Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The story so far

I love writing fiction. Like many I'm an aspiring and as yet unpublished novelist but I haven't written anything for ages. I'm not sure why really. I avidly read blogs about other writers and devour advice on how to write but just cannot apply bum to seat (as Chris of Home Thoughts Weekly - author of Turning the Tide and Move Over Darling - would say).

Anyway Chris has passed on a Lucky 7 Challenge in her blog this week (she threw the baton for anyone to catch - I caught!). The challenge is this:

  • Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 lines, or sentances, as they are - no cheating
  • Tag 7 other authors to do the same

Okay. I have four manuscripts to choose from - no, five! I have a trio of novels - all 50,000 words or just over - written during the three times I completed NaNoWriMo (after which my family begged me not to do it again, so I took a break). I also have a chick lit novel, the first draft of which is 54,480 words and a children's story, written about a character my children invented for stories at bedtime. That one's at 8,261 words so far.

Which one to choose? I have different feelings about all of them. The pain of writing the NaNo novels - 50,000 words in one month - is unforgettable. Do I despise them? Almost. Line 7 of Chick Lit is awful - notes rather than prose - and line 77 is too rude.

Instead you can have a bit of Eskima in the Land of the Giants, my story for H10 and R8. Eskima is a litle blue magical dream guardian for two little girls, Henrietta and Romy, their Mum Sweetie and Dad Darling. He lives in Attic Land (a magical land in the roof space of the house) where he deals with the characters and situations the children dream up every night. The book opens with him using his magic on an army of huffing and puffing wolves and some angry giants called Bozzarks.

By page 7 Eskima and the wolves are coping with a huge quantity of party food dreamed up by Romy, the younger of the two sisters. So far they've been snowed on by marshmallows, hailed on by humbugs and rained on by hot chocolate before becoming lost in thick, pink, candy floss fog.

By line 7 of that page they are wound up in the candy floss fog, all rather sticky and stuck.

Some days, Eskima reflected as he stood there swathed in candy floss, could be a little tiresome in Attic Land. He summoned up his magical powers and concentrated on the tips of his little blue fingers (which he could not see because they were hidden in a layer of pink spun sugar). There was a fizz, a stuttering yellow flash and then a small plume of grey smoke which wound and twisted its way up to his nostrils carrying with it the unmistakeable caramel smell of burned sugar. Eskima remained stuck to the spot like a big pink fluffy scarecrow. He resigned himself to a long boring wait while he either figured out the answer or it figured itself out for him.

Either way would be fine as long as it did figure itself out eventually and preferably before Henri and Romy filled Attic Land with any other weird and wonderful dream beasts or – worse – more Bozzarks. Talking of which, the ground was rumbling and shaking.

The Bozzarks are Eskima's main problem in Attic Land but later on he has to risk everything - being discovered by the adults - to help Romy when she gets into danger in the real world.

So that's mine. Like Chris I can't think of 7 authors to throw this open to, so I'm handing the challenge on to anyone who reads this and would like to have a go. Come on, don't be shy!

Monday, 23 April 2012

A little bit of catching up

We've been a bit busy over Easter and I've rather neglected my blog so, instead of a long waffly post about what we've been doing, I have made you a montage:

We had lambs (I've lost count how many; mum has them all written down in her meticulous records); Brian chainsawed the unruly garden hedge into submission and found this froggy chap (Mr Frog now lives in our new big pond); I've carried on sewing bags and developed a new addiction - turning old jumpers in to cardigans; H10 and R8 cycling at Pantmaenog in the sun; delicious sesame flatbreads; Scamp had his haircut and we scoffed ice creams in New Quay.

We had some sad news on Saturday when one of our guinea pigs Lucky (left) died. He'd been showing signs of old age for a while and we'd been preparing for the worst. It really tugs at the parental heartstrings to see one's children being brave in such circumstances. We had a touching ceremony in the garden and H10, R8 and their friend G10 carried Lucky around in his little snuggle bed, cuddling and stroking him while Brian dug a hole under the apple tree. The girls tucked Lucky into a box with a small toy teddy bear for company and Hannah has painted a slate headstone to mark the grave.

For a little pig, Lucky had a big character. We rehomed him after someone found him alone in the middle of a big field of sheep near Llandysul three and a half years ago. We found another baby guinea pig on Freecycle to live with him (guinea pigs must be kept at least in pairs) and Lucky and Patchy became our Morecambe and Wise in guinea pig form.

Patchy is definitely missing his friend but at least has something to snuggle with until we can get him a new live companion - R8 stuffed one of her old socks with hay and drew a guinea pig on it. It's not Lucky but it's better than nothing apparently.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Pie, princess pony and hot cross buns

The week started with a pie. I'm not much of a pastry maker really (I'm more of a bread person) but I occasionally have the whim to make a pie. The pastry recipe I use is Delia Smith's cheese pastry from the turkey flan with leeks and cheese recipe in the first of her Christmas books. That pie is known as Boxing Day pie in this house and the pastry is for the underneath crust but it works just as well as a lid too. The inside of this pie was Sunday's leftover roast chicken dinner and gravy. H10, R8 and I ate the exclamation mark and the right hand end. Brian ate the P, the I and the E and everything around it. Men love pies.

The postman arrived with a big surprise this week too. H10 avidly enters all of the competitions in her Pony magazine and this time she won. She had to complete a tie-breaker which was to say what she would call a book about Exmoor ponies. Her answer was 'Exmoor the merrier' and her prize was this bright pink Katie Price Equestrian rug for Itsy.

These two spend lots of time together and are best friends. Now they are even starting to dress alike. Neither has heard of Katie Price but both think the rug is very lovely.

It's definitely a rug fit for a pony princess.

Itsy looks very glamorous in it.

I think she likes the monogram!

It's hot itchy work being a pony princess.

That's better!

Today is Good Friday so I made some hot cross buns in honour of the day (and to continue my slow but sure progress in baking all of the recipes in the River Cottage Bread book). R8 doesn't like dried fruit so instead I added 100g of dark chocolate chips and orange (in the form of a tablespoon of my recently made marmalade) to the mixture, forgetting that the warm milk I added at the same time would melt the chocolate.

What we had instead was dark chocolate and orange hot cross buns. Delicious hot from the oven spread with butter and homemade marmalade. Happy Easter!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The busy woman's guide to marmalade making

I have been marmalading again. What?! you say. But it's April! And isn't marmalade such a pain. You have to buy special Seville oranges and they are in season for two seconds in January when you are still sleeping off your New Year hangover... and then there's all the squeezing and the fiddly slicing and the stirring and isn't it just easier to buy a jar from Tesco?

Well yes and, er, no. There is another way.You see I don't like Seville orange marmalade but there are so many other lovely citrus fruits to make marmalade from. Sweet oranges for a start, clementines, satsumas too, grapefruits and lemons. All of the above tend to lurk in the fruit bowl and at certain times of the year - Christmas, during the cold season for hot toddies - they end up looking a bit dried up, old and sad. Marmalade is the saving grace of the elderly citrus forgotten and dessicated in the back of the fridge (which is why my marmalade always contains lots of lemons - there are usually a few hiding somewhere.)

I follow Pam the Jam's recipe from the River Cottage Preserving book which is a kilo of citrus fruit with two kilos of granulated sugar and 2.5litres of water. I use what is is known as the whole fruit method because you just put the whole fruit and the water into a pan and simmer until the fruit is soft. That's the first cheat.

When it's cool, cut in half, flick out any seeds and drop the fruit into your food processor. That's the main cheat. I used to chop it finely with a knife but then I heard a lovely posh chap from Fortnum and Mason talking about award-winning marmalades on Simon Mayo's Radio Two show. One of the winning marmalades had been food processed and I decided that if it's good enough for posh marmalade experts from Fortnums, then it's good enough for me.

Process the peel until it's about as fine as you want (I like it really fine) then make sure you've got about 1.7l of water (reduce or top up as necessary) and add the peel back to it. (If you're me you then look fruitlessly in the cupboard for the sugar and the mixture sits on the stove for two days until you can get to the shops).

Mix in the sugar (eventually!) and 75ml of lemon juice if you haven't used lemons. Then bring it to a rolling boil until it reaches setting point (which is about 102 degrees C on my thermometer), leave it to cool for 10 to 12 minutes (Pam says - I usually leave it longer - this is so the peel doesn't sink), add 50ml of whisky (optional) and pop it into sterilised jars.

This batch was made with three forgotten lemons, two limes, a satsuma and some freshly bought sweet oranges to make up the weight. You don't get crystal clear marmalade with elegantly floating slivers of peel with this method but you do get the full citrussy hit in a very delicious jammy base and it's a very undemanding thing to make.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Crochet button and bead necklace

I have fallen deeply in love with Pinterest. Pinterest is very much ooh look at this isn't it lovely/clever/useful/funny/cute and I get that, I really get it. I have found and made deodorant (exactly like the one I buy at Lush but cheaper), I've been inspired to do machine embroidery and I've discovered so much inspiration for bags, sewing, recipes, everything.

This morning I found myself at a loose end owing to the fact that I pinged something in my back on Friday whilst doing heavy gardening stuff (this is where my husband rolls his eyes and says I told you so because he did and I ignored him. I spent all of yesterday pretending I was okay because I just hated to prove him right...)


Anyway so I was lurking on Pinterest this morning while I waited for the Ibuprofen to take effect and found a lovely tutorial on how to make a crochet button necklace. I've repinned the pin to my craft tutorials board and the original is from the I'm Topsy Turvy blog (click the name for the link).

Then, having all the necessary things handily to hand, I made my version:

The crochet thread was some I was given in a big bag of useful stuff by Dad's wife Pat, and I pinched borrowed the crochet hook from Mum's sewing box.

It's mostly vintage shirt buttons with others culled from old garments over the years with some beads thrown in for good measure. I did a chain for 15, then a bead, chained 15, then a button etc, until the end. The trick is to put the buttons and beads on the thread in your preferred order before you start to crochet then you just pick them up as you go along. I haven't crocheted for years (at least 30!) and I've never made anything of note in crochet before. Despite that it didn't take long to make and it was huge fun to do. What I need now is many, many more buttons!

This is what it looks like as a necklace (I'm rubbish at photographing things on me, so you'll have to make do with my glamorous assistant). It can also be worn wrapped around the wrist as a bracelet (but he wouldn't pose for that picture).