How could everything that seemed so right suddenly have gone so wrong for Mia? Snow is on the ground and Christmas lights twinkle in the German Christmas market. The warm, spiced wine is just right, but there's still one key ingredient missing from her romantic dream.
Will Mia's Christmas turn out to be sugar and spice and all things nice - or a deflated soufflé of loneliness and regret?
Christmas Cravings is a festive romance standalone episode from the Greedily Yours series.
About the series: Mia Maxwell loves food. She loves it so much that she's made it her career. She owns a food PR business that fills her days, and by night she's a food blogger with a burgeoning audience. With her 'Culinary Confessions of a Greedy Girl', Mia takes the reader on a delicious journey, searching for top dishes and the perfect man.
What was your inspiration for the Greedily Yours series?
I was inspired by lots of things really for the series. My love of food, my love of Cornwall, growing up in London and travelling to the places I wrote about. My friends and family, things people said, things that have happened to me, it all fed in to thinking about the story and the characters as I was developing it. But that actual flash of inspiration happened whilst I was riding my bike to work one day. The countryside through which I ride really reminds me of Cornwall, it was the middle of summer, and the sun was glinting on the water and the flowers were out in the field and Mia and Tom just appeared to me really in my head and I knew that these two had to be my star crossed lovers. They sort of burst in on my thoughts and they wouldn't leave me alone for the whole period of writing. I would find myself slowing down on my ride or whilst running, to consider how they would act and what they would do next. As soon as I got to work, I jotted down as many ideas as I could and that evening I prepared a pitch to the publishing company and went for a meeting with them about a month later when we elaborated a bit on how it would all work and then I went off to Cornwall on holiday and got started. The funny thing is that I knew I wanted both Tom and Mia to have curly hair and I started it all before Poldark on BBC started airing, but when I saw the character Ross in Poldark, I was like, oooh, he looks a bit like how I imagined Tom might. I guess he's the classic romantic hero, hidden under a layer of grumpiness.
What made you write Greedily Yours as a series instead of a novel?
Good question. In my head it was a novel, just spread out over 8, then 9 episodes. But the simple answer is that that's what the publishers wanted, a serial book. I'd never read one before, and certainly never written one, but I actually found that way of writing very helpful because it meant that at the end of each episode, you were aiming for a kind of high point which leant a bit more drama to the story and hopefully worked to whet the readers' appetites to want to read more. It was also helpful with structuring the writing, as an episode is much more manageable psychologically than thinking, right, now I have to write a whole book. I think as a first time writer, it would perhaps have been easy to get lost in a plot, whereas the discipline of planning out each episode, so it worked alone and led into the next one, made the whole structure much easier for me to deal with .
Mia Maxwell is one of my favourite fictional characters, where did you get the inspiration for her character from?
That is lovely to hear, thank you. ;-) Well, Mia did sort of spring into my head as a persona in her own right, and she doesn't look like me. (Perhaps she's the me I would love to be, I'm not sure; or maybe truer to say she's an amalgam of many different people I've known ) although she's also her own person really as well. Psychologically, she is quite close to how I was in my early thirties. As I think most writers tend, at least at first, to write what they know. So many of her insecurities and ways of acting and being, I share, or shared back then. So I guess all that helped with the inspiration, but then it's weird, these characters just start acting of their own accord almost. You think you're going to write one way, and then they demand that something else happens to them and I just followed her really and took my cues from her.
In the series Mia travels to so many beautiful places, have you been to all of these places and experienced everything Mia does yourself?
Yes, I did travel a lot at Mia's age, both for work and pleasure and so I've been to all those places and experienced not just the things Mia experienced but also things that happened to other characters too. So I had all my things stolen on a Vietnamese beach like Paul. I've eaten and drunk all the things that the characters try and hung out in the markets in Addis Ababa and Vietnam and toured Little Havana in Miami. I've consulted fortune tellers many times in several countries and spent quite a bit of time visiting and working in Sicily and Italy as a whole. I didn't know it at the time how useful all those experiences would be but my commissioning editor looked at my CV and encouraged me to weave some of those things into the plot in terms of locations and it took off from there really.
Food plays a huge part in the series, are you as passionate about food as Mia and Lizzie?
Absolutely!!! I LOVE food ;-))Cooking and eating! I literally spend my weekends reading all the food supplements in the Guardian and Observer and just absorbing ideas for tastes and flavours. I also love flicking through my favourite recipe books and when I travel, I love coming back and trying out things I’ve tasted in those places. So this summer, I went to Portugal and I got very enthusiastic about eating fish and their Baccalau (salt cod) dish. I asked locals how they cooked it and then I adapted a version that would work for me and it was fun trying it out and adding things that I thought might be tasty, even if it probably was quite a twist away from the traditional recipes. I love being instinctive with food, which is great when you’re on your own in the kitchen but was quite hard when I came to write down some of the recipes that Mia and Lizzie and Tom cook in the books. Because I tend to just throw things in and glug stuff and not really pay attention after the first time to quantities per se. But I’ve had some feedback from friends who have cooked a few of the recipes and one friend of my editor told her that she cooks the aubergine pasta dish (my version of pasta alla Norma) every week, without fail, so that was gratifying because I do too.
If you had to describe Mia in three words, what would they be?
Oh wow, good question! Searching, romantic, funny
Christmas Cravings is obviously set at Christmas. What are your favourite things about Christmas?
Oooh well I love Christmas, the whole shebang. I love the food, that’s the first thing to say. I’ve only ever cooked one whole Christmas dinner where I’ve been the host; but for about 15 years, I have collected Christmas recipe supplements and dreamt about how I would do it and what I would cook, if I was in charge. In the end, it was quite overwhelming and I didn’t veer massively off what my Mum and my Grandad always cooked for us all, I did Turkey and all the trimmings, but I did make my own cranberry sauce and bread sauce and gravy and I make sausage rolls and mince pies each year. I love getting together with friends and family, I love giving presents and going shopping when it’s dark and all the lights are on and twinkly. In Germany I love the Christmas markets and the whole advent period. It’s beautiful and I get really excited decorating the tree and putting up lots of gold and bling everywhere in the house and opening my advent calendar every day. I think that Christmas makes the winter bearable and it’s something lovely to look forward to as the nights draw in. I love the spices we eat at Christmas, cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger and the excuse for pure sheer indulgence essentially.
Did you always want to write fiction?
Yes! I always dreamt about writing even as a little girl although when I was quite small I used to mock up book covers with the reviews of the book that I hadn’t written, which was perhaps slightly the wrong way to go about it ;-) but I guess it showed an interest. I remember in my teens, when I had to start thinking about what to study at University, I read the author blurb in a book jacket from Maeve Binchy (I still do always read those blurbs I love knowing a bit about the author and who they are, what they did and what makes them tick). Anyway, I read this jacket and I remember that she had studied history at university and then had been a journalist before becoming a writer. I was already taking history for A Level and really liked it as a subject and wanted to study it but you get swayed into thinking, oh maybe I should try and decide what I want to do later…. And being a bit unsure if it was the right way to go… Anyway, after I read that, I remember thinking, OK, that is a path then, and being vindicated in my choices and I guess it kind of worked out well in the end.
How long on average does it take to write an episode?
I had quite a tight schedule for the series, so I literally had one month per episode and I was also working at my day job too. So I worked part time for about two weeks a month and full time for the rest and got it done on my days off and some evenings, early mornings and weekends. I think I’m quite fast at writing and I would be thinking all the time about the characters and the plots and I spent a good month before I started planning it all out and getting extra inspiration about what things and people would look like so I think that helped too.
Do you write each episode on its own, or do you write them all together and separate them into episodes after?
I wrote one episode per month because it was more manageable like that and was a nice process. I would hand it in mid-month and then we’d edit for two weeks and then I’d be on to the next episode. But we’d planned them all out as a continuing series so I guess we had that overview of the whole thing as well as the separation of what needed to happen in each episode to make the story work. It was being translated a month behind writing in to German, so there wasn’t really a chance to go back and change things and write a back story in for something that I wanted to happen later on or anything so I had to be quite disciplined about working it all out ahead.
Are you working on anything new at the moment?
I’m working on ideas at the moment. I would love to start on a second series or a single book soon but that will be up to the publishers, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Are you planning to add more episodes to the Greedily Yours series?
I would love to as I’m very fond of the characters, or perhaps even spin off and learn a bit more about Lizzie’s life perhaps. There is the potential to do that, at least in my head but I don’t know if the publishers want that yet. But I’m hoping that we don’t have to say goodbye to Mia quite yet.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I start, like I do every day with a big breakfast (normally fruit and yoghurt or muesli and yoghurt) and brew a pot of jasmine tea. I have Radio 4 on and I potter around until I suddenly realise, oh god, it is 10am and Woman’s Hour already. Then I feel a bit guilty that I didn’t use that time before writing to say do yoga or whatever. So then I sit down and turn on the computer and often start browsing, reading the news on websites, listening to Desert Island Discs perhaps or look at a picture mood board I made and just dream or answer emails or chat to a friend on skype who has seen that I’m home and not at work. Finally, around midmorning, if I’m lucky, I normally feel ready to start writing and then I write pretty intensely for about 2 hours and break for lunch, where there is lots more radio, dreaming around and maybe flicking through a magazine or whichever book I’m reading. Basically, procrastination is a HUGE thing for me, but I like to think it all feeds into the process somehow. In the afternoon, I’m normally feeling so guilty that I’ve wasted much of the morning that I do buckle under and write a bit more. I try and hit 5000 words a day as a guide for myself but it really depends on the day. If I’m finding it hard to concentrate I normally have an espresso in the afternoon and if there’s any chocolate in the fridge then I’ll have a couple of squares to push myself on to write more. That’s what a day looks like at the beginning of the month, towards the end as deadlines approach then I will be much more disciplined and start early, perhaps even before breakfast, fit in a jog or some yoga and really write and write and force myself not to log on to any websites until I’ve got a good chunk of writing under my belt. Other days still I was getting up at 5am, writing in my pyjamas until 8am, having breakfast and then heading off to work.
Do you treat yourself on Publication Day?
Actually it was weird. A bit like that feeling after an exam. You’ve been building up to it for so long that when it comes along you feel a bit deflated. Also, not that I’ve written printed books, but I think perhaps psychologically, when you get a box of your printed paper books, perhaps you feel more like, “look I wrote that” in your head. Whereas with E-Books, you release the files and then they go off in to the ether and suddenly they go live and are “published” but unless you click on the website, they are not really “there” physically as a presence. So I thought I would treat myself and I did cook a nice meal and drink nice wine, several times over with various friends ;-) as they were published back in July but I was also in the middle of the blog tour, was back working full time and I didn’t really get a chance to throw a party or treat myself properly. After I finished writing though, I had a week in London where I treated myself to massages, a lot of hanging out in coffee shops with friends and daily yoga sessions, so I guess I did treat myself really, it is just that it came at the end of the writing, rather than on publication day.
Thank you for your lovely questions and for reading the books. With very best wishes, Emma Hamilton, Greedily Yours.
Find Emma Hamilton with all of her foodie and writing photos on Instagram: EmmaHamiltonAuthor