My Chocolate Tourism Bucket List

Do you love your chocolate? Me too! And other than combining chocolate with a good book, I can’t think of too much better than pairing chocolate with visiting a new place of interest.

While writing my latest novel, The Chocolate Promise (also called The Chocolate Apothecary in the UK), researching and taste-testing chocolate pretty much took over my life—and my dress size! And my palette for chocolate has changed. Only the finest will do these days. So now, I’ve begun writing myself a ‘Chocolate Tourism Bucket List’, to continue my love affair with this heavenly food.

Here are my current Top 5 locations:

  1. Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. This is the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily. Let’s just consider that for a moment: chocolate + Sicily. It’s a no brainer, right? Top of my list.
  2. Puyricard. This French chocolate artisan store is located just outside of Aix-en-Provence in the south232323232fp93232>uqcshlukaxroqdfv67-35;5=3427986;494<24-ot1lsi of France, which is where the main character of The Chocolate Promise spends time with a master chocolatier, roams the beautiful countryside and encounters unexpected romance. I soaked up the research for this part of the novel and am positively salivating to go there in person and enjoy the delights of Provence, including this chocolate store.
  3. Chocolate Walking Tour of Melbourne. A little closer to home for me, this would be a delightful weekend treat. Melbourne is known by many to be the food capital of Australia and I’ve no doubt the chocolate on this tour would leave a lasting impression. I only hear good things about this one. Definitely a To-Do, sooner, rather than later, I think. (At least the plane flight would be a quick one!)
  4. Rococo. I certainly couldn’t comprise this list without including a visit to Rococo in London. You’ll find an acknowledgement to Chantal Coady (founder of Rococo) for her inspiration that influenced The Chocolate Promise and for good reason. I pored over her book, Rococo: Mastering the Art of Chocolate, as research for my novel. I even imported some of her creations. (The milk rose is my favourite.) I think I’d like to rent a flat just around the corner and simply hang out there every day, breathing it all in.
  5. Cailler. I’ve been to Switzerland but only once and I would love to go back there. (I’ve even been trying to work in some sort of Swiss plot into a novel so I can have a tax-deductible reason to go.) And this factory has some pretty great architecture to go with the experience.

So there’s my shortlist to get me (and maybe you) started. I’m sure there are dozens of amazing places around the world that would keep me entertained on my chocolate tours. I’d love to hear your recommendations if you have any?

p.s. Here’s a recipe from Chantal Coady for Chocolate Ganache Teacups, which fortuitously combines two of my favourite foods: chocolate and tea!

Win copies of The Chocolate Promise

Dear readers,

WIN! 10 copies to give away.
WIN! 10 copies to give away.

I have 10 finished copies of my new foodie fiction novel, The Chocolate Promise, to give away.

Christmas Livingstone has ten rules for happiness, the most important of which is ‘absolutely no romantic relationships’.

In The Chocolate Apothecary, her enchanting artisan store in Tasmania, she tempers chocolate and creates handmade delicacies. Surrounded by gifts for the senses, in this shop chocolate isn’t just good for you, it’s medicine.

And then one day a stranger arrives at her front door – a dishevelled botanist seeking her help. She really doesn’t need Lincoln van Luc to walk into her life, even if he does have the nicest blue eyes, the loveliest meddling grandmother and a gorgeous newly rescued dog. She really doesn’t need any of it. Or does she?

Set across Tasmania, Paris and Provence, this is a glorious novel of a creative woman about to find out how far in life a list of rules will take her, with an enticing tangle of freshly picked herbs, pots of flowers and lashings of chocolate scenting the air.

How to Enter: 

To win, all you need to do is join me in the VIP lounge by 20th March by subscribing to my quarterly newsletter. Ten winners will be chosen at random and notified by email. Good luck!!

Thoughts on Writing: The Clydesdale and the Unicorn

This article is featured in this month’s issue of WQ magazine, the official publication of the Queesland Writers Centre (a super resource for writers at all stages).

___________

I am most at home with my Clydesdale
I am most at home with my Clydesdale

I believe there are two horses residing within me: a Clydesdale and a unicorn.

I have seven horses of my own, used to run a horse rescue charity, and recently published Horse Rescue: inspiring stories of second-chance horses and the lives they changed (Penguin). 2014 is also the Chinese Year of the Horse. So it seems a good time to tell you about my invisible Clydesdale and unicorn.

They are the two sets of my writing self—the practical and the magical, heaven and earth, yin and yang… however you like to think of them. And I need them both in order to do my job, answer my vocational calling, find inspiration and meet my deadlines. The challenge is to get them to cooperate despite their very different agendas.

The Clydesdale is a workhorse. It is there every day, in its harness, ploughing the fields. It shows up if it’s feeling weary or injured, if the weather is poor, and even if its handler is asking too much of it. It is stoic, steady, completely task-oriented, wearing its blinkers so it can only see the path in front. It likes a schedule, turns up on time, and enjoys warm mash at the end of a hard day’s labour.

This one, I find a lot more difficult to handle.
This one, I find a lot more difficult to handle.

The unicorn, on the other hand, is flighty. It has wings. (Hey, it’s my unicorn; it can fly if it wants to.) It doesn’t have to stay in the field. It doesn’t even have to show up! And I can’t make it turn up because it has wings. It can go wherever it wants to go. It is fickle, doesn’t like to tough it out in the rain, likes to paint its shiny mane and tail with rainbow nail polish, fancies champagne and chocolate, and would far rather use its time slipping in and out of portals to other worlds than slogging it out in the mud. Time and deadlines mean nothing to the universe-hopping unicorn. It cares not for plans, structure or linear plotlines.

They are both powerful. They are both necessary. And they both need to be fed or they will wither, starve and die. They tell me they are struggling in different ways. The Clydesdale gets grumpy, physically sore and tired (though will struggle on long past when it should). The unicorn is more prone to tantrums, melancholy, catastrophising and tears. But when they start to act out and show their discomfort, I’ve learned that I need to pay attention and do something about it.

The Clydesdale is concerned with the physical world, so to feed it I need to make sure its base needs are met. To give it energy to do its hard work in the field, it needs good quality, energising food. Caffeine doesn’t cut it. I’m talking vegetables, fruit, protein, antioxidants, organics and juices. I need to cut out the foods that slow it down, like sugar, dairy and caffeine. It needs attention to its muscles and fitness—ergonomics, gym-based strengthening programs, injury (RSI) rehabilitation, rest, an occasional day off, and massage.

The unicorn is concerned with mental and emotional wellness. The unicorn has a huge responsibility for bringing in new ideas and content. If I don’t feed the unicorn, I’ll simply drain it of all its life and colour. To feed the unicorn, I must supply it with imagery and experience. I need to take it on artistic adventures. I need to fill it with sensory stimulus—music, art, film, stories, nature, foods, excursions and new knowledge. I need to give it freedom to explore without constraints, and silence and gentle spaces to hear it speak its dreams without judging, shaming or cutting them down before they’re fully expressed.

If you’re anything like me, you might be firmer friends with one than the other. For me, I’m more comfortable with the Clydesdale. I will happily work around the clock for something I’m passionate about. But it is harder for me to allow my unicorn untethered freedom to indulge its whims and fancies—in other words, it’s hard for me to play, to lighten up. Perhaps for you, it is more difficult to harness the discipline and work ethic of the Clydesdale. You have no problem going to the theatre and dreaming up stories but there is resistance to putting pen to paper day after day.

Wherever you’re at, it’s okay. Use your strength to its advantage and treat yourself kindly while you learn to encourage and nurture the weaker relationship in this pair. One day, they’ll both be pulling the same plough together at the same time, and it will be a fully functioning pink plough with sparkly wings, churning out a great story, with a strong structure, delivered on time, and with just the right amount of magic.

____________________

p.s. I also have two human identities…

Horse Rescue is published under the name Joanne Schoenwald.

The Tea Chest is published as Josephine Moon.

Books as Prescription Medicine

This is precisely why I write books: to make people feel good.

Books like (legal) brownies for all!
Books like (legal) brownies for all!

I love this story.  From May this year, ‘Books on Prescription’ will begin in the UK, with doctors able to ‘prescribe’ a book to assist a patient and improve their mood. The books include both non-fiction and fiction, as well as poetry. It’s also hoped the scheme could help the struggling libraries. Win-win. How wonderful!

In the first couple of months after my baby was born, life was pretty insane in our house. Something I missed the most was reading and it was only when I began to learn how to get the reading time back into my life that I started to feel normal again. I always read before going to sleep, something that’s a very powerful mood producing activity for me. I literally feel stressed if I don’t have a good book nearby to delve into.

But it has to be the right kind of book. For me, there’s no point in reading something angst-ridden, violent, negative, sarcastic or miserable in order to feel better. Uplifting, comforting, engaging and fun–that’s what I want to read and that’s what I want to write.

My contemporary fiction novel, The Tea Chest, about three Australian women thrust together in a bid to sell tea to the English, will be out in 2014. And if you’re looking for something to make you feel good (a book that reads like a chocolate brownie tastes) then it might just be the book for you.

Read a book to feel better. Hooray!