I'm covered in flour - it would take too long to explain...

Friday, 6 December 2013

No spam please!

The opener is seductive - 'Ever thought you book could be a film?'

Well, who hasn't? Especially when your first book comes out and your friends read it and love it, before it's properly exposed to the wrath of strangers - then you sit back and start casting it in your mind and even wonder about googling a few actors agents - well, we can dream!

So, I thought I'd enter this - and let me say at once that I'm not saying this competition is anything but above board and good fun for all concerned - you load up an extract from your book, and if it wins, the movie deal is yours. Fantastic - so I duly loaded up my extract though not quite clear about the rules and what I was meant to do - and today I'm withdrawing.

The way it works is that everyone who enters had to tweet about every one else who enters, the more tweets the better, and every time someone re-tweets your entry, you get a vote, and the one with the most votes will be made into a movie if the funding can be raised, and we all get a lot of exposure as a result - great!

Well.......not for me. You see, I'd be quite happy to tweet about the extracts I enjoyed reading, and to spread the word about the competition and to promote a kick-starter program to fund the film when the winner is chosen - but not to decide the winner.

Because all that does is show you who's spammed the most people on their twitter feed - not who's written the best book. And let me stress here, I'm not saying that I've written the best book, but I am saying that if I am to be judged, I'd like it to be on my writing and not my ability to send hundreds to tweets. I may not have a lot of twitter followers, but those I do have I don't want to keep on tweeting stuff at them merely to rank up points on a screen, because that's like awarding a prize to whom ever can click a clicker fastest in an hour - and frankly, I don't follow people for that, but for what they have to say.

Now, give me a shortlist to read and I'll pick my favourite and tweet about because I have something to say on the subject - but just to collect tweets like cake sprinkles? No thanks - I think I'd just annoy people more than anything.

Good luck to them though, and I hope the movie makes it into reality.

If you'd like to see if my book would make a good film - you can buy it through Amazon in e-book form - published by 'Not so Noble books.'

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

My first book it out!

I have signed with e-book publishers 'Not so noble books' to publish this and hopefully more of my thrillers. This is the first, written during NaNoRiMo 2011 - and here's the blurb:

 A woman staggers into a decrepit fishing shack in the Louisiana back woods, with no memory, a gun and a bullet wound. Enter Red, a stranger in a strange place, in time to catch her as she falls.
Trapped in the sweating heat of the swamp, no car, no phone, no one around for miles, the ex-solider offers her refuge and the name ‘Margarita’. 
Night falls and cabin fever sets in, ripe with intense visions and confession. In the small hours Margarita discovers a cache of hidden weapons and a plan for revenge on Red, once married to her missing sister - but who’s plan is it and who’s its real target? Deeper they go, embroiled in a dark game before all the players, both real and imaginary, have fully revealed themselves. 

A huge thank-you to all and everyone who has helped me with this - you are amazing SXX

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Everyone loves a bad guy....

Hands up, I confess, I love a bad guy. Not in real life, in real life I love a great guy, but in the wonderful world of fiction I certainly do.
Personally, I like a bad guy with something of if not a soft side, certainly a little rational. There needs to be a moment when we like him, or we sympathise with him or hell, we even want to be him, just a little. Bad guys get to do all the things we can't, and most of the things we don't want to. We've all had moment when we've fantasised about offing an ex, a boss, a rival, and bad guys gets to do that. In fiction at least, we do like to be given a reason why the bad guy is bad, we like a back story - it's very hard to justify a bad guy who's just bad because, well, he's bad. And that's part of the appeal, unpicking a bad guy to see how he was made, to see if we could do better, or worse, than him.

Hero's have a hard time of it really, they have be heroic and they have to be moral, and as a result so many of them come off as a bit preachy, a bit dull and well, a bit humourless.

The best of both worlds of course is the anti-hero - the bad guy who underneath has a heart of gold, or the moral centre, the one who at the very last, saves the day, often at the cost of their own happiness - it is a far far better thing I do today, than I have ever done before - and so forth.

The reason I am thinking about this is that tonight I am working up to the first scene where my own particular bad guy makes his entrance stage right.

He is going to do, is doing, terrible things off stage but when he appears, my characters have no prior knowledge of him and so he must appear if not innocent, certainly ambiguous at first. But oh, we the reader will suss his him out from the start, we'll catch the scent of sulphur and the darkness which hangs around him - but should we? Is that the correct way to do it - should he be totally bland and inoffensive from the start?

He could.....but he's not going to be. Because although he's the bad guy, he's not the only bad guy. There are two others, one a dashing but troubled artist who really is going to do a number on my main character, and the other?

Why, he's so evil we'll hardly notice him at all. Until it's too late. And he's an example of the real and most pervasive form of evil - that of the banal.

That's what makes him a really bad guy. 

I'd love to hear about your favourite bad guys, your own or ones you love from fiction.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Foundation lessons

I am writing. I am currently working on the WIP, which is set in Weimar Germany and which has been rather sticky from time to time. Of course, life throws tar patches in your way when you can't help but drop the word count, but mostly I do solemnly subscribe to the belief that the only way to write a book is to, well, write the book - that finessing and all the rest comes after, and may take longer, but always   after there is a draft to finesse. It may be the first of fifty, but there still must be a first.

Only, but rules are made to be broken.

I was heading down the word count freeway towards the half way point - around fifty five thousand words - when I suddenly hit a tar pit not of the real world but in the world of the book.

A far more serious road block to creativity.

The basic issue is that when I reached a crucial scene that needs my main character's mother to allow her to take a rather unconventional job, it suddenly didn't seem possible that her mother would ever give her permission. I was either going to have a huge, protected scene where my MC leaves home after an uncharacteristic show of temper which I didn't really want, or......

Or I was going to have to look again at the first part of the book.

I needed to push the motivations and circumstances backwards, so that her mother's crisis point comes at the moment the daughter is offered the job, not before as I had it at first. That way, the mother is too distracted and brow beaten to notice the lie she's being spun, and then the deceit becomes one they all 'need' to believe, and the rest of the story unfolds.

I needed to strengthen my foundations before proceeding.

This does mean going back to the plan, it means re-working and moving scenes, it means working over existing ground before heading onto pastures new - and breaking the rule. Just a little.

Because something fundamental like that must be dealt with before you go back to writing, every day, even if it's only 500 words, or 250, or a line, or notes in your plot line - but something, every day.

Today, 1600 words, since you ask.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

making at home - how's it going thus far?

Ok well, I have had some blood good results....and some less good results.

The things that really REALLY work for me and which I would not only say are as good as chemical alternatives but are actually better (seriously better) are as follows:

Oil cleansing - can't recommend this enough. It removes make-up, dirt and grime without drying and it's simplicity it's self. Simply run the hottest tap water into a basin (do I need to say put the plug in??) and soak your facecloth in it. Meanwhile, dip your fingers into some olive oil (organic please, the price difference is negligible as lasts for ages) or coconut or almond oil - and then massage your skin, even over your eye lids, anywhere you have make-up and general dirt build up. Leave for sixty seconds, then ring out your hot wash cloth, hold it close to your face for another 30 seconds then use it to gently massage away the oil, taking all the dirt with you. It also leave your skin feeling soft, and at a pinch you won't need anything else.

Honey cleansing - I love also, and tend to use when away as I can take my bottle of squeezy honey
(you need runny honey) in my bag with less fear of leaking. Basically exactly the same as oil cleansing, massage the honey into your face and then wipe clean with a warm, wet wash cloth. If you are prone to oily skin and break-outs you'll probably feel more comfortable with this method, or I can recommend using oil in the morning and honey at night. Either way, they work wonders -
Here's me after cleansing, no make-up and all scrubbed bare.

My next favourite thing is my salt spray toner. It's just like that crisp sea breeze that wakes you up like an enjoyable slap in the face - if you can have such a thing!
 Just take
1 cup of distilled water or pre-boiled strong green team which I prefer.
1 tablespoon  sea salt
pinch of epsom salt
Essential oils for scent – I use lime, but mint would be good also.
Add salt and epsom salt to warm tea and stir until salt is completely dissolved.
Add essential oils if using and store in a glass jar or spray bottle, you can swab it on or spray, but I like the spray for added zing!

 Then I apply my home made moisturizer to face, neck, shins and indeed anywhere want to moisturize. This is my latest batch - DIY Face and Body Cream Recipe
Ingredients:225 grams in total  of Orange flower water + aloe vera gel
 225 grams in total of oil, I use a mixture of coconut oil, almond oil , 35 grams of white bees wax, 75 grams coco butter and rose-hip oil(15 ml)  and squeeze in some vitamin e capsules, about 6 in total.
Essential Oils – 5 drops your choice - lime again!

In a double boiler (or a bowl over a pan of simmering water) melt all the oils (solid & liquid) together.
Pour the oils into a blender or, into another container if using a stick-blender.  Let the oils cool to room temperature.
Start the blender – then slowly pour the waters in – at some point the blender noise will change and you’ll notice that you have cream!  Keep blending to incorporate all of the water.  You can also blend the cream by hand, but be ready for a workout!
Add the drops of essential oil, and stir to disperse throughout the cream.
Scoop the cream into sterilized jars.  Label the jars  and don’t forget to include the date, but this lasts me about six weeks so I've always used it before it goes off.

Then there's this : Beach hair spray -it's a volumising spray to replace hair spray.
1 cup of hot (not boiling) strong Chamomile Tea as the base if you want to lighten hair or black tea as the base if you want to darken hair, but you will need to keep in the fridge.
2 tablespoons epsom salts (or more for extra texture)
1/2 tsp  Sea Salt (optional but adds stiffness)
1 teaspoon aloe vera gel
a few drops of almond oil or jajoba oil
optional: a few drops of essential oils or a spritz of your favorite perfume for scent- Lavender and citrus are great options
optional: 1 teaspoon lemon juice and 1 teaspoon vodka or alcohol- if you want to lighten hair (the lemon juice lightens and the alcohol preserves)
How to Make:

 Put the tea in a bowl and add the epsom salts, sea salt, aloe vera, oil, scent and lemon juice/vodka (if using). Blend until epsom salts and sea salt are dissolved. Store in the fridge and decant into spray bottles to use. Will last 3-4 months or longer.

Spray on damp hair and scrunch with a towel to dry for loose beach waves.
Spray on dry hair and on roots for volume and texture without the waves.
If your hair is straight and thin and you want all-day waves: Wash hair the night before and spray hair with Beach Spray while still damp. Then, either french braid into pigtails or wrap in a tight scrunched bun on top of your head. and leave overnight. By morning, your hair should be dry. Spritz with a little more spray and take out the braid/bun. Voila- all day beach waves. Spray with additional spray and scrunch if you want more stiffness.

The picture is of me going to a wedding having set my dead straight hair with the spray as above.

Lip balms work great too - just equal amounts of bees wax, coconut and cocoa butter and your favourite essential oil - erm, I use lime again because, as you might guess, lime is my favourite! Another winner though is to add cocoa powder to the lip balm and the orange essential oil, for a chocolate orange flavour!
It's also a great way to use up those dear little tins you get left with after you've eaten the mints or whatever is inside them.

 My hard core foot balm works really well too; that's just equal amounts of bees wax, olive oil and coconut oil with rosemary essential oil - my feet have remained soft and crack free all summer, just massage it in before you go to bed each night. Do be careful though, it takes a while to sink in hence doing it over night, don't try and walk on polished floors having just applied it!

Now the DIDN'T work ones:


I've tried three methods now and they all leave my hair feeling like rubbish. Combine this with trying to use oil as a conditioner by leaving it on over night and the results have not been good. The shampoo refused to wash out the oil, and when I gave up got out of the shower, I still couldn't get a comb through it. Mind you, spray it with the beach spray and it finally did comb through, but it looked greasy when dry.
I have tried organic shampoo and that's ok, so for now I may have to admit defeat and buy organic hair products. I would say that rinsing your hair in ice cold water does give it a great shine, the only problem is getting modern showers to run cold enough, and the slight fear factor of putting your head in ice cold water - but I've taken to having a basin with iced water in it waiting and doing a final dunk.

Make-up - let's get this clear. No, cocoa powder does not work as a bronzer, eye shadow or eye liner. Neither does beetroot powder work as a blusher, and neither will tint your lip balm in any meaningful way, it certainly won't turn it into a lipstick.
Corn flour though makes a great face powder, and as I'm about corn flour colour, I use this over my face cream as a base and don't need foundation at all, but if you're of any deeper colour than I am, this may not work for you.

Body wash - so far, not too good either. I don't use it much, but I have found very few home made alternatives. The nearest I've got is this:

1/4 cup oil (coconut, almond, olive etc)
2-3 tsp shea butter
1/4 honey
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 liquid castille soap
vitamin e caps
essential oils.

You melt the oils with the shea butter in a double boiler, then whisk in the other ingredients off the heat for several minuets. Let it cool, whisking again if it separates, and store in a pump dispenser.

This was originally a shaving soap, and it does work well as that, only it's a bit oily as a body wash. I think the best option will be a soap, so that's my next adventure......

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Retreat but never surrender!

A little while ago I won a blog writing competition organized by the wonderful Emma Darwin. No, that’s not true: I came third in a blog writing competition organized by the wonderful Emma Darwin, but the prize I was given was so good it feels as if I did win after all.
    Said prize was a two night stay at ‘Retreats for You’ in Devon, and not only is it in Devon, but it’s in Sheepwash, Devon, which even if you haven’t heard of it is a name to conjure with, and also happens to be where I spent a holiday around 1985 when I was a teenager. It rained.
    It rained again this time also, but that’s exactly the weather one wants for a writing retreat; more of that later.
    The only issue my prize raised was that, as my beloved and I live in a state of penury due to our reckless lifestyle choice of having a child (which, as we know, is simply self indulgent of us) and my inability to get a job, we were not going to have any holiday this year, and here I am, winning one just for me. I felt a bit mean, seeing as I spend my days lying around eating chocolates and painting my nails while my poor husband toils in a salt mine, so I emailed Deb of ‘Retreats for you’ to ask if I could bring him along. I felt he needed a break, salt mines being what they are, and there wasn’t the merest thought in my head this would also mean I’d have a lift and help with my bags, I promise.
    It turns out that Deb’s husband, Bob, is a carpenter, and he runs workshops along side her writing workshops, and so Andy decided he’d have a go making something, and that the ideal thing would be a bookcase for daughter’s bedroom. We decided on a rocket shaped one, as we were about to decorate her room with an outer space theme, in order to stress the awe-inspiring aspects of science, for various long and complicated reasons - not least that we’re making a conscious effort to avoid pink princess syndrome.Now, back to the rain.

    I wanted it to rain, you see, because sunny, beautiful weather always gives one the sneaking sensation one ought to be ‘doing something’ rather than sitting inside writing. Indeed, most of life seems gives one the feeling that spending time writing should play second fiddle to almost everything.  ‘Writing’ time becomes answering emails, looking at things on ebay, trawling facebook or cleaning and then, lo and behold, writing time is over.
    And this is, in essence, the wonder of ‘Retreats for You’ and why if one is trying to write in a serious way, I’d urge, nay, implore you to consider a weekend or more at such a place for the good of your soul. No, bugger your soul - for the good of your craft, because it’s an amazing privilege to actually put your writing first for once, but one it and you deserve.

    Because, when you get blown through the door by a bright Devonshire wind  into the welcoming, warming cottage, it suddenly feels like the place you've been looking for forever. Once you’re greeted by Deb, who’s like the cool Auntie you really wish you’d had, you realize this is just what you need. What she gives you, what the place gives you, is a sense that what you’re doing matters. It gives you time, and the rain lashing on the windows means a warm fire, a glass of wine or cup of tea, and space just to let the words flow.

    It was wonderful. It was feeling the weight of the mundane world being lifted as, fueled by flapjacks, all you had to do was write. So I did. I sat in their comfortable, clean, simple house and wrote and wrote as the rain fell and the fire crackled and the world was good. Food was made, food was eaten and enjoyed, and there were other writers to talk to and stories to tell. Both Bob and Deb are gifted with the ability to make you feel as if you’d been meaning to pop by for ages, and wonder why on earth it’s been so long, within five minuets of meeting them. Andy even mistook Bob for one of his hardened drinking buddies after a few good glasses of red,  and the two of them went to the local after dinner, even breaking out the whiskey at midnight. I’ve no idea if making a bookcase is a good hangover cure, but the hangover certainly didn’t delay launch time in any significant way.
    I’d booked a review session on the first chapter of the WIP for Sunday afternoon, and Deb and I sat in her ‘room of one’s own’ and talked over what I’d sent her, and it was easy, and helpful and insightfull and the most indulgent treat I could imagine - having someone let make me take myself and my work seriously for an afternoon.
    That evening new guests arrived and we got down to another serious session of fire-side story swapping after another great dinner. I went over some of my past life adventures as a dressmaker and jewellery designer, including one of my favourite tales about the little goth girl who’d saved and waited a year after she’d first seen one of my necklaces, to return to the same exhibition hoping I’d be there so she might buy it.
    ‘Did it make you feel rescuing a kitten good?’ Andy asked, and later that night we got the chance to compare.
    I should point out that lost kittens aren’t a standard part of Deb and Bob’s retreat, and they were not on our minds as we went to bed in our lovely little bedroom. However, at four a.m one made it’s self known when we both woke to the sound of its pitiful yet piercing mewing. Andy tracked it down to a jeep down the road - yes, it’s quiet enough there for you to hear a mewing kitten two hundred feet away and yes, it’s the kind of place where people still keep their doors unlocked. We roused the owner only for the kitten to fall silent, but luckily he believed us enough to open the car’s bonnet and lo and behold, up popped the tiniest, blackest, big eyed kitten in the world.
Eventually named Cedric, the kitten took an instant shine to Andy’s beard and we kept it amused for the next three hours until Deb got up and helped us find a box and, after consultation with the neighbors, a new home. Yes, we wanted to take him home but we do have another cat as well as a snake and two guinea pigs, and that’s enough for any two bedroom flat with no garden. He did rather put a hole in my writing plans, but never mind - the sense of space and priority the weekend gave my work has come home with me. That and a huge rocket shaped bookcase and the sincere hope, no, promise I’ll be back. As they say in the movies.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013


 I have hard skin on my feet. Well, thanks for sharing - but I do, and so do many others and it's summer, therefore sandal time. I find summer never sits easily with me, too hot, too many itchy things and not enough money to enjoy the extra day light - and so summer shoes are a bit of an issue with me. Though hard underneath, my feet seem to have the tensile strength of wet tissue paper, and so will break out in blisters and rawness almost the moment the temperature gets above 25 degrees.
However, there's nothing much I can do about that, but I can make an organic salve to help soften my poor old plates when they've had a rough day.
 What I like about this is that a) it's one of those satisfying 3 easy part recipes, you just need the same quantity of three things to get the basic mix, which you're at liberty to add to when you get a bit more bold and b) it's kind of one of those 'all purpose' numbers - so it will work as a great hand cream if you're a gardener and you need a bit of t.l.c after a hard day's weeding, and it's great for your cuticles if you suffer from dry hands.

You either use your swanky double boiler, or you stand a glass jar in a small pan of simmering water - and into this you put one part coconut oil, one part cocoa butter (or mango butter or shea butter) and one part bees wax. You can even go crazy use all three butters, 1/3 of a part each, but hey, that's up to you.
What you can also do, while the three parts are slowly melting together on your stove, is consider essential oils.
If you have a selection of essential oils, or money, I'd suggest rosemary and lavender, which both have healing proprieties good for gardeners hands. If like me you've been making a coffee cake for your husband's birthday and you have a bottle labeled 'coffee essence' in front of you, you'll do what I did and pour in a healthy slug when your oils have melted, been mixed and taken off the heat.
This actually turned out rather well - as the main parts of this are coconut and cocoa butter the scent of coffee is nothing but delicious when mixed in with these. It's even more delicious when you throw caution to the wind and chuck in a teaspoon of cocoa powder, when it just smells like pudding.
But the proof of this pudding is in the rubbing on the feet, and this is doing the trick on my summer heels. I'd suggest applying at bedtime and then popping on some socks so that they have a chance to soften over night.
The other option is to spread the salve over your shins too, as the coffee gives your skin a lightly tanned effect into the bargain. Delicious!

Monday, 29 July 2013

This has me thinking this morning -

It's a post I saw on Facebook, from the lovely people at Bubble Cow -

Which has really got me thinking, though I can't pretend in any way it's my idea. I have however gone through the part of the WIP I'm working on and am pleased to say that there's almost nothing which wouldn't pass this scrutiny - not that there weren't a few which need pondering. I love what they're saying with this - what do you think? (only we're not meant to be using 'think'!)

- read this, then there's an example of how I changed my work accordingly below -

From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.

The list should also include: Loves and Hates.

And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.

Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write: Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”

Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like: “The mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”

Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.

Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.” You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’d roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”

In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.

Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later). In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph. And what follows, illustrates them.

For example:

“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. Traffic was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”

Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.
If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others. Better yet, transplant it and change it to: Brenda would never make the deadline.

Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.

Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”

Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.

Present each piece of evidence. For example:

“During roll call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout ‘Butt Wipe,’ just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”

One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.

For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”

A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”

A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.

Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs Forget and Remember.

No more transitions such as: “Wanda remembered how Nelson used to brush her hair.”

Instead: “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”

Again, Un-pack. Don’t take short-cuts.

Better yet, get your character with another character, fast. Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.

And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”

For example:

“Ann’s eyes are blue.”

“Ann has blue eyes.”


“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”

Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.
And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for: “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”

Please. For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use thought verbs. After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.

So -

"Frau Schmidt touches her reading glasses but decides against wearing them. She glances at the obituary column; she always, every day since Gregory died as if scanning a passenger list for fellow travelers. She only realizes that she's stopped reading when she finds she's thinking about her mother's chaffing dish and the Dresden serving platters on the side board."

Has become:

Frau Schmidt touches her reading glasses but does not put them on. She glances at the obituary column; she always looks, every day since Gregory died as if scanning a passenger list for fellow travelers. After the first few names she’s gazing at the side board, at her mother’s chaffing dish and the Dresden serving platters. 

It's a subtle change but for me it works - it shows you that she's not really reading without telling you shes not really reading, and leads into a reminiscence without the need to tell the reader that's what she's doing.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Lip stuck

 I've been trying to make my own lipstick - but the result is not good. Rather, it is good if you like a very lightly tinted lip balm, in which case it's lovely - but despite what people say, adding beetroot powder and coco powder to the mix does not make a strong colour - add more and you just get a greasy mix with a powder in it which falls off your lips. Hmm.
However, if you want an organic lip balm which keeps your lips wonderfully smooth, then this does work!

you just need 5 gram each of grated beeswax, coconut oil and either cocoa butter or shea butter - cocoa butter smells and tastes better though. And you can add a few drops of essential oil to flavour, something like peppermint if you like it, or lemon etc - I wouldn't go for lavender as you will taste it. You can also add a drop of olive oil which does make it more shiny.

 Put everything but the essential oil in a small ceramic or glass pot in a sauce pan of simmering water and it will melt pretty fast. Make sure you have ready a small tin or pot to keep the balm in, I use my husband's moustache wax tins once he's done with them, well washed out. I also use the little tins you get mints or pastels in, which look pretty.

 This is beetroot powder. This is what I added to get the colour - this did not work, so I'm going to just proceed as if we're making a clear balm and leave it at that. BTW no, cocoa powder is not a substitute for bronzer, eyeshadow or eye liner - trust me on that one!

 Once they've melted, take them off the heat and add a few drops of your chosen essential oil - good old vanilla essence works a treat!

 pour into the tin - mine had the beetroot powder added which makes it look pink, but it doesn't really transfer - yours will be a pale creamy colour. Leave it to set at room temperature for a half hour or so and you're done.
Very moisturized and they do have a nice sheen, but definitely not a substitute for lipstick. I would say that that feeling lasts all day, and it's so easy to make you could easily do different flavours as gifts and people would be very happy to get them.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Shampoo or real poo ?

Right now, it's hot. I mean really hot. I mean everything's sliding off my face and the butter is liquid and even the cat looks hot-hot. Is it a sin to wish for Autumn? I've never been a summer person since I was a child, oh dear - how I long for misty, moisty mornings and the crunch of leaves under foot and skies that go all the way to the moon and back - ahh well!

In the spirit of the heat, I'm trying two things today - home made deodorant and home made honey shampoo. Both may provoke an 'ugh' reaction, but both commercial versions have a lot of gunk in them, not to mention aluminum particles in the case of deodorant which have been linked to breast cancer.

Not so yuck perhaps?

Well, I thought I'd give it a go. First of all, this is not an antiperspirant. If you sweat a lot, then there are other things to try such as diet and clothing which might help first - I find that I'm not a heavy sweater so that's why I'm prepared to give this a go. On the hottest day of the year. Oh well!

 To make it is easy-peasy I have to say. It uses baking soda in order to get rid of B.O, and then organic oils as the carrier.
It's a blend of 3 table spoons of coconut oil and 2 table spoons of cocoa butter or shea butter, with either 3 table spoons of baking soda and 2 of arrowroot powder, or just 5 of baking soda, which is what I used. Of course you can add scent by using essential oils, which yet I don't have so I went for vanilla essence which goes really well with the coconut and chocolate scents of the rest of it.
You simply add the oil and butters to a jar, stand it in a saucepan of water and simmer until they've melted, then stir in the baking soda and the scent. Job done.
Once it's cooled, you then have to decide how to apply, and that's easy -   get your wicked commercial deodorant, prize out the ball, wash everything, fill with your own mix and push the ball back in. Ta da!

Does it work?

 Well, it was the hottest day of the year and yes, I did sweat. But it didn't smell bad at all and I wasn't aware of the wetness. And I can say that now I'm sitting here post shower without having applied any deodorant, I can smell myself more now than earlier - which is probably too much information!

And now onto the 'shampoo.'

Having read up on this and people talking about the 'no-poo' method using baking soda, I've decided that's not for me, so I'm going back to honey again.

I steeped rosemary and lavender in boiling water for a few hours, then strained the water into a jar to keep in the fridge. A lot of people say you need to give your hair up to two months to adjust to not using commercial detergents on your hair, during which time you may need to wash every day - so I figured I'd need it.
The make the shampoo, I add three parts of the water ( 3 tablespoons) to a tablespoon of honey. I also rub some neat coconut oil into the ends of my hair a half hour before washing. Once the shampoo is mixed up well, you wet your hair well and then use it by rubbing it into your scalp and through your hair, it is more liquid than conventional shampoo and no lather. Then you rinse well with warm water them cold.
I've then set my hair to dry in pin curls, as I figured if it's going to be grease for a few weeks then it will look better curled - and......well, got to wait until morning for it to dry, but is combed through fine and smells lovey.

I'm not looking forwards to the adjustment period, but we'll see how we go tomorrow.
And finally - rubbing a few drops of olive oil on your legs, armpits and elsewhere before shaving works wonders - easy shave and lovely smooth legs and....elsewhere!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Before your very eyes.....moisturize!

 Let's be clear, you do not need to buy a new Bosch stick blender to make your own face cream. But yes, it helps. Especially when the lovely Neff people send you one to test out for free. I wonder if they had considered home made cosmetics when they developed the product, but never mind, if it can make face cream, then whipping up a cake to two will be a doddle.
First impressions? Oooooh - shiny! Easy to put together, good weight, good selection of accessories. I've selected the whisk for this job.
 Now to the face cream. First ingredient - bees wax. I get mine from a lovely bee lady (she keeps them, she doesn't dress as one) who sells at our local markets. She will be at Hatfield House farmers market on Sunday July 21st and every third Sunday, so if you want any let me know. This 45 gram block cost 60p, and I need one for this batch of face cream. Next to it is a jug of camomile tea with sprigs of rosemary infusing in it, of which I will need one cup (250 ml) Next time I'm going to try green tea.
 Next the oils. I'm using my favorite coconut oil by Lucy Bee which you can get every where but I get from Sanisbury's which is easiest for me. I think it's expensive but it's the best price I've found and a little does go a long way. With it I'm using organic olive oil - I use 1/2 a cup of olive oil and 1/4 cup of coconut oil, but you could use almond, avocado or jojoba oil in the same quantity - eg 1/4 cup of three different ones or 3/4 just one of them.
Measure out the oils and the beeswax (chopped or grated up) go into a double boiler. I already have one, but if you don't treat them as you would chocolate and place in a glass bowl over some simmering water to great a bain marie. Heat until they've melted, stir to combine and then take off the heat and allow to cool for two minuets or so. The Bosch stick blender does state not to use hot liquids and I'd agree, as they splash. Then put a cup of the cold tea into the goblet ready for blending - you can of course use a food processor just as well. The recipe suggested adding essential oils for perfume and I chose Vanilla as I have this one which I love : But honestly you don't smell it so it's optional.

I also added two flax seed oil capsules, pricking them with a pin and squeezing out the oil. This is a good source of vitamin E which helps preserve the face cream and is good for your skin - you can use any oil based vitamin E for this but flax seed is vegetarian. BTW, if you want to make a vegan version of this cream, use sheep wool lanolin in place of the beeswax. I squeeze these into the oil mixture as its cooling down.

 Now the stick blender, with the whisk attachment. Very easy to change over and not too heavy to hold which is good. MY ONLY COMPLAINT IS..... why can't they make big suckers on the foot of the goblet so as to hold it in place on your counter if you need to have both hands free? The next stage of my face cream is to stream the warm oil into the cold water while whisking to create an emulsification, which is what you'd do if you were making mayonnaise for example, but there was an issue keeping the goblet steady and holding the whisk while pouring. If you were using a larger food processor then it would be much easier, but what I LIKE about stick blenders is they are small, compact and light, ideal for a small kitchen. However, I did manage to stream the oil in though there was a little spillage, and the whisk emulsified the cream beautifully. In seconds it was a white, whipped up fluffy mix which I scraped into a big jar for me and a small jar for mum. 

 Here it is after whisking - it smells mostly of coconut which I love and it really was hard not to taste it as it looked like whipped cream!

 But the proof of the pudding, or the cream, is in the using and after I scraped the goblet clean I applied the residue to my skin - lovely! Sinks in and leaves the faintest sheen for about ten minuets, then it's gone and my skin feel soft as anything. I actually had a spill of the oil and beeswax mix on the counter, just a few drops, and so I rubbed this into my elbows. I'd say this stronger mix would be great for dry heels and also as a lip salve in the winter.
The face cream goes into the fridge with the lids open to cool without trapping condensation, and in this heat I'm going to keep mine in the fridge, though in winter it would be fine at room temp.
The Bosch stick blender was then washed up which even though its tricky cleaning off the oil, I gave it a whizz with the blender filled with water and bicarbonate of soda which got it clean - and this is where stick blenders win because there are less parts to wash than a big blender.
 So, the cost. All together this cost £1.50 to make this batch, and I would say the two oils would easily make another four to five batches if they weren't also being used for other things. I would estimate I've made between four and six weeks worth, unless I go mad and slather myself in it, but I mean to make a more solid lotion bar next for my body and keep this for my face. I'm sold!

I should add that I have now begun my honey cleansing - I'll write a separate blog about that but so far - so amazing!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Doing it all myself

This week and hopefully forever, I am trying to make my own cosmetics. This is for a two fold reason a) they are cheaper and b) after my father's death five years ago from cancer and my mother's recent operation for cancer, and both my Aunt and Uncle having cancer - yes, I'm kind of at a higher than average risk myself. For me this means I have two choices - ignore this fact and do everything I can to get cancer seeing as I probably will anyway or (and this is my preferred option) do everything I can to lower my risk because even if I get cancer, I'll hopefully be as fit as possible to deal with it.

So, this (and my quest to have a second successful pregnancy after loosing two in the last year) is behind my diet changes and more. I know I never had a bad diet, but there is always room for improvement, so I've switches where I can to organic meat and dairy, as many veggies as I can afford, and whole grain everything. I try and make all the food myself, so why not try and make cosmetics also? We put a lot of chemicals on our bodies that mimic estrogen which is not doing our fertility much good, and neither are the parabans which are used to preserve cosmetics but also have been shown to destroy anti-oxidants and promote free-radicals in the body, all of which may increase ones risk of developing cancer.

I'm also a big fan of making stuff and too poor to buy the organic alternatives, so hence I'm doing it myself.

Most of what you need you can buy through the super markets (or local farmers markets  if you want extra brownie points) - so later this week I'll have a lot more to show you.

My first experiment is olive oil, organic of course, which this week I have been using to moisturize and cleanse.

This is me without make-up. To remove it, I massaged OO all over my face and eye lids, then pressed a warm face cloth over my face. After a minuet, I then massaged off the make-up with the facecloth - and look, all gone, It even got my water proof mascara off - which soon I shall be be replacing with a home made alternative. (Yes, really!)
I then had an exfoliate with a handful of finely ground oats and water, and then a finger tip application of more OO as a night cream.
I also used OO to condition my hair - I worked it into the ends and then wrapped my head in a towel for 15 minuets, then washed it out. I have to use conventional shampoo at the moment, but I'll be working on a homemade one soon. My hair combed through fine when wet, and as you can see and despite being rather heavily bleached last week, rather a good shine. If you put OO and water into a little spray bottle and shake well, you can mist it over your hair as a shine spray, which I'll try later also.
 The next quest is make-up. I don't have all the things I need yet, so I had an experiment with cocoa powder. Yes, really! I will be using beeswax and cocoa butter as a base, but today all I had was vaseline, which is not natural but I'm just experimenting - no parabans at least. I just mixed some with cocoa powder and used it to paint my eyebrows, that worked a treat. It was too pale for eyeliner, but it did make a good translucent eyeshadow, and I brushed a little mineral eyeshadow over it - not good enough yet as it has aluminum and titanium in it, but it's a start. I used conventional mascara and eyeliner - no foundation other than a morning massage of OO, but I'll be investigating powder foundation later.
I also used the vasaline and cocoa powder on my lips - which tastes and smells amazing....

...but after eating obviously doesn't have the staying power of conventional lipstick. However, I'll be making my own soon, and I can easily re-apply - it does keep your lips moisterized nicely.

And what has this got to do with writing I hear you ask? If you're wondering why I've changed my hair colour, the main character in my WIP is blonde and living at a time when economic conditions means she has no money for cosmetics and has to do what she can. Call it 'getting under the skin of your character!'

Monday, 29 April 2013

Can you teach genius?

I wandered in on the end of a radio four discussion on the niggly 'you and yours' program, which is known by many names in our house, namely 'you and bloody yours,' or 'tough tits, you bought it.'
The moan today, which was definitely in the 'you're a big boy now so it's up to you' category, was the launch of a novel writing course/school run by/connected to Faber and Faber, the detail of which I am hazy about as I only came in on the end. The premise of the pedantic witterings of the program seemed to be that you can't teach people how to write a good novel, so offering courses one has to pay for is a waste of time/money and a false promise, as you can take the course and still be unable to write a novel.
Leaving aside the issue that presumably we are all grown ups, and if we want to spend our money on a course it's up to us - after all, how many people take a water colour course just because they like it without any hope of winning the Turner prize - out came again the off repeated mantra that you can't teach writing, you can either do it or not.


As the poor man from Faber and Faber said, who must have felt rather grim sitting in the chair usually reserved for cowboy builders and fraudulent share dealers, why is it that we're quite happy to accept the teaching of music but not the teaching of writing? In my mind it's linked to the myth that writers don't plan, and some how the best writers just sit there and let the muse flow through them without knowing where the story will take them - which is rubbish.
First of all, yes, you can learn how to improve your writing, and you should. If you think you don't need to learn technique, you are arrogant and you'll learn the hard way that these things won't hold back your creativity but give you the tools to properly express yourself. Master the basics, then you can let rip without the obvious tripping you up.

 Second of all, no one writes anything worthwhile in a vacuum, and a creative writing course is a great way to meet people who will give you feedback on your work without an agenda. You'll also learn more from them than they know they are teaching you, if you've any sense.

 And finally, no, you can't teach genius, but you sure as hell can teach how to write a better book, and not every book that sells is a work of genius. Some of them are just a damn good read, and there will always be people who want a damn good read, and to write a damn good read you need to be damn good.

Our culture seems to celebrate the over night success, as if that by it's self is a mark of quality. Let's not, let's celebrate the long hard slog of it, because actually, nothing in life worthwhile is easy and nothing in life achieved without hard work, and frankly, that's good.
As for courses, look around, ask around and find one you like the sound of and put the work in. If you've not got the money, find some on-line groups and put the work in there, the key to it all is to work.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Research is not a four letter word.

Apparently Ian Banks hates research. I quite like it, as it happens. It's when you have that germ of an idea and the story is all wonderfully fluid and full of potential, and almost as if you are a fisherman tickling your trout, you can ease up to it and play in the shallows without frightening it away, lulling your narrative into a false sense of security.

Without boundaries it could go anywhere, people you have yet to meet but will one day know as well as your friends are still nothing more than abstract swirls of metaphor and device.
The odd thing is, or maybe it's not odd at all, but this thing is sometimes scenes come through to me so sharp and clear that I can see, taste and feel them before the research bit. These are both appealing and dangerous - the more I see them, the stronger the desire to find out more, but the danger is that I become too hung up on retro fitting the research to the ideas at the risk of creating a false picture.
But let's not get too hung up on this yet, let's just collect the scenes  - the terrible date with the Dentist from Munich with 'eyes like grey marbles rolling round a cream-wear plate', and the first meeting with Jenny ' so feline one had the impulse to scratch her behind her ear, so beautifully deformed that even her missing hand made one feel burdened to have been born with two' - and see what back ground the research paints for those thoughts.
And now a plea, if anyone had history book about with Weimar republic, then I would be most grateful for the loan of them, and will treat all with the utmost respect.

Monday, 11 March 2013

The joke, part two.

In this article, and I still prefer the word article to the word blog, I’m using the joke to expand on one of the most important tools available to a writer when creating character, show, don’t tell. It’s an oft-quoted phrase in creative writing, but it can be a slippery concept to nail down, so I hope this article will help.

Here’s the joke we’re working on, incase you haven’t read the other article.

A man goes up to the doorman of a nightclub.
‘You can’t come in,’ the doorman says, ‘you’re not wearing a tie.’ The man goes back to his car and searches around for something he can use. All he finds is a pair of jump leads. In desperation he ties them around his shirt’s collar in place of a tie. When he goes back to the nightclub, the doorman eyes him suspiciously.
‘Alright,’ he says, after a while. ‘You can go in – just don’t start anything!’

A joke is the ultimate paired down narrative, but it’s amazing what the reader’s imagination will do with very little. And that’s what you want to happen, because the more your make their minds work, the more they’ve engaged with your narrative. It seems counter intuitive, but often the less you explain, the more the reader will know.
In our joke, we have the simplest of openers, a man walks up to a doorman; but this shows us a whole street scene, which in a novel we are at liberty to paint, but is still here never the less in the joke. Yes, one wants a novel to be deeper and more complex than a joke, but as an exercise, it should be possible to cut every chapter down to a few, key sentences that are doing the work most critical to your story. If you can’t reduce your chapter down to this level, it might mean that your chapter lacks focus, that you’re too much padding, or that you’re over complicating things, which can cause your narrative to lose the plot, so to speak.
Most characters have a public persona and a private one, and the joy of any narrative is how those two are revealed to us, and how they relate to each other. Not many memorable characters are exactly how they appear to be; the aloof woman is actually a passionate lover, the charming man is actually an evil psychopath and the boring accounts clerk has the heart of the hero beating under his polyester suit.

In the joke, we’ve got the man and the doorman. Doorman carries a certain loading with it – it’s unlikely that he’s is five foot one and skinny, so we see him as imposing, possibly aggressive, maybe even a bit thick and possibly with a few convictions to boot. We might also see him as a ‘job’s worth’, someone uncaring and officious. This is his public face, the first impression we have of him, the fun comes when we play with the reader’s expectations.
The man, the hero at the start of the piece, doesn’t have a tie, but he still wants to get into the club. This shows us that he’s out of his comfort zone, he’s not a regular patron, but something is driving him to try and get in there. He’s a man on a mission, and even if the mission is one we wouldn’t be interested in, a mission makes him more interesting and engaging that a couch potato who’s doing nothing. We feel he’s the sort of person not willing to give up in the face of a seemingly implacable obstacle; he’s drawing on his inner reserves to fight for what he wants.
We’re not told the quest is important to gim, but shown it when he returns to his car to search for something he can use as a tie. Had he been simply trying his luck on a drunken night out and not really that bothered about the club, he could have just wandered off again, but instead he tries to think around the problem. He’s probably not an intellectual in the traditional sense, because there’s something desperate in his search, something directionless, but he is making the effort.
He’s also a bit of a chancer – because who else would think that a set of jump leads would pass as a tie? But the tension is mounting; time is passing, so he hits on a solution however bizarre. If he were a logical person, he might have gone up to a stranger and offered him money for his tie, or found a 24 hour super market; if he were a violent person he might have punched the doorman or robbed someone for a tie – but his choice is not to be a criminal, or a quitter but to try his luck. This makes me at least see him as a loveable looser, not a villain, maybe a bit of a rogue, perhaps even a romantic, hoping for luck to smile on him for once? He’s a glass half full kind of a guy against all the odds.
By the way, you’re welcome to argue here that the jump leads are merely there to set up the punch line, as if he’d found a string of sausages the joke wouldn’t work, but the principal stands firm – he decides to give it a go against all the odds. Besides, plot and character are inextricably linked in any narrative – this is writing, and we read for more than just facts, but for entertainment.
Now, back to the doorman. The joke has shown him as the implacable face of authority, then he’s confronted again by the man with the jump leads round his neck. If he were simply a one-dimensional thug, he could have told him to shove off. He could have even taken offence and accused the man of mocking him – it is quite an inflammatory thing to do in a way, lampooning the whole tie rule – but no. He knows he’s had the ‘micky’ taken out of him, but he appreciates the joke, and it allows him a killer punch line, so he’s not going to follow orders when fate hands him a chance to be funny. He’s a bit of a rebel on the side – by the end there’s certainly a warm heart beating under that hard exterior, not to mention a love of word play.
Perhaps also at the end there’s a sense of sadness here – because if the man goes into the club with a set of jump leads round his neck, no one else will get the joke, or accept them as a tie. Perhaps he’ll end up looking like a fool anyway, because he clearly doesn’t fit in, and his desperate antics will come to nothing, when he discovers that getting through the door is the least of his worries. How often have we been there, to struggle for something only to be disappointed when we get it? The man is likable but flawed, and how real is that?

Reading back over what I’ve written, it might be argued that none of this is in the joke at all, I’m just using my imagination to draw these conclusions – but that’s exactly what I’m trying to show you, this is what our brains do. It’s the same mechanism that makes us see faces in floral wallpaper and on buildings, and the clever writer knows this and uses it.
Even with this paired down joke, I’ve already created a sense of character for myself, I’ve invested in them, and now I’ve invested in the narrative. If this was not a joke, but the set up for a story, chapter one, I’d already be wondering what it is about the nightclub that make the man so desperate to get in, and anxious to see if the author will dash his hopes, or if he’ll ultimately win. I’ve got a sense of who he is, and I’m on his side, and I’d even like to find out a little more about the bouncer. To ‘tell’ the reader that this is what the characters are like, you’d have to write the joke much more like this:

There is a man, he’s a little bit of a looser but he’s ok really, and he’s sometimes a bit of a lateral thinker, but under pressure he can make some odd decisions that sometimes work out, though perhaps not as he intended. He wants to get into night club for some reason, but the bouncer on the door is really stern, he’s not going to let anyone in because he’s trained for years to be a bouncer; besides, he did time when he was younger and this is the sort of job he can do with a record, but he’s a good sort really, he’s not a bad man but he looks bad…

Now I’m wadding through the back-story of the characters and I’ve lost the plot. All of that detail can come later when you’ve established your narrative – and if you use your characters actions to show their inner world, much of their back story will be already be there in the mind of the reader, so when they come to read it later, it feels authentic, because it’s not coming out of the blue, but out of the seed you’ve already planted in their minds. They will think ‘Yes, the man would do that, because that’s how he reacted when he tried to get into the Night Club; he tried to solve the problem but in a way that smacked more desperation than intelligence’ and that makes him seem real. And when he learns to think first and not panic, or not want to get into the nightclub that shows us he’s grown as a person by the end of the narrative. If he does, of course.

As a writer, you need to know every detail about your characters, but to make those details come alive for your reader, show your characters in action and know how they would react in any given situation. Then, they can get under the skin of your reader in the most effective way, almost without the reader noticing.