Monday, July 31, 2006

Busy again

Vegetables about to meet their maker on the BBQ

Sorry not to have been here much. Still haven’t learned how to edit my lovely foody photos BUT I did spend two days at the end of the week learning Final Cut Pro, a video editing package.

I should really have done this training while I was still at the BBC but it’s weird, I never felt I had the time. I’ve sat in edit suites next to editors for MANY years but the technology had passed me by, and it was terrific fun to get my hands on it at last. Seriously good. What was strange was that the other students were all heavily involved in media already: ex BBC, Thames TV, Sky and also people who make their own short films. Maybe it’s because it was at Richmond College, bit of a haunt for media types, this area.

Also a haunt for excellent purveyors of naughty foods and drinks, including fab sushi at Source (a gorgeous food shop), and great creamy iced coffee at Costa. I swear I don’t get paid for this but I do like to give credit when due etc. Then me and boyf have been planning what we do next of the millions of jobs to be done around the house, and had a lovely BBQ with my two fabbest mates last night, rather drunken but very groovy.

On the food front, I prepared FAR too many veggies, and most of the red onions and yummy halloumi fell through the grate in the BBQ. Sweetcorn worked but is DISGUSTING next day. But I had real success with brown sugar meringues, which looked GORGEOUS, and tasted even better, served with raspberries, strawberries, cherries and fresh cream.

The week ahead includes some work back at the Beeb, doing stuff I didn’t do before, which should be interesting. Battling the annoying council tax people. Finishing off address changes. Trying to keep the Monbretia alive. Trying to pretend I don’t mind that it’ll be another two weeks before I have a hope of hearing from my editor. Taking MORE stuff to the charity shop. Trying to work out which of the many hairdressers in my new area to frequent with my long, rather frazzled locks.

And, of course, planning new books and trying to get some paid work.

Lovely link of the day:
In a flyer with my copy of Mslexia, there was information about which is worth a look. I am a bit of a course junkie – I love learning, even though I have rather a short attention span – so will be looking at it properly later on.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Courgettes and other things I like to burn

A (very burned) saucepan of goodies

Portions of Fruit and Veg today: (in lieu of word count) 6
Portions of Ice Cream: 1*

Courgettes are so insipid unless they're fried until they have lovely brown 'moles' all over them. Onions are much nicer with sugary charred edges. As for raw Halloumi cheese - like chewing rubber bands. But as soon as you torture it in a hot frying pan, it's wonderful.

Three guesses what I had for lunch then, eh? Yep, a 'warm salad' (i.e. I ate it out of the pan) of organic onion, courgettes, cherry tomatoes and Halloumi cheese, all fried up in olive oil, and served with sweet chilli sauce. Very good, even if I do say so myself.

One of my tasks this summer will be to teach myself to use Photoshop Elements so I can show you my creations - yeah, I can tell you’re excited…I've got the photos all ready, all I need to do is try to work out how to get them in focus. Oh. Maybe it's too late for that. Digital cameras are sadly not idiot proof. And I am proof of that.

Today I did some work on some facilitation work I have organised for next week, and worked out more of the programmeabout the How to Get Published course, which I'll be running with another author and an agent in the Autumn at a central London hotel. It'll be a full day, highly practical course, and I'm really looking forward to teaching it. I'll post a link once we've confirmed the details.

I'm also loving getting back into using the library - the one where I live has a GARDEN, which is such a wonderful idea, and today I borrowed Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, who was involved in a bit of a barney last year about the review she wrote of Melissa Banks' The Wonder Spot: the quote that inflamed people was "To suggest that another woman's ostensibly literary novel is chick lit feels catty, not unlike calling another woman a slut -- doesn't the term basically bring down all of us?"

I'm too hot to start that one up again, but I liked the opening para and that's the joy of libraries, if I don't like the rest, I can take it back!

Lovely Link of the Day:
(I know this is a bit of a cheat) but the second book was The Writers' Journey by Christopher Vogler (wicked tash on the website, Mr V!). I've done the Robert McKee Story course, and I really enjoyed it, but the Vogler book is much more direct and feels more relevant and accessible to me. I'm having fun 'retro-fitting' my previous books to his theories, but it's very exciting to think how I'll apply it to the new ideas I have germinating in the compost of my mind...

*I do realise how Bridget Jones this makes me look...and you know what? I don't care!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Deed is Done

Word count: 121,466

And so I've sent my Scaredycat off into cyber-space, hitting the Orion servers at just before midday. My editor emailed back to say she's about to begin another edit, so it'll probably be a fortnight or more at least before I hear anything, so now I need to find other ways to occupy myself.

  • Deciding which of lots of new ideas for book 5 to flesh out and which to ditch;
  • Trying to work out what background research NEEDS to be donebefore the final draft and what is simply desirable (e.g. research trip to Venice!!!);
  • Thinking through a non-fiction book idea I have;
  • Writing a couple of short stories;
  • Getting fit and losing some of my 'house move' weight (the stress, donchya know?);
  • Learning video editing;
  • Setting the next Open University tutorial;
  • Drafting a new course on how to get published;
  • Maybe lolling around in the garden a bit...

Today I went to Bushy Park and found out about volunteering, which I thought might be the perfect antidote to sitting in my office, living in my imagination. It was so hot today and the landscape was more end of August/start of September than July which makes me wonder what it'll be like in a month's time. Saw deer and newts and leeches and a wonderful Willow hut. Very inspiring place.

I feel the need to do some 'giving back' while I can (though most people I know who volunteer get more back themselves from the experience) - who knows whether this freelancing life will be for me long-term? Some good friends have had a ball volunteering and I'd like to do the same. The media is an all-consuming existence, and now, for the first time, I feel I may be able to commit to doing normal, neighbourly stuff, which is exciting!

Poor day on the organic front. After misjudging distances rather badly in the park, I didn't eat between 9am and 4pm and then it was an M&S Quinoa and Pomegranate salad (how many trendy foods can you get in one pot?). It was good, actually. Pomegranate, though? What a fiddly and yet stunning fruit...

Then tonight it was barbecued veggie sausages, which I always have a bit of a problem with. If I was that fussed about sausages, I probably wouldn't be a vegetarian in the first place. Still, the boyf loves the whole ritual, so who am I to argue?

Revolting mulch update: the stinky stuff is now in bin bags. Hopefully that is the end of the bluebottles too. Yeuch. It's a victory for weeds, sadly, but needs must.

Lovely Link of the Day:

The rather marvellous Danuta Kean has updated and expanded her website, complete with a blog comparing Waterstones to Frank Butcher from EastEnders...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Death and destruction

Word Count: 121,059

I’ve spent the last few days researching some final statistics for my Ways to Die and Suffer Nasty Injuries blog, which forms part of the new book. Not on the face of it the most edifying experience, but actually as this preoccupation with surveys is part of my heroine’s awakening, it’s very important to get it right. From the number of injuries caused by trainers and socks, to fire deaths in Estonia, and Super-Volcanoes, it’s all going to be there.

Latest organic box arrived on doorstep at 7am containing broccoli, avocado, courgettes, plums, nectarines, bananas and carrots. This is actually the Organic Baby Box (try scrolling down) as I have been finding this seems to contain more of the things I like that any of the others. What this says about my palate I shudder to think, but then most of the men who run Britain were probably raised on nursery food at public school, so I am in good company.

Any suggestions on what I should do with all this (other than puree it and turn it into baby gloop of course, which is an option)? Organic stuff I have eaten over the last few days includes: mango (which had gone lovely and runny and I mixed up with Greek yoghurt and raspberries), new potatoes (scrubbed and boiled and then served with mint and butter, eaten on the side of some stuffed peppers), and those broad beans, which I shelled and served with olive oil and chives – very succulent but a lot of effort compared to the frozen ones. Tonight we had piperade, ie French scrambled eggs with courgette, onion AND basil and the first chilli pepper from the garden (my numb lips are proof that a London garden can produce chillis as hot as ones from...well, Chile).

There’s a big stick of celery left at the bottom of the fridge, because I hate celery, and though I was vaguely tempted to try the Baghdad Eggs from Jake Tilson’s book, A Tale of 12 Kitchens, I was worried it might be too disgusting for words, so that might go on the compost heap.

In other tales from the not entirely self sufficient suburbs, we finished planting the shrubs at the weekend, and boyf went to buy bark mulch from Homebase, duly spreading it around in the correct fashion.

It STINKS to high heaven. Truly revolting, like someone’s eaten chemicals and then vomited it all over the garden. The bluebottles like it, though. We’ve given it 24 hours but it’s all going back in the bags and being chucked, which probably undermines all the environmentally friendly work I've been doing on food miles, blah blah. Presumably it went stinky after sweating in plastic bags at the garden centre - well, wouldn't you? - but even so. Not happy with Homebase.

Oh, and my carbon footprint? Slightly higher than average, because of flights. Mind you, it’d be monstrous if we went on the number of hols boyf wants us to. Lucky I’m scared of flying, eh?

Lovely Link of the Day:
Everything you want to know about the end of the world, at Armageddon Online.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Cool...and Green

Word Count: 113,222

Hoorah! This morning it feels distinctly cooler, though still a lovely summer's day by UK standards. Yesterday was a record-breaker not far from me, over in Surrey, and I'm not surprised. VERY difficult to work, although I did finish the 'story' part of Scaredy. Not out of the woods yet at all, though. Next I have to gather all my statistics (a couple of people have suggested making them up, and I responded in exactly the way you'd expect an ex-BBC journalist to respond. But it isn't half tempting...). Then send to my editor. Then wait...

And then do the third draft. But, you know, I am still really enjoying this book, which I hope is a good sign. Somehow the craft side of writing also becomes more curious, too, the more experienced I get. Sentence by sentence, writing is easy. But structure and alchemy and creativity and craft and draft work together to produce either something that works or something that doesn' just have to keep going until the former happens.

Today I am thinking a lot about global warming and all the choices we make. My consumption of stuff from the organic goody box yesterday was limited to:

Breakfast: organic strawberries with Total Greek yoghurt and a sprinkling of Dorset cereals muesli on top.

Lunch: the only organic bit was the lettuce, served with lemon & coriander hummus (from Tesco), Sweetfire Chilli Beetroot (from Waitrose), sunflower seeds (dunno, but I toasted them in a pan with some pestle-and-mortared coriander and cumin, yummy) and a Dr Karg pumpkin seed and cheese cracker. Oh and some Anchor butter on the cracker (from NZ).

Dinner: more organic lettuce, hummus, beetroot, Italian Balsamic Vinegar, and some fried Halloumi cheese from Cyprus.

Snack: (oh dear) fresh cream chocolate swiss roll from Marks and Spencer, but I swear I didn't buy it.

So there we are. Not one of my healthiest days, I must confess. And on a food miles front, probably very very naughty, though at least all my overseas bits came from Europe, except the butter. The reason I've gone into detail, though, is that I think it demonstrates all the dilemmas quite well. Should I be making my own hummus - and if so, am I ethically allowed to do with tinned chick peas from goodness knows where (naughty Waitrose don't say, on the rusty tin in my cupboard) or should I buy a dusty packet that may have been sitting on the shelf of a health food shop for years, and use scarce energy supplies to boil them in my own kitchen?

Is it better to buy organic strawberries delivered as part of the box scheme by a man in a van who only comes to my bit of London once a week, to cut down the food miles? Or better to use shanks' pony (ie walk) to M&S Simply Food over the road and buy the non-organic ones there? Complication: the organic ones have begun to go BLACK within two days, so that's a bit wasteful. Yet my supermarket ones NEVER go black, they just go mushy, and is that a sign of how toxic supermarket ones are, so pesticided that they can't even decay properly? And, while not accusing any one supermarket, I know that deals struck with suppliers by Goliaths of the retailing industry can be pretty hard on farmers.


And that's just food. Don't get me started on transport. What do you do about all this stuff?

Lovely Link of the Day:
Go on, make yourself feel virtuous or devilish, and calculate your Carbon Footprint. I'll tell you mine tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Word Count: 110,537

And the heatwave continues. I do love heat but not so much when I have work to do. I got up early this morning, started work at 7am on the edits, in the hope that I could relax in the afternoon, but then I got into it and have been working non-stop except for quick lunch, till 6pm.

Thank goodness boyf is home soon or could easily do 24 hours, which would probably mean the writing would suffer. The heat is slowing me down, but I am enjoying unpicking and re-stitching the story even so...

Today I reheated yesterday's mushroom curry and I'm afraid it wasn't as good. The cardamom was more overpowering and, as there wasn't much of a sauce, the flavour hadn't developed much. So I added lots of Tracklements Mango Chutney which is a bit common of me, but nice all the same...

As an afternoon snack I had a little piece of Wensleydale, with an organic pear. Very summery and refreshing...

Lovely Link of the Day:
Last weekend's Sound Advice on Radio 4 was all about writing a novel, with guest authors Jake Arnott and Marina Lewycka, plus editor Alan Samson - and you can listen again! Excellent introduction that demonstrates, yet again, that there's no Right Way to Write a Book - though there is a right way to increase your likelihood of getting published, i.e. write something out of love.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Still hot...

Word Count: 109,282

...and still working hard. This weekend involved lots of lugging around of furniture, and lots of discussions between self and boyf about whose wineglasses are nicest, and whose should be stored in the kitchen or the garage. One of the consequences of establishing a home on your own and then moving in with someone who has done the same.

My glasses are, of course, the nicer ones. Though I will admit to some minging cutlery.

I am about three-quarters of the way through revising the WIP, but it's the last quarter where the biggest changes will be made. And THEN I need to go back and put in lots of little blog entries, as this is part of the way the story is constructed, with lots of statistics. This will take a lot of research, but should be satisfying to see it coming together. They'll either add texture to the story or prove highly confusing. Let's hope it's the former!

I've also decided to add a new bit to the blog, inspired by the woman who cooked all the French dishes by Julia Childs in her apartment. Mine is less ambitious, but will involve listing what I cooked from the organic box of veggies we're trialling. Kind of seasonal eating. My cookbook mainly is the Leith's Vegetarian Bible, with support from the 121 recipe books I own.

Box contents today: oranges, pears, onions, courgettes, lettuce, mushrooms, new potatoes, broad beans.

So... today I did:
Pak Choi with ginger and garlic for lunch. This wasn't bad at all, though a bit samey after a while...I think I needed more garlic. But I loved the 'heart' of the pak choi, and will post a photo when I've worked out how to do that.

Dinner: mushroom curry. Learned how to create your own spice paste years ago at an Indian cookery class. Yum. Curry powder is not even related. The smell of roasted coriander and cumin, fried with garlic, ginger and onions, transformed the kitchen and my overheated mood...actually, I think it was the cardamom that added the 'je ne sais quoi' to the finished dish, which also had carrot, courgette, orange peppers and Greek yogurt. Also, why does cardamom come out of the pods in two colours, black and light brown? Anyone know?

Lovely Link of the Day:
Some pages from the Julie/Julia project: obviously I would love a cookery book deal, but mainly this is inspiration...

Friday, July 14, 2006

Disappearing Act - and One Word radio

Word Count: 111,895
Poetry Assignments Marked: 19
Number of new neighbours encountered with hungover breath and unbrushed hair when sneaking out to put rubbish out: 2

I don't know where the days are going. Everyone I know said that once I had left my full-time job, I would no longer understand how I'd juggled everything, and it's completely true. The last ten days have been dominated by work (though I have managed to fit in the odd nice lunch, barbecue, swims at the local pool plus a swanky launch party - for Jenny Colgan's West End Girls). I've finished marking the poetry module of the Open University course, except for two people who submitted late. And I also taught a Day School with the same students last Saturday which was fun if rather intense.

Then yesterday I took part in a discussion on One Word Radio, about fashion and style in books. Now, anyone who knows me will know that fashion has NEVER been my strong point, so it was interesting to talk about how I incorporate brands and interiors to define my characters, without making them fashion victims.

You can listen to the discussion tomorrow, either at 9am or at 5pm, on the One Word Website, on digital radio, or via your Freeview box. Go on - I'd love to know whether I managed to pull off sounding like someone who knew anything at all about the subject. It was great fun, though, I do love doing radio.

Meanwhile, back to my Scaredycat edits. I am enjoying having the time to get stuck in, though it is pretty intense work, which has to be broken by trips to the dry-cleaners and Boots for fake tan (I feel as though I really ought to have a tan, given the fantastic weather we've been having, but as I spend so much time at my desk, my skin is pretty pale...).

Lovely Link of the Day:
In other urgent business, I need a new collar for my cat in case she decides to go too far. Oooh. I like these.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

VAT and other mysteries

Word count: 110,189

You know you're getting into the second draft when the word count begins to fall. Have been working hard today at this, and at filing my first ever VAT return, and getting my first ever delivery from Staples (a fan, some pens, post-its, a very late in the day surge protector to keep the computer safe from lightning etc, and a chair I have yet to put together). You can also tell I am still over-excited about the prospect of self-employment when I get excited about an hour on the phone to the accountant.

I do feel pretty overwhelmed with work, actually, and already I am wondering how I was ever managing as a full-time employee as well as an OU lecturer and a writer. We were talking about this last night at the writers' group I go to. Also chatting about our identities as writers, and whether we can really tell for ourselves 'who' we are and what kind of books we're writing. I mean, I have embraced the chick lit label in this blog but is this what I'll stay? Am I even writing true 'chick lit' - I certainly try to push the boundaries a little, but is there a point beyond which they cannot be pushed?

So far, my fantasies of spending the summer knocking up gazpacho and fresh soda bread are exactly that - fantasies. But maybe when the second draft is finished...the main thing is, I feel in control. And that's priceless.

Lovely Link of the Day:
I'm exploring sites like this one, aimed at freelance writers who work from home. That'll be me then. Though this one seems a bit too American in content, but with some interesting links.