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Monday 30 September 2013

A Writer's Life - Our Local Heroine...

I’m celebrating a genuine local heroine today. Denise was born here in the village, and grew up to become an invaluable member of our local community. She left school at fifteen to start work as a shop assistant, and later became a professional child-minder. Everyone for miles around has been taken under Denise’s wing at some time or another. She is a devoted daughter, wife, mother, grandmother and friend. She has been a local councillor,  a central figure in  the local dramatic society, after-school and holiday clubs, monthly lunch sessions, and much more besides. Our friendship began when Denise took on the job of  looking after our daughter when DD was five months. Denise lavished as much care and attention on DD as we did! 

Denise and her family have always been great supporters of the local church. In 2009, after a lot of soul-searching, she took the first step on the long, hard road to becoming a licensed Reader in the Church of England. This has involved her in hours of study, she’s had to write dozens of essays, complete mountains of coursework and spend periods away from home on residential courses as she prepared to work for the church Gloucestershire. The work was hard and time-consuming, but with her determination fuelled by the support of her family, she refused to give up. 

Four years later, all her hard work and sleepless nights have resulted in well-deserved success. Last Saturday, practically our whole village descended on Gloucester cathedral to watch Denise (and seven other new Readers from other parishes around the diocese), receive official recognition by the Bishop of Gloucester.  Beforehand, I had the honour of witnessing the signing of her license in the cathedral's Regimental Chapel, which was a great experience. 

The cathedral was packed, the music and ceremony was amazing and afterwards, the sun shone for photographs. Nobody could ask for anything more...but then Denise treated us all to a magnificent feast back in the village club. The centrepiece was this cake, iced with The Lord’s Prayer. It tasted every bit as good as it looked.

Congratulations, Denise! We always knew you could do it - and now you have. Next stop, Lambeth Palace?

Friday 27 September 2013

Food, Men and the Weekend...

Despite the poor start to the year, our garden ended up producing more fruit than it has done for a long time. The plum harvest was a good one, but because we had a downpour at the wrong time many of the fruits burst their skins. Although the plums tasted as good as ever they attracted wasps, and wouldn't keep. Rather than waste them, I adapted a recipe I normally use for blueberries. It worked brilliantly.

You'll need:
Prepared plums, washed, halved and with the stones removed.
6oz softened butter (or margarine)
6 oz caster (fine) sugar
6oz self-raising flour
3 eggs

Extra caster (fine) sugar to taste
Lemon juice (optional)

Heat the oven to 180ÂșC (Fan, 160 C) Gas mark 4.
Cover the bottom of a shallow ovenproof dish with the roughly sliced plums. Add a couple of tablespoons of water, and sprinkle them with sugar to taste. If the plums are already quite sweet, add a spritz of lemon juice.
In a separate bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, flour and eggs for a couple of minutes to make a smooth, glossy mixture. Spread this evenly over the fruit, and cook for around 35-40 minutes, or until the sponge is well risen, golden brown and springs back when lightly pressed.
Serve warm, with custard or ice cream.

This week's hero is award-winning Milos Karadaglic. He comes from Montenegro, and began playing the guitar as a child. A scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music brought him to London at the age of seventeen, and now he has an international career.

I'll be working on my Autumn newsletter this weekend, to be published the minute I get the draft artwork for Jewel Under Siege, which will be my next release.   If you want to be among the first to see it, click here to subscribe to my newsletter. Don't worry, I'll never pass on your details!

Monday 23 September 2013

Three Top Tips For Writing Your Book...

Power of Words by Antonio Litterio.jpg: Antonio Litterio derivative work: InverseHypercube
By Antonio Litterio

1. Stop dreaming and start working. The only person who can stop you becoming a writer is you. From the moment you express yourself in words, you’re a writer. The job title doesn't depend on getting published. Whether you keep a diary or create a best-selling series of books, the simple pleasure of opening a clean file or feeling a new page under your hand is unbeatable. Try it, and take that first step toward making your dreams a reality.

2. Make sure your mind is trained on your ultimate prize, whatever that might be. Wanting to write a book isn’t enough. You must believe with all your heart that you can finish your project, especially if your objective is publication. A solid core of belief is the only thing that will get you through the hours and hours of writing, re-writing, rejection and editing needed to reach your goal. You know you can do it. Now prove it – to me, and everyone else. Go on. I dare you!

3. You’ll never be short of ideas if you’re always equipped with some way of making notes as inspiration strikes. Keep a notebook and pencil by your bed. Carry a dictaphone. Have a dedicated folder on your device of choice  - but don’t forget to back it up regularly. Have one memory stick for each day of the week. As an extra safeguard in case your external memory gets corrupted, lost or stolen, email your work in progress to yourself once every seven days as a backup.

Visit the Hints and Tips page of my website for lots more ideas.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Food, Men and the Weekend...

Charlie Siem
If you follow me on other social media, you'll know I've had a few issues with a particular image of the delightful Dr Adam Rutherford. Whatever the subject, however many photos I've added to my blogs since he starred in FMATW, he keeps popping up to illustrate links I post to Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. I'd say "randomly" but that's got a specific meaning for my OH, who tends to come over all Dr Sheldon Cooper when I use the word. If continuous appearance wasn't bad enough, it's too fuzzy, indistinct picture of Dr Adam to be worth repeating. 

Today's Man of the Moment, Charlie Siem, has a much better photo. It won't matter if this keeps reappearing! Charlie is a 27-year-old violinist from London who is a real force on the international stage. The first time I heard him play, he attacked Bruch's Violin Concerto with such vigour, I forgot I was sitting in a traffic jam. Then I looked him up on line, and discovered this picture. If all that isn't enough to attract your attention, his father is (allegedly) a billionaire, and Charlie plays the d'Egville Guarneri that once belonged to Yehudi Menuhin. Wow...

It’s been such a good year for fruit, we've got plenty of apples despite hungry deer invading the garden and the hedges are full of brambles. Here’s a really simple recipe for making the most of this hedgerow harvest. The amount and type of fruit can be varied according to what you have available. You just need to make sure you have about a pound and a half of it in total. 

1.5lbs peeled, sliced cooking apples and washed blackberries
Sugar to taste
4oz flour
3oz butter or margarine
2oz demerara (brown) sugar
3oz rolled oats

Put the prepared fruit into an ovenproof dish with sugar to taste and a couple of tablespoons of water.
In another bowl, rub the fat into the flour. Stir in the sugar and oats. Sprinkle this crumble mixture evenly over the fruit, making sure to cover it completely. Cook for around half an hour at 180°C, (fan oven 160°C) Gas Mark 4, or until the fruit is cooked and the topping is golden. Serve it hot or cold, with plenty of custard, cream or ice cream.

I'm going to be making blackberry and apple jelly this weekend, too, when I'm not trying to oust Dr Adam Rutherford from my picture gallery. Have you ever been haunted by anything you've posted on the net? If so, how did you exorcise your problem? 

Tuesday 17 September 2013

A Writer's Life...Of Damsons and Sugar Plums

If you read my September 14th blog for authorsoundrelations, you'll know I was getting ready to make damson jam. That didn't exactly go to plan. As I hadn't tried this particular recipe before, I did everything by the book. That included using my jam thermometer. The recipe said the fruit and dissolved sugar would take between ten and twenty minutes to reach setting point. As it boiled, the sound changed from thin burbling to a thick, full throated "gloop". After twenty -five minutes I was convinced - especially as the mixture was clinging to the spoon, but the thermometer still said "no!" I tried putting a blob of jam on a chilled saucer. It wrinkled even faster than good jam should, so I ignored the thermometer and potted the jam. It tastes delicious, but it's a bit over-boiled and therefore pretty stiff. Next time I think I'll go by instinct, rather than technology!

When Son Number One saw The Nutcracker on TV at the age of five, he immediately wanted to do ballet lessons. To my shame, I was horrified and spent the next few years impersonating Billy Elliot's father. He never gave up, so eventually I booked him in for a trial lesson at the Fairie Feet School Of Dancing. I assumed half an hour in an all-girl environment on a Saturday morning would silence him. It did - but only because he loved it. Over the years he went through the grades, progressing from the basic black male ballet shoes to the white ones he coveted. Miss Joy and her staff were perfect teachers. Along the way, Son Number One impressed me with the mature way he dealt with the reactions to those who were, shall we say, curious about his hobby. I was worried he would be bullied, but luckily that was never a problem. You have to be tough to be a ballet dancer. You also need to put in the hours, and now he's a teenager, Son Number One has computer game design and animation on his mind. Sadly, he's decided to reclaim his Saturdays by giving up ballet. I never thought I'd say this, but I wish he'd reconsider!  

As a fitting end to my period as a ballet mum, we've just booked tickets for The Nutcracker, later in the year. I'm calling it my reward for washing all that sweaty kit, but I can't deny there's an element of wondering what-might-have-been. With my sensible head on I know it would have been at best a short, cut-throat career for him, plagued by injury and disappointment, but a writer only deals in dreams... 

The weather is closing in, ready for autumn. It's a time of transition, like Son Number One's change of heart. Do you feel like making a change? What are you going to do about it? 

Wednesday 4 September 2013

The Three New Categories Of Writing

The Power of Words by Antonio Litterio, via inversehypercube/wikimedia commons
By Antonio Litterio

This is how we all start. Telling stories is a compulsion as old as time. Once we discover our ideas can be made semi-permanent through the fascinating marks made by fat wax crayon, there’s no stopping us. Whether you keep a diary or create a best-selling series, the simple pleasure of opening a clean file or feeling a new page under your nib is unbeatable.
This used to be a case of either catching the eye of a respectable publisher, or delving into the murky depths of vanity publishing. The first often meant jumping through hoops, then signing away some or all of your rights. The latter involved risking a lot of money to see your hard work turned into books - if you were lucky. The explosion of online possibilities means you don’t need the skin of a rhinoceros any more. The scourge of rejection is no longer a threat. Anyone with access to a computer can create, upload and offer an ebook for international sale. The downside is that an already crowded market has now been flooded with the type of writing publishers used to reject, together with self-published gems they will wish they'd been offered.

Vanity publishers may have competition now, but the need for deep pockets hasn’t gone away. It’s a good idea to invest in great cover art to make sure your book stands out from the millions of others, all clamouring for attention. Professional editing will make sure your text is a flawless read, but be warned - it can’t do much for your plot, or story-telling skills. Even poop can be polished until it shines.

This is the Holy Grail of many writers. Seeing your name in print or on screen isn’t always enough. The newspapers love winners like Rowling or James, but most writers don’t hit those heights. If you’re making a thousand a year, count yourself lucky. That’s a good average. Unless you’re contracted to a major publishing house with a multi-book contract, writing is usually a lucrative part-time job, at best.

Of course, these three categories aren’t mutually exclusive. The walls are permeable. Commercially published writing may not sell. A privately published book might take off like a rocket. Something written with nothing but profit in mind may never recoup its costs, while a work with a tiny initial print run may find itself the centre of international attention. In the end, the only sure way to success is the same as it always has been - write from your heart, for your own pleasure. That’s always going to be the best way to appeal to your readership. And if you decide the only reader will be you, then you’ll have satisfied 100% of your audience–and that’s something not even William Shakespeare has ever managed to do.

What type of writing are you doing at the moment? Would you like to switch to a different category?