I loved writing The Paradise Cookery School – Sunshine & Secrets. Set on the tropical island of St Lucia, it meant I got to spend every day immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the Caribbean – a veritable feast for the senses. The setting was so central to the story that it became a character in its own right which meant I had to make sure I put just as much work into its creation as I do for my human characters. It certainly was no chore! Every time I sat down at my keyboard, I would spend a few minutes enjoying the gallery of stunning photographs I’d collected of the place the cookery school was situated, high up on a hillside overlooking the town of Soufrière in the south of the island.
The Sights – I probably spent more time than strictly necessary on research! The island is stunningly picturesque. With the glistening Caribbean Sea, the white sandy beaches and languidly swaying palm trees – it’s certainly my idea of paradise. Who wouldn’t want to relax on a sun lounger, next to a sparkling pool with a rum cocktail and a good book? The story is set on an abandoned cocoa plantation with a panoramic view of the spectacular Pitons. The cookery school is housed in the old plantation house, but the cocoa trees have been neglected because the cultivation of the beans is so labour intensive that it’s no longer cost effective to produce them on a small scale. However, the owner of the cookery school has plans to bring the place back to life and, one day, to make her own chocolate from the beans produced on the estate.
The Sounds – No novel set in the Caribbean is complete without a backing track of reggae and calypsos rippling through the story. I just love this kind of music; every time I listened to a St Lucian steel band a smile spreads across my face and my spirits edge up a notch – it’s just such a happy sound that makes me want to put on my dancing shoes. Add to that the squawk of brightly coloured parrots and the crash of a waterfall and you are truly listening to the soundtrack of paradise.
The Feeling – Everyone is happier when the sun shines – it’s a proven fact. So, to wake up every morning knowing that the day ahead will be filled with brilliant blue skies, a warm breeze, a gentle stroll on the beach or a vigorous swim in the pool, followed by a rum cocktail or two, then the feel-good endorphins will abound. We can’t be on holiday fifty-two weeks a year, so a story set in an exotic location can, for a few hours, transport us to that place and bring a smile to our faces.
The Smells – As the story is set in a cookery school which focusses on the delicious cuisine of the Caribbean, then this is one of the most important parts of the setting as a character in Sunshine & Secrets. When I was researching which recipes to include in the story, I set about creating a few that I could taste-test. One of my favourites was sticky jerk salmon served with a mango and passionfruit salsa. Just the aroma of the fish being grilled sends the taste buds tingling!
The tastes – Of course, as the story takes place in a cookery school, then there’s no escaping the tasting sessions as the characters prepare for the grand opening of the Paradise Cookery School. From every kind of fresh seafood imaginable – red snapper, grouper, conch – to the diverse range of exotic fruit and vegetables – papaya, breadfruit, guava – to the wide availability of spices that are grown on the island – nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice berries – there’s something to tempt every palette.
For me, focussing on the setting, building it up to be just as important to the story as any of the other characters really helps to bringing a book to life. Providing the details, evoking every one of the senses, helps to really immerse the reader in the reality of the story, providing a multi-dimensional experience. St Lucia is certainly on my bucket list!
Sunshine & Secrets: The perfect romantic comedy of 2018 (Paradise Cookery School)
When newly heartbroken, michelin-starred chef Millie Harper is offered a job overseeing the setup of The Paradise Cookery School she jumps at the opportunity. Leaving London and her memories of heartbreak behind she hops on a plane to the hilltop cocoa plantation in St Lucia.
But this beautiful island break might be more work than she’d expected…. With only two weeks to have the kitchen installed, cocoa pods going missing from the plantation and the notoriously relaxed island workmen to contend with, she’s going to need some help. Gruff but charming estate manager Zach Baxter, is only too happy to offer his opinions. As the two clash heads can they remain focussed on the job in hand and get the cookery school finished in time?
Pack your bags and jump right into the sun and secrets of The Paradise Cookery School. Perfect for fans of Sarah Morgan, Jenny Oliver and Kat French.
Get the book HERE