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Monday 25 February 2013

Writing - 5 Top Tips For Success...

Sandro Botticelli
1. INSPIRATION - This can strike anywhere, at any time so keep a look out for news headlines, listen in to conversations and start some of your own in the search for ideas. Grab any inspiration with both hands, and never let it go. Make sure you've always got pencils and notebooks or a WP package to hand, so you can make notes on the spot. Pictures are a brilliant help, so keep your camera phone charged and ready. Posting your snaps on sites like 
pinterest or Tumblr can provoke all sorts of reactions from potential readers, and you can use these to inspire your work.
2. CONVICTION: Whether you're writing non-fiction or a novel, a short story or saga you've got to believe in your work - with a capital B. Making up your mind to put your thoughts down on paper is a big decision. You may or may not be aiming to get published one day, but the more faith you have in your idea, the better your work will be. Spelling and grammar can always be tidied up with redrafts and revisions, but if your writing doesn't have heart,  it hasn't got a hope. 
3. ROUTINE: When you start with a blank page or open a new document, there's a mountain of words between you and your finished article, book or memoir. Just as the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, the book of 100,000 words begins with an opening word. Make it easy for yourself. Break the long haul down into easy stages. Set aside some time each day to write, and find a place where you won't be disturbed. It doesn't matter where it is, when, or how long you can manage. The important things are consistency - make writing a regular, unbreakable habit.  When you've had a good session, make a note of what made it so successful. Log the number of words you achieved, and try to beat your total  next time. This is useful for when you get stuck. If you're on Twitter, investigate the hashtag #1k1hr. Joining others in the quest for words is a great help! However you give yourself a target, it makes sure you get something down. A scribbled first draft can always be improved. A totally blank page will only glower at you when you start your next session. That's a real buzz-kill.  
4. PROFESSIONALISM: Always write the very best book, article or short story you can. If you're aiming for publication, get a second opinion from a professional, or join  the New Writers' Scheme run by the Romantic Novelists' Association. Take notice of revisions suggested by people you trust - constructive criticism will really help you to up your game. 
Before you make your work public, read it through one last time, with the help of my final suggestion...
5. A GOOD DICTIONARY: The Oxford English Dictionary in all its forms is the most widely recognised here in the UK. This is invaluable - honestly, it is! - but harder to use than you might think. I find spelling really difficult. My brilliant Creative Writing tutor, the poet and critic Paul Groves, picked up on this fault straight away. I was on Dictionary Corner duties in every session after that. It was intended to improve my spelling, but he (and the rest of the students) soon spotted the flaw in his master plan. To look up the correct spelling of a word in any dictionary, you have to know how to spell it. 

I'm still trying to discover how many k's there are in Fokkkasia... 

Monday 18 February 2013

A Writer's Lifeline - Abel and Cole

By Elina Mark

We live in a wood, in the middle of nowhere. This is great and I wouldn’t swap it for the world, but there’s a price to pay. There's only one bus to town per week, and the nearest stop is half a mile away.  Travelling ten miles each way to go shopping by car is a bit of a luxury once you’ve costed in writing time, hassle, petrol and parking costs.  This means Internet shopping has become a real lifeline for us, and city-living DD has recently put me on to a real gem.  She’s away at university, and like all students has to keep tabs on every penny. When she told me she'd signed up for the Abel and Cole box scheme I was amazed. I’d seen a van in their smart yellow-and-green livery parked up outside a posh local house that runs an even posher organic bed-and-breakfast scheme (Reiki and colonic irrigation, anyone?). That had made me think their goods must cost a fortune.
Not a bit of it! One visit to the Abel and Cole website convinced me I had to sign up - and fast. We usually grow most of our own fruit and veg, but a combination of urgent deadlines and the continuous rain last year means we’ve got nothing edible in the garden at the moment, except rhubarb. We’ve been forced to buy in, and choose organic goods whenever we can. Checking the prices we pay at the supermarket against the Abel and Cole lists, there was virtually no difference between them. Actually, items from the box scheme were sometimes cheaper! The minute I started looking through their online pages, I was hooked. There are recipes, offers and tons of interesting information. As an experiment I put in a “one-off” online order with them last week, instead of going to the supermarket. 
Right from the start, I was impressed. Their website is very easy to use. The delivery driver brought our order all the way up our steep drive, right to the back door. Our groceries were beautifully packed in returnable boxes and recyclable packaging with the milk, butter and meat kept cool using returnable icepacks and special insulating pads. Manufacturing these from wool adds value for sheep farmers, which is another advantage of using this service. 
As for our order itself, the fruit and vegetables were the equal of anything I could have got from Waitrose and they were all organic, too. I’ll definitely be putting in a regular weekly order with Abel and Cole from now on, as they also supply many of the things we can’t grow for ourselves, even in a good year (such as cleaning products!). 
Just in case this all sounds to good to be true, there is one thing my next order will address. The oranges which came in our box were delicious, but they were so small we’ll need to order a lot more next time, to equal the satisfaction value of the seedless monsters on offer at our local supermarket.
The driving force behind Laverstoke Park Farm, Jody Scheckter,  has been advising for years that we should “never eat anything made in a factory”. That’s a tall order, but with scandals about mass-produced food being adulterated with horse meat of dubious origin and other unsavoury things, cooking from scratch at least gives every one of us control over the ingredients in our food.  Using lovely, fresh organic fruit and vegetables like the ones from the Abel and Cole box scheme really tempts me to try out some new recipes. Even Son Number One has started taking an interest in food. He’s now making cheese toasties (grated cheese between two slices of toast, and microwaved for 30 seconds) which was a new one on me. It's a start, and they’re delicious - especially with some salad. 
What’s your favourite recipe to cook from scratch?

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Pancake Day!

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a7/Mmm...pancakes_%284147493954%29.jpgAttribution: By jeffreyw (Mmm...pancakes  Uploaded by Fæ) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsHTML
Photo by jeffreyw

Shrove Tuesday is the traditional time for a clear-out of tempting ingredients from your store cupboard if you're planning to give up goodies for Lent. It's also a fantastic excuse to stuff yourself silly with various sweet or savoury pancakes.

Our new young hens have been laying an egg each per day right through the winter, and their rich orange yolks give pancakes a lovely rich colour. Pancakes to eat with lemon and sugar or maple syrup are always best eaten as soon as they're made, but they can be frozen if interleaved with greaseproof paper. This year I found a lovely recipe for salmon and prawn pancakes, so I'm making an extra big batch of batter so we can have the old favourites for tea tonight and try the new recipe for supper at the weekend.

To make the pancake batter I use 2 eggs, 8oz flour and enough milk to make a fairly thin batter (around 15 fl oz). I do this a couple of hours before its needed - when the children were small they used to love doing this before school, then eating the pancakes when they got home!

To cook, I melt a tiny bit of lard in my dedicated pancake pan until it's smoking hot, then quickly pour in enough batter to cover the base. Cook for a minute or two then flip it over to cook the other side. Tossing pancakes is great fun, especially with children in the house! One year while ours were at school, I cut a pancake shape from yellow paper and stuck it to the ceiling, ready to fool them that one had flown just a bit too high...