‘Phfffff! Books!’ says the removal man, with a puff, a grunt, and a girding of his loins. ‘Where do you want these, love?’ He’s lifting the heavy crate.

‘Oh, anywhere!’ I say. I haven’t planned this at all. I certainly hadn’t planned to move on the hottest day of the year so far at the end of June. But that is the great thing about leaping through a window of opportunity. Nothing is planned! And, right now, that feels wonderful! Except the books. I’ll read them all now, I promise myself.

The removal-truck doors are wide open on the track beside the house. The whole world can see my belongings. It’s like walking in and introducing yourself at a party completely naked! They’ve seen everything about you before you’ve even had a chance to say, ‘Hello, nice to meet you.’

There’s the smart gold-and-red-striped three-piece suite I bought when I could finally afford to walk into the showroom, turn down the monthly-repayment scheme and offer to settle up with cash. That was a day, I think. That’s when I knew life was on the up.

Then there’s the exercise bike I bought during lockdown, hoping to relieve some tension in the house and thinking it was time I got my body into shape: Josh had stopped looking at me, and once I started dating, I decided it would help. It didn’t. The huge bouncy ball I sat on to keep myself moving at my office desk – it took up the spare room – makes a bid for escape out of the van. It rolls down the ramp, along the track and bounces across the main road, coming to a standstill by a group of locals beside a muddy tractor. Lexie, the removal woman, marches across the road in her steel-toe-capped boots, leopard-print leggings and short-sleeved polo shirt, company name on the breast, to retrieve it. Much to my relief I didn’t have to. I’ll introduce myself to the onlookers when I’m ready.

Lexie’s dad is pulling out more boxes of hardback books, mostly on cookery, which I buy but never have time to read.

And there it is, centre stage, right in the middle of the removal van: the huge, battered pine kitchen table that had belonged to my grandparents. I refused to get rid of it after they died. This was where family life had taken place while I was growing up, round that table. Josh and I had bought our flat because it had a big enough kitchen to take the table. Just. The removal company were cursing me, I’m sure, getting the table into the flat and, by the sound of it, getting it out again. In this house, there is plenty of room for it in the kitchen.

I turn and stare at the house. I can’t believe it’s mine. I’ve always loved it, wondering what it would be like to live in it, to look right out to sea from the back garden. I’m sad for the people who had to sell it. It had been in their family for years and inheritance tax had made it impossible for the next generation to stay on. But at least they know it’s gone to someone who loves it. I can’t wait to get everything in and shut the door. But for now I’m still on full display, as if the travelling circus has arrived in town.

I hear another tractor pull up outside and stop. The chug-chug-chug of the engine cuts out.

Shwmae, Dewi!’

Shwmae, Lloyd!’

And the small gathering – two tractor drivers, Carys, an older woman I recognize straight away with two fidgeting Jack Russells, the window-cleaner, with his brush on a pole, and the postman, handing out mail to the group – loiters on the other side of the road, watching the removal van with interest. I’m standing just out of sight, under the shade of a larch tree hanging over the gateway.

‘It’s a bad business all this,’ Dewi Roberts says, climbing down from the cab of the tractor. He’s barely changed, and neither has Carys. I smile, watching them from the shade of the tree.

The others shake their heads.

‘Must have gone for a fortune!’

‘All that money and gone on tax!’

They shake their heads again.

‘You’d think the old man would have thought of it, passed it on before he died.’

‘So sad. That family’s been there for generations. Now all the money’s gone.’

‘It went on sale on the Friday, gone by the Monday morning. I heard buyers from London were calling and bidding on it, cash buyers. Buying it unseen!’


I cringe a little.

‘They’re in pretty quick. Done and dusted within weeks.’

‘Definitely a cash buyer.’

‘Who’d buy a house they hadn’t even seen?’

‘And for how much?’

‘I heard it went over the asking price. Ordinary folk didn’t get a look in.’

‘They should have sold to locals.’

‘It’s hard when rich families from London are offering you cash.’

‘Without even coming to view it.’

‘It’s hard to turn it down. Money’s money!’

Ydyn, it is.’

‘Second- home owners, are they?’ Lloyd Owen, the other tractor driver, asks, watching my kitchen chairs and, in particular, the big old pine carver with the familiar worn cushion tied to its seat and a bag of bedding being removed from the van. ‘Looks like posh stuff.’

‘Could be a holiday-rental property.’

‘Not with an old pine chair and table like that,’ says Carys. ‘Looks like it’s come from a second-handshop.’

I don’t know whether to feel affronted or giggle.

The speculation continues. I’m finding it half cringeworthy and half funny. But at the same time, I can’t help but chuckle about the ‘table like that’ finally coming home to Swn Y Mor.

‘Are you the new owner?’ Dewi calls to the removal man across the road, over the cars with roof boxes, camper-vans and caravans heading along the coast.

He shakes his head.

‘Only I wanted a word about renting some land,’ Dewi continues. ‘I have a proposition,’ he says, walking across the road, nearly stepping out in front of a group of bikers, who manage to swerve and miss him.

I bet he does. He probably reckons the new owner knows nothing about how things work around here. Then I take a deep breath, glance back at the house – my house – and step out of the shadows of the larch.

‘In that case, you’re looking for me. I’m the new owner,’ I say, coming to stand in front of the open doors at the end of the van. ‘And, no, it’s not a second home or a holiday rental.’

The group are silenced and puzzled.

‘Don’t tell me you’re going to knock it down and put up gerts, or whatever those tent things are called!’ says Carys, with a scowl.

‘Yurts, Carys, they’re called yurts,’ says Lloyd.

‘Well, whatever. Bloody ugly things!’

‘They’ll take off from that headland in a brisk wind!’ says the postie, who I recognize as Thomas Pritchard from school. ‘We get a lot of wind here. Hot air, y’see. From the Gulf Stream.’

‘Hot air is right,’ mutters Carys.

‘It’s not like—’ Lloyd starts.

‘It’s okay. I know what it’s like,’ I say, holding up a hand. ‘But I’m not putting up yurts.’ It’s not a bad idea. But I’m not here to build a new business, far from it. I have other plans. I have everything I need, if I’m careful, enough to live on, and that’s all I want right now. I’m not planning any more businesses. I’ve had quite enough of that.

‘Well, what are you going to do with it?’ says Lloyd, looking confused.

I take a deep breath. ‘I’m going to live in it,’ I say, and watch their faces. Their expressions change from surprise, to curiosity, to raised eyebrows.

‘With your family?’ asks Carys.

‘Just me,’ I confirm, excitement growing.

‘What? You bought this on your own?’ says Carys, incredulously.

I sigh. Next they’ll be asking how much I earn each year and to see my bank statements. ‘Yes, I bought it. On my own,’ I say firmly, finishing the conversation.

‘In that case, could I have a word about renting your land? I’ll give you a good price,’ says Dewi.

‘I’m sure,’ I say, and laugh, which feels good. ‘Like you offer all the newcomers around here. Don’t think I don’t know your tricks.’

The two farmers look at each other, then back at me. And suddenly I feel my past and present collide.

‘Do I know you?’ asks Lloyd, narrowing his eyes. The past twenty years haven’t been kind to him. I remind myself that Lloyd Owen has always looked like an old man. I don’t remember him not wearing wellingtons and a battered old fluorescent coat with string tumbling from the pockets.

I decide to put them out of their misery. ‘I’m Beca, Beca Valentino, from Valentino’s Gelateria, and, yes, I’m back to live here,’ I say. ‘Yes, I’m on my own and, no, I’m not doing yurts. Now, if you have all the information you need, I’m going to get on. Oh, and if you’re thinking of making me an offer to rent my land, double it. I know the price of land rental around here.’ I pick up a side table. They have all I’m prepared to tell them, for now.

‘Well, dw, dw, if it isn’t little Beca Valentino,’ I hear, as I walk away.

‘Thought she was in America.’

‘I thought she died.’

‘Where’s she got that kind of money from, then?’

‘Not from her family.’

‘What she’s doing back here, buying this place?’

I can still hear them as I’m walking up the driveway and the path towards the house. I look at the porch with its stained-glass window lit brightly in the warm sunshine and hear the seagulls calling overhead. I take in the long leaded windows on either side of the front door and the two smaller ones at roof level, equally distanced between the chimneystacks. And beyond the house, the green grass of the Pembrokeshire headland, overlooking sparkling blue sea, separating this west Wales coastline from Ireland, dotted with sailing boats enjoying the sea breeze. This place. It isn’t love at first sight, because I’ve loved this house all my life. I didn’t need to come and view it. It’s exactly where I’m meant to be right now.

‘It’s a lot of rooms for just one person,’ I hear someone call after me.

And I can’t resist: I turn back to the group from beneath the neglected arbour with a rampant rambling rose over it. ‘I have plans, Dewi Roberts, big plans,’ I call back to the gossiping farmers, as I walk the last bit of the path, a thorn from the overgrown rose snagging at my top. Pruning it will be one of my first jobs. And despite the aches of packing and moving, the weeks of keeping the cleaning business going with absent staff, doing shifts myself so I could hand over the business to Maria, there’s a swing in my stride and a spring in my step. In no time at all everyone will know who’s bought Ty Mawr. Word of mouth. It’s the one thing I couldn’t stand when I left this place. But right now, if they want to gossip, let them. I breathe in the salty sea air. I’m back, I have plans, and this time they don’t involve business.


Summer at the Ice Cream Café is out 27 April in ebook and 8 June in paperback. Order it here.

I use a swiss roll at the bottom of my trifle, cut into slices. Or you can buy sponge fingers that I used to love eating as they were as a child, known as Lady Fingers or champagne biscuits. Or use amoretti biscuits if you prefer. Go with what you can get. But I like a raspberry swiss roll at the bottom of mine.

Then, a sprinkling of booze. I use sherry because I’ve always got it in for my mother, who on days she’s not having a drink, will just have a sherry!! What she means is she’s not having wine! In her mind, sherry is in a different category!

. .

Next fruit. It could be tinned, but I use frozen bags of summer berries.

Then the debate, to jelly or not to jelly. Entirely up to you. You could warm some jam and pour it over the berries, but if you like jelly, embrace it and go for it. Make up the jelly, pour it over the sponge and fruit and let it set.

Then it’s time for the custard. If you’re making it, I’m going with a BBC Good Food recipe here, put 200ml of cream and 700 ml of whole milk into a pan and heat it to just below boiling point. Then, in a separate bowl, whisk four egg yolks, three tablespoons of cornflour, 100 grams of caster sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Then gradually pour the cream and milk mixture into the bowl, whisking. Wipe out the saucepan, pour the mixture back into it and gently heat until it thickens.

Or, buy a tin, a carton or one of the posh tubs from the fresh counter in the supermarket and pour that over the set fruit and jelly. And yes, the chef is allowed to lick out the cold custard from the pan or carton!

When everything is cool, whisk up double cream and create little snowy peaks from it on the top.

Then decorate, hundreds and thousands, silver stars, chocolate buttons. Trifle is one of things you can do with what you want! Do what takes your fancy.

Make a chocolate one with Irish liquer, or swap sherry for cassis, or make a peach one with tinned peaches and that bottle of peach liqueur your aunt gave you for last Christmas and you have no idea what to do with!

Most of all, make it fun! And always leave a drop of cold custard in the bottom of the pot for the chef. It’s her Christmas treat!

Inspired by Keeping a Christmas Promise, this traditional Icelandic stew is heart-warming and comforting, made with the most simple but flavourful ingredients – this is my perfect meal for a cold winter’s day. I hope you enjoy it!


  • 1kg lamb, either shoulder or neck works best
  • 4 large carrots, roughly chopped
  • 4 parsnips, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium swede, chopped
  • 5 waxy potatoes, chopped. King Edwards would work well
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • Salt
  • Pepper


  1. Place meat in a large soup pot and cover with water.
  2. Slowly bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to low.
  3. Simmer the meat for about an hour, until it’s very tender and falling off the bone. During the cooking process, skim away any surface scum.
  4. Add the chopped vegetables and simmer until they’re tender, about 30 more minutes.
  5. Serve Kjötsúpa hot with crusty bread lathered in butter. It might not be geyser bread, but it will be delicious!

To celebrate the publication of Keeping a Christmas Promise, we’re offering one lucky reader the chance to win a £200 Christmas food shop at Sainsbury’s so you can stock up on all the essentials (and add a few extra treats) this year!

For your chance to win £200 of Sainsbury’s vouchers, simply complete the form below before the closing date of 23.59pm on 1st December 2022.

One winner will be chosen at random and T&Cs apply.

Good luck!

To celebrate the publication of Keeping a Christmas Promise, one reader will win £200 of Tesco vouchers to spend on Christmas dinner essentials (and extra treats) this year!

For your chance to win, complete the form below before the closing date of 23.59pm on 1st December 2022.

One winner will be chosen at random and T&Cs apply. Good luck!

Hello all,

This is a really hard letter to write, telling you all the news, when there is so much sadness and suffering going on in Ukraine. I have been thinking of the people there. The families just like ours having their lives and homes ripped apart and has made me more grateful than ever for the ones I have around me and the table we have to gather around.

I hope every day that a resolution is found soon.

I have been thinking about the families, displaced and how food and recipes will play a big part in them holding on to their heritage, identity, their memories and their roots and family members they’re separated from.  We all turn to food from our childhood when we’re looking for comfort. Yesterday, I had a tin of tomato soup… I was right back there, on the sofa of the house I grew up in, with sliced white bread and butter to dip into it, dunked and ending up all around my cheeks.

I have been binge watching Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy. I love it! In his first episode he met two women, one who was Italian and been living on a dreadful estate, full of crime and drugs. Another who was part of a romany gypsy community who had settled nearby. The women came together with a desire to make things better, by cooking for their communities. As the project grew, creating dishes from their past, so did the community begin to flourish and prosper. Now they have a restaurant on the site and people travel for miles to eat there. They can fund nursery places for children on the site, while parents work in the restaurant and the community is going from strength to strength. It feels like from the ashes of disaster, as in the words of the song from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, have grown the roses of success.

And I hope too, as the displaced Ukrainian people, who have had to flee their homes and have to adjust to a new norm, they find strength and belonging and hope in the recipes they put on the tables for the ones they love, wherever they may be for now.

In the meantime, hug the ones you love, remember the ones that aren’t with you, who made us who we are. Find time to escape into the pages of a book! I know I am. I’m reading Katie Fforde’s A Wedding in Provence and it is just a joyous trip to France, a safe and happy place that I need right now.

Last week I had the joy of hosting the Romantic Novelists Association Awards at a lovely lavish event in London. Here I am with my co-host Larry Lamb from ‘Gavin and Stacey’!

I realised it had been over two years since I’d been to a lively, noisy, excited do like that. The evening was a real celebration of books, escapism and hopeful endings! Just what we all need when life around us is anything but. It was a joy to remember and celebrate the books we love to write, for the readers who love to read them.

Stay safe all.

With Love, as always

Jo x

Eliza has a full house! When her three children grew up and moved out, she downsized to a smaller property… but now they’re all back. Every room in the house is taken and Eliza finds herself sharing her bed with her eldest daughter and her daughter’s pug. Combined with the online course she’s trying to finish, plus her job to fit in, there just isn’t the peace and quiet that Eliza needs.

So when an ad pops up on her laptop saying ‘house-sitters wanted’, Eliza can’t resist the chance to escape. She ends up moving to a rural finca in southern Spain, looking after the owner’s Iberico pigs, learning about secret gastronomic societies… and finding a new zest for life and love along the way.


To celebrate the publication of Chasing the Italian Dream (and the return of balmy summer nights), we are offering one lucky reader the chance to win a portable pizza oven from Ooni Fyra.


Ooni Fyra pizza ovens are wood-fired, easy to set up, and light enough to carry from your back garden to your picnic table. Perfect for relaxed evenings sharing stories, food and drink with your loved ones!

For your chance to win, complete the form below before midnight on 15 July 2021.

Terms & Conditions and Penguin Privacy Policy apply. Good luck!

Happy New Year!

I’m so pleased to be able to start 2021 by sharing the cover for my new book, out this summer in ebook and paperback.

Chasing the Italian Dream is about just that, and even if we have to stick to armchair travel right now that isn’t going to stop me from bringing a bit of dolce vita into your lives.

Read on to find out more about the book.


Jo xxx

Lucia has worked hard as a lawyer in Wales, aiming for a big promotion she hopes will shortly come her way. Finally taking a well-earned break at her grandparents’ house in southern Italy, the sunshine, lemon trees and her nonna’s mouth-watering cooking make her instantly feel at home.

But she’s shocked to learn that her grandfather is retiring from the beloved family pizzeria and will need to sell. Lucia can’t bear the thought of the place changing hands – especially when she discovers her not-quite-ex-husband Giacomo wants to take it over!

Then bad news from home forces Lucia to re-evaluate what she wants from life. Is this her chance to carry on the family tradition and finally follow her dreams?


**This competition has now ended. Thanks to all who entered and keep checking back for more competitions in the future!**


To celebrate the publication of Finding Love at the Christmas Market we are offering one lucky reader the chance to win the ULTIMATE German Gingerbread chest.

Win a German Gingerbread Chest with Finding Love at the Christmas Market

Cosy up with your copy of Finding Love at the Christmas Market, a steaming mug of Glühwein and a plate of lebkuchen hearts, cinnamon stars and butter biscuits. What could be more Christmassy and transporting?

Finding Love at the Christmas Market

For your chance to win simply complete the entry form below before midnight on 7 December 2020.

Terms & Conditions and Penguin Privacy Policy apply. Good luck!

Win a Christmas Market Gingerbread Chest