Saturday, 26 September 2009

Writing Sex

If you write novels with grown-up (or growing-up) characters, I suspect there inevitably comes a point where your characters need to have sex. (Well, unless you cheat and set all your books in a monastery, like Cadfael.)

Having (almost) reached the sex-is-inevitable point, then, I started to think about how to write a sex scene (bearing in mind that my mum is my #1 fan...). As always, my first port of call for research was Google, and I wasn't disappointed: lots of people have lots to say about sex.

The advice is varied and contradictary - from "close the bedroom door discretely" to "don't deprive your reader of a full account", from "don't write sex at all if you're a virgin" to "why should 'write what you know' apply more to sex than to dragons?"

You can even read passages nominated for the Bad Sex in Fiction award.

The best tip I found, though - which really sums up everything you need to know - is to write sex just like you write other scenes. With vocabulary appropriate to the POV character, and the same level of description as you'd use for other things. But given the tactile and graphical nature of most of my writing ... this could get messy!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Waffles: a love/hate thing

So I started writing this post just after we got back from Belgium, then stuff happened and I've only just got around to finishing it... Normal service will be resumed shortly, thank you all for your patience and kind words.

I have something of a love/hate relationship with waffles.

This may come as something of a surprise, considering I absolutely do love them, and indeed spent most of last weekend in Belgium eating at least one waffle per day (mostly with strawberries & chocolate - yum).

Belgian waffle

But there's a reason I've never made waffles at home.

For this to make sense, you need to know that I used to work in a cafe in Oxford, where I was mostly responsible for baking - cookies, muffins, and other goodies.

Once a year, however, we served waffles. Now, waffles are lovely, but they're also about the messiest thing you could ever make. Particularly when you have to make hundreds of them in one day, having never done it before, and you don't have time to concentrate on getting waffle batter neatly from bowl to waffle-iron. I feel sticky just thinking about it.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Just to say...

We have just lost my father-in-law, following illness since Christmas (he only left hospital - to move to a nursing home - last week). I may be quiet for a few days, and it'll take me a while to catch up with my reading, but hope you'll all be here when I get back.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

World Fair follies

In less than a month I've gone from knowing absolutely nothing of World Fair architecture (I had to look up what counts as a "world" fair, and even now I'm not clear - it seems to be a self-appointed title), to visiting two legacy follies.

In Brussels this weekend we went to the north of the city to see the site of the 1958 Fair.

Atomium, Brussels

And only a couple of weeks ago in New York, before dinner with blogging friend Chef E, we went to visit the site of the 1939 and 1964 World Fairs - now a park in Queens.

Flushing Meadows, Queens

The sites are similar in a way: both have massive, gleaming structures left for all to see, towering above their surroundings.

Globe at Flushing Meadows, QueensAtomium, Brussels

Yet the differences are equally impressive.

In Queens, Flushing Meadows is a public park where a few locals had brought their kids to play or their dogs to exercise, a long way from the tourist hotspots in Manhattan. The relics of the Fair were virtually abandoned apart from a few kids playing at the base of the Unisphere; the fountains which used to surround the area now switched off.

Globe at Flushing Meadows, Queens

Globe at Flushing Meadows, Queens

By contrast, Brussels' folly has been transformed into a visitor attraction charging €9 for entry (called Atomium), and the surrounding area has been developld into a set of theme parks (Brupark, MiniEurope, Oceade...) which appeared to be thriving despite its distance from the city centre.

Atomium, Brussels

Atomium, Brussels

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Boys & Girls

There's a group of us who often go out for a curry - me, and a group of blokes including my husband.

Last time we went out, though, my husband told me that another friend was also going to come along, with his girlfriend.

"That'll be different," I said. "A girl on our boys' night!"

I think I'm probably lucky that I can have boys' nights out as well as girls' nights..... I don't know why I'm allowed to be an honorary bloke for the evening but it seems to work.

Troitskiy Most, St Petersburg


Following a bit of research on the internet, I knew there was a chain of veggie cafes in St Petersburg. I even marked all of them on my little tourist map so we could plan to drop in whenever we were near to one.

The first time we found one, we were very lucky that one of the serving staff spoke a few words of English - enough, at least, to offer us dishes including "lasagna" and "potatoes".

Lasagna & Potatoes at Troitsky Most, St Petersburg, Russia

The lasagna was filled mostly with mushrooms, and covered with tomatoes and an extremely generous helping of fresh herbs. "Potatoes" turned out to be boiled along with slivers of carrot, sliced mushrooms, and gentle spices.

So far as we could tell, the menu had a combination of traditional Russian dishes and Italian-inspired pastas, with boards that enabled them to change the dishes daily. We found similar food in other branches, although we never again had the good fortune to have an English-speaking server, and had to get by with phrasebook-limited vocabulary for ingredients (though it seems that Russian has inherited Italian words for shapes of pasta, the same as English - we had linguine one day).

Portions were small, in common with everywhere we ate in Russia - the locals would be ordering two or three dishes each. We hadn't figured that out, so we just ended up having space for cake (can't complain about that, really). It was very cheap even considering the size of the dishes.

Address:Branches across St Petersburg, Russia
Style:Russian-Italian vegetarian
Date Visited:4 September 2008

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