Friday, 29 June 2012

Edinburgh International Book Festival

In August I'm making my first book festival appearance* and I'm delighted that it's at EDINBURGH, 'the largest celebration of the written word in the world.' Over 800 writers and thinkers will descend on the city over two weeks in August.

My event, 'Family Dramas Exposed', is on Friday 24th August, with Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard.   You can buy tickets HERE.

On the same day I'm also reading as part of the Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series. You can read more about that HERE.

All debut novelists appearing at the festival have their books entered into the ANOBII FIRST BOOK AWARD. This year there are 45 titles in the running, The Book of Summers among them. It's a public vote - last time fellow Headline author Sarah Winman won with the brilliant When God Was A Rabbit. If you'd like to vote for The Book of Summers, you can do so HERE (oh, go on!). 

All authors received their copies of the Festival programme a few days ahead of it being announced online, and the postman delivered not one but two copies to our house. The Etherington Brothers have their event on saturday 25th following a 'storming performance last year' (according to the most excellent blurb). Bobby and I did a little caper in the kitchen that morning, and waved our programmes madly. Then got back to work.

It's tempting to take my writing room on the road and north of the border for those last two weeks of August. My Edinburgh wish-list?  Liza Klaussmann, Nell Freudenberger, Susan Fletcher. And many, many more. Excited isn't the word... but it'll do for now.

*I've a few different events lined up over the coming months - check them out over on the EVENTS page of my blog. Hope to see you somewhere...

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Uborka saláta

After Marika's Raspberry Cake, the next dish out of the Villa Serena kitchen is Hungarian Cucumber Salad or, Uborka saláta. I've a good old goulash bubbling away on the stove, and you'll get that recipe soon too, but before then here's my favourite of all side dishes. A lot of traditional Hungarian food is rich and intense so this sprightly salad is a welcome addition to any meal. It makes a particularly tasty accompaniment to said goulash. Marika and Zoltán serve cucumber salad as part of Erzsi's welcome supper, when she arrives for her fourth summer at Villa Serena. They dine together on the terrace as night falls behind them and the fireflies come out to play.

'Our plates were piled high, the silvery slices of cucumber dripping off the edges. 
Zoltán poured the glowing wine into three glasses. In the candlelight it looked 
like magic caught and held.'

Ingredients (to serve 4):
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced as thinly as you can manage
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of caster sugar
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Sour cream & paprika to garnish

Take your peeled and finely sliced cucumber and cover it with a very generous sprinkling of salt. If you're not a salt fan you might balk at this part but it really does make all the difference to the salad's perky taste. Leave it to stand for about half an hour, then squeeze it out using the flats of your hands and a colander. While the cucumber's enjoying its salt bath, make your dressing by combining the white wine vinegar, olive oil, sugar, and a crunch of black pepper. Once you've wrung a lot of the salt from the cucumber, douse it in the dressing, and throw in the finely chopped garlic. Combine thoroughly, and taste to check for seasoning. I like to top it off with a dollop of sour cream and a dusting of paprika.  Jó étvágyat!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Euro 2012

While all (football loving) minds are turned to Europe, I'm excited to share three gorgeous new editions of The Book of Summers with you. 
On 5th June, Álbum de Verão came out in Portugal, published by Civilização.

On 4th July, El Libro de los Veranos will be published in Spain, by Santillana.

On 10th July, Il Libro Delle Estati will be published in Italy, by Mondadori.

Whatever happens in Euro 2012, Ronaldo, Torres, Cassano and co will clearly have, er, something to look forward to upon their return home. 

Monday, 11 June 2012

Marika's Raspberry Cake

'I can't believe it's cake for breakfast,' I said, through mouthfuls.
'I can't believe you're really here,' said Marika.

Food is an important part of The Book of Summers. Through bullet-holed cheese and bleeding tomatoes, paprika chicken and ragged twists of homemade noodles, Hungary reveals its exoticness to Erzsi, puts fire in her belly and in her heart. Meals on the Villa Serena terrace are always memorable and food is entwined with gestures; the homely taste of Wiener Schnitzel and big fat chips when Erzsi's laid low; Marika's rambunctious promise of a lunch made entirely of ice-cream; Zoltán's quieting of fractious spirits with a red-hot fish soup. I thought it'd be fun to bring the flavour of Villa Serena to my blog throughout the summer, writing recipes for a few of the dishes that appear in the book. In the spirit of Marika, mine is a freestyle kitchen so don't expect things to exactly follow Hungarian conventions. But no recipe will appear here unless it's passed the taste test. Bon appétit - or as they say in Hungary - Jó Étvágyat!

Where better to start than on Erzsi's very first morning in Hungary? When Erzsi wakes up at Villa Serena she sees that Marika has baked her a cake, with her name spelt out in raspberries. It's a wonky, imperfect heap, but made with real heart and Erzsi tucks in with relish. I'm with Marika on this one, cake for breakfast is a brilliant indulgence. The balance works here because of the sober nature of the cake itself (a fat-free Hungarian sponge that has a sweet though slightly bready texture), the zestiness of the lemon icing and the fresh taste of the fruit. And the quick spread of apricot jam through the middle calls to mind the toast you might have had if you'd settled for a more boring breakfast.

For the cake:
6 eggs
120g self-raising flour
150g castor sugar

Separate your eggs, then cream the egg yolks with half of the sugar. Beat the egg whites until stiff, gradually adding in the rest of the sugar. Gently fold the sugared egg whites into the yolks, and blend in the sieved flour. Lightly grease two sandwich tins (approx 8 inches across) and divide the mixture between them. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 190 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until golden.

For the filling & topping:
150g unsalted butter
300g icing sugar
Juice & zest of one lemon
A good dollop of apricot jam
Lots of fresh raspberries

Cream the butter, then beat in the sieved icing sugar. Add the zest and juice of one lemon and mix through. Once the two halves of the cake have cooled, spread one with the jam, and cover entirely with raspberries. Then take just under half of your icing and spread over the underside of the other cake. Put the two together, and spread the top with the remainder of the icing. Take what's left of your raspberries and write the name of your cake's intended. Or - if you run out of space like I did - settle for an initial. This one's E for Erzsi.

Brew a pot of good, strong coffee, cut a generous slice, and find a patch of morning sunlight. That's breakfast,Villa Serena style. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

WIN - a Summer sundae

The weather in the UK has been utterly miserable over the Jubilee weekend, but in our house the sun was beaming as I made myself a Book of Summers Sundae. Yes. You had that right. A Summer Sundae.

Until 31st July my UK publisher Headline are running an amazing competition to win an ice cream day for your whole office, topped off with The Book of Summers wafers. If that isn't the proverbial cherry (and I highly recommend some literal ones as well, for that Magyar touch) then I don't know what is. You can enter the competition HERE.

Ice cream was always a feature of our trips to Hungary when I was a child. Back in the 90s, dessert choices in Hungarian restaurants were often quite limited; pancakes, trifle, and copious amounts of ice cream. No café was complete without a menu showing enticing pictures of  'ice cream cups', dribbled with chocolate sauce, dripping with fresh fruit and scattered nuts, although rarely did the sundaes that came to our table resemble their photographic counterparts. Often they were bigger. Best of all were the roadside kiosks, where I tasted watermelon and cherry flavours for the first time, and always walked away with a towering cone, the wafer crumbling beneath my fingers, the hot, hot sun sending bright-coloured rivulets running down my wrist. Fagylalt - as it's called in Hungary (pronounced something like fodge-loite) - is an eternally sweet memory of those childhood holidays. 

Go on, enter the comp, and bring the sweet taste of Hungarian summers into your office - no matter what the English weather's doing outside the window. 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Coast to coast

I was very excited to see The Book of Summers included in the Los Angeles Times round-up of Beach Reads in the same week that an ad for my novel appeared in the hallowed pages of The New Yorker. That's some fine coast to coast coverage, and gives me itchy feet - I've never been to New York or California and lust after visiting both. I was also interviewed by Melanie Smith of the US-based website Book Reporter - the questions were the most in-depth I've answered yet, and all the more enjoyable for it - you can read them HERE. Book Reporter also reviewed The Book of Summers, "In every page of this breathtaking novel is a strong sense of place and humanity. Readers will really appreciate the solid, artistic, beautifully descriptive quality of Emylia Hall's writing." You can read the review in all of its loveliness HERE. What else? My publisher MIRA offered Vera Wang beach totes to readers tweeting their favourite summer memories, and after a Book Reporter competition twenty-five signed copies of The Book of Summers have gone to winners across the USA, from Gulf Breeze to Baton Rouge, from Scottsdale to Breckenridge. A brilliantly exciting first Publication Week across the pond, then. It might call for another batch of blueberry pancakes...      

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Oh, Hay!

On the coat-tails of The Etherington Brothers (my husband and his little bro Lorenzo) I went to the Hay Festival this weekend. The boys performed three Comic Capers shows in as many days, introducing 1,000 children to the joys of creativity - particularly the magic that happens when words meet pictures. I was so proud to sit in the crowd and watch them do their thing with such aplomb.

Afterwards, as the boys signed books, I did a little browsing. Earlier I'd discovered the joys of Richard Booth's Bookshop and picked up a couple of second-hand gems, but was soon drawn to the shiny-new delights in the Festival Bookshop. I wish I read more slowly, as I'm afraid I'll zip through this little pile in no time at all...  

I've started with Diamond Star Halo by Tiffany Murray and I couldn't be enjoying it more. Owen Sheers describes it as 'a beautiful, pitch-perfect harmony of Wuthering Heights and your favourite mix tape,' and the Guardian, 'heart-felt writing from the glam-rock Dodie Smith.' I'm half-way through and so far, so utterly perfect. The writing is sensual and pops from the page. And it makes me want to listen to T. Rex, which is never a bad thing. 

My other find of the weekend was deep in the stacks of the aforementioned Richard Booth's. A Terrace In The Sun by Cecil Roberts. I'd not heard of either the book or its author, but the title spoke to me, as did the whimsy little sketch of villa and Cypress trees on the cover. The blurb - written in 1951 - sealed the deal: Stephen May, at the height of a distinguished career as an artist, looks at his life one New Year's Eve in Monte Carlo and finds he has nothing left to live for. I'm imagining it as a darker sort of An Enchanted April.

It was amazing to be in Hay as a WAG along with Lorenzo's wife Esther, cheering on the boys from the sidelines. But as I watched them on stage, gulping down water and adjusting their mics, by stomach flipped a little, as next time I go to a festival with The Etherington Brothers I'll be appearing too. I suspect my audience will be less prone to giggling and I'll be doling out fewer knuckle bumps, but then again, you never know.