Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The judges are conferring...

The title competition is now closed: thanks to everyone for the suggestions, which I'm collating and sending off to the Powers That Be. I have some favourites there, plus a few of my own, and I expect to know for certain what the title will be in the next week or two...watch this space.

Not much cooking done over the last few days, except for stuffing a round yellow courgette or two (with feta, red onions, basil, wrapped in foil then barbecued in the coals for about 25 minutes) and some more aubergine dip/baba ghanoush: have worked out it's the tahini (sesame seed paste) that gives it that yummy thickness and taste.

I did have plans for a strawberry and peach cake but as it's now thundery, rainy and plain cold outside, it feels more like gingerbread weather.

I've had a fun bank holiday: some painting (of walls), drinking, eating out. Also went to the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain - I am a Philistine, as I've said before, as the modern stuff does not do it for me at all, but I love the Tate Modern building.

Lovely Link of the Day:
Thanks to the wonder of Flash, You too can experience the rather baffling Pierre Huyghe exhibition we saw at the Tate Modern: I did like it, but I haven't a clue what it was all about. Mind you, I expect he'd say the same about chick lit...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Metamorphosis











Before....

After!

The joys of the hedgerows, eh? I was a right domestic goddess yesterday - baking an Italian blackberry and cinnamon cake (courtesy of Ursula Ferrigno, whose wonderful book about Italian Cakes and Puddings I must use more often: I once attended a course on Italian food with her and she was a total livewire) and also starting to make blackberry vinegar. This is not exactly a high tech operation: you chuck the blackberries in a bowl of vinegar and wait for 5 days. Though even after a couple of hours, all sorts of grit and - probably - insect bits began to float to the surface. Still, I've always been in the 'a few germs do you no harm' camp...and maybe as a veggie, unintentionally killed insects are a good source of protein?

Anyway the cake is FAB even if I do say so myself, and won't last 24 hours, I suspect. Dubious boyf had to be talked into having a slice and then had huge piece of seconds so that was good. The cake is extra squidgy due to using ground almonds, and it was great fun to make.

Further distraction while I wait for my notes, interspersed with some very hard work on my Open University marking (I managed to get 18 of them done between Thursday and yesterday morning and because they were life-writing - i.e. biography or autobiography, I found them very enjoyable to read, with students really getting their teeth into ). I'm also working flat out (in between baking!) on this copy-writing project about how to be creative. Being very factual about the nature of creativity is an interesting challenge, I must admit.

More of that today, plus still waiting for the Universe (or one of you) to send me the perfect title for Scaredycat...Maybe I should get into cosmic ordering, like Noel Edmonds.

Lovely Link of the Day:

I like this DIY fairy-tale kit from the BBC 'hitch-hiker's guide' like site. Kind of wikipedia after a spliff...

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Blackberry Picking as Aerobic Exercise

It's been a curious, rainy weekend so far, interspersed with brilliant, hot sunshine. We managed to pick the right two hours to go jogging/cycling/blackberry picking. Boyf said he was impressed by my running and actually, I did manage to go further than I had before: it does get easier, though my knees are creaky, the morning after the day before.

I'd noticed blackberries ripening in the brambles and so took a small bag and we collected about a pound of them. Have decided this in itself is good exercise, like a kind of outdoor yoga, as you stretch into peculiar positions to try to avoid the nettles and the spiky branches. And people were making endless comments as they walked past.

Then we listened to the bands rehearsing for an outdoor concert at Marble Hill (wow, just found this link, and you can go Bodice Making in October: how fab. Is there a Bodice Ripping session for advanced students, I wonder?) just over the Thames. It then CHUCKED it down all evening, I wonder if it was even rained off.

Lovely - though when we got back into town, I wondered why people were giving me funny looks, only to realise I had deep red stains down my clothes, where the blackberry bag had leaked.

Question of the day: if you could only eat one colour food for the rest of your life, what colour would it be? For me...red: beetroot, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, red onion, red cabbage, etc. Would Edam count? Boyf looked at me oddly when I asked him, then answered brown: toast, potatoes, mushrooms, roast chicken.

The title debate goes on - do keep them coming, please!

Lovely Link of the Day:
Some fab recipes for Blackberries...Just call me Felicity Kendal.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The irresistible lure of lager and lime...

So that's where you've all been hiding! Thank you so much for the responses to my request for titles - it seems you're anybody's for a lager and lime, eh?

The competition will stay open till the end of the British Bank Holiday Monday (i.e. Midnight, British Summer Time, Monday 28 August). I suppose I should have thought of some rules and regulations for it, but broadly, even if my publishers choose something completely different, I will announce my favourite and you will get the proof - if it exists, otherwise it'll be a first edition - and an invite to the next launch. Now before you get all excited, a) book launches aren't quite the most glamorous affairs you might imagine (most take part in rough and ready pubs which offer free room hire for a start) and b) um, well, for the last book I didn't get my act together to have a launch as I was busy changing my life. But I am hoping to have one next May for Book X, even if it's a lager-and-lime down the Coach and Horses.

I went running today - well, my poor excuse for running - and the friend I went with was, I think, shocked at how unfit I was. But it was so beautiful along the Thames: all weeping willows and stunning riverside houses. Then had coffee with another writer friend and began pitching my current ideas. By number 5, she was snoring gently so I apologised profusely and realised I ought to try to calm down a little. She did say she liked them, though, so thank you, S. Made my day.

I have been neglecting my Phoodie Photography lately but promise to be back on track soon - if blogger ever lets me upload the pix, you can look forward to:

Swiss Chard: a vegetable to admire rather than fall in love with...
Fun with Beetroot...
and...Sandwich Fillings from Random Things in the Cupboard

Keep those competition entries coming. I'll also be updating you soon on the How to Get Published Course due in November.

Lovely Link of the Day:

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

And the answer is...(competition!)

I am out of my suspense now. My editor hasn't yet had time to read my MS. Up to her clogs in a fantastic saga, apparently. So I haven't yet had my MS thrown across the room, but neither have I had the total thumbs up. Nearly there, though.

So I've been doing a synopsis a day, plus the copy-writing project. But the biggest task of all is thinking of a new title for book 4, The Scaredycat's Handbook. It seems the title is probably too vague, not really descriptive enough to get people picking it up or knowing what it's about. Obviously I do love the title but I can also see the problem, so if anyone has a good title to match the following, do please add your comments. Prize is a proof copy*, a mention in acknowledgements and an invite to the next launch party**....

Jo Morgan is a self-confessed Scaredycat. As a Disaster Prevention Officer, she spends her days weighing up the dangers of everything from meteor showers to horny bulls rampaging through the local shopping centre. In fact, Jo's life has been one big preparation for Disaster. As a child living near the famous Greenham Common Air Base, she stockpiled baked beans in case of nuclear holocaust - and now, every decision she makes is carefully considered, based on available statistics. But she's happy... well, as happy as anyone can be in these dangerous days. Fortunately her boyfriend - disaster planning head honcho Dennis Diffley - shares her outlook on life, so everything they do together involves the minimum possible risk. From their social lives to their sex lives, spontaneity is not in the vocabulary.

The morning after Valentine's Day, Jo is walking to work (having forgotten her reflective jacket due to a mild hangover) when she's mowed down by a push-bike and suffers a serious head injury. She falls into a coma, with vivid and unsettling flashbacks of her Scaredycat childhood. She comes round two days later, and realises she's been given a second chance at life - but it'll take fellow patient and former fighter pilot Frisky Freeman van Belle - and his mysterious American grandson, Luke - to help Jo make the most of living, and loving, in dangerous times.

All suggestions very welcome.

Lovely Link of the Day:
An interesting article about the struggles of authors who made it big with their first novels - and now need to repeat the magic with their second book.

*Assuming I finish my edits in time for proofs to be published...
** And you can have a lager and lime on me!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Ideas Circus

So, I’m juggling projects. Copy-writing project is making progress, and I have worked out the Table of Contents tool in Word which is fun (did I just write that? It must come from the same bit of my brain that adores stationery). I’ve written a chapter of one new idea and my new strategy this week is to work on a different idea each day, to progress each one as far as I can in those few hours, and see where I get to. Today’s idea is the least worked up of the four I really like, not much more than a title, but it’s a title I really love, so I want to see whether I can turn it into a story rather than a mere ‘notion.’

I had coffee with another writing friend yesterday – hello, J, if you’re reading – and it was great to chew the cud (and chew a rather nice chocolate biscuit cake) over the process and inspirations and why we write. For me at the moment, settings are very important: I’ve been running along the Thames a few times lately – I used the term running VERY loosely - and looking at the fantastic houses on the other bank has given me a crystal clear idea of the key setting for one of my new ideas. I don’t quite know what is going to happen there, but I can’t wait to work it out.

Meanwhile, the Wait of Doom continues. The thing is, I do know in my heart of hearts that my editor is fantastically busy, that she warned me it would be a while before she could get to it, that she’s probably buried in other work. But the paranoid android bit of me thinks she has started it, then thrown it across the room in disgust and is wondering how to get out of publishing it…

Actually, even typing that has made me realise how daft it is. My editor is also very direct so if she does feel that then I think she’d be on the phone without much delay saying, right, let’s get stuck into making this work so we can still publish it next year.

Throwing myself into new projects is by far the best plan and also means that I will hopefully have a veritable mezze of guaranteed bestseller possibilities to offer her when it’s time to discuss the next book.

Lovely Link of the Day:

Another literary agent blogging about her life and her preferences: she takes no prisoners. She’s also made some interesting points about writing in more than one genre, which is relevant for me as I feel my approach diverging a little and I am interested in seeing whether I can adopt two different author ‘personas.’ I quite fancy leading a double life…

Friday, August 11, 2006

Strange days again

Book ideas on the go: 4

The news about the terror plot is very unsettling indeed and I hope it's been cracked. I am scared of flying and the thought of getting on board with just my passport - not even a book or notebook to distract me from the noise and the general horridness of it - freaks me out, so I'm not sure I will be able to face it for a while. I know that sounds highly trivial under the circumstances but I wonder how many people will feel the same. I've heard others suggest that the increasing inconveniences involved in flying might lead to less demand for air travel, which is bad for airlines but maybe good for the environment....

I've been busy distracting myself from awaiting the verdict on the manuscript, by having nice coffees and lunches and a haircut to banish those split ends. During coffee yesterday another writer gave me the thumbs up for two of my new ideas, which was all the encouragement I needed to do some work fleshing out the characters and plot - I was up till past midnight working on them, which is my most productive time, when I'm in the right mood. Those two ideas both have a celebrity angle to them, which is interesting as I haven't been that fussed about exploring showbiz culture before, but both are about ordinary people encountering that extraordinary world, so I am excited about both.

The other two ideas (well, there are maybe 8 on my list, but my current faves) are quite different: the first deals with love and romance in a more overt way than before, almost a modern fairy tale, and the second is more of a character than an idea, but I think I could develop the character into a series.

A while ago, I was asked in the comments how I decide which ideas to go with, and the truth is that it's a mixture of my own gut instincts, and guidance from my editor and agent on which might have the most potential for sales or to grow my readership. It's also about which best suits my own writing style - so I might have a terrific notion for an action thriller, say, but frankly I don't read those books and I don't know the rules and my habit of inserting random jokes might detract from the seriousness of a thriller, so that's probably not the right project.

One of my reasons for taking a break from the day job to focus on writing was to see whether I can juggle more than one project - my 'one-off' novels and a series, for example, or an adult novel plus a children's book every year. So far it's been more of a case of catching up with myself after three years of burning the candle at both ends, but I suspect this 'doubling' is the way I'd like to go if possible.

Lovely Link of the Day:
I've been 'listening again' to a lot of the BBC memory programmes that I've mentioned before - this one in particular, about unreliable memories, is very relevant to the book I've been working on lately, and is very interesting: why might two people have very different memories of the same event? Very intriguing...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Death by chilli










The deadly blighters...
I thought I was going to collapse last night after slicing into a chilli pepper from the plant we've been growing on the patio (as seen above in slightly surreal night-time shot). I was on the phone to my friend and halfway through spouting about something or other - Robbie Williams, I think, as she's off to see him for work today in Germany and I was telling her that if he asked, it would be churlish to refuse - when my lungs and throat seemed to stop taking in air and everything from my skin to my mucous membranes (fortunately not those ones) erupted in a sizzle of chilli heat. I swear I only touched the things for a few seconds, before throwing away the seeds.

I guess because they're freshly picked they are more savage but this Good Life has its downsides. I never saw Felicity Kendal having a plant-related asthma attack.

Next time, gloves and surgical mask are called for I guess.

The dish I was making, courgette and feta fritters, was nice though not very frittery, as you can't buy flour from Marks and Spencer.

I've been working on the copy-writing today, and playing with new Creative Zen thingy, which annoyed me rather as the CD it came with made me install all kinds of fancy programs, but I don't need ANY of them as far as I can tell. And my computer is clunky enough without extra software.

Lovely Link of the Day:
More top tips, this time from good old Karin again). See, she never moans about chillis.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The shortest diet in history

My resolve to go low-carb again lasted three hours, until I remembered I had leftover potato salad in the fridge (with home-made herb mayo: irresistible).

My new strategy is walking - yesterday I walked for about two hours around Bushy Park, and today I walked alongside the Thames for a more manageable 35 minutes. Trying to walk briskly enough to burn calories is a bit of a challenge, but I've also ordered a very cheap MP3 player today to help me on my way...though ironically that means staying indoors tomorrow to wait for it to arrive from amazon.

All of this is, of course, time-wasting while I await my editor's verdict on the book. I had another look today at the opening and was none the wiser about whether it was a) rubbish or b) the best piece of literature since Hamlet. The answer will lie somewhere between the two, presumably closer to a) than b) judging from past performance, but I have a horrible feeling that the rewrites I've done haven't helped me a lot.

I also saw a man about my pension today. Oh God. I like to think I'm a relatively bright person (I got a B in my O Level Maths) but I don't have the foggiest idea whether I am doing the right thing or not. A real headache, but I guess I just have to trust my instincts. If I can work out what they are.

Also went to library and got out: Rose Elliot's Low Carb Veggie cookbook; Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales; Body Parts: Essays on Life-writing (to complement the Life-writing section of the OU course) and a slightly new agey book called The Art of Story-Telling. Plenty there to keep me busy. Plus I do have a big copy-writing project to get on with, so no excuse to sit on sofa eating truffles...

Lovely Link of the Day:
Publishing types are getting into blogging in the UK at last: there's the Penguin Blog and then one where Scott Pack, formerly the Waterstones man all publishers wined and dined, and now of The Friday Project, promises to spill the beans on why he left. But now he's gone AWOL for a few days. I think he's teasing us, don't you, girls and boys?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Food and guilt

Splendid sunny weekend involving too much food and wine in the garden = feeling guilty about fat belly today. Not TOO guilty (there was a great piece in the Observer about women and guilt, so am trying not to feel guilty about feeling guilty) but I have been scoffing too much chocolate and bread etc lately, which is self-defeating as I feel so much healthier when I cut them out.

So today am going to try to go back onto an adapted version of the brilliant Lo-Carb Veggie Diet I did last year, which helped me lose about 1 1/2 stone (I reckon I have put 1/2 stone back on but it didn't suit me being very slim). Today's breakfast was Greek Yoghurt with toasted almonds and 4 raspberries. It's the raspberries that are NAUGHTY on this diet but yoghurt on its own is pretty yukky.

No more coffee, either. I need to find lots of activities to do to fill the inevitable thoughts that will assail me, whispering HobNobs and Soda Bread.

I will try not to become a diet bore, though.

Lovely Link of the Day:
This looks like a good site if you're a writer in the South of England. Other interesting stuff there even if you're not.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Poorly

Isn't poorly a great word? It feels like a very 1970s word to me, one that could cover everything from mild, unspecified bugs, through to full on Rabies with a side order of Ebola (this would be spoken of in a stage whisper by ladies on the bus, 'oh yes...Marjorie is under the doctor.').

I am using this word in the former context today and am relieved to say that my apparent laziness yesterday is actually a touch of the poorlies. Won't describe all my symptoms but I tried to do some work today and ended up sleeping for most of it, which is not normal for me at all. Need to perk up for tomorrow as I have another brainstorm to run.

No lovely link today, but there will be tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Vague Day...











My breakfast! Aha. Managed to post it. Strawberries, plums, Greek yoghurt, Dorset Cereals Muesli.

I am having one of those mornings where I don't feel terribly like doing anything. I can't decide whether this is a feeling that should be embraced as one of the joys of being freelance and I am therefore allowed to lie on my bed reading magazines or eating cherries OR whether I should fight the sin of sloth with all my being in case it becomes a terrible habit.

So far today I have pondered whether to try taking vitamins again (the purple horse pill one that promises glossy hair, and incredibly long and strong nails like an Indian yoga guru actually made me vomit yesterday - or maybe it was the two-day old barbecue food I had on Sunday - either way I felt horrible all day); tried yet again to upload photos to blogger and failed (aha! it just worked when I tried again! an achievement!); entered all sorts of ludicrous freebie competitions which may bring me free samples of plasters and dishwasher tablets...and pondered my productivity or lack of it.

On the upside, I did earn some proper money yesterday so maybe it's OK to have an off day. And I think this is the calm before the storm as I have a big project due to be sorted later this week.

Lovely Link of the Day:
Another good course site, this time for Script Factory - this course on Conflict looks particularly interesting. I tend to think that screen-writing courses are much more structured and theory based than fiction ones, and that even if you don't want to write a Hollywood movie, you can learn a lot from trying a new approach.