It’s late but it’s done

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It’s now 10pm, it’s late, my tea is cold, my shoulders are very stiff and my eyes are gritty and dry from too much screen time but my draft for Hidden Amongst Them is done and I feel like shouting it from the roof. I won’t because it’s very dark outside and I can hear the bats just outside my window.

So instead I’ll shout it from here.

After 85,000 odd words I have just typed

The End

and it feels immensely satisfying.

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The end is nigh

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I have been very quiet recently and I have a very good reason for this. I have been focussed on getting this forth or is it fifth? To be honest I lost count a few years back. Let’s go with the latest draft finished.

But in keeping with the lesson that led to my last post, I felt it only timely to acknowledge the progress I’m making. I’m closing in on the last chapter with maybe only three or four left to write so I’m taking a moment.

I also wanted to make the space for a future post where I can say The End.

Those befores, afters and life

 

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Cosmic photo courtesy of the brilliant folk at Pixabay

My life is broken up into before and afters and as each new before comes along another after fades into the background.

I know I don’t actively try to recall the befores. They’re just diary notes on a great cosmic calendar. There’s before journalism, then before marriage, before children and before a rather nasty health complication. That’s proven to be a big one.

I’ve always been aware of the way I catalogue my life and recently as I’ve followed Jacinda Ardern’s rise in New Zealand politics I’ve realised there are also a small handful of constant threads that have remained a straight course through the ups and downs.

She is one constant on the New Zealand political landscape that has been there since I can remember. She was there in the Auckland political landscape while my afters were playing out. It’s thrilling to see her as the leader of her party now. The focus here in Australia today is on her age. What they are neglecting to talk about is her decades in politics. Those decades filled with my befores and afters.

This has got me thinking about another big constant, writing. It’s been there through it all. Not an obvious partner, not even something I was aware of at the time. But it’s always been there and it’s clearly been coloured by all the befores.

I wrote this scene seven years ago lying in a hospital bed, my head spinning with nerves, anxiety, fear and a whole lot of steroids. The scene is still in the story I’m working on now.

“It was raining and it was hot so I looked up at the sky and let the rain fall on my face but then it was hard. The raindrops were slow and too big and it wasn’t my face they were landing on. It was the face of an old man. I bent over him to shelter his face but the water kept splashing in his eyes. He wouldn’t close them and I couldn’t shelter him. The man infant-like and skeletal at the same time, vulnerable. Then he twisted in convulsions. He was dying. I don’t know why I know that. I don’t know if it’s the rain that’s killing him. Then it stops, and it’s like the rain has frozen his face in this awful silent scream.’

Prior to the very large operation needed to rectify the health issue a fellow writer talked about surgery and how the very nature of the process is a violent attack on the body. But it’s also your friend. It is going to save your life. Befriending the process is key to a successful recovery. Not sure I did it well but I truly think the following is me coming to some kind of peace agreement with it.

The dark, purple scar ran in a jagged line from the base of his neck to just above his ear. The skin looked tight and pinched as if someone had hacked his head open, then closed it with staples. In the past three months, she had seen it with fresh blood seeping between the gathered skin. She had seen the blackened blood, still tacky, clinging to the stitches and matted hair and she had seen the scar, raw but healed. Despite all she had seen it still shocked her. A visual reminder of the damage to her son’s soul.

Just to be clear, my scar was delicate and quite beautiful, a perfect koru. But I’m sure psychologists and psychiatrists could have a field day with this lot.

So, today, I’m wondering how a win for Jacinda Ardern might shape my female characters tomorrow?

 

Life from inside a self-imposed​ bubble

 

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Thanks, Pixabay for this great image.

 

In learning about the art of writing you often hear established writers warning of the vacuum problem. By the very nature of writing, writers tend to operate on their own, in their corner, maybe a cave. It’s anti-social. It’s not necessarily lonely. But you are on your own.

You’re told you need to have writing groups, people you can share the trials and tribulations of writing with and get feedback on what you’ve done. All essential stuff. There is another key component I think we are guilty of forgetting here. Surrounding ourselves with these people is also about taking ourselves seriously. Writing isn’t something we do to pass the time. But how many writers out there can truly say they back themselves?

Maybe from time to time you do but I’d be willing to bet a coffee there are as many times or more where you don’t.

Last night I had a conversation where I was asked what I’d been up to. My response? “Oh you know, just plodding along.” This is a common response from me and it must make me sound really boring. It was later I realised I do this all the time. By plodding what I really mean is writing. What I should be saying is I’ve been writing like a steam engine producing great volumes of sentences that I may or may not use.

This past two weeks I’ve polished a chapter following feedback and written two more chapters ready for feedback later this week. I’m on a roll and I’m neglecting everything else because of it. I shouldn’t be saying “Oh you know, just plodding along. Or, not doing much. Or you know, just cruising.” I should be backing myself and saying I’ve been really busy writing and it’s exciting and I’m on a roll and it’s taken over my life to a point where meals are now a very low standard, walls are grimy, laundry piles are becoming mountain ranges and the windows are so filthy I’m opening them so I can see the sky.

So next time you ask me what I’ve been up to and I say “Oh, just plodding along, not much really.” Feel free to call me out!

My first batch of Vogel’s bread… or, a new use for the left over muesli mix.

 

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My first Vogel’s

 

Had I known making my own Vogel’s was so easy I wouldn’t have begged all those fabulous Kiwi’s to drag their suitcases laden with the glorious bread across the ditch for the last four years.

But, after doing a quick Google search it turns out not only are there a lot of recipes for the magic loaf. These clever bakers/food bloggers take their Vogel’s seriously trying different recipes and tweaking them to get the perfect loaf. All the work now done and dusted – yes a flour pun. Thank you very much, generous cooks.

Essentially we are talking a no-knead bread and it looks like this style of bread goes back to Great Britain and war time rationing when Doris Grant invented a no-knead loaf that became known as the Grant Loaf.

As a “start first, then read the instructions to make sure I have everything I need after it’s way too late” sort of person. I ended up resorting to the small jar of odds and ends I’d collected for the next batch of muesli. This maiden loaf has almond slivers, pine nuts, and sunflower, pumpkin, possibly sesame and definitely caraway seeds.

No, I don’t use caraway seeds in my muesli. But there is something so right about the smell of yeast and caraway that just seems so sensory and right.

A year or so back I tried my hand at sourdough. It was weeks of festering flour, little midges invading the kitchen and dough in different stages of rising. My family eventually asked me to stop making it because they were “sourdoughed out”. That was the last time I used the tins and when I pulled them out today there was a slightly alarming rust tinge in the grooves. The porridge-like dough was all ready to go so, I lined the tins with baking paper and poured the dough and popped the tins in the oven for that first rise.

I’ve never had a lot of luck with that yeast you have to mix with water and sugar then leave to foam. So, I use the lovely stuff in a packet. No mixing or guessing water temperature for me. I’m guessing I got the number of packets right. The rise certainly rose. The recipe states if the first rise gets to the top of the tin, great. If it looks like it’s about to spill over, even better.

Because I used paper to line the tins, and possibly more yeast was used than was needed. My rise was way up above the lip of the tin but the paper kept it uniform. Unfortunately, that didn’t stay the case as it cooked and the second loaf is spilling down the tin. I’ve just broken off a lump of spilt dough for a taste and it’s just like the real deal only warm and a lot fresher than the frozen crust I had for lunch earlier today.

So a cup of tea and an actual slice later – here is the final cut.

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Credit where credit is due: This recipe was from The Good Life A city girl gone rural. New Zealand writer Annabel Langbien’s brilliant cookbook called Free Range Cook has a very similar recipe to the one I used called busy people’s bread.

A new day, a new batch of muesli

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Muesli batch no. 3

I’m in the middle of trying to write a post about Walt Whitman and his Leaves of Grass. It’s not looking anything like what I imagined it would but I will keep trying so stay tuned.

Meantime I’m aware it’s been some time since my last post and this morning it hit me. I’ve been told I’m a good cook, mainly by the dog who seems very eager to eat whatever goes in his bowl. So I decided to try a food type blog post.

This light bulb moment struck me as I mixed up the ingredients for my latest batch of muesli. Over the past few months, I’ve been re-living the glorious summer mornings of homemade muesli, fruit and yoghurt. The recipe is one I dreamt up two summers ago. I had also successfully poached some kumquat in a sugar syrup to add to the berries and apple slices. It was sublime, or so my memory tells me.

So, I’m now on to my third batch but for some reason, this season’s crop is not going as I remember the last one. The first batch was more like a new, en-point sort of crunchy, spicy toffee you add to emu or lamb or something crazy. Or maybe an Anzac biscuit that’s dancing to the beat of its own drum. It was a delicious, unctuous mason jar of goodness and it didn’t last very long because I kept eating it – by the handful – it wasn’t pretty.

The second batch, well, for want of a better word I’m going with burnt. I decided in the goal of food blogyness I would adopt a zero waste policy and eat the Mason jar of black chaff. It’s taken longer to get through than the first batch. But I’ve finally worked out the perfect balance of yoghurt and milk to get it down and I’m nearly finished. Yes, it sticks to the roof of my mouth and if I don’t have a cup of tea on standby there is the risk of choking. The flavour palate is an intriguing mix of zingy, crunchy and slightly tart. But as I’m nearly at the end I’ve decided the third time has got to be the charm.

So, the third batch has just gone in the oven. The question is. Will I get this post done before it’s cooked! Hey, I’ve just introduced a time element. Will this be the perfect mix of wet and dry ingredients herbs and spices or, will this to be another jar of something not unlike the ashes and scrapings from last night’s fire?

So stay tuned for the next post.  Dripping – a vehicle for flavour or just a place for the burnt bits?

The key to a good review? – Keep it brief!

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This great photo was taken by 3dman-eu. Thank you Pixabay and 3dman-eu.

We seem to be awash with book reviews, or reviews of everything really. But I’m focussing on books.  Reviewers remain a great source of finding new authors. Reviews can be brilliant, sometimes they are very, very long. You have to work out if the reviewer shares your taste or you could find yourself reading books that put you to sleep faster than usual and then you have the faux reviews. The personal opinions of readers.

Personally I don’t get much from Good Reads or Amazon reviews. The general formula appears to be a summary of the story. Not what the reviewer thought of it. No comparison to other stories, or the author’s previous works. Just proof the reviewer read it.

But earlier this year this blog from Raven Crime Reads landed on my screen. I’ve gone back to it a few times. There are 20 reviews and they are perfect. Brevity and humour are the key here. Maybe it’s an art form. As Mark Twain said.

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter one.”

Reviews by Raven Crime Reads