My Lovely Blog Hop

I’ve been tagged by the super-lovely Kelly Florentia to take part in My Lovely Blog Hop. So here are a few thoughts about my past, present, my writing, and why, responding to one point here, I almost fibbed but decided to tell the truth in the end.

First Memory

Me and my sister, Helen, with our father, aged about 5 and 3.

Me and my sister, Helen, with our father, aged about 5 and 3.

Riding on the back of a bicycle behind my father, his presence large and dark and safe. It was one of those seats fixed to the mudguard that are no doubt outlawed now. I have no idea how old I was, but at least three or four, I’d say. He died when I was six and I have so few memories of him that I treasure this one. It’s faint, visceral rather than concrete. Sometimes, I stare at photographs of my mother’s and try to conjure memories, but truthfully I cannot recall the actual moments of any of them. He’s rather more like a shadow, a friendly ghost, in childhood memories and I know my sister feels this too.

Books

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Favourite books of 2014 (some of them!)

Though I didn’t always want to be a writer – I definitely didn’t enjoy it at a school and was in the lower half of the class, attainment wise, in English – stories have been a consistent presence in my life, personally and professionally. As a child I was a voracious reader, and remain so today. I didn’t own many books – see the section on libraries – other than those given as Christmas or birthday presents from distant aunts and uncles, but I devoured anything I could lay my hands on: classics like the Narnia Chronicles, Tom’s Midnight Garden, and The Secret Garden as well as popular titles like Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St Clare’s series. The allure of boarding school to a state school kid was irresistible. Nowadays, I read more contemporary fiction than anything else – I had my fill of the classics after three years studying for a degree in English Literature. Authors I admire and enjoy are too numerous to list here but those who consistently awe include Maggie O’Farrell, Jojo Moyes, Jenn Ashworth, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and Margaret Atwood.

Libraries

Gladstone's Library in north Wales

Gladstone’s Library in north Wales

Predictably, I love them. As a child and young woman I was a regular borrower. Like so many of us, I don’t borrow anywhere near as often as I used to but I do visit the fabulous Jubilee Library in Brighton, my home town. The first writers’ group I joined met at the Jubilee and it hosts fundraising events like that for the super-fantastic Little Green Pig project as well as author events. It’s a joy to hang out in. Another favourite library is the Gladstone in north Wales, just down the road from where I grew up. It is breathtakingly beautiful and it hosts an excellent literary festival in September with a host of inspiring author talks and workshops – including yours truly at last year’s shindig! The Gladstone offers writers’ retreats and I have been fortunate enough to secure a scholarship there this summer. Other authors have sung its praises as the ideal place to be inspired and write and I can see why. Roll on August.

What’s your passion?

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A Patrick Heron print – one of my fave artists

Tempted as I am to sound much more interesting and exciting than I actually am and make something up, I’m going to be truthful and admit that other than reading and writing and my family, I don’t really have one. I do love clothes and fashion and seeking out fabulous bargains, and have been known to post some of my more unusual finds on Facebook (a German 60s shift dress, anyone?). Also, I love art, enjoy watching films and drinking wine and eating cake – eating out, full stop, but I’m not sure that these count as passions. Writing and books is it. Sad but true, perhaps?

Learning

I believe that learning is for life not just for school days and the moment we stop learning we stop living. Enough said.

Writing

Given that I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time blathering about my writing work I’ll say little more than the sentences below. Feel free to rummage around the rest of my site if you need or want more *hear me laughing*

My next two novels are to be published by Accent Press. The first, Redemption Song, in January 2016, followed by Skin Deep later that year. There’s more info on them here.

Wait!

Many thanks to Kelly for nominating me. It’s been fun ambling down memory lane, picking the daisies. Now, I’m breaking into a sprint (not!) to hand over the baton to author mate Annette Sills. Annette’s debut, The Relative Harmony of Julie O’Hagan, is set in Manchester – where I studied – and is a lively, often moving, read, and she’s a super-nice person too.

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Dust, Dirt and first Drafts

No one died of a dusty house, right?

MSOn Wednesday, I completed the first draft of my latest novel – working title Redemption Song. It’s a story of guilt, love and forgiveness – or Buildings, Bats and Love – set in a remote seaside town in Wales. It’s fair to say that for months my house has been absolutely rammy and I should be awarded an A star in slovenliness. But as I said in the sub-title: no one ever died of a grubby house. And in mitigation I was immersed in my characters’ worlds.

Now that I have to stay away from the manuscript for at least a couple of weeks (oh how my fingers itch for the keyboard) my house is spotless, mounds of paperwork have been filed, the lawns have been mowed and I even baked a cake with Ginger2 on Saturday – with disastrous results. Nigella Lawson, I’m not.

All this cleaning is fine preparation because soon enough, though not soon enough for me, I’ll be tidying up messy areas of the novel. I might rearrange the furniture in some scenes, repaint others, polish certain characters, bin others, or even go out shopping for a new look for one, to give the character a little more va-va-voom. I do love this process because, when I’m lucky, a kind of alchemy occurs: the base metal of a story is transformed into narrative gold, though I’ll settle for a second draft of silver because after draft two comes draft three …

Food on a Budget – 80s style – and lots of CAKES!

blog 80s 002There are a number of themes in Public Battles, Private Wars, one of which is food. Mandy Walker, my lead, likes to cook and she loves to bake cakes. As a cook-the-basics-when-I-have-to (i.e. for the kids) and a non-baker, I had to do some research. Given that the novel is set against the backdrop of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike, I needed to look at old cook books and those with budget recipes, as well as swankier dishes. Luckily for me, I work part-time in a school and one of the more experienced teachers is a keen baker, and a jolly fine one too. She kindly leant me some of the cookery books she used as a young wife and mother in the late 70s and 80s. Thank you, Julia Cook – and yes, that is her real name. You couldn’t make it up.

blog 80s 003It was such a joy to read (and feel) these plain but somehow beautiful, obviously very well loved, tomes. I believe it’s the love that makes them beautiful.  Public Battles, Private Wars is set in a fictional Yorkshire pit village so you can imagine my delight to discover that the Farmhouse Kitchen was based on a series broadcast by Yorkshire Television during the timeframe. The Dairy Book of Home Cookery was published by the now defunct Milk Marketing Board and, though we are much more cholesterol conscious these days, there are plenty of wonderful, non-dairy recipes in it. Over the coming months, I’m going to share some recipes of dishes and cakes mentioned in the novel. Have a go a baking some and let me know how you get on. I might just tell you how I fared when I attempted some.

I’ll start with a cake that is, for me at least, quintessentially Yorkshire: Parkin.

Parkin is a form of gingerbread, and Yorkshire Parkin is made using oats. Traditionally, it is eaten on Bonfire Night (November 5th and my son, Ginger1’s birthday) celebrating the famous failure of Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Guy Fawkes was a Yorkshireman.

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz/220g soft butter
  • 4 oz/110g soft, dark brown sugar
  • 2oz / 55g black treacle/molasses
  • 7oz / 200g golden syrup/ corn syrup
  • 5oz/ 120g medium oatmeal
  • 7 oz/ 200g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp milk

Preparation

Heat the oven to 275°F/140°C/gas 1
  • Grease an 8″ x 8″/ 20cm x 20cm square cake tin.
  • In a large heavy-based saucepan  melt together the butter, sugar, treacle, golden syrup over a gentle heat. Do not allow the mixture to boil, you simply need to melt these together.
  • In a large, spacious, baking bowl stir together all the dry ingredients. Gradually add the melted butter mixture stirring to coat all the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  • Gradually, beat in the eggs a few tablespoons at a time. Finally add the milk and again stir well.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook for 1½ hours until firm and set and a dark golden brown.
  • Remove the parkin from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. Once cool store the Parkin in an airtight tin for a minimum of 3 days if you can resist eating it, you can even leave it up to a week before eating and the flavors really develop and the mixture softens even further and become moist and sticky. The Parkin will keep up to two weeks in an airtight container.

Enjoy! Next time, one of Mandy’s favourites: Victoria Sponge