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Food, Glorious Food!

Apricot_flowers_best
Late winter

Back in February, I wrote about the apricot tree flowering in my greenhouse. That was before winter came back to bite us, in the form of The Beast From The East. At a time when spring should have been springing, we ended up with several feet of snow, and endless days with the thermometer registering well below freezing. Despite my greenhouse heater going full pelt and plenty of insulation, the later flushes of apricot flowers were nipped by the cold.  A lot of them shrivelled before opening. Some of the earliest fruitlets were killed too, so instead of a tree covered in fruit, we were left with only a few dozen surviving apricots.

That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. If every flower had turned into a fruit, we’d have had hundreds of apricots, none of them any bigger than grapes. The stone inside each one would have taken up a lot of room, so there wouldn’t have been much in the way of juicy fruit.

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What a difference four months made!

The answer would have been for me to thin out the fruit by picking them off while they were still tiny. The idea is to leave about one fruit for every four inches of branch. I can’t bear to be ruthless, so we would have ended up with measly apricots.

Luckily, nature did the job of thinning the fruit out for me this year. We didn’t have so many fruit, but each one was the size of a peach! The seven in the photo at the top of this blog weigh nearly a kilogram (that’s 2.2lb in old money).

I’d be happy to sit in the shade and eat them fresh form the tree, but OH loves fruit crumble and custard. Here’s my recipe, which is really quick and easy. It includes jumbo oats and Demerara sugar which means the topping stays crunchy, in lovely contrast to the cooked fruit beneath.

Apricot Crumble

Ingredients:

700g (1.5lb) fresh apricots, sliced

A small amount of caster sugar

100g (4oz) flour

75g (3oz) butter

50g (2oz) Demerara sugar

75g (3oz) jumbo oats

Heat the oven to 180c (160 Fan) Gas Mark 4

Put the sliced apricots in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over a little sugar, and add a couple of tablespoons of water.

In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and oats. Spread this mixture over the apricots.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for between 35-40 minutes, or until the fruit is cooked. This is delicious whether you serve it hot or cold, with custard or cream.

Of course you could always make this with tinned apricots—just use the juice instead of water, and cook until the crumble is browned and crunchy.

What’s your favourite recipe using summer fruit?

 

 

Blog, Writing

You Can Write! Part Twelve— Play Fast And Loose

Writers vary in the amount of planning they do before starting to write. Some use software systems such as Snowflake or Scrivener to guide them. Others plunge straight in. Both systems have their good and bad points, so it comes down to personal preferences. 

When you’re first grabbed by an idea, plan as much or as little as you like but don’t get bogged down in too much detail when it comes to working on your first draft. Fiddling with tiny details makes the challenge of writing a whole book seem much harder than it actually is.

person hands woman pen
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As long as you’ve done your groundwork on characters and conflicts, try charging straight through your story, writing only the dialogue. Scribble away as fast as you can, getting down on paper or screen all the juiciest exchanges you’ve been dreaming up. Start the beginning, and work right through to the end. You’re not looking to write the whole 60,000 words or whatever at this stage. You’ll probably change a million things about your manuscript before you’re satisfied with your final draft, but right now you’re concentrating on the basics.

What you want at this stage is a sure-fire way to boost your writerly self-esteem. This first, dirty draft will capture all the edge of the seat stuff – the interplay of character and conflicts that first attracted you to your idea.

Once you’ve got the basic scaffolding of your story in place, you can go back at your leisure and create a second, cleaner draft. Refine your work with more description, lots of character development and some crackling conflict. Polish your story until it’s a perfect read!

Blog, Writing

You Can Write! Part Eleven—A Long Affair

Your readers rely on you to get things right. Do your research carefully. The internet is a great place to start, but don’t rely on it as your sole source of information. Instead, use it as a springboard to find experts in their field, and works of reference.

Never say, “I can’t be bothered”. Check everything. When I’m writing non-fiction such as Struggle and Suffrage, I write a quick ‘dirty draft’, which sketches out broad chapter topics. This highlights the places where I need to find specialist help. I put key words in bold capital letters, so I can list subject areas easily. In second and second and subsequent drafts, I include more facts and figures as I gather them.

When you’re writing non-fiction, the final step is to include all your sources in footnotes. That way, anyone who wants to find out more knows which other books to read, and who to contact.  There’s no need to do that in such detail when you’re writing fiction, but include a list of useful links, or thanks to people who have helped you,  at the end of your book.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

No matter how obscure your subject, you can bet there’s an expert among your readers.  They’ll pick up on the difference between the figures you quote for the spices traded in eleventh-century Constantinople, and the statistics they’ve collected for themselves. Include only a fraction of your research in your fiction writing. You might find yourself fascinated by mediaeval drainage techniques while you’re planning your romantic novel. That doesn’t mean your readers want spadefuls of information about sewers shovelled into every chapter. Use a light touch. When fiction needs to have some facts included, less is more!

Use social media to create a “street team” of readers you can trust to give you honest feedback. Bounce ideas off them. Make it clear you’ll always listen, but you reserve the right to make all final decisions.  Give credit where it’s due, but be careful. It’s a short step from naming a character after one of your friends on social media, to have them claim you’ve used their life story without their permission. It’s very rare, but it does happen. 

internet-social media 3420951_1920When anyone takes the trouble to email or write to you about your work, always take the time to reply to them. While most people are lovely and offer only compliments, there’s always the odd person with an issue. Never argue with trolls or sock-puppets. Reply with “Thanks for getting in touch. Your concern means a lot to me.” and move on. That way, you aren’t stooping to their level, or giving them any ammunition to use against you. They can’t moan that you’ve ignored them.

Never stop writing. That way you’ll have your next book well under way when your first is ready for publication. Make sure you don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. As always, make every word count.

Blog, Writing

You Can Write! Part Ten-Reader, I Love You…

Popular media has pruned the average attention span down to a few minutes. Pressure of work means reading time is often limited to an uncomfortable commute, or a few minutes before bed. It’s human nature to think I’ll just read to the end of this chapter. If you end each one with a hook or a piece of really strong, vivid writing, you’ll keep them keen.

Vary the length of your chapters as an incentive, to keep your reader turning the pages. If they find it hard to tear themselves away from your book, they’ll be raring to go next time they get a minute to relax. If they know they won’t necessarily have to set aside enough time to read a 4,000 word chapter, they’ll be even keener.

Varying the pace of your writing keeps your reader on their toes. Descriptive passages slow things down. Dialogue speeds it up. Plenty of white space leads them on, while too many dense pages of text encourages them to throw the book aside. Strike a balance. Give them with plenty of colourful, exciting jam with their textual bread-and-butter.
Never pad out your work with pointless description or backstory. If you’ve written a trilogy but two-thirds of it is info-dump, condense it into a single title instead. Don’t think of it as lowering your sights, or compromising your literary integrity.  It’s about improving the experience of people who read your book. Make every word a wanted word.

If your story is absorbing and your dialogue is well-written, you don’t need to identify every speaker every time. Too many “he said/she said” tags interrupt reading pleasure. Don’t use too many long words. Occasional technical terms in dialogue or scene-setting are fine as long as they leave your reader wiser, and move the action along.

Blog, Writing

You Can Write! Part Nine

A writer’s life is full of distractions: family life, the need to eat, the day job…the list of enemies goes on and on. Make sure you don’t put yourself on the list. It’s easy to become your own biggest enemy. Make time each day to write, and make sure you stick to it. If you miss more than a couple of sessions, you’ll get out of the writing habit. Frustration will affect your mood. You family won’t thank you, and your work—when you try to get back to it— will suffer.

Determination is a great asset in a writer but you need to build balance into your writing life. Make sure you don’t swing to the other extreme, and overdo it. Eat well, sleep well, and take regular breaks from crouching over your notepad or computer. However much you love your work, your health and family come first.

Use a good chair that supports your back when you’re working. Make the effort to sit up straight. Use wrist-rests and padded mouse-pads to avoid Repetitive Strain Injury.

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My Favourite Place To Unwind—Alex The Dog Loves This Walk.

There’s nothing like a walk and some people-watching in the fresh air to sharpen your imagination, and exercise helps prevent conditions like Deep Vein Thrombosis.
If you’re putting in long hours in front of a computer screen, get up every hour, on the hour,  to stretch. Taking a drink of water at the same time will keep you hydrated and alert. It’s also supposed to take the edge off your appetite for snacking, too, which should in theory help you lose weight. But then, we all know about weight-loss theories…

There are never enough hours in the day, but once you’ve hit your word count make sure you give your brain a real break, if only for half an hour. Turn off your computer and phone, forget social networking and escape somewhere with nothing more than a pencil and notebook.  Doodle, plan, fantasise – it doesn’t matter what you do, the act of making marks on paper is an exciting contrast to hammering away at a keyboard.