Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Writing on Wednesday: A round of applause

As this is the last post of 2010 I thought I would reflect on what I have achieved this year.

  1. I finally picked up a pen and wrote something, instead of just thinking about it. 
  2. I wrote about 15,000 words of A Fish's Tale.
  3. The Trelawney Funerals came back to haunt me. No idea how much I wrote there, it was all in pen, in a notebook I had to wrestle back off the bubba who was enjoying scribbling all over every page.
  4. I resurrected the ole blog.
  5. I read: The Children's Book by AS Byatt, Saturday by Ian McEwan, The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly, Mortlock by Jon Mayhew, On Love by Alain de Botton, Superior Saturday by Garth Nix, The Bandini Quartet by John Fante, A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbry, Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton, One Day by David Nicholls, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and The Other Hand by Chris Cleave. There may have been some others, and on the whole I've read really good books this year. As I was writing the list I kept thinking: Oh great read. Oh yeah, I really enjoyed that. Oh, brilliant that. The last few were the duds unfortunately. 
  6. I signed up to do NaNoWriMo in October.
  7. I spent October planning A Twist in the Tail down to the nth degree (or so I thought).
  8. In November I wrote like a demon. 
  9. I organised four write-ins and met some chatty writers!
  10. I was introduced to the program Scrivener. Although it is bugging like crazy at the mo, in its current Beta 4 version, it's still brilliant. 
  11. I wrote 50,000 words and became a NaNo winner.
  12. Incidentally that was also the first draft of A Twist in the Tail.
  13. The revision is now at just over 5,000 words. I wrote four new chapters for the revision and cut three and a half of them!
  14. I got back into the critique group. 
  15. I have a name written in a notebook. She sounds like a pretty amazing character, but she's real and I'm not sure what I want to do with her, because I've never done faction before, nor do I know whether I want to do faction.
  16. I started scribbling down yet another first chapter for the Sands of Time. There are ideas kicking around there, but this will definitely be a 2011 project. 
  17. When I first sat in front of my computer in the summer, terrified at the thought of writing again, I couldn't do it. I could not frame a single good sentence. Not one word came. So I started to write a dancy/play/Japanese type thing. This thing has filled my head for years and years. This music is kind of like my muse, so I will leave you with a little bit of it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Itsy bitsy little practice run

The last time we were in the UK I bought Silly Billy by Anthony Browne. In it, the main character Billy worries about all kinds of things:

He worries about hats,
     He worries about shoes,
          He worries about clouds.

Lately, I've been worrying about the British Book Challenge that I've signed up to do.

I worry that my reviews will not be up to the mark,
     I worry that the books I read will be better than anything I can write,
          I worry that I won't like the books I read.

I suppose on the 'let's worry about more important things' front, I should worry about choosing the books. Who would have thought that in the 9-12 year old, fantasy genre there would be so many Australian writers? Or such a large number of books about dragons? Or books only available in hardback at the moment (such as the Ogre of Oglefort!) But after a little bit of research, I think I have chosen three books to get me started. I'm only starting with three because a) I'm not hugely convinced that I am writing for the 9-12 age range yet, but I can't find a 'tween section on Amazon. b) Because I can't commit myself to twelve straight away, so I'm going to do it in groups of three.

Next there is the how to write the review. In my blog travels I have seen that there there seems to be a certain format for reviewing books, whereas I tend to wibble on endlessly and kind of decide on the spot whether I like it or not. But in the spirit of trying to improve my reviews, and as the title of this post suggests, here is a wee practise run about a book I've just finished.

Title: The Other Hand
Author: Chris Cleave
Published: Sceptre, 2009

Synopsis:   On a sunny Nigerian beach two years ago, successful Sarah Summers and Little Bee fleeing from the men who have attacked her village meet. What happens on that beach profoundly changes both their lives. Two years later; the two meet again in England, Little Bee is now an illegal immigrant and Sarah has just lost her husband and is coming to terms with being a single parent. As their story unfolds we learn where the women have come from and how their lives became entwined. The story goes back and forth from Little Bee's and Sarah's point of view.

Star parts: The story starts from the moment where Little Bee is in the queue to leave the Immigration detention centre. Cleave does a fantastic job of weaving the story backwards and forwards in such a seamless fashion, that we never get lost in the story.

Little Bee's life and her reflections are eye opening. In fact the way he builds characters are amazing. Each of the women in the queue come to life before our eyes as we read the pages. The way he gets us to know each character through the see through plastic bags they carry is impressive.

Cleave has an ability to build the tension to such a point that he gets the reader to feel the exact emotions the characters are feeling. When Little Bee describes what ultimately happens to her sister as she is under the upturned boat, it is almost as if you can feel the heat and smell the sand and salt in the sea. There are parts of this story that will stay with the reader for a long time.

Black clouds: But - and I think in retrospect that this may be intentional - Sarah was awful. I found that with every page I turned I grew to dislike her more and more. I had no sympathy for her character and for someone who was meant to be intelligent, she was incredibly stupid, selfish and just downright odious. Towards the end of the book when she turns up on the plane you just know that the simple fact of her being there is an omen of catastrophes to come. That's Sarah's role in the book, to monumentally screw things up.

Another  black cloud was that although on the whole I liked the Little Bee character , I thought she was  older. I was never very clear about her age and it was only halfway through the book when Sarah's character clears up this issue that I realised how very young she was. It then made me think about whether Little Bee would act the way she did. 

Do I recommend it: Personally, I think  hearing an immigrant's story is important, and I think Chris Cleave does too, that's why he wrote the book, but unfortunately, as I close the book this is the overwhelming feeling that I am left with: Cleave wanted to write a book about immigration. Maybe it was the hokey : 'We don't want to tell you about what happens in this book.' blurb on the back or the 'notes' the author felt compelled to include, or the senior editors effusive: 'I hope you love this book as much as I do', but the alarm bells began ringing . If the book is so great why does Cleave feel the need to apologise for not being a Nigerian woman? Why won't he tell us about the book? And of course the senior editor loves the book. So my recommendation is that I half recommend it. If you do choose to read the book, skip those bits and read the book on the basis that it is a story and that Cleave is a halfway decent storyteller. Then tell me what you think.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Sunday Roast: A Christmas Feast

Having abandoned the kitchen during November, it continued to be a little scorned through December, and as for the Good Food site; well, I could be accused of neglect there. However, starting Christmas Eve and ending today, there has been a bit of a cooking frenzy going on.

From left to right, starting at the top: putting together the prawn chowder, the surprise winner - braised sea bass with green beans, the little glasses of prawn chowder for the apero, just cooked braised sea bass, pear and cranberry pies, roast beef (french style - e.g. raw!), roast veggies and lentil roast, smoked salmon platter with green salad and prawns and finally mushroom wellington

We decided to have fish on Christmas day, but when I went to buy the trout there wasn't any left. I took a risk and bought some bar, which google translate told me was bass. I don't know whether it was the 2002 Masburel that went into the sauce, but I think that this dish was definitely the overall winner as it was a complete surprise and well yummy. Everything else was also really nice, and I think I'll try the pies again, but this time make the pastry too. They are not as sweet as mince pies and there is a lovely mixture of sweet and bitter. The chowder is great as an apero and I might do it again for New Year's as it looks good and is so easy.

I hope you all had a good Christmas. And if you are all full up and can't eat another thing, maybe take a look at the Action against Hunger site, the charity we chose to support this year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Writing on Wednesday: Lipstick and Beta

One of the benefits of wasting many hours playing games on Facebook is that I have well and truly learnt the meaning of beta. So, I suppose it wasn't a complete waste of time as you won't find the definition in a dictionary. Did you look? Mine says, as I already knew it would, that it is the second letter of the Greek alphabet. I found a closer definition under beta-test:
n 1 a test of a new or modified piece of computer software by customers who volunteer to do so. *
A beta-reader is slightly different in that they are:
a) not testing a piece of software;
b) not volunteers.

Instead your beta-reader is reading your lovingly brought to life baby.  And in my case my beta-reader was chosen partly because he wouldn't let me open a bottle of champagne when I finished my first draft. But in retrospect it wasn't the only reason. During the month of November my beta-reader was abandoned every Sunday and for many hours in the week. Giving him the job of being the first person to read the whole thing all the way through is a kind of repayment in kind: Look, this is what I was doing when I wasn't with you. The last reason the Frog is my beta-reader is because he isn't going to beat around the bush and be kind just because he's my friend. On the bottom of chapter 2 was written:

Pas d’action, pas de suspense, pas d’émotion,
 He can get away with that, even though it went on for another line. The Frog aka my beta-reader is also taking the time to explain what he meant by the above. He liked reading it enough, it just lacked the punch of the opening chapter.

I took a while to allow myself a beta-reader. Even this time round, I thought to myself I'll just do a wee little polish and shine before I let the Frog read it. I tweaked and tweaked. Rearranged words, commas etc. and then hit send. And boy, the mistakes that were in it. Sometimes you need a beta, gamma, delta all the way to omega reader because you just can't see any more. You're so close that you either have to shut it away in a drawer until you forget about it, or you need your beta-reader who can see for you.

On the subject of the unopened bottle of champagne, Nicola Morgan suggested that we reward ourselves for all we have achieved this year. At the time I wasn't sure what I could reward myself with, but while the Frog was buying his mother some face cream or other I chose myself a new ... LIPSTICK. I then worked out that it has been a very long time since I bought one, an embarrassingly long time.

* definition from my Collins English Dictionary

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Fair Lady

Picture from here
I don't know if it was the fact that I was born in the 70's, or the fact that my parents were musical buffs, but basically every public holiday The Sound of Music was on. My dad has an old reel to reel tape of my brother and I singing along. Mum's favourite musical was My Fair Lady and she even bought a cassette and would sing along while she was doing the cleaning. My dad's favourite scene was obviously the: 'Come on Dover, come on Dover, move your bloomin' arse Dover.'

For many years My Fair Lady was not my favourite musical (maybe because it was linked to my pathological hatred of cleaning). And for many more years my love of musicals was almost a kind of dirty secret. I went; grudgingly, to all those high school productions, fully recognising that a teenager of that age must be really motivated to get past the humilation of getting on stage in the first place, but still it bugged me if they couldn't sing or there was some terrible miscasting.

Finally, some years back I could resist no longer. I was living in a foreign country where the chance of seeing a musical at Christmas was nil. A list was drawn up and for birthdays and Christmases DVDs were bought.

I managed to hold off for almost two years before the bubba's indoctrination began, but when I woke up with a bout of sinusitis and the bubba was recovering from yet another ear infection recently, The Wizard of Oz had to come out. Mary Poppins has since made its appearance and last night we watched only the songs of My Fair Lady to get us into the mood.

Yes, for last night we braved the slush and snow (excluding the metro part of it, for a whole three minutes) to go to the Teatre de Chatelet to see My Fair Lady. To be honest I think it would have had to be absolutely terrible for me not to enjoy it, but rest assured IT WAS FANTASTIC!!!!*

The set was made up of white and grey reliefs, which were brought to life by the sumptuous colours of the theatre goers leaving the Covent Garden Opera  under the snow (which mirrored the scene outside the doors of our theatre). The flower sellers and stall holders were dressed in drab browns and greys, and the moment Eliza Doolittle opened her mouth, Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison were forgotten as the definitive Eliza and Professor Higgins.

I've always liked Alfie Doolittle's numbers, but in this production they were outstanding. This is where the whole cast came out and recreated market London, and it was a credit to the musicians that they could do this kind of drunken roll of music and then pick up the song.

The scene at the races was a bath of colour; carefully choreographed to show the stiffness of the upper-class to a tee, and a big laugh was raised when the spectators dropped their champagne glasses simultaneously. For the ballroom scene, Eliza had this amazing dress and tiara on that even I the least girly girl admired. Again, the choreography of Zultan Karpathy weaving around the ballroom to try and get to Eliza was brilliant.

Photo from here
I loved the way Eliza's change was mirrored in her costume change from ragged and dark layers to dowdy greens and lace up shoes, to this fabulous red dress and heels that (in my opinion) were impossible to walk in.

The Frog and I loved every minute of it and were still singing as we got off the metro. In fact we still keep breaking into song now.

* Apologies for  gratuitous overuse of exclamation marks.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Writing on Wednesday: The Tea Room

I haven't been doing as much writing this week. That's because I've been doing some other stuff. This week I've been reading. I've been reading other people's writing. 

I find critiquing other people's work really hard. It's easy to spot a clumsy sentence, a spelling mistake, some poor punctuation. The rest is hard. For a start I'm not that positive. I worry that I'm too direct and don't highlight the good stuff enough. If I like something, great, but then I find it hard to focus on what could be better. If I think something is not good, I find it really hard to find something good in it and I find it really hard to put my finger on what it is that isn't working. 

So for my return to the critique group there were five pieces to work on from a picture book to an adult short story. Now, my experience of picture books is limited to what I read to my two year old. Faced with these five hundred odd words I felt myself beginning to enter a blind panic. And then I realised that actually my experience was exactly what I needed. What are the things that annoy me when I'm reading to the bubba and what do I like?  I managed to add a few comments that I hope are useful.

The ones that were OK or I really liked, made me realise that one reading was not enough, you miss stuff. So I printed it out really small and shoved it in my bag to read on the bus. The distance between the beginning of the day and the end meant I gave each piece a different reading and I hope some useful critique.

Now the piece that was not so good also sent me into a bit of a tailspin. Something was not working, something was making an otherwise intriguing story a bit wrong, but I could not for the life of me put my finger on it. What was it? What wasn't working? I did a bit of an internet search and found Jody Hedlund's blog. I find myself guilty of a couple of the crimes she names, but I am thankful that she gave me a couple of pointers and there I was, able to put some relevant comments onto the document.

To ease me back into the group, I got the Frog to check my first chapter so I knew what worked and didn't. The Frog was pretty spot on, but the thing he didn't have a problem with was the shifting points of view, but I think I know how to fix it now.

Which brings me neatly to the last thing I want to talk about tonight. After NaNo I had a plan. The wip grant? Does that ring a bell? And have you noticed how I'm not exactly mentioning it lately. Well, you see, it seems that the act of writing a synopsis and a query letter is just as difficult as writing a book. Not to mention the fact that that first chapter needs to be mind blowingly brilliant. And I just can't see it all happening before February, but by next February, maybe. So to new goals. Writer Unboxed lists seven tasks to get you from the first to the second draft. I have to confess that out of the seven tasks I am focussing on only one of the them. The goal setting one. I've always been a goal setting kind of girl, so that one speaks to me above the others right now. So, here are the new goals:
  • I'm looking at NaNo as a half draft rather than a first draft. Usually I do a quick edit straight away and I didn't do that in November, so this is the quick edit.
  • The Frog is my beta reader for EVERY chapter. 
  • The critique group will get whatever chapter I am working on when we next meet. 
  • When first/revised draft is ready I will ask ONE person to read and critique it.
  • Then I will stick it into a drawer and write the first draft of the millionth version of Sands of Time (which was always a naff title). In fact I've been kind of writing it already, while I've been on the bus on the way to work... I had to.
* The photo is where the opening scene of my first chapter takes place.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

No roast this Sunday

I signed up for Twitter on Friday night before going to bed. I stuck in my e mail, chose a password, added a photo, picked ten people to follow, thought: is this it then? and went to bed.

Yesterday my membership for scribblerati came through and I got to read Lia Keyes article on why every writer should tweet. It seems to be about asking advice, promoting yourself and making connections. In the past the blog did that. I can't quite remember how, but I vaguely remember trawling through writer blogs until I found one I liked, leaving comments, going through her blogroll to find more blogs I liked and gradually I built up a readership. Which all but vanished in 2008, when the enormous time, milk and brain eater came along. It's been a bit sad realising that I had to start from scratch again, and I'm not very good at putting myself out there, but well people are dropping by, and things have changed so much in two years.

For a start there's Facebook. I get a fair amount of traffic through networked blogs. Plus, networked blogs made it easy to go through my friends blog roll and find a couple of new blogs I like. I've not been very big on the leaving comments front this time, but we'll see.

And then everyone seemed to be talking about Twitter. I wasn't at all sure about it and although Lia Keyes article made sense in terms of the why, it wasn't that easy in terms of the how. I read her article at least three times thinking:
  • What are hashtags?
  • What's RT?
  • So how do you get people to follow you?
Thankfully, Lia's article had a bunch of links, which was a bit like following breadcrumbs in the deep, dark forest, but eventually I landed on : Help! I need a publisher, which is written by Nicola Morgan, try the link and then you can find out about her all by yourself. Alternatively, you could follow her on Twitter and see what happens. What happened to me, was that I wrote an effusive comment on Part I saying thank you for writing the idiot's guide to Twitter and by the time I was on Part II, I was being given fags, vodka and all sorts! OK, it was all virtual and that was about the moment when the Frog arched an eyebrow and said the words: waste of time, but the point is that after a little bit of research, it wasn't that hard to dip my toe in. I shall be tentatively working my way through the rest of Part II to VI, but for now, I'm going to go and write a little bit. See the thing is I have a critique group meeting on Wednesday and as the Frog has uttered those words, I have to prove to him I'm not wasting time. I've decided that he will be my Beta reader. He read a chapter in the summer and as he's French I figure he's got the reading ability of an 9-10 year old, plus he made some very pertinent points.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A few changes

What with the bubba having a throat infection and the Frog being in Germany I've had a couple of days to concentrate on writing this week and do writerly stuff. I wrote a few chapters on the wip. I'm not altogether happy with them, but it did make me think: 'What is the purpose of these chapters?' and I think I've got that pretty clear in my head now.

I had a wee chat with Gary Smailes over at BubbleCow. I'm finding this blog ever so useful at the moment. There is a wealth of advice about how to get published on the site. Plus you can sign up for the writing gang and get a weekly newsletter, and every now and again this little box pops up where you can type in a question and Gary really answers. I can say that now, because I typed in a question and got an answer, a couple of recommendations of books to read and got a sneak peek at the soon to be revealed question and answer page.

At the mo, Gary is doing a regular feature of Great Writer Links across the web. I had a good read, which inspired a few changes on this blog. Go on have a look, see if you can spot them. No, oh OK I'll tell you then. For a start I've put Miss V to bed. She was useful when the blog started out, but I want to concentrate on the writing now. Anyone who has been around since 2006 knows who I am. I'm not going to publish a book as Verilion, so I'm just going to be me from now on.

I also added a photo to my profile, rewrote the home page so that it's a little more interesting (I hope) and wiggled some of the widgets around. According to what I've read tonight, I need to concentrate on content, not the frame, so although I was thinking about farting about with the page design I've now decided not to do that. I also need to decide who my audience is. I'm fairly convinced the blog is for writers and people interested in books and all things writerly. All through November I was thinking about ending the Sunday Roast posts, it served its purpose in getting me back into the blog, but I'm not sure I want to give it up for good. And as for the photos, I'm sure people who are interested in all things bookish can put up with a photo once a week, hey?

While the Frog joined some the thousands of snow blocked drivers around Ile-de-France on Wednesday night and took four hours to get home, I thought I'd use the time to go through the Writers and Artists Yearbook for prospective agents. It was a bit of a depressing thing to do as it seems no one is accepting new clients, but it was a start. I think I only got to the letter B in my search, but I found loads of other resources while I was at it, so I now have a folder labelled agents on my web browser toolbar.

I can't quite remember how I came across Scribblerati, whether it was through Lia Keyes or Nicky Schmidt, but I decided to join, my membership is pending approval. One of the articles on it is: Why Every Writer should Tweet. That made me laugh out loud, because my current status on Facebook is: To tweet or not to tweet? That is the question. The jury is still out on Twitter, it took me a while to get into Facebook and then it took me a while longer to stop playing Scrabble and Treasure Madness on it! So, we'll see, we'll see. Meanwhile, I think I'll get me to bed.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Writing on Wednesday: A New Challenge

I have to say that after NaNoWriMo I wasn't really looking for another challenge. After all, I do have my wip grant challenge, but that is getting a bit lost in the rewrite. I realised (skip this bit if I've mentioned it before) that I quite like action, but by starting with the action there was no build up of the friendship between Ella and Morgane. Also, a part of Ella's character that I deemed important was completely ignored in the first draft. In building up the friendship and putting the swimming back in, the story is now wandering off (over dramatic off stage horror scream).

So, as I was saying I wasn't looking for another challenge, but this one just jumped out at me. I was reading Lucy Coates blog over at Scribble City Central and she mentioned casually that she was going to take part in a book challenge. Oooh, I thought. She introduced new readers to Becky of the The Bookette blog and the concept of the challenge. So, then I tootled over to The Bookette blog to have a look and this is what I found...

The BBC (hee hee) is a reading challenge where bloggers sign up to read books by British writers throughout 2011.

The books can be in print or out. Old or new titles. They can be from any genre and for any age.
The idea is for British bloggers to read 12 titles by 12 British authors over 2011 and to review one of the books each month. I will be an International Friend what with not living in Blighty any more and I choose to take part in the Royal Family challenge (the other option was Winston Churchill and 6 books, but that doesn't strike me as much of a challenge). There is also a chance to earn a crown if you read 50 books, but where I think I can do 12 easily, I think I may have to resort to cheating to achieve 50 (e.g. picture books of the sort: Is that Bunny Blue Ears? NO! Is that Bunny Blue Ears? NO!) 

The thing is that I can also use this challenge to help me. One piece of advice that Lynne Garner gave away for free the other day was: 
well [you] should research other books already published in the same genre, who has published them, why [your] book different?
So, I shall try to do that.Now what shall I read? Well, I will be looking to Becky's site for some recommendations for a start, followed by Celia Rees recommendation of the independent online magazine: Armadillo, which is full of children's book news, reviews and interviews. I found it very useful yesterday and may have picked my next class reader. In fact maybe that's what I will start with: The Ogre of Oglefort. I don't know if Eva counts as she was born in Vienna, before ending up in Devon, but there we go, tis my choice. Now I just need to get it before January!

Monday, December 06, 2010

What thinks you?

In case you're wondering where's the feedback on the SCBWI event I was going on about last week; here it is. I woke up on Thursday, possibly Friday feeling a bit ooh err. I tossed and turned for a bit and then thought I would go to the little girl's room and see if that made it better. So to cut to the chase it didn't and by Saturday, although I was on the mend, I was only up for getting from bed to the sofa and shuffling about a bit. I don't know what it is with SCBWI events, but every time I sign up I get sick. Maybe someone else should sign me up for them, so that my immune system doesn't know and can't let me down.

Anyway, I was wondering about something else. A few weeks ago I joined a writing gang. In fact that's what its called. It's run by Caroline and Gary Smailes and is a site full of top tips. There are round-ups of all things writerly on the web, they send you a loving and extremely in depth e mail every week, which is then supported by something even more in depth on the blog. In a way I am a little overwhelmed by all the information I am being bombarded with, but I am filing it away for future reference, because it will come in useful one day. I have yet to leave a writing gang comment, because frankly at the moment all I want to say is 'Thank you' and I have a feeling that that is a bit pants, but I am thankful, because the advice seems very good. And furthermore, all I had to do was enter my e mail address.

SCBWI is also full of good advice, I am sure, but I pay $70 a year for the priviledge and I have yet to profit from an event due to lurgy bugs and what not. It does give me access to forums and crit groups and directories, so all good. It also seems very well run and professional.

Then I came across a post by Lynne Garner  and I found myself wiggling my nose and screwing up my mouth in a questioning way. Lynne Garner is a professional published author who is running courses on how to get published and offering one-to-one coaching. She is plugging her courses on the post and saying that we would pay for a plumber, so why not her?

The thing is, that even before I finished reading it I thought, NO! NO! NO! I recognise that there is a paradox in my argument here and should Lynne Garner ever read my post I will be pissing her off for life, but here goes, I will try to explain.

Caroline and Gary Smailes are mostly offering their advice for free. They recognised that it was difficult to get published, they wanted to share an experience et voila. The mentoring and copy editing is a paid service (well paid), but you get the website and tons of resources first and if you are pleased as a customer you get to choose whether you want to pay for more. Call me naive, but it seems that they are spending a lot of their time sharing things they have found useful.

SCBWI is a paid service, but it's been going for years. Lots of its members are published and its recognised as a good society to be part of if you want to break into children's publishing. They run great conferences and the nice people of SCBWI put up youtube videos on Facebook for those of us unable to go. They have masterclasses on video, there is a magazine, they offer grants. You know, you get your money's worth.

So to go back to Lynne Garner's point of we pay for the plumber. Well, yes, unless the plumber is your lovely neighbour's brother and out of the kindness of his heart he fixes your tap for free. Or we pay for the plumber who comes with the highest recommendations of as many people as possible, because otherwise they're a bit renowned for ripping people off, aren't they?

A Memory: The crown

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Where I grew up

This is where I grew up. It didn't look like this when I was little; then it was a rectangular red brick building with not as many windows and NO toilets. The children's section was separated from the adults section and I remember spending hours flicking through all the children's book, while my Mum was on the other side choosing her reading material for the week.

During the summer holidays, the library would dutifully show Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and my brother and I would dutifully troop off to see it... again. Another thing they would do during the holidays was have themed reads. I got well into The Worst Witch series one half term, because she had a lovely little cat and she just messed things up, a bit like me.

You could say I became a writer at the library, as I would come home and tell my brother and parents stories about all the imaginary friends I played with at the library. Those characters were probably some of the realest, roundest, well developed characters I ever made up.

When I came back from university a bit disillusioned with the way the British education was going and unemployed I lived in that library. I went through the directories there and found voluntary work. I went through the Times Ed every week until I found a job. And more importantly I read loads of trade paperbacks of all my favourite comics, and some that I just thought I would try. I also learnt to cook more than chilli, curry and lasagne. Once a week or maybe more, I would cook my parents dinner. My Mum was generally quite grateful as it meant she didn't have to cook and my Dad just hoped it was a week where I only cooked once and meat would be back, but all those recipes came from books from the library.

These are just some of the memories I have of my library. I no longer live in the UK, but some of the things I miss are a writing community, which is why I blog. I miss certain foods, which is why there is a Holland and Barrat's bag full of meat free sausage mix in my larder. And I miss the library, because I love books and I love the memories that go with my library.

I cannot imagine my childhood without Southfields library and I cannot imagine why the UK Government is planning on closing 250 libraries. Neither can all these people around the blogosphere :
Nicky Schmidt
Jon Mayhew
Lucy Coats
Jude Ensaff
Gillian Philip
Dave Cousins
If you cannot and would like to take action join this page on Facebook: Campaign for the Book official facebook site

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Writing on Wednesday: NaNoWriMo - It's all over!

What's going on?
Well, a little while ago I told the Frog that I was thinking of applying for a wip grant, but the only problem was that I needed to write the wip first. The Frog looked at me and asked me how I planned to do that when I couldn't even manage writing one day a week. The guy had a point, even if it did rather annoy me at the time.
So, when Lia Keyes who runs the Facebook SCBWI fan page mentioned that I was doing NaNo I thought to myself  'Mmm, why not? How hard can it be to write 1,667 words a day?' Well, let me tell you that after thirteen and a half hour days, the thought of sitting at the laptop and churning out two words was occasionally too much. In the end there was only three days when I didn't pen a word, today being one of them because I've FINISHED. Thankfully November in France is blessed with two national holidays, which helped enormously. The Frog and bubba also helped by braving the rain and tootling off for a weekend.

The Regional Advisor of the France chapter of SCBWI suggested that I organise some write-ins. In the end I was the only SCBWI member that attended the write-ins I organised. It was kind of weird meeting up with a bunch of strangers every week, but it was kind of sweet comparing word counts and sharing biscuits and tap tapping away. There was one week where the group was a little chatty, but on the whole I tended to churn out a good 2,000 words each Sunday, which kept me good for the light word days during the week,

So, now I have this thing in a red plastic folder and I've been reading it. I can see the bits where I was totally exhausted -lots of telling, not showing. I've done what I'm good at, the dialogue is pretty good, the story is pretty exciting, if I say so myself. But it's the skeleton of a book. I need to slow down, describe settings and build the characters a little before I launch into the action.

I think, I've also decided to cut a character, but I'm not sure. Well, I'm almost a 100% sure that I need to cut the character, but he's moved the plot along in ways that are important. The thing is that if I cut him, I need to try and work out how to move the plot along in the way I want to. Plus, the scenes he's in are quite good, I like them, but oooh.


Today Ella is on the Timaeus. She's skipped school (naughty girl), but she's pretty happy, unsure of how things are going to pan out, but pretty happy.
Leo is also on the Timaeus and he is like the cat that got the cream. He came, he saw and he did what he meant to do (with lots of help from his friends, of course).
And Will is ... we don't really need to know what he's doing, do we? Whatever it is, I assure you he's enjoying it.

My word count is at 50,454 words and I am a ...

Check me out here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Sunday Roast: Entertaining

Here in France there is a programme called Un diner presque parfait. Its UK equivalent is Come dine with me. The idea is that five people are brought together. Each night one of the contestants cooks a fabulous meal and the other contestants judge them on the quality of their meal, their ability as the host or hostess with the mostest and the décor of their table. At the end of the week the host with the most points wins. Simple right?

I know for a fact that I would not win. For a start the table decor is well and truly the Frog's job. Aperitifs are provided courtesy of Picard, dessert by one of the guests and I almost always fall asleep at the end of the meal. Sometimes I fall asleep at the table, other times its the corner of the sofa, but usually I am shaken or kicked in time to say goodbye to the guests, or before I start snoring. 

Despite my obvious flaws in the area of entertaining, I still like to pretend that I'm participating each time I have people round to dinner. I try to follow the cardinal rule of: don't spend  too much time in the kitchen once the guests have arrived (unless of course I haven't actually even started cooking by the time they arrive).

My other idea of entertaining is that if it works once, do it again with a different bunch of friends, then move along and find something new.

The following recipe has been tried and tested on a few friends. I think I need to make some new friends so that I can have it again. I usually have it with some roast vegetables: parsnips, carrots and potatoes.

Salmon en croute (ever so slight adapted from this version)

150g mascarpone or cream cheese
about 120g of mache, spinach and rocket,
I found packets of 4 puff pastry squares that I like to use, but you can use short crust if you like
2 salmon fillets
1 egg, beaten
  1. Heat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. 
  2. Put the mascarpone or cream cheese in a food processor with the mache, spinach and rocket and whizz the lot until you have a creamy green purée. Season well.
  3. Take out your puff pastry squares. Cut the salmon fillets in half and put the salmon in the middle. If it has a thinner tail end, tuck it under. 
  4. Spoon half of the watercress mixture onto the salmon. Now fold the pastry over into a neat parcel.
  5. Brush with the egg glaze.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and browned. To test whether the salmon is cooked, push a sharp knife through one of the cuts into the flesh, wait for 3 seconds then test it against the inside of your wrist; if it is hot, the salmon is cooked. 
  7. Serve with the rest of the  purée as a sauce. 
Prepare up to stage 5 and prepare your roasties before your guests arrive and then you can pop it all in the oven as you finish your apero and just before you have your starter. Sorted.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Writing on Wednesday: NaNoWriMo Day 24

What's going on?
There is not a great deal to add on the what's going on front. It's the last week of NaNo and the word count is crawling up. The thing is that I am being very careful about writing the second story arc in a way that is probably not befitting of NaNo. I think it's also the fact that I am getting closer to the end and it's almost like I don't want to finish. Although it's not as if I'll be letting go of my little creations for very long.

For a start there is the SCBWI From Idea to Book conference. I'm sort of registered to go. I uhmmed and ahhed about going and by the time I decided I would like to go I had missed the early bird deal, so then I uhmmed and ahhed some more. In the end I have been offered a special dessert deal. You'll be seeing me and my red caddie, full of picard goodies and who knows what else, trundling down rue Abbe Groult and rue de Commerce come December 4th.

The other reason I won't be letting go of my little buddies for too long is that I've decided to apply for one of the SCBWI work in progress grants. In fact I decided to do that before I decided to do NaNo and then I realised that unless I did NaNo I wasn't going to have a work in progress. I don't really want the $2000, it's more that I want someone who's in the industry to read it. I want to know whether this is a glorified hobby, or whether I need to really knuckle down.

So I'll get 2,500 words good, tidy up the rest, find a crit partner and leave it alone for a bit. I have another little seed that I'm not too sure what to do with, but it seems quite exciting, landslides, lightning strikes, and all sorts of adversity. Oh my.


Today Ella is still in suspended animation outside the bathroom door.
Leo is still lost somewhere.
And Will is obviously still lost too, seeing as he's with Leo.

My word count is at 40,777 words.

Check me out here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Sunday Roast: A shocking surprise.

When it comes to cooking, alcohol makes everything taste GOOD. Now I don't want to come across as an old sot. I don't consume gallons and gallons of drink every day, but I do love a good glass of wine. There is nothing to beat that feeling of warm, pure velvet dribbling down your throat.

The following recipe is a delightful pleasure because it combines some of my favourite ingredients: mushrooms, lentils and wine. It is one of my favourite VEGETARIAN recipes (and sssh, yes I know that wine isn't vegetarian).

As long as things are not completely full of mushrooms I feel that it is OK to give it to the Frog. Normally, I would eat this dish with mashed potato, but the first time I served it up to the Frog, I felt that I needed to give him meat . A sausage I suggested, I don't know why, I just felt a sausage would go well with it. The Frog agreed that a sausage would indeed go well.

I tootled off to Monoprix, picked up the various ingredients and then went off to peruse the sausage shelf. I looked left to right, right to left, and then my eyes jerked upwards. When I had suggested a sausage it wasn't because I had intrinsically known which meat would marry well with the lentils. This was why I knew sausages would go well:

It's because this meal is a French staple! I had been hoodwinked by Vegetarian Good Food magazine! An ex of mine had once said that he felt that all my recipes would taste better with meat. And now here I was seeing that indeed in this case, my recipe usually was with meat.

Despite, the sense of betrayal and upset that the French had invented this recipe first, and added meat, it's still damn nice. Feel free to add the sausage if you must, but I still prefer it with a dollop of mash on the side.

Mushroom and Lentil casserole

400g of various mushrooms (go for it, they all taste nice in this)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
2 leeks
1 carrot
175 g green lentils (puy lentils are especially yummy)
150 ml red wine
300 ml vegetable stock

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and then add the onion, leek and carrot. Cook until soft. 
  2. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes until soft.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients (except for the parsley) and bring to the boil. Then cover and simmer for 35-40 minutes. Check regularly that you haven't run out of liquid.
  4. Add the parsley and serve with whatever takes your fancy.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day 20

What's going on?

Well yesterday I went to work, while the rest of the family snoozed away because they were having a day off. Progress on the wip this week has been sloow, and reports have been written at the rate of knots. So, as you can see I opted for the no sleep till December route.

So Ella, Leo and Will's story arc is kind of in suspended animation at the moment. Imagine them frozen, waiting for the next tap on the keyboard to wake them up.

This week in the aftermath of the SCBWI event in Winchester, there has been loads of feedback and I realised that I am very much a plot driven writer. I have this idea in my head and I wiggle and weedle and twist and turn and then I sit down to write and the characters come alive. The thing is, I was spending so much time with Will, Leo and Ella that whenever Morgane and Miranda came into the story they were, well... a bit flat to say the least. It was at this point in week 2 that I realised the potential of Scrivener (I know, I sound like a sales pitch). I didn't have to write Morgane and Miranda's story line straight away, in fact I merrily skipped a chapter with a smile on my face.

And now I'm writing them and just slotting them in where I think I want them. As I've already written the other stuff, I know exactly how much to give away or not. I have to say, that I am just a little pleased with myself (yeah, you've probably been doing that for years).

Lastly, I'm writing this in my new writing corner. I've been trying to grab a little space since the summer. It involved rearranging the bedroom and tidying it up. I got a little platform thingy and a cork board. Every now and again I would squirrel myself away and tap away. I've used it more during NaNo, but recently, I've reverted to the breakfast tray on the bed and me in it.

So today when I got home, the desk was installed in a corner with my laptop on it and the Frog has moved his desktop.

Today Ella is outside an open door. All she needs to do is step through it, but the voice she can hear on the other side of the door has stopped her in her tracks. 

Leo is somewhere in the Manning Mansion. I have to admit that I've kind of let him get lost.

And Will is lost with Leo! Eek

My word count is at 35,276 words.

Check me out here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Writing on Wednesday: NaNoWriMo Day 17

What's going on?

Well the cat is trying to launch a sneak attack on the little bits of chicken left in the bubba's plate and the bubba is having none of it. But that wasn't really what I was asking, was it. Well... basically after the weekend writeathon I hit 30,000 words and I'm nearing the end of the wip. But, I'm shattered, which I knew I would be, which is why I was trying to pace myself on Thursday, but then blew it on Saturday and Sunday. So on Monday and Tuesday I wrote pathetic amounts and this morning I rolled over turned off the alarm at 6.15 and was found still in bed snoring (so the rumour goes) half an hour later.

Basically, I need to decide whether to write this week off and only concentrate on reports (for the day job), or whether to just go for it and sleep in December.

Today Ella is about to go rushing off to the Manning Mansion, near Mullion's Cove. She is pretty much working on adrenaline at the moment and is not really thinking about the consequences of what she might find at the mansion. 

Leo is a bit lost. He's is fairly certain that Ella and Will are helping him to find his sister. It's all the stuff that happened afterwards that he's not sure about. Like, who is Miranda? Where did she come from? Why do Will and Ella think Miranda is with Morgane? And why do they have to get to the Manning Mansion by four o'clock? Why must this press conference not go ahead?

And Will is also a bit confused, but he's more confused about his feelings. For a start he wishes so much that it was him holding this press conference and not his blooming boss. He also knows how wrong it is to think that, even if he does have one live sample in his kitchen. But it's best not to go down that road, instead he'll just think about Miranda. But no,  that's all too confusing too. What if she is there? And what if she isn't?

My word count is at 31,278 words.

Check me out here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Sunday Roast: Diets and Cook Books

I am one of those people whose weight fluctuates. The only time I start to think about dieting is when I get near the 70 kilo mark. This has happened on several occasions throughout my life. Once when I was doing my A levels and my idea of exercising was waddling to the bus. Another time was after two years of living in Spain and living off tortilla (totally yummy and totally fattening). The first time I gave up giving up smoking I hit the 70 mark and the last time I hit it was at the end of my pregnancy. On each occasion I lost the weight either through boot camp style exercise ( a summer job at the post office) or through some crazy diet my Dad, work colleague or gynaecologist suggested.

The problem with diets is that they are either difficult to follow or the food is horrible. And you don't need to be a rocket scientist to work out that eventually the diet is going to fail. After giving up on food combining and The South Beach Diet, I finally ended up trying Weight Watchers, where to be perfectly honest, everything they propose tastes like pants. South Beach on the other hand had well yummy recipes, but an impossible regime to follow. And let's not even go down the food combining road hey.

So, this is where in the end Weight Watchers wins out. You can eat whatever you want. Seriously, I know colleagues who have done WW, stuck within their points, but lived on beer for three months and still lost weight. It's not healthy, but voila.

For me to succeed at WW, I had to eat good food. Tasty food. And The South Beach Diet cookbook is full of tasty recipes, really full. I've tried two, maybe three of them. I'm terrible with cookbooks. I see them, I covet them, I try a handful of recipes out of them. They take up space on my shelf that could otherwise be filled with fiction and in the end they get covered in dust. I have vowed to buy no more. The internet has rendered cookbooks obsolete.  So before I pack the things away for good, I'll share the one or two recipes from each book that I use.

Aubergine Pasta

1 big aubergine sliced lengthways
a tin of tomatoes
loads of fresh basil roughly cut
olive oil
1 tbsp tomato purée
clove of garlic

  1. Brush the aubergines with oil and grill each side for 5 minutes, then set aside until cool (trust me on this one, cutting hot aubergine is painful).
  2. Heat the oil and add the onion and garlic. Cook until soft. 
  3. Add the tinned tomatoes, purée and loads of fresh basil. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. 
  4. Cut up the aubergine up and add to the sauce for about 5 minutes. 
  5. Add pepper.
I prefer this sauce with tagliatelli, but we all have our own preferences.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day 13

What's going on? 
Well, I haven't actually done any writing as such today, what with it being 8 o'clock in the morning. The thing is I did do some writing last night. In case I haven't mentioned this (enough times) I am on my own this weekend. So for the first time in just over two years I can totally have a lie in, I have absolutely no reason to get up and at 7 o'clock I realise that I'm actually awake and planning a scene in my head that I haven't written and will actually need to be shoved in quite early on. At that point, I realised that even if my arms and legs were not conscious, my head was, so I moved my body grabbed my laptop a couple of cables and came back to bed. Well, if I can't sleep in, at least I'm not going to get out of bed!

So two things and I really will try to keep it to two things today. Firstly, after I finished writing last night it suddenly dawned on me that I was basically over the midway hump and therefore careering towards the end of my wip. A bit of quick math and I realised there was a great possibility that with the way I was going I wasn't going to hit 50,000 words with this wip. There was a moment of disappointment when I realised I wasn't going to be a NaNo winner, but like I say that was short, because then I realised that I'm going to get this wip out. It's not complicated, no, what I mean is convoluted. It's got a manageable number of characters, and unless I do nothing but sit on my laurels in December and January, I do have a chance of achieving goal number two. All I will say about goal number two is I need fifteen well written pages.

But then I started to panic. What if the book is too short? Because let's face it, I don't know about you guys, but when I edit, I slash and there are already some scenes that need to be GONE. Which doesn't mean that they won't get put elsewhere, but what I've taken a chapter to TELL, will be SHOWN elsewhere.

A bit of internet research and I realised that my word count is going to be good as a first time author, but in December I really need to decide who I'm aiming for. I know that my wip is not YA, but then I don't think it's traditionally Middle Grade (8-12) either. It seems that there is a new 'Tween' audience of 10-14 year olds and I guess I'm there.  Either way, the word count is OK, so no worries there.

So to the second point. The other day I mentioned Scrivener quickly. It has been developed for a Mac (grr...) but they are running a BETA test for Windows with the Windows version coming out in 2011. If you are signed up for NaNo you can get a free trial of the Mac version until December 1st and if you are a winner than you will get a discount coupon for it. If you are a Windows user you can use it until December 12th, when you can then download another BETA version.

But what is it? Well the link explains a lot better than I will, but I'll try. So, I've used the analogy of a writer's shed, but I've never had a writer's shed, so I'll try and explain it the best way I can.
  • First there was the outline written on green post its and stuck on the corkboard in order.
  • Next came some sketches of locations and pictures that would help with those locations, plans of a yacht. Stuff like that. 
  • Then there was the notebook. It's almost full with notes, timelines, ideas, back stories, motivation letters and little 'ooh aah' moments that I get on the bus. I then come home and write dates all over the green post its, so that when I'm writing that bit I know where to look in the notebook. 
  • Then there is a word document called notes. This contains links to that wonderful, if slightly unreliable, resource wikipedia, where most of my research is done. OK there is other stuff as well, a lot of street view and a pdf file for a German submarine makers site. 
  • Then there are the chapters written on Word. 
  • Then there is the Word Master Document where I put all the individual files together (sometimes adding the same chapter twice and making my word count jump significantly, so that first I get excited and then I realise, who am I kidding, you know you didn't write that much).
OK, well Scrivener puts all that stuff together in one place, and formats your work into a manuscript automatically at the end. In addition, it has this funky little keywords function, so that you can then search through your wip so that you can call up the chapters with a certain character or location in it. Like I said, I can't use it on the bus (unless you have an i pad Father Christmas), but it's full of possibilities, especially on the mac where it has all the features.

So now to whip that wip into shape.

Today Ella is making connections, connections. She's just realised who has Morgane. Now the problem is how are they going to get her.  

Leo is on a pretty low ebb. For a little guy who is usually pretty chirpy, even in the face of dire adversity, he's realised that if Ella is right than the Mearh are in big, big trouble. But Ella could be wrong? Right?

And Will is totally off track and wondering what's going on between Leo and Ella. He's little, she's tall. He's weird, she's pretty cool, even if he is a bit biased. And what about his cephalopod? Travis has gone off on a tangent instead of trying to find the ROV.

My word count is at 23,537 words.

Check me out here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day 11

So today is day 11 of NaNoWriMo and after yesterday's NaNo lost my MoJo, I've managed to get back a bit into the rhythm. The frog has driven off into the pouring rain with the cat and the bubba to Charente. They have arrived safely, thankfully. I should maybe write a story about the lesser rain god of the A10, but I think Douglas Adams has already done that. And besides I'm digressing. My point is that I have four (if we ignore the fact that the only reason I'm not in Charente is because of work tomorrow) days of blissfully free writing hours. I've taken over the dining room table. The sink is filling up, I've drunk far too many cups of tea and right now I would be making the bubba's dinner, but instead I'm writing this and listening to Coldplay far too loudly.

Today Ella is trying to think up a good excuse for getting her Dad to drag her to Truro.

Leo is wondering why his excuse was pants (but of course, he isn't using the words pants as that is far too colloquial).

And Will is finally getting his moment on the page. After totally misjudging Travis, Will is wondering whether he will have to include Travis's name when he unveils the discovery of a totally unknown cephalopod. Then again he's also wondering how he is going to continue to finding out about the cephalopod now that Travis has lost the research submarine. Oh no, that's right, according to Travis it isn't lost, somebody stole it. Yeah, Travis isn't all that bad, but he is living in James Bond world. Who would steal a 4 tonne research sub? And more to the point, HOW would they steal it.

My word count is at 19,869 words.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Writing on Wednesday: NaNoWriMo Day 10

What's going on?

Not a great deal since Sunday. I really got into the story on Sunday and basically Monday and Tuesday have been a real struggle to hit the word count. I think that I am having a couple of problems here.

Firstly there was a pep talk sent out this week entitled: Silencing your inner editor. So far, I have completely failed to do that. As a result I have been spending every waking moment planning the first edit! I even thought of editing my synopsis the other day!

This leads onto the next point. Rather over optimistically, the day before NaNo started I hoped  I didn't write:
a big steaming pile of poop
and boy am I doing just that. It pains me, because I know I can write better than that. On purpose, I am just getting it down on the page. Sometimes some dialogue shines though, sometimes I think oh! But mainly it's like... mmm, well it's a bit crap.

Maybe NaNo is all about rediscovering your inner vomiter. In 2007 I set myself this goal of writing my first draft of The Shaelhan Sensors during the summer holidays. I churned out thousands and thousands of words and got the story out. Then came the critique, which was just an amazing learning curve. The problem is I think I'm still in that second mode. I've lost the blurt it out onto the page part of me.

The other difference between Shaelhan and this WIP is that, yes I did it in two months, but I was on HOLIDAY! So my final point is I am a wee bit tired (read knackered).

Anyway, I will try and knock something out tonight and then tomorrow I have the day off because it's Armistice Day (I think - I know it's terrible that I'm not a 100% sure). So, I'll try to catch up and get the momentum going again.

So my very final point (I promise) is about momentum. It's kind of hard to get it going when you are constantly interrupted.

OK, enough woe is me, in the end the word count is not that bad, but I do think we are hitting a bit of a midway lull. The thing is that I want to keep the pace of this WIP racing, and I planned it day by day so that something exciting happened every day. Then I got into the pace and I got through the action a bit quicker than I planned. So maybe I should just do what I said I would do on Sunday and make a note to myself and get on as if I had fixed it.

Oh, and this is completely by the by, but if you are signed up on NaNo you can get a free trial of Scrivener. It's described as the equivalent of the writer's shed, and as I don't have a writer's shed I thought I would check it out. I'm about a third of the way through the tutorial and it seems quite exciting. I feel a bit low tech with my corkboard and notebook. The main disadvantage I see with it is that as I don't have an i pad, how am I supposed to use it on the bus? See the notebook fits into my handbag and I took photos of my corkboard and that's on my mobile. Oh well, we'll see.

So now to how the dudes are doing today.

Today Ella is still a bit miffed. She's not a 100% sure if Morgane was ever her friend, or just using her to get access to her Dad and information she needed. Despite this, Ella's decided to help Leo because he's pretty honest and upfront, and she can really understand how he feels.

Leo is sitting at Ella's table baring his soul. Well, at least he is trying to, as concisely as possible. But somewhere, deep down he is also beginning to entertain the possibility that he may never see his sister again.

And Will is now out of the pub and a little hungover (oh OK, a lot) and he's a bit worried about his colleague Travis. Up until last night he thought Travis was a bit of a geek. Now he's discovered that Travis is the laughing stock of the town, mocked for being the only fisherman in Penwithen never to have caught a fish. He's also derided for his inability to navigate and poor steering skills. Given what Will has heard, he's pacing around by the harbour walls waiting for Travis to return on the Timaeus.

My word count is at 16,661 words.

Check me out here.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day 7

What's going on?

This week's learning curve has been quite steep. For a start, I learnt that no matter how much I thought I had planned there were still some chasm like holes in my plot. The chronology was a bit out of whack and if we were to do a tension graph there were definitely some parts of the plot where readers would be bordering on snoozing rather than sitting on the edge of their seats (read last weeks NaNo update for confirmation).

Normally at the falling asleep stage I would go back and just do a rewrite. And silly old me, tried to pep up a chapter a little bit on Saturday. The problem was I was really tired (that's a whole other story in itself entitled: The varied adventures of Merlin, the expensively deformed cat) and all I ended up doing is cutting my word count. Gah! Slap head, curl up under duvet and have a nap, which I did.

Today (it's Sunday, am I confusing you with the chronology again) I found another one of those chasms. Keep writing I told myself. It's only a couple of lines, my fingers said and deleted. Doh! My head said.

Another thing that was going on today was that I was hosting the first English write-in. English in that you needed to write in English. There was one Brit, one American, one Australian and a French person (YES, I am soooo impressed).

The disadvantages of hosting the write-in is that I have to be there on time. Not being fantastic on the old timing front I ended up having to leave before I could eat the lunch I had cooked, taking a small tupperware of three day old Thai prawn curry instead. The next bad thing was that EVERYONE was late. That wasn't as huge a problem as I make it sound as we are now leading into the good things.

The advantages are that I got two and a half hours (in a row) of uninterrupted me time. To have wasted more than a second of that time would have been stupid, so straight after I'd eaten the Thai prawn curry, I got cracking. I was so busy that I didn't even notice that the first writer had been ringing the bell for the last five minutes!

So, the word count for just under two hours (what with cups of tea, introductions and some cake eating) was just under 2,000. Maybe it was a little bit more given what I had deleted.

The other good thing was that I remembered comments, those lovely little pink, blue (whatever colour your computer does) bubbles where I can write myself a little reminder of why that part of the plot is no good and how it can be fixed and then I write as if I had fixed it.

So, that's me, now let's see how the characters are doing.

Today Ella is stuck in a cave and needs to get home pretty quickly or Will will start wondering where she is. She's a bit reluctant to go as she's just made a pretty amazing discovered about Leo and her supposed best friend Morgane and she's got about a million and one questions to ask. Also I don't quite know how to get Ella home, so I may just leave that till the rewrite and worry about it then.

Leo is with Ella and has rescued her mobile phone, and well, he's also rescued Ella, but he's going to be no help in getting her home. And there's no way he's going to answer her questions quickly, so she's just going to have to wait until tomorrow.

And Will is in the pub with Travis. That is more exciting than it sounds, but I haven't worked out how yet.

My word count is at 14,221 words.

Check me out here.

The Sunday Roast: Chilli

When I first became vegetarian I had two staple recipes. If you came and stayed with me for a weekend one day you would get chilli and the next day curry. Both were essentially the same, I opened the cupboard and shoved everything in, including baked beans (yes, there was baked beans in my curry).

So, over the years I have learned a few things about vegetarian cooking. First, less is more. If you really want to savour the tastes then one or two ingredients work much better than shoving everything and the kitchen sink in. Secondly, the baked beans wasn't such a huge mistake after all.

Back in the day, when I was shoving everything in, I spent one summer in a fit of post adolescent pique sharing a flat with a couple of friends, one of whom was a vegan chef. I learnt several things that summer. Vegan cooking is fantastic for weight loss. I caught sight of myself in the mirror one day and realised that I was SKINNY! I also realised that there was no way in hell I could be vegan. While Chef Leatherbarrow conjured up tasty and wonderful meals, it required culinary skills far beyond my capabilities. The other thing that Monsieur Leatherbarrow let me into was the secret of a good chilli: sugar!

Since then my chilli recipe has developed a wee bit. There was a moment there, where I tried a mushroomless version to please the Frog, but that was just wrong, so the mushies are back.

Vegetarian Chilli
Tin of red kidney beans
tin of chopped tomatoes
big splash of balsamic vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp paprika
a few drops of tabasco sauce
1 tsp chilli/chilli flakes
coriander fresh and 1/2 tsp ground
1 tbs oil
a small punnet of mushrooms
a red or green (or yellow or orange even) pepper

  1. Heat the oil
  2. Cook the onion till soft.
  3. Add the chilli, paprika and coriander and fry for about a minute (or until you can really smell the spices). 
  4. Add the tinned tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, tabasco, sugar and big splash of balsamic vinegar. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about ten to twenty minutes (the longer the better). 
  5. Add the kidney beans and its sauce (don't drain them in other words). Cook for about five minutes more until the beans are warmed through. 
  6. Add the fresh coriander and ground pepper. 
Serve with plain rice or with wraps and creme fraiche, grated cheese and guacamole (that's the fat version, but very tasty). 

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Writing on Wednesday: NaNoWriMo Day 3

Last night I realised that to survive the insanity of NaNoWriMo that some things were going to have to go. Unfortunately work has to stay, along with a thousand and one other mundane tasks. So realising that, and after some complicated maths (1667*7-5000(or 6000 or 8000)/5=) I had yet another brainwave: scheduled posts! So apologies dear readers, I confess that it is actually the 17th October while I write this, but the rest is short and sweet and written in real time.

What's going on?

Today Ella is walking to school with Leo and wondering about him. He's weird, speaks in a funny way and reminds her of someone.
Leo is also on his way to school with Ella and has discovered a beautiful sea view. He's starting to realise that the sea is pretty above as well as below. 
And Will is procrastinating. He has discovered a new love for washing, doing the dishes, making lunch and dinner, anything rather than work.

My word count is at 6591 words.

Check me out here.

PS If this post ever goes out blank, there is trouble afoot!

Sunday, October 31, 2010


As I begin writing this post there are 2 hours 48 minutes before NaNoWriMo begins. I have absolutely no idea what it's going to be like, but I have many hopes. I hope I finish the novel in 50,000 words. I hope I write 1667 words a day. Well, I hope it averages out at that, because I have this rather complicated plan of blitzing on the write-ins and and the public holidays. I hope it isn't a big steaming pile of poop. Again, that hope comes with conditions. The fact that there will be no editing means there will be spelling mistakes, unfinished sentences and probably some very poor punctuation, but despite that I hope it isn't a big steaming pile of poop. I hope the characters come to life.

During October I have written little pieces that involve all the main characters. I have really got to know my locations, and frankly I have planned this novel in a way that I have never planned before. Tomorrow is not going to be one of those days where I sit down to write and wonder where the story will take me. No, it's been in my head for ages. In fact this story is so well planned that I'm already starting to think about something else! Yeah, I know, walk before you can run.

If, and I say a big IF, I get through November, my next big task will be getting through the first edit to sort all the mess out. I have this vague plan for February. I might even let you into it, if...

2 hours 38 to go now. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The late Sunday Roast: It's all in the sauce

The Sunday roast is a little late this week as I'm not actually at home. In fact I'm not even cooking. My Mum is. I'm sorry to be boasting, but my Mum is actually a very good cook, which probably explains why I love food. I think in a bizarre and twisted way it also explains why every now and again I crave junk food, but never mind that.

Anyway, Mum's cooking was always very international, what with Mauritius being the island where all the nationalities came together (and not just to make a mean curry). Mauritian food is a mixture of traditional African , Indian, Chinese and French food, mix that all together and you get Mauritian creole food (note that the British who did eventually take over the island and ruled it until 1968 didn't have much influence on the cuisine).

One of my favourite dishes as a kid was mein (pronounced min). Now strictly speaking it's pretty much a stir fry, but my Mum's is always so much better than my stir fry. So here for the first time (on my blog) the secret of the super stir fry mein is going to be shared. Mum says the secret is in the preparation, but I know from communing with me and my wok, that it's actually in the sauce.


Any vegetables you like, chop them thin and diagonally if possible
any meat/fish/chicken/seafood sliced in thin and diagonal slices too (obviously prawns are exempt from this)
so basically you put in whatever you want, right.
fresh coriander
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
a dash of salt
2 tsp of (meat use) soya sauce/
(everything else) light soya sauce
2 tbsp vegetable stock
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp seasame oil
2 tbsp red wine/port (alcohol - see, oh no maybe you don't yet, but you will)
medium or fine egg noodles

3/4 spring onions thinly chopped (keep a handful some aside)
1 lemon juice
1 big clove of garlic crushed
2 tbsp of olive oil
a little bit of water to loosen the sauce
1 green chilli

  1. Prepare the veg and mix with coriander, garlic and a dash of soya sauce
  2. Heat half the oil in the wok until very hot.
  3. (Fry meat or chicken until cooked).
  4. Put the veg that takes the longest to cook in first, when that starts to soften add the rest.
  5. If the wok begins to dry add the stock as necessary, a little at a time.
  6. (Add fish or seafood now).
  7. When everything is cooked remove from the wok and set aside.
  8. Without washing the wok add some boiling water and cook the noodles according to packet instructions, stirring all the time.
  9. When the noodles are cooked add some cold water and drain.
  10. Add the rest of the oil to the wok until very hot.
  11. Gradually add the noodles, veg and meat/chicken/seafood in equal portions. At the same time add the wine and soya sauce to prevent sticking. Keep stirring (don't stop).
  12. This is a completely optional thing that we're just hearing about NOW! Make a plain omelette and slice it thinly in diagonals and sprinkle on top of the mein.
  13. Sprinkle with the set aside spring onions.
  14. Make the sauce.
Eat while it's still hot and I hope you enjoy.

By the way, my mother does not follow recipes. She invents stuff that tastes good, and boy is it difficult to write a recipe following her instructions! She also thinks that the main ingredient is good 'ole TLC.


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