s final diagnosis, we went to Centre Parcs. She and Dara shared a bedroom. She was too ill to get about much, but even time spent in the cabin was great. Her daughter Gabby visited for a day. She’d even brought a swimming costume, but in the end they stayed cuddled on the sofa all day.

Gabby was due to get married in November of this year, and it was a date Fran was desperate to reach. After the chemo we were able to go wedding dress shopping. In part it was a celebration that Fran was in remission too, but we weren’t to know what was months away.

I mention this because as soon as Fran’s diagnosis was changed to days, the wedding was brought forwards. We thought this would be a trip to the local Guildhall, we could never have expected what followed. As marriage licenses are location specific, they could only marry in the venue book for November, Kilworth House. In two days–TWO DAYS!–a wedding was planned.

Fran, Gabby, Ed and his mother Fiona

Gabby contacted Courtyard Bridal where she’d ordered her dress, in the hopes she could have her veil (the dress was long off arriving). And they insisted she have one of their wedding dresses, loaned for the day, at no charge. They even paid for it to be cleaned afterwards. The wedding was tiny, only Gabby, Fran and the two of her sisters that live in the UK, my husband Alex and I, Gabby’s fiancee Ed (obviously), his parents and two brothers. Yet rather than any uninvited guests get offended, they all helped make the day memorable. Bridesmaids organised hair and makeup, a cake, and a flower display at the venue. I made the bouquet, and without conferring we all managed to get the flowers to be a perfect match. Bottles of champagne were brought out constantly, with more and more absent guests calling the hotel to purchase them. Ed’s parents footed the bill for a meal, and his father doubled as photographer. These are the lengths people went to to ensure Fran could make her daughter’s wedding, and that the wedding be truly amazing.

Fran passed away eight days later.

To any who have read this blog, this was my cathartic way of trying to sort how I feel about all of this. Every day is different, and has different challenges. I’ve lost one of my best friend, my children have lost their grandmother, and my husband has lost his mother. I guess we’re muddling through.

Now I need to go and find myself a tissue.