Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Creative Christmas Countdown 2010

Christmas gives us a perfect excuse to be creative, whether that's in decorating your house, cooking festive treats, or crafting cards and gifts. I'm planning to spend the run-up to Christmas in unashamed indulgence of my creative side, and I'd like to invite you to join me.

I'm going to run one massive link-up over the whole month, where you can enter your favourite seasonal posts on creative themes. Every day I'll be highlighting my favourites on Twitter and my Facebook page.

Grab a button & join in:

There are a few simple rules to make this run smoothly:
  • Posts must have a creative focus and a seasonal theme.
  • Old posts are fine - I know you've got loads of creative ideas that you've already blogged about!
  • Grabbing the button to link back here isn't essential but would be appreciated - tell your bloggy friends so they can join in too.
  • Links must go to a specific post, NOT your blog's homepage.
  • Use an informative title (e.g. 'Gluten-free Christmas Cake') NOT your blog title.
  • Link up as many posts as you like.
  • Links will be edited or deleted if they don't follow these rules.
  • The event closes at midnight (GMT) on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Road of the Big Clock

I was intrigued - and more than a little entertained - when I saw "Rue du Gros-Horloge" on a map of Rouen. Road of the Big Clock? Something like that, anyway. It turns out it's not wrongly named:

I always like clocks that show the phase of the moon; not terribly useful, but a lot of fun. This is definitely one of the most impressive clocks I've seen lately, and it's in particularly good condition considering it's exposed to the elements. I guess a lot of work goes into keeping that sparkle!

The Creative Christmas Countdown starts on Tuesday! Don't miss this chance to highlight your favourite festive crafts and cookery.

Friday, 26 November 2010


Those of you who follow me on more 'immediate' media like Facebook and Twitter are probably aware that I came home from France to find my paper had been accepted for the Oxford conference, but with a much-reduced page count compared to the version I submitted. I've been chopping like a maniac, and I've only just finished... the deadline is imminent but I'd like to sleep on what I've got before I submit it.

Meanwhile, exciting things have been happening in the world of my novel, with great reviews rolling in on Amazon, and Kindle sales picking up even before I've started marketing, which is a really nice surprise.

I've learnt a lot in the process of these two things. You could hardly find two forms more disparate than the novel and the short academic paper, but the lessons are the same, and it's all about the edit.

The first draft is never good enough; the second draft is never as good as you think it is. You won't necessarily end up where you initially thought you would, but that's okay. You have to find people you trust to tell you your faults, and dare to give them a still-not-good-enough draft, and to listen when they tell you where the weak points are. And then find your own way to patch it up, which may involve starting from scratch (again). You know all this before you start, in theory, but you still have to learn how to do it... at least, that's how it's been with me.

If you've been part of the process for either piece of work, then I owe you endless thanks. Thank you. We'll be doing it all again before you know it.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Wrought Iron Museum, Rouen

Wrought Iron Museum, Rouen

Let's be honest about this. If the idea of a wrought iron museum doesn't grab you and make you go "ooooh, I wonder if that's any good?" then probably nothing I can say is going to persuade you. However, if you are (as I am) the sort of person who wonders immediately whether the wrought iron museum in question will be worth a visit, then let me reassure you: it's fantastic.

The collected artefacts are arranged mostly by type: knives, scissors, keys, coffee grinders.

I was captivated by the locks, which featured some of the most unusual key designs I've seen in my life:

And I particularly wish I could get my hands on an old chest like this one:

(If any of my readers ever see such a thing for sale, pretty please, let me know!)

The surroundings are pretty spectacular, too, as the collection is housed in an old church.

Geeky, yes. A little bit weird? Well, yes. But completely and utterly fantastic. If I go to Rouen again, I'll almost certainly go back (and I'm not just saying that because it's free for students - though that was a nice bonus).

Getting there: Le Secq des Tournelles, Rue Jacques Villon, Rouen, France.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Excited (well, excited and scared...)

I love creating something from nothing, so I'm used to the feeling of a blank canvas. The empty page as I start a new chapter. But this time the canvas is house-shaped, and for some reason that's more daunting.

Perhaps because it's important to get this right first time: I can't throw it away if I make a mistake, and there won't be chance to redraft.

We're shopping for carpets, paint, curtains, furniture... and who knows what else, before we've finished.

The one focal point downstairs is the fireplace (which we've just had opened up and rebuilt) and the wood burning stove that we've ordered to go in it. At some point, the rest has to fall into place... preferably in the next couple of days so we can get some carpets ordered.

For the bedroom/study I have a slightly more coherent vision, though at the moment it mainly consists of a walk-in wardrobe which is being built over the stairs as I type this.

I'm still hoping everything will get finished by Christmas. No idea how realistic that is - it may depend on our ability to make some decisions...

Bonus points if you know your Sondheim well enough that you got the title reference without any help from Google.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Fresh Blood

It's 2/3 of the way through November. I'm not really close to 2/3 of the way through my word count yet, but I know I'll catch up in the next couple of days.

<<< progress

As has happened every year (quite unplanned), I find myself with a new character. Back when I thought the plot of Rebellion covered two novels, I wrote large chunks of it over the course of two NaNoWriMo seasons. A couple of the characters who materialised during that process ended up being central to the plot.

I have a feeling this is going to be similarly important...

"What's your name?" Eleanor asked as she put a match to lanterns around the room. The air was damp, and every wick took long moments to dry out and sizzle into life.


"Sit down." The attic room had a warm bed but no chairs; hospitality was supposed to happen in the bar downstairs. Eleanor sat cross-legged beneath the skylight, and waved for the girl to sit on the floor in front of her.

As she bent to her knees the light fell across her face and Eleanor could see her features clearly for the first time: olive skin, dark eyes, full lips, and a jagged, deep scar along her jaw. She noticed the focus of Eleanor's eyes and swept the cloak away from her head as she sat. She pushed her hair back, clearing her face. In so doing she revealed more scars: across her left temple, along her hairline, and at the side of her neck. A small chunk was missing from the top of her right ear.

"Mine aren't the first battle scars you've seen," she said. "They won't be the last."

"What brought you into the revolution?" Eleanor asked. She thought of Lauren's earlier words, and the hatred behind them. "Did the Shadows do this to you?"

"No." She hesitated; looked sideways at the lantern, then down to the floor. "I'm in the Shadow Corps."

Eleanor caught her breath sharply, sliding her knife from its wrist sheath as she exhaled.

(This occurs somewhere in the middle of the first draft of Revolution... not enough plot to be a spoiler, I hope!)

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Foreign Fields

"There's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England" - Rupert Brooke

That may be one of the most famous lines of war poetry ever written. But I'm guessing you've never read about the corner of France which is forever China.

The British war graves dating from the First World War are a famous and iconic image. By contrast, I'd never even heard of the Chinese Labour Corps, but it seems that many of them are buried here, in the Chinese Cemetery at Noyelles-sur-Mer.

There are a couple of common slogans across the gravestones. One which stood out strongly for me was A GOOD REPUTATION ENDURES FOREVER. It should. We should all know about these Chinese labourers who died a long way from home; it's sad to me that in all our school studies of WWI, we never learnt about these men and their part in digging the trenches. We've just had Rememberance Day in the UK, so it seems like a good time to do a little bit of extra remembering.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Why I Love Blogging

Goodness, how time flies. It's been two whole years since I started this little blog - with precious little idea of what I was getting myself into.

Two years ago, I had precisely no readers, and was taken by surprise any time anyone commented; now, I get hundreds of hits on every post.

Two years ago, I didn't even know it was possible to make money or gather freebies from this gig; now, I get more offers from PR firms than I'll ever be able to accommodate.

Two years ago, you wouldn't have found me if you'd typed my name into Google; now I'm on the front page of search results for several recipes, too.

But none of these things explain the addictive quality of blogging. I love blogging because I love to travel. Reading blogs gives me the chance to take dozens of trips across the globe - without even needing to leave my living room. Of course some people write about their own travels, but I don't just mean that: I also love the little glimpses into everyday lives and cultures different from my own, and the historical memoirs from times before I was born, and recipes for dishes I may never have sampled. Through the world of blogging, I get to experience many times what I could normally fit into one lifetime.

How about you? What's your favourite thing about blogging?

PS I'm planning something big and Christmassy for December, more details soon!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Geek Chic

I have a new favourite jewellery shop. Well, not so much a shop - it's a stall in Camden Lock market featuring a variety of jewellery made trom computer components. Keyboard keys, wires, capacitors... or as I chose, coloured circuitboard fragments. Geeky and girly. What could be more 'me'?

Monday, 8 November 2010

Amsterdam's Architecture

Amsterdam's architectural history is written in the rooftops of its canalside houses. The tall, thin buildings in the city centre are similar in many ways, but the different building styles over the years manifest strongly in the shapes of the gable ends: triangles, rectangles, and bell-shaped curves. Old styles and new(er) are sandwiched together into a complete architectural mishmash.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Not Quite Thatcherite

A little while ago, Clover at Fluttering Butterflies had the idea for a series of posts highlighting strong women and their roles in our lives. It took me a while to respond to her challenge, but as a child of the 80s who grew up in Thatcher's Britain, I knew exactly who I wanted to write about.
I can recall very clearly the first glimpse I had, as a child, into the workings of politics. I was seven years old and we were doing art at school. I don't remember what I painted, but I do remember reading the pages of newspaper that were spread out to protect the tables. Margaret Thatcher had stepped down...

Read the rest >>>

If you have a story to share about your own female role models, please get in touch with Clover - I know she'd appreciate more posts to expand this series, and I for one would love to read them.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Warming Vegetable Stew

If you love food as much as I do, and love trying new things, then sampling a new dish or ingredient can be the highlight of a meal.

A couple of weeks ago we visited a friend who served us amazing stew and dumplings, made with a kind of smoked paprika that I'd never tried before. When I commented on the distinctive flavour, she was even kind enough to offer me her spare jar! So a few days later it was time to experiment, and I made this hearty, warming vegetable stew with that same smokey flavour.

Smoked Vegetable Stew Recipe

1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
300g tomato passata
1 stock cube
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1 courgette
1 red pepper
1 tin butter beans
1 tin green lentils
1 batch of dumplings (optional)

  1. Fry the onion and garlic in a little oil, in a deep pan.
  2. Add the passata, crumble in the stock cube, and heat until it begins to bubble.
  3. Chop the courgettes and peppers into small chunks, and add to the pan.
  4. If you want to make dumplings, do that now while the vegetables are cooking (see last week's dumpling recipe).
  5. Add the butter beans and lentils, and simmer for a few more minutes over a low heat.
  6. Once the vegetables are tender, you can serve with bread (if you're not making dumplings) or add the dumplings and continue to cook.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

NaNoWriMo Kick-Off

NaNoWriMo is here again! Those of you who were reading around this time last year probably remember this annual period of self-inflicted crazy, and I know some of you are also taking part yourselves.

<<< watch my wordcount creep up!

I beat my target word count on Monday, which is always a good start, but I have a hectic week so I'm not quite sure how it's going to go from here... wish me luck!

This year I'm using my NaNo time to add 50,000 words (or more) to the first draft of Revolution, the second novel in my fantasy series Chronicles of Charanthe. That means I have a civil war to start before the end of the month... so I hope you'll excuse me if I seem even busier than usual! But there will be blog posts that aren't about writing - including that stew recipe I promised you, and even a short holiday to France later in the month.

I have a growing stack of books on topics I think I'm going to need to research, but personal experience is better, so if anyone wants to tell me stories about pregnancy or giving birth without drugs then please drop me a line or leave a comment and I'll be in touch...

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