Once our editors have chosen the Author of the Month (no easy task, I can assure you), I head to the author’s website to get a sense of who they are. On Natasha Lowe’s website you’ll find the words, “Kibet Fallow Da.” If you’ve read The Power of Poppy Pendle, you’ll know it means “Follow Your Passion,” and that pretty much sums up Natasha Lowe. She knew from a young age she wanted to be a writer—and here she is, a published author. She wanted to be an adventurer, so she traveled across the ocean from England to America. She loves baking and afternoon tea, so she opened up The Tea House bed and breakfast. And finally, she found the “biggest passion in life and decided right away to marry him.” What else, I wondered, might we find out about her?
On your website, you talk about Scotland where you spent many of your childhood summers “searching for faerie hills.” When I asked some of my colleagues what comes to mind when they think of Scotland, the responses included plaid, the Loch Ness Monster, scones, the Shetland Library (yes, really), Sean Connery, and kilts. As someone who loves Scotland, what do you wish people knew about it?
There are so many things I want people to know about Scotland. It is absolutely my special place, and some of my fondest memories are of driving up to the highlands to stay with my grandmother in her rambling old house on the moors. We would drive through the night and I can still remember opening my window and getting that first hit of Scottish air in the morning. The air really does smell amazing, all sweet and heathery and pure; there is a rugged, almost prehistoric beauty about the highlands, all these different shades of purple covering the hills, and so untouched that I used to imagine dinosaurs walking across the moors! For me, Scotland is a deeply magical place, filled with the sort of ancient magic that has been around for centuries. It has a rich history of myths and fairy tales woven into its culture that has definitely inspired my own writing.
It’s also clear from your website that you have a passion for stories, that sense of wonder and magic they can provoke, the characters that become friends or inspire you, the vivid descriptions that bring it all to life. Think back on all those wonderful stories and tell us, what literary character would you like to have over for tea and conversation?
Oh, I love this question and I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. My mum would tell us stories about a witch called Beady Eyes who lived with her anthropomorphic broomstick, Broom. She was greedy and childlike, much preferred playing with kids than grown-ups – and I adored her! The problem is, having Beady Eyes over for tea would be slightly stressful because she’d polish off all the cake and scones and would much rather be outside climbing trees than having a nice conversation!
I did think about Lucy Pevensie from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It would be wonderful to ask her what tea with Mr. Tumnus was like, and about Aslam and the white witch. But after a great deal of mulling I think it’s going to have to be Maria Merrywether from The Little White Horse. This was the book that made me want to be a writer. I remember finishing it at school and deciding that I just had to write stories like this, full of magic and wonder and delicious descriptions of food. Moonacre manor, where the orphaned Maria goes to live with her uncle, was such a magical place, the grounds and the forest and the beautiful old manor house. Marmaduke Scarlet was the cook, a funny little man who stood on a stool when he baked, always whipping up mouth-watering things to eat. So instead of having tea at my house, I’d like to be invited to Moonacre manor to enjoy it. That way Maria could give me a tour and introduce me to Marmaduke, who would of course have made all the cakes and scones and biscuits!
Your latest book, Lucy Castor Finds Her Sparkle, is such a sweet book about growing up, friendship, family, and change; and we all share that pain Lucy feels when her BFF has apparently found new interests and new friends. What advice would you give to little girls about dealing with changes like these?
Gosh, it’s such a hard thing to go through, losing friends and having to make new ones. I struggled with this throughout elementary school and it wasn’t easy. I think it’s so important for girls to stay true to themselves, not to try to become someone else to fit in; to remember that there are other girls they might become friends with, even if at first glance they don’t think they have much in common. Taking risks, being brave and talking to kids you don’t normally talk to can often lead to new friendships. And I also think it’s worth remembering that most kids are probably coping with their own anxieties and worries on the inside, so you are never as alone as you feel.
Is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t touched on?
I thought it might be fun to tell you a little bit about Lucy Castor and how she came to be. I really wanted to write a story about a little girl who didn’t like things to change, something many of us can identify with, and I wanted this little girl to see that even when life seems really difficult and scary, if you just keep going, one day at a time, ultimately you will discover that change can be a wonderful thing. This is my first book that isn’t a fantasy, although because I wrote it there is still a sprinkling of magic woven through. It was definitely a touch scary putting something so different out into the world, but like Lucy I am learning that change can be good! Out of all my characters I think Lucy has to be my favorite, probably because I can identify with her so well. Lucy isn’t me of course, but I did draw from my childhood for this story, more so than for any of my others. So here are some fun things that Lucy and I have in common!
- We both have extremely vivid imaginations, which is wonderful for writing stories but not always so helpful in real life. For example if Lucy’s parents are a little late getting back she jumps to the worst possible conclusion, imagining all sorts of terrible things that might have happened to them. I have to admit I was like this too, and if you talk to my children they will tell you I still am!
- We are both big believers in magic! Magic was a huge part of my childhood, (which you can probably tell by now!) and I remember the heartbreak when I realized that certain things I had always believed in might not be real. So in Lucy I try to show that there is a great deal of magic in the world, not just in the beauty of a bird’s nest, or things that can’t be explained, but in those wonderful serendipitous moments that seem to happen when we need them most.
- We both have strange collections. Lucy collects old birds nests and I collect antique cookie jars.
- Like Lucy, I grew up in a house full of clocks that chimed the hour at different times so you never knew quite what the real time was.
- We both love having cake with our afternoon tea!
Speaking of scones and Scotland—and drawing on your love of baking—would you be kind enough to share your favorite scone recipe with us?
Absolutely. In fact, before having children, I use to run our house in Western, Massachusetts, as a bed and breakfast so I frequently made scones for afternoon tea, always served with jam and whipped (because I couldn’t find clotted) cream. There is nothing better than a light, flaky scone, piled high with thick cream and raspberry jam, but the recipe below is definitely for more of a breakfast scone. These scones are so good they don’t need anything on them, just a nice hot cup of tea to go with them. I take absolutely no credit for this delicious recipe. It comes from The Zuni Café Cookbook, and I promise that anyone who tries them will make them again and again. They are gently flavored with grated orange zest, sprinkled through with a handful of currents, and have that fabulous combination of flaky lightness and rich buttery taste that make for the best scone ever.
ORANGE CURRANT SCONES
- 3 cups flour
- ½ cup sugar
- 4 teaspoon baking powder
- Dash of salt
- 2 stick of butter (8oz)
- ½ cup dried currants
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup whole milk
To make orange-currant scones
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare baking sheet with parchment paper. (Truthfully I don’t bother putting parchment on my baking sheet because I always forget to buy a roll, and my scones never seem to stick.)
- Combine dry ingredients- flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, in a large bowl.
- Whisk together egg and milk and set aside.
- Cut butter into flour, until butter is about the size of small peas. (Use a pastry blender, or a food processor for this step).
- Gradually drizzle the milk and egg mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir to combine. Dough will be crumbly and dry. Add currants and zest.
- Using your hands, knead dough until dough comes together. This will take a minute or two- do NOT add extra liquid unless absolutely necessary. Form into a disc.
- Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and cut into two pieces. Roll each piece into a circle, until it is about 1 inch in thickness.
- Slice into sixths. Place on cookie tray and bake for 25-30 minutes or until scones are set and lightly browned.
Note – you can half this recipe if twelve scones are too many, although I promise you won’t have any trouble finishing them. Just use the egg yolk instead of the whole egg.
You can learn more about Natasha and her books at her website http://www.natashalowe.com/