Not many years ago, a writer's only real hopes of getting an audience outside their own little corner of the world was to either get their book taken up by a big publisher, win a competition or have their work accepted or reviewed by national magazines or newspapers.Things changed in a big way with the arrival of home computers. Now everyone can self-publish, and the Internet has opened up world-wide possibilities for getting your name and work in front of the public. There are all sorts of temptations, too. Who hasn't looked at the clock and gulped at the amount of time they've spent surfing on line? With everything from The Times to Lolcats just waiting to be explored, it's like having a whole sweetshop of treats at our fingertips. One of my New year Resolutions was to cut down on my non-work related computing time, but that's proved difficult to keep. It's so interesting to discover what other people are working on, or reading. Then I feel guilty for not taking part, so for example I've just loaded a few of my favourite books up onto my Goodreads page http://bit.ly/zGpWE9. Unfortunately as I'm not very computer savvy and resent toiling over inputting information when I could be writing, my online presence is rather patchy. I love Twitter, where I tweet as @christinabooks, but I'm not keen when sites want to burgle my email inbox for links. Call me suspicious, but I don't like the idea of a site keeping in contact with my computer even when I've logged out. That's why I use my Neo such a lot - all the benefits of a typewriter none of the distractions of a computer and work is easily transferred to my main computer. Then when the work's uploaded, it's back to Twitter and Skype for me!
What are your favourite ways of keeping in touch with your friends, indulging your interests and keeping up to speed with developments in your workplace?
It's been a very mild start to the year. That's both a relief after last January's relentless snow, and a reminder that, for whatever reason, our seasons aren't as predictable as they once were. The weekend was grey and gritty, with ferocious winds. It was a good excuse to make soup, and that always cries out for something crisp and home-made to go with it. I decided on sourdough bread. The name isn't very attractive, but it's delicious and very filling. Making it is an easy, although longwinded, process. I have a sourdough culture of wild yeast I've kept going since last year, which gives the bread a unique flavour. To make two big loaves, last thing at night I put about a pound of bread-making flour in a big bowl, add a ladleful of my sourdough starter and about a pint of warm water. After stirring this together I cover the bowl with cling film and leave it overnight in the kitchen to start fermenting. Next morning it will have bubbled up, ready to have another one and a quarter pounds of bread making flour added, together with a couple of teaspoons of salt. My amounts are bit vague as all flours absorb different amounts of liquid. If you've made bread yourself, you'll know it's difficult to be precise! You want quite a soft, sticky dough to begin with. Knead it well for ten minutes (this is a good point to work off all those work-in-progress frustrations). Then persuade the dough back into the bowl, cover and leave it to rise for an hour. Tip it out, and using the minimum amount of flour that will stop the dough sticking to the table, knead it for a few more minutes. Cover and leave it to rise for another hour. Repeat this brief kneading and hour-long rising cycle twice more, then gently deflate the risen dough a final time and shape it into two or more loaves. These will be too soft to support their own weight so I put them in proving baskets (Bakery Bits online shop http://bit.ly/xGE5UJ will be the ruin of me!) for two or three hours, until the loaves have doubled in size. To cook the bread, I heat a heavy metal tray in the oven at maximum heat then, as fast as possible, ease the dough out of the baskets and onto the hot baking tray, give it quick spray of water, slash the tops and bake for ten minutes. Then I have a quick look at them - if they're still pale I turn the temperature down to 200 degrees Centigrade(170 degrees fan). If brown, the heat's reduced to 180 degrees Centigrade (160 degrees fan) and they're cooked for another 30 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the base. This bread has got enough character and flavour to be enjoyed as it is, but goes perfectly with soup and is even better spread with butter. Enjoy!
Sixteen days into the New Year - how are you doing with those resolutions? They say if you can only keep up an improvement for forty days it becomes a habit, so we're nearly halfway to that milestone! I'm hoping it'll turn out to be true. Most of my good intentions have fallen by the wayside (how is it that every time I start dieting, I put on weight? It's so dispiriting, it sends me straight back to the chocolate). However, I have managed to keep two of them - to cut down on online surfing, and to try out a new recipe at least once a week.
My main time-suck online was dipping into the newspapers. That was taking up a lot of my valuable writing time each day, so ditching them has been really helpful. The only way I've managed to do it is to work mainly on my Neo, which is literally just a keyboard with a memory and no Internet access. I upload my work at the end of each day, and it's really gratifying to see how my work in progress is growing.
As for the recipes, that's going well too. Orsotto (risotto made with barley instead of rice) has become a new family favourite, and the new Christmas pudding recipe which uses crystallised ginger and pineapple was delicious - so much lighter than the normal stodgy pud, it deserves to be made more often than once a year. I love making jams, jellies and other preserves, so this week's novelty might be a new variation on the theme of marmalade.