Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Currently reading...

One of the pleasures of my job is having long summer holidays. This not only allows me time to write but just as importantly gives me a chance to work my way through the great pile of books beside my bed.

I've just started reading this book and I'm already a bit in love with it. I won't say any more at this stage, other than quoting this long and beautiful paragraph from the third page. If this is a typical sample of the writing then I'm in for a treat…

"Stories were different, though: they came alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by torchlight beneath a blanket, they had no real existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being. They lay dormant, hoping for the chance to emerge. Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read… They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life."

I'll be reading this again for inspiration the next time I'm sitting at the keyboard, struggling to write a particular paragraph or page or chapter!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Healthy Breakfast Treat!

"A couple of years ago, I became fascinated by my own liver." No, this is not the start of some bizarre, French novel. Let me explain...

A couple of years ago I got glandular fever (that's 'mono' to our American friends and Epstein Barr for the pedants and medics). It's a common virus and the vast majority of people who get it shrug it off after a few weeks.

Unfortunately I wasn't one of them. I was one of the unlucky souls who found their liver under severe attack from the nasty virus particles. It left me with really odd post-viral symptoms which took several months to clear. Thankfully it went away but it was very unpleasant at the time.

I'd never really thought about my liver before. It's the unsung hero of the body - not as sexy as lungs or hearts or brains but just as vital. Think of it as a kind of battery and filter combined. When your liver gets clogged you can start to feel pretty tired and rotten.

So, when I saw this book on Amazon recently I got curious. I bought a second hand copy and found it full of cool recipes, mostly very low in saturated fat and high in fruit, veg, nuts etc. It's that time of the year in work where everyone is shattered. I'm finding myself eating whatever rubbish is to hand because I'm too tired to cook. This isn't good so tonight I decided to make one of the recipes for breakfast muffins - and they are surprisingly tasty. I say surprisingly because they are amazingly low in fat and sugar but don't taste like they are.

Anyway, if you feel adventurous here's the recipe. There are lots more in the book. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS (For metric - check conversion websites)

1.5 cups wholemeal self-raising flour (or plain plus 2 level tsp baking powder)

0.5 tsp mixed spice

0.5 tsp cinnamon

0.5 cup sultanas

2 egg whites, beaten

2 tblsp plus 2 tsp cold pressed almond oil (I used walnut oil and it was fine)

1 cup cooked, chopped apple (roughly 2 Pink Lady apples - all I had!)

1 tblsp plus 1 tsp honey or concentrated apple juice.

0.5 cup soy milk - I used ordinary milk.

  • Heat oven to 176deg C (350 Fah)

  • Mix the wholemeal self-raising flour, cinnamon, mixed spice and sultanas. Keep separate.

  • Peel and finely slice 2 apples and cook in a little water until soft. Mix the apple with the beaten egg whites, oil, honey and (soy) milk.

  • Blend wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

  • Cook in an oiled muffin tin (I used paper cases instead) for roughly 17 mins.

    • Thursday, 9 June 2011

      Go me!

      This is a shameless example of me being my own cheerleader (I could have posted a cheerleader pic but it might have attracted the wrong sort of reader...).

      Tonight I passed the 40,000 word mark. I'm half-way through chapter twelve and I reckon there are between fifteen and twenty thousand words to go (it's a much shorter book than The Watchers). I hit the wall just after 30,000 but I seem to be back in the game now. So, hanging in there and keeping on going.

      The last chapter is mostly written and I reckon there are three or four chapters in between (I could of course be wrong...). I can't claim to know everything that happens between now and the end but there *is* a scene where my hero Adam goes to a nightclub and things don't go exactly to plan... Should be fun to write.

      So, back to the grindstone!

      Wednesday, 8 June 2011

      How much is that doggie in the window...?

      The world likes to crudely label people as dog lovers *or* cat lovers. However I happen to love both. I already have two cats with seven legs between them (leg number eight took on a fast moving vehicle and lost). But just recently I've been wondering whether it's time to take the plunge and get a lovable mutt.

      First of all I should point out that the Irish wolfhound in the picture is just the fantasy dog. They're beautiful animals but they're basically the size of a pony and the cats would make a tasty mid-morning snack for a typical wolfhound. Also, they are apparently nicknamed "the heartbreak hound" which has nothing to do with Elvis songs and everything to do with their short-ish lifespan (7-9 years).

      But even a small dog seems to bring awesome responsibilities. Cats are independent - the perfect singleton's pet. They spend their days sleeping, eating, sleeping, grooming, sleeping, getting stuck on the roof etc etc. They can be left overnight without wrecking the place. Sometimes they seem almost sorry to see you come home, just as they've got used to that comfy bit on the sofa...

      A dog on the other hand is demanding. It craves attention! It needs walked and let out in the garden to ... 'do its business'. It might well develop a penchant for chasing small furry animals e.g. three-legged cats. Kennels fill up fast in peak holiday season. You get the jist.

      So why is it that in spite of this I am desperate to get a dog? Is it a married thing? I don't think so. I had a dog once when I was single, for three whole days - on an agreed trial basis I should add! A guy I worked with was trying to re-home a lovely dog which had unfortunately grown from a cute puppy into a full-size animal, much to its owner's displeasure. Said owner then pretty much kept the dog locked up for six months before eventually conceding defeat.

      This meant that the (totally untrained) dog went almost crazy with excitement every time she saw a human being. She enjoyed mad, lunging walks, dragging me in her wake. She scrabbled out of my supposedly escape-proof garden so she could play with / eat / terrorise the dog / children next door.

      I realised with a sinking heart that this dog didn't just need a single mum and a suburban garden. She needed a large, boisterous family, preferably with teenage boys who could run the legs off her. She needed a dog whisperer who could teach her to walk on a lead, not trail her hapless owner along the edge of the harbour. With a mixture of sadness and relief I gave her back to the re-homer, who happily found her a farm to live on.

      But years have passed since then and now I think it's time. I'm having to work on the Murph (who isn't a natural pet man) and a wolfhound is out of the question. But I'm pretty sure I'm ready to handle a Jack Russell...

      Sunday, 5 June 2011

      Just finished... Gone

      It's another wet weekend in Northern Ireland (they're not exactly an infrequent occurrence). Luckily while there are still books in the world I won't have any bother entertaining myself...

      I read Gone last weekend and really enjoyed it. When you're reading it you will definitely recognise elements from other books - it reminded me of Stephen King's Under the Dome crossed with Heroes / X-Men. It starts really well - Sam and his friends are sitting in school when their teacher simply disappears. It soon becomes clear that the small town they live in has been completely cut off from the outside world and everyone aged 15+ has disappeared. This on its own would have been an interesting situation (very much like Under the Dome) but to spice things up we then learn that Sam and some of the other kids have been developing supernatural abilities, probably linked to the nuclear power plant on the edge of town.

      In some ways the story is predictable - a new order has to be established. Not all the kids who become town leaders or develop powers are the good guys and gals. BUT this book has lots of nice twists, including a very King-esque 'monster' in the desert, scary animals, some vicious baddies and a reluctant, likeable hero in Sam. It's a good, pacy thriller.

      I should add that I bought the sequel today Hunger (there are two further sequels so far - Lies and Plague) and with a sinking heart I'm realising this one is possibly going to be less psychological and more monster-y. I'll let you know if it lives up to the first book...

      Thursday, 2 June 2011

      Why Writing is like 'The Long Walk'

      One of Stephen King's most intriguing novellas is 'The Long Walk', written as King's alter ego Richard Bachmann. In this story 100 teenage boys gather at the starting line of a life or death marathon. Their task is simple: walk at a steady pace of 4 mph without ceasing. The catch: if they stop they will die. Their aim is to be the last man walking. If they can manage that they will be given everything they've ever dreamt of.

      At the start of the 'race' their spirits are high. Some of the walkers work together, encouraging each other. Others become loners and retreat into their own shell. As the walk progresses boys begin to fall away – or rather are shot dead. In the end the last man standing is the only one to survive and win the prize.

      Okay, so I'm exaggerating a little. Writing a book is hardly life or death... BUT it does take a certain single-minded madness to see it through, to be the 'last man standing'.

      Anyone who has written a book from beginning to end will know there are definite stages along the road. At the beginning the idea is a bright light. It fills your mind with glee and your heart with hope. This will be the one! This one is different! This idea is going all the way! You start writing, and every moment is a joy. You love the characters, the places, the cleverness as the plot twists and turns. You can't wait to sit down at the computer every evening.

      The end is pretty satisfactory too. You know you're nearly there! It's like climbing a mountain and seeing one last ridge between you and victory. Somehow you get a second wind. I remember writing the last four or five chapters of The Watchers with a mixture of love, hate and steely determination. You keep going because you're so nearly there.

      In The Long Walk the middle section is where most of the walkers fall away - or lie down and die. The middle is where the fun is over and reality is dawning – there's still so far to go! You don't know if you have the reserves to get you to the end. Other people are out in front! Sometimes those people are people who have become your friends. You're not sure if you're going to make it!

      In the end, after years of painfully throwing aside half finished manuscripts, I've realised that real writers are the ones who write through the pain. The writers who find agents and advances and publishing deals aren't 'magical'. They don't know the right people. They're the ones who just kept writing, whether they loved it or hated it.

      As you can probably guess I'm about half-way through the new book and the pain is raw and fresh... It's a long road - but I'm going to keep walking!

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