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Monday, 22 December 2014

Thinking Time

"How's the writing going?" someone asked the other day.
"Fine," I answered. "It's good."
A clear gaze, a pause; they were waiting for more.
"Actually," I said, "I'm not writing at the moment. I'm planning."

Why did this statement make me feel so guilty? Probably because, as some of you will know, I'm not a great planner when it comes to writing. Also probably because I had an idea that the person who had asked me the initial question now had a vision of me making copious notes, with charts and chapter breakdowns etc. etc. Um no, it's not been like that at all! My planning has mostly been in my head whilst preparing for Christmas, moving furniture to accommodate the decorators and trying not to go into a major meltdown as water leaked from the shower and through the spotlights in the kitchen ceiling.

In the past I have tried to plan my books in detail and it really didn't work. It was the closest I came to writer's block. But recently I finished an adult novel which has taken me a couple of years to write in between other projects. Every time I returned to the romantic novel I had to go right back to the beginning in order to immerse myself  in the story. It was time consuming and complicated. There's got to be an easier way than this for the next book I thought. So I've given myself permission for extra thinking time. It's easy to feel that if you're not writing you're not working but when advising other writers I always extol the value of thinking time. It's been a question of practising what I preach and then some.

Back at the beginning of November I resolved not to begin writing my next book until the New Year. Instead I am making some notes, writing a few vignettes, building up my characters in my head, asking myself the questions I mentioned in my blog  from a few weeks back and writing about the story rather than plunging into the story itself. I'm surprised at how well it is working. I'm actually itching to begin which is a really good sign. The theory is that when the time comes to sit down and actually write I'll be able to crack on with this next book at a pretty good pace and get a first draft written in a handful of months. Maybe it will work. Maybe it won't! I'll keep you posted but whatever the outcome it won't be wasted. I'm convinced that it's good to try different ways of working from time to time.

Thank-you for to everyone who has taken the time to read this blog over the last year. Have a very Happy Christmas and I send you best wishes for 2015.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Cranberry and Orange Relish

Winter is well and truly here. Outside it is one of those grey cloud-laden days which barely seems to get light. It feels like a day to hunker down and catch up with all of those jobs on my to-do list. One of those jobs is to make some cranberry sauce to go with the Christmas turkey. I first tried this Delia Smith recipe several years ago and honestly have to say that I don't think I've ever bought a jar of cranberry sauce since then. The homemade variety tastes so different and is incredibly easy to make. Another bonus is that it smells divine when cooking (actually cooking is not really an accurate description as barely any cooking is needed). Standing in my kitchen I am surrounded by the scent of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, orange and cranberries. Michael Buble's Christmas CD is playing and all I need for a complete dose of seasonal cheer is the scent of pine needles from the Christmas tree which we plan to get this weekend.

So here it is, the easiest Cranberry sauce recipe ever.

Cranberry and Orange Relish
(serves 8)

1lb (450g) fresh cranberries
Rind and juice of 1 large orange
1 and a half (4cm) piece cinnamon stick
4 cloves
1 heaped tsp freshly grated root ginger
(or half tsp ground ginger)
3oz (75g) caster sugar
2-3 tbsp port (optional)

Chop the cranberries in a food processor, or press them through the fine blade of a mincer, then place in a saucepan. Pare off the rind of the orange with a potato peeler and cut it into very fine shreds. (I actually grate the rind and although it probably makes it taste more orangey we all like it this way). Add this to the saucepan, with the orange juice, ginger, sugar, cloves and cinnamon stick. Bring to a simmer, stir well, place a lid on the pan and allow to simmer for approximately 5 minutes. (Mine took slightly longer this time). Remove from the heat and stir in the port if liked. We actually prefer it without. When cooled, remove cloves and cinnamon stick,  put in a serving dish, cover with clingfilm and keep in a cool place until ready to serve. I actually freeze mine and it is absolutely fine. I take it out of the freezer on Christmas morning or Christmas Eve to de-frost, depending upon the time we are sitting down to eat the turkey.

Thank-you for reading. Have a good week and if you make the cranberry relish, enjoy!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Everyday Heroes

Picking up any newspaper or watching the television news these days you could be forgiven for thinking that there are very few good people left in the world. But of course that isn't true. There are everyday heroes who are kind and considerate and generous. On Friday I met three of them and they turned my day, which could have been quite stressful, into a really rewarding experience.

My daughter was spending the weekend in Oxford with old friends. On Friday the two of us had planned a visit to the William Blake exhibition at The Ashmolean Museum. We had book tickets online several weeks earlier - or at least we thought that we had! The night before, trawling through my e-mails, I couldn't find the confirmation. I couldn't find any record of payment and I couldn't get through to the ticket office either. The exhibition had only started the previous day so, unsure whether we'd be able to get in, we headed for Oxford with a contingency plan to visit one of the colleges instead.

Oxford is a tricky place to get to from Leicester so we drive to Leamington, 45 minutes away and pick up the train. I left an hour and a half for the car journey but by the time we pulled into the station car park we had little more than five minutes to spare. While my daughter extracted our tickets from the machine I asked the ticket inspector where I could purchase a parking ticket.
"You need to get them from the kiosk these days," he said.
This was not good news. There were probably eight people queuing at the kiosk.
"Our train goes in under five minutes," I said.
"Have you got £4.50 in change," he asked. "If so I can get you a ticket."
Luckily I had.
"Platform 3" he said, waving us through the barrier as I rushed back from placing said ticket in the car. "Run!"
As we tore up the stairs I heard the whistle blow.
"We're not going to make it," I said, to my daughter.
But we did, with literally seconds to spare and all thanks to that ticket inspector. What a wonderful man!

You'd think meeting one hero in a day would be enough but when I got to the Ashmolean and explained that our online booking had mysteriously gone astray the lady said that she was unable to check whether it had gone through but, without any hesitation, offered us complimentary tickets. I was blown away by her kindness. I didn't have to miss William Blake after all and the exhibition is stunning.

My third hero of the day was the waiter in our chosen restaurant who spent ages going through the wheat free options with me so I could have a lovely lunch.

Our day could have turned out so differently but thanks to the kindness of three complete strangers it was made extra special.

Thank you for reading. I hope you meet more than your fair share of everyday heroes this week.