Grab a strong cup of tea for this new Irish book, The Secrets of Roscarbury Hall, because it's filled to the brim with drama!
Written by Ann O'Loughlin, a leading journalist in Ireland who reported on the Irish adoption scandals, this new novel centers on estranged sisters, Ella and Roberta. The women live together in a decrepit mansion in small town Ireland and communicate through hand-written notes.
In financial need, Ella opens a café in the house-much to Roberta's chagrin. Secrets are unearthed, sisters bicker, and many cups of piping hot tea are poured.
"Unraveled family secrets are rewoven into
bittersweet truth in this poignant debut. . . .
O'Loughlin metes out revelations,
both painful and redeeming."
~ Publishers Weekly
Today, I'm delighted to publish a guest post written by Ann O'Loughlin. As a baker and cake lover, Ann is a woman after my own heart.
Here, she shares the story behind her love of baking and how she uses baking to stir her creativity and inspire her writing.
And so, let me hand you over to Ann ....
Baking Up A Storm In The West Of Ireland:
Some opt for a spa treatment; others walk the dog. I like to bake a cake.
While most of my friends walk their troubles away; I bake them away. There is something so calming when you run flour through your fingers, measure out the sugar and whip up a cake.
So it was hardly surprising that some of my favorite cakes made it in to The Secrets of Roscarbury Hall.
In fact, it was baking I turned to when the plot ground to a halt and the warring sisters Ella and Roberta O’Callaghan refused to do what they were told. Baking was my salvation when Muriel Hearty decided to have a sea change and forget to gossip, and when May started to fret too much over her fruit cakes.
It was to baking I turned after writing the saddest scenes in The Secrets of Roscarbury Hall, to clear my head and reassure myself that all was right with the world.
Ella O’Callaghan, in The Secrets of Roscarbury Hall, finds the same solace in a baking session when times are tough.
Times get very tough for Ella and the bank threatens to repossess, so she set up a café in the upstairs ballroom, serving her scrumptious homemade cakes and tea in a china cup.
Ella not only loves baking, but is a natural at it. My mother loved to bake cakes too. In our west of Ireland home there were no shop bought cakes. My mother baked everything; the brown scones for breakfast; the apple pie after lunch; the tea brack to have with a cuppa; the ginger cake on a winter's evening and the lemon and chocolate cakes for Sunday.
And she never seemed to have to take out a recipe book; it was all in her head. She always said if you kept key ingredients in the food cupboard, you would never be stuck.
Flour in those days came in large white cloth sacks and it was my job to scoop it out with a big metal scoop and weigh it.
I know now she only got me to set it on the scales to humor a young helper. She herself could throw the ingredients together and whip up a cake in no time.
We made lemon cakes, coffee cakes and the rich family chocolate cake for special occasions. The chocolate cake with ground almonds and good quality chocolate is my all time favorite. It features in The Secrets of Roscarbury Hall.
And no, I am not going to reveal the secret ingredient here ; you are going to have to read the novel to get to that one.
Back to baking proper, my one piece of advice which comes – you guessed it – courtesy of my mum.
"Concentrate, block out everything else,
enjoy doing it and it will all show in the cake.”
She is right of course. Ever tried to bake when the world is wrong for you and unhappiness gurgles through you; you end up with a stodgy, flat offering. Be happy and make a nice, light, fluffy cake; it works all the time for me.
I remember the weekend well before my final State exams which would decide whether I would get a place in university. All the study had been done; there was only time left to worry.
"Time to bake a lemon cake," Mam said, taking down the big mixing bowl. "It will take your mind off things," she laughed and she was right.
For the next half hour we measured and lightly mixed, chatting, laughing, having a gossip and suddenly all my worries and doubts were far away . After a slice of crumbly warm lemon cake straight from the oven and tea, I slept well, ready to take on the world the next morning. In between exams, I shared thick slabs of lemon cake with my friends. We all did well crediting my mother's diamond lemon cake.
Christmas was always huge in our west of Ireland home and preparations started at the end of October when the fruit cakes were made.
I don't know how she did it, but my mother always seemed to have a small bottle of poitín hidden away, so she could add that special ingredient - the colorless and illicit Irish alcohol - to the mix. It was this special ingredient which she credited for the fact that everybody raved about Mrs O'Loughlin's cakes.
My mother passed away last year, but each of her five children can bake up a storm, always marking special occasions with one of Mrs O'Loughlin's cakes. It is something she would have cherished; the idea that our time at the wooden kitchen table in our west of Ireland home baking alongside her has meant so much to all of us.
A leading journalist in Ireland for nearly thirty years Ann O’Loughlin has covered all major news events of the last three decades.
Ann spent most of her career with independent newspapers where she was Security Correspondent at the height of The Troubles, and was a senior journalist on the Irish Independent and Evening Herald.
She is currently a senior journalist with the Irish Examiner newspaper covering legal issues including the illegal forced adoption of children to the US which is at the heart of the story in The Secrets of Roscarbury Hall.
Ann has also lived and worked in India. Originally from the west of Ireland she now lives on the east coast with her husband and two children.
Thank You To Ann:
A big thank you to Ann for introducing us to her writing and her love of baking. So sorry to hear that you recently lost your mother. May every cake you bake bring back wonderful memories of your times together, and deepen your appreciation of the amazing skills she shared with you throughout your childhood in the west of Ireland.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
If you enjoyed this post here are some other stories and tributes you might enjoy.