Sunshine and Birdsong

There I was, sitting in the garden, feeling the sun on my face, listening to the birds singing, trying to pick out one from another. It was idyllic. My mind turned to my writing, as it so often does, and the next chapter of the novel I am working on which I’m looking forward to writing when I go indoors. I became aware of a change in the feel of the air. Opening my eyes, I saw the large black clouds weathering in on me, and that got me to thinking even more.

My Work In Progress is a lot like the Scottish weather. There are parts of it that are warm and sunny, with lots of the feel-good factor, some parts have me chuckling as I write them, and then there are parts of it that have dark clouds blotting out the sun for Yvonne, my main character. The part I’m about to write today is a bit like the day itself, in that it has sunshine and showers. Yvonne’s off to sort out a difficult situation with her husband, Hugh, and she can’t see the happy ending right now.

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My WIP follows on from the first three books of the Reluctant Detective series. It isn’t really part of the series, more an offshoot of it.

If you remember, or if you haven’t started reading the series yet, Yvonne’s sister, Mirabelle, became a reluctant detective when she discovered she was really good at finding missing people and reuniting them with their loved ones, especially young girls or young women who had been missing. It all started when her own daughter, Summer, disappeared one Friday night …

Searching for Summer  ~~   Traces of Red  ~~  Rusty Gold ~ coming soon

I’m expecting my proof copy of Rusty Gold back from the publisher any day now, so, after I have checked it over to make sure everything is as it should be, it really won’t be long until it is released. So, if you haven’t read Searching for Summer and Traces of Red, you’ve just about got time to catch up before Rusty Gold is available to buy on Amazon, which is where you’ll find all of my books.

*** UPDATE ***

Rusty Gold is now available for purchase as a paperback or as an eBook on

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones or FeedARead.com

or can be ordered from most bookstores

http://author.to/ChristineCampbell

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Have a nice day, whatever you’re doing.

I’d love to hear what the day holds for you: Gardening? Golfing? Hill-walking? Cooking? Family? Television? Driving? Boating? Or what?

Do share in the comments.

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One Word for 2016

I had forgotten about ‘One Word’.

Two years ago … was it really two years ago … I wrote a post about choosing one word that would sum up what I wanted to achieve in the coming year. It was a concept that I had found in various places, on various blogs, around the end of 2014.

A few days ago, Zenobia Southcombe, a fellow author and blogger, referred to my post and spoke about her One Word for 2016. That reminded me of the post and the concept, so I decided to refresh the post here in case some of you would enjoy the concept and to find your One Word.

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There were a lot of blog posts about at the end of 2013, beginning of 2014, that zoned in on New Year’s resolutions, but I stumbled on some that were talking about One Word. The idea being that you choose just one word to keep ‘front and centre’ during the next year. Not a whole list of resolutions, but One Word that sums up what you, personally, want to achieve in the coming year.

Not being one to make, far less keep, New Year Resolutions, this sounded like something I might like to try.

There was even a book written about it with an interview on ‘Today’ with the author of the book.

I got to thinking about what my One Word would be.

As I read about all the words other people were putting forward as their words, I wanted to identify mine.

Have you any idea how many words there are out there?

According to the Oxford Dictionaries:

“There is no single sensible answer to this question. It’s impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it’s so hard to decide what actually counts as a word.

It’s also difficult to decide what counts as ‘English’. What about medical and scientific terms? Latin words used in law, French words used in cooking, German words used in academic writing, Japanese words used in martial arts? Do you count Scots dialect? Teenage slang? Abbreviations?

This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.”

That’s a lot of words to choose from.

Narrowing it down somewhat, I made a list of some others had chosen, as found in their blogs. Words like: COURAGE, SELFLESSNESS, PEACE, PRESENCE, KINDNESS, SIMPLICITY, TRUTH, APPRECIATION, SPARKLE, CHOOSE, WHOLE, NOW, FRESH, BLESSINGS, TENACITY, RESILIENCE, JOY, EQUANIMITY …. the list goes on … and on … and on … all good words.

I considered a few of them as suitable candidates for My One Word.

Simplicity … I could do with focusing on simplicity for a year, throwing out some of my clutter from cupboards and closets as well as from my mind and lifestyle. But I actually love my clutter. I’m not ready to part with much of it yet. I might do a spring-clean, but a whole year of simplifying, I’m not so sure.

Courage … yes. I always need that. We all do just to cope with the trials of life and what it throws at us. But would focusing on that as my One Word make a difference in the coming year? Possibly, but courage is something I’ve not been too bad at finding when I need it … so far …

Presence … to decide to ‘be in the moment’ to savour every moment. I like that. It would be a great word to ‘keep front and centre’. That’s something I already try to do, so I very nearly chose Presence.

Then I thought my word should really be about something I need more of in my life. Something I lack.

Consistency … Now there is something I need in my life. Consistency. Not to be wavering backwards and forwards, one day on top form, the next in the pits. One day doing my exercises, one day hardly getting off my you-know-what. One day eating salads and bean sprouts, and everything healthy I can get my hands on, the next day eating everything sweet and fat-filled I can get my mouth on.

Yes, I like the idea of becoming more consistent: spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally.

To keep up with prayer, study and meditation on spiritual things on a daily basis.

To keep my equanimity more, not letting things ‘get to me’ emotionally, draining me, pulling me down as they can do sometimes. Controlling the ‘highs’ as well as the ‘lows’ in order not to get carried away with my passions and enthusiasms to the detriment of my health.

To be more regular, more consistent, with exercising and healthy eating. Oh, dear, did I really say that out loud? That means I’m probably going to have to carry through on it, doesn’t it?

To write every day, doing research diligently, keeping my mind healthy and alert. Ah! This is where the real fun comes in, the real challenge. The fun being the writing, which I love, the challenge being keeping my mind healthy and alert. Think I’m battling against the pull of the years that have already passed with this one!

But, yes, overall, consistency … I like that. That’s what I’m going to strive for.

My One Word for 2014 was CONSISTENCY.

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Okay, so it’s fess-up time! Did I manage to achieve CONSISTENCY in my life during 2014? Er … no, not really. Perhaps a little better than before, but not a lot. I did try … I do try … but consistency just isn’t me, I’m afraid. By nature, I’m a bit random, scatter-brained, my attention flits from this to that and back again in the time it takes me to write a sentence or two. Oh, it might be nice to be more consistent in many aspects of my life, and I still strive for that, but I don’t think I can be consistent across the board. It just isn’t me.

I’ll keep trying, but I’m going to apply another word to my efforts.

Zenobia Southcombe, who reminded me of this concept, has chosen her One Word, and I like it so much I think I’ll adopt it too.

So there, I have decided, my One Word for 2016 is going to be SPARKLE.

I think I can do that.

I love anything sparkly. By nature, I’m an upbeat, optimistic sort of person. Yet life and circumstances can get me down and I can seem anything but upbeat and optimistic sometimes, so that’s why I think I’ll choose SPARKLE.

If I keep that One Word front and centre in my life this year, perhaps my true nature could shine through the difficult times more readily. If I could add a little SPARKLE to everything I do, do it with a lighter touch, a lighter spirit, a brighter word, a cheerful attitude, perhaps I could add some SPARKLE to the life of those around me, help them feel better in the tough times too.

~~~

What about you?

If you were to choose one word to keep in focus for 2016, what would it be? or …

What will it be?

Your One Word?

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Do, please, share your One Word in the comments.

Why did you choose that One Word?

~~~

Christine Campbell, author and blogger.

http://author.to/ChristineCampbell

 Family MattersMaking it HomeFlying FreeHere at the Gate

Searching for Summer Traces of Red – Rusty Gold (Coming soon)

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Meet Lesley Richards, Photographer, Artist and Baker

Well, here in Scotland, ‘the nights are drawing in’ and we’re beginning to look out warm coats and winter boots. Though so far November has been a beautiful month, autumn is fast heading for winter and it’s time to invite friends to join me round the fire.

I have a dear friend, Lesley Richards, joining me for tea and cake today. Cake she made, of course, and kindly brought with her. But more of that later. I hope you enjoy meeting her.

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Lesley Richards is a well travelled Scot who combines an eclectic range of skills and passions including scuba diving, photography, painting and baking.

After university in Glasgow and corporate jobs in London she now enjoys life based in Edinburgh where she combines corporate projects with creative pursuits offering artworks and images in various forms under the banner of Siren Art and bakes to order as  Siren Bakes.

First of all, Lesley, can you explain the unusual company names you have?
I was nicknamed a mermaid when I first went scuba diving because my very long hair would come loose underwater. That became the ‘sea siren’, another term for mermaid.

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When I needed a name for my photography Facebook page, ‘Siren Art‘ seemed to fit, then when I set up a page for my baking it was only natural to continue the theme with ‘Siren Bakes‘.

I know you love to travel, but where do you call home?
We moved around the UK a lot when I was growing up, so it meant I got used to being in different places, so home is wherever I happen to be. I suppose I feel like I have lots of places I can call home as they feel familiar if I ever go back.
I live in Edinburgh at the moment and must admit it is nice being back in Scotland, I love the variety of scenery and skyscapes we have here – I’m in a capital city with a historic castle and modern buildings like Dynamic Earth, but within reasonable distance I also have mountains or sandy beaches. Now if we could just add some warm weather – what’s not to like?

How many countries have you traveled to?
Lots! I’ve been fortunate to travel as an individual, for work and as part of scuba expeditions. I’ve been to most of Europe, parts of Canada, Central & North America, some of the Caribbean, Africa and a little of Asia & the Far East.

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There are many places I’d love to revisit but also lots of places I haven’t seen yet so plenty more travelling to do. Australia, New Zealand and Galapagos are definitely on the bucket list.

Do you have a favourite place?
It’s hard to pick just one. It depends what I want to do.
To relax nothing beats being on a dive boat, sunbathing on deck between dives, or sitting at the prow getting splashed as the boat is in transit and I can dolphin watch.
One of my favourite views is just under the boat at the start or end of a dive.

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I have two favourite restaurants, one is a little fish restaurant on a narrow jetty over the Red Sea at the Kahramana at Marsa Alam in Egypt. The other is a tiny fondue house in the Sacre Coeur area of Paris where it’s so narrow you have to climb over the table to sit on the other side and they serve baby bottles of wine instead of glasses.

What was your favourite job ever?  Where was it?  And can you tell us a bit about it?Well I can’t really call it work but I had a large group of divers going out to do a special trip of advanced diving on a brand new boat in Egypt. The political situation affected businesses in Egypt at the time and the new boat was not going to be finished on time. I was contacted about the delay and offered a different boat for our expedition. To assure me it was up to standard, the company invited me out for a week aboard to check her out.
So a weeks diving and holiday on a newly refurbished luxury livaboard boat in the southern Egyptian Red Sea – absolute bliss. Then two weeks later I returned with my expedition and we had a brilliant time then too.

Photography is something you love, isn’t it? What kind of things/people/places do you most like photographing?
I started photography when I first learnt to dive over 20 years ago now. Back then the underwater camera I had was fully manual, we had a maximum of 36 shots on a film and we had to develop our own films on the back of the boat to see what shots we had at the end of the day.
For me it was the best way to capture the incredible beauty that was underwater and share it with people who weren’t able to dive themselves – as well as being great memories for me.
With digital cameras it is now much easier to take lots of photographs and immediately review them, but underwater it is still essential to spot the shot, anticipate marine life, capture the best lighting effect and have perfect buoyancy to not touch anything underwater. When I was teaching scuba-diving we always said, ‘take only pictures, leave only bubbles.’ If you couldn’t get a picture without touching coral or stirring up the sand – then you didn’t take the picture. Conservation is everything.
I still love being underwater but I also do coastal and landscape photography as well as wildlife and local points of interest.
I tend to photograph places rather than people but I have been known to be on duty for candid shots at weddings and engagements.

You have taken so many fabulous shots. Do you have an all-time favourite? Tell us about it.
There is a very special shot of a leopard-spot blennie that I love, these are very small fish that usually hide in nooks & crannies of the coral, you usually see just their face as they vanish into a dark hole to hide.
This one I spotted while it was out sunbathing on the coral. It was the first time I’d seen this type of blennie and he was so relaxed his dorsal fin is still down. He let me take a few pictures then swam off.
I love that his fabulous dotty pattern is even on his eyes and the amazing frilled effect he has on his mouth.

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I think I am always proudest of underwater wildlife shots as its their ocean and they can swim off and vanish at any point, that they stay and give me a chance to see and photograph them is very special.

Do you plan which shots you want to get when you travel, or are you an impulsive snapper?

I may have some shots in mind but I always adapt to what happens at the time. Even with ‘classic’ shots of landmarks or scenery, it really needs a dramatic sky or interesting lighting effects to make them come alive.

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I am always on the lookout for an interesting shot and they can happen very unexpectedly. This one was taken in torrential rain from Edinburgh’s Grassmarket as I had been driving through and stopped to capture the Edinburgh Tattoo fireworks above the Castle, no filters or photoshop required.
What’s the best impromptu shot you’ve taken?
Just last week, I spotted the moon emerging from behind Edinburgh Castle as I walked down Princes Street, I had to dash across the road and find a view through the trees before I missed my bus!

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I know you make prints of some of your photos. How else do you merchandise them?
It’s mainly been by word of mouth so far, I also had a stand at Scotland’s Boat Show last year & have some postcards at Thread & Heather in Edinburgh.
My Photographs are available as wall art, postcards, greetings cards, on cushions, calendars and whatever you would like them on – size & quality permitting 😄
My paintings are one offs, but I usually do a print of them also. If it’s a private commission then totally unique, no prints.

I also do food photography for my baking. Most recently I had the privilege of making my best friends’ wedding cake as my gift to them. I loved the effect of sunlight on the sugar lace, edible paint and pearls I had decorated the cake with.

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I can vouch for that cake, Lesley. Not only did it look amazing, it also tasted divine – both layers. Having tasted many of your cakes, I have to ask, are they available to order?
When I’m not in the water I do love to cook and since moving back to Scotland I have done a lot more baking. I’ve always brought homemade things to parties and get togethers and people started asking for more.
Popular requests for baking are Chocolate Guinness Cake, Carrot Cake, White Chocolate & Raspberry, Brownies, Tequila & Lime, Spiced Cranberry Cookies and Sticky Toffee Pudding.
Savoury requests include Lasagne and filo pastry quiches.
I also do gluten free, nut free and dairy free requests.

Are there some links you could share with us to view your work and to order items we would like to buy?
I post some of my work on Facebook: Siren Art & Siren BakesInstagram (@siren_art) and Twitter (@Siren_Art) and they are the main ways that people contact me.
I have a holding page at www.siren-art.com and am working on the website for 2016.
It’s best to get in touch and discuss what you are looking for and what you like.

Thank you so much for visiting, Lesley. It’s been great to sit and chat with you, and thank you for the cake. Your Chocolate Guinness cake was fantastic.

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Well, hope you enjoyed meeting Lesley, folks. Sorry if talk of Chocolate Guinness cake has your mouth watering, but it really was rather special. Think it’s the creamy, gooey frosting …mmmm!

If you live anywhere near Edinburgh, I can recommend you order one from Lesley.

You’ll not regret it.

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Do you have a favourite recipe? Tell me in the comments and, who knows, if I like the sound of it, I might invite you to join me by the fire for a chat, a cuppa…and a slice of cake.

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A Day in the Life….

…of a Writer.

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My name is Christine Campbell, and I am a writer.

There, I’ve said it.

I said it and believed it for the first time after I published my debut novel in 2008.

There can be few things more validating for a new writer than to hold years of hard work in your hands. Feel the paper smooth on your fingers. The weight of your very own book, the smell of it, the sound of pages as you run your thumb over their edge, letting them flip one against the other. The sight of the words you penned months before, tumbling over one another to fill hundreds of pages, painting the pictures from your imagination in words and letters, to tell your story.

It’s intoxicating.

But how did it come to that point?

What does a writer’s day look like?

For me, the day probably looked a lot like anyone else’s.

I had a husband, a family, responsibilities.

Writing was what I did in secret, what I did in snatches, in corners, in cafés. Not because I was ashamed of what I did. Not because my husband didn’t encourage and support me. Only because I didn’t believe I was a Writer with a capital W.

Then ‘Family Matters’ was published and I held in my hands the evidence that I was.

I am a Writer.

My days look different now.

Brazen, I sit at my computer while the dishes sit by the sink. My fingers fly across the keys making that special music of storytellers, while the washing churns in the machine. Dinners are simple affairs the days I’m writing well, more elaborate when I have thinking to be done. As I chop the carrots, I set out plot points in my head. As I brown the onions, my head fills with neatly turned phrases and enticing story twists.

If you pass me in the supermarket and I don’t seem to see you, I probably don’t. I’m somewhere else, in the world my characters inhabit, doing something else altogether. If I didn’t rouse myself occasionally to check my shopping list, goodness knows what I’d remember to pop in my trolley for tonight’s dinner. Whatever my protagonist fancies, I suppose.

Hours can pass and I think it’s a moment since I sat down to write.

A day in the life of a writer doesn’t look so very different from a distance. On closer inspection, it belongs to a different world, a different time capsule.

My family are grown now, and my long-suffering husband has long retired from secular work and, though still a busy man, he encourages my passion and shares things like the washing-up. The washing gets done, the beds get made, no-one is neglected. But time is set aside to write, to edit, to think, to plan, to research, and all the tasks that are required to publish a novel.

It’s what I do.

I am a Writer.

And you can find the fruits of my labours here on Amazon Kindle or here if you prefer a paperback.

And you can join my readers’ Facebook group if you want to get more background on any of my books.

~~~

Getting the Most from your Writers’ Retreat

You’ve gathered a few writing buddies together and you’ve booked a cottage in the country, you’re all set to try your hand at creating a Writers’ Retreat. So, how are you going to get the maximum benefit from it while putting the minimum time into planning it? Because, let’s face it, we’re writers. We want to write. Not spend hours and hours organising ourselves to write.

So do have a meeting or a virtual meeting before you go, to decide the main things in advance.

My friends and I have tried different approaches and each time we have gone away for a week, we have structured it a little differently so perhaps the most helpful thing for me to do would be to tell you some of the things that work well, not necessarily the things we have done.

One of the things to remember is, although you are going to your retreat to write, you will also need to eat, so planning a rough menu beforehand is worth considering. Shopping for that menu can be done in advance if you have room in the car for the shopping. Failing that, perhaps locate the nearest supermarket to you cottage and, after you unload the car, you can go back out for a shopping trip. This is where the planning meeting is useful. You can decide things like:

Will you share the cooking, perhaps on a daily rota? Or will everyone fend for themselves?

Will you share the shopping or will one of you volunteer to bring the supplies to the cottage and everyone chip in with their share of the cost?

Your meals need not be elaborate affairs. As long as there are plenty of basic things like bread and cheese, plenty salad and fruit, wine and coffee, everyone is usually happy to see to themselves for breakfast and lunch, unless your group wish to plan who prepares these meals too. Good to know in advance who is going to be responsible for producing a simple evening meal. Do one or two of your group particularly enjoy cooking? Or should you make a rota for everyone to have a turn.

Simplicity is the key.

No-one wants to spend the best part of the day in the kitchen — unless cooking is their passion, of course. In which case, enjoy! It’s a creative retreat, after all, and cooking is another delightful creative outlet.

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Something else you might want to discuss beforehand is whether you want to use the retreat as a quiet place, conducive to writing, where you can each get on quietly with your WIP uninterrupted, or would you like to also have some structured writing time. If so, it would be good to plan who will lead that session and how. There are many useful books with suggestions for writing exercises, or you may have some old favourites of your own.

Starting the day with a little light physical exercise, like a short walk or such, followed by a timed writing exercise or two can be useful to wake up the body and the writing muscles. Similarly, it’s important to incorporate short breaks in the day to stretch out the muscles, get some fresh air and refresh yourselves.

After eating the evening meal, it can be pleasant to spend time relaxing together for a while, perhaps watching a film, playing music, or just sitting chatting over a glass of wine.

This might also be a time you would enjoy reading out some of your day’s writing to one another and getting some feedback.

Set goals.

At the planning stage, it is good to discuss together what each member of the party hopes to achieve. Whether some of you want to set yourselves a daily word count, or a weekly one, whether the aim is to edit a certain number of pages, poems or chapters, the best way to achieve the maximum benefit from your retreat is to set clear goals and encourage one another to work towards them.

Respect one another’s space.

Respect the silence.

Respect each other’s writing.

At the end of your week or weekend together, celebrate!

Discuss what worked and what didn’t, what helped and what hindered, and plan your next retreat.

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What about turning your annual vacation into a personal writer’s retreat?

If your friend or your spouse likes fishing, skiing, white water rafting and you don’t, why not book a log cabin where he or she can do their thing and you can write, sharing a meal together in the evening, a glass of wine by the fire or in the evening sun, sharing the stories of the day.

My husband and I do this from time to time, where he pursues his interests during the day while I enjoy some quiet writing time and we share the evenings together. It works.

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I would love to hear your suggestions.

What have you tried?

Have you enjoyed the luxury of a Writers’ Retreat?

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Many of my novels have been partly written on one of the writing retreats my writers’ group have enjoyed over the years. You can find them all on Amazon Kindle or here if you prefer a paperback edition.

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Sleeping with my Sister

For most of my life, I have had sleep problems, including delaying going to bed, snapping wide awake as my head hits the pillow no matter how tired I am, and wakening frequently throughout the night in a state of alarm.

I have examined this problem many times, tried various remedies and suggestions, gone to bed early, gone to bed late, eaten black cherries, nuts and oats, drowned in Camomile tea. Tried silence, tried music. Light on, light off. You name it, I’ve tried it.

Then, last week, I was watching a few of the excellent short videos Carol Tuttle produces as part of her Dressing Your Truth series. It was an attempt to lull myself to sleep. To help me relax, ready for zzzzeds.

It wasn’t any one thing, but a few things she and her daughter chatted about that resonated with me and got me thinking. Perhaps it was time to revisit my childhood, something usually painful, so usually avoided.

This time I went there, and I remembered….

Sleeping with my Sister

Sometimes the blood-curdling scream, sometimes the kick in the gut
Always sudden, always brutal.
Jackknifed forward by the gut pain, to meet the fingers, curled like talons,
Slashing out to rip the eyes out.
Afraid to open lids in case they’re gone, sockets gaping.
Tasting blood on lips, feel it trickle down from forehead.
This is no way to be awakened in the dark night.

Sometimes shrill, shrieking screams, sometimes guttural, gasping growls
Curses raining down like blows.
Starting up to reach the light switch, meeting headbutts, bites and punches
Vicious kicks and frantic lashings.
Calling out now, fear a mirror of terror crouching on the pillow.
Light revealing wide, gaping mouth, jaw breaking with the tension,
Eyes wild and vacant seeing something that was not there.

Sitting shivering on the floor, feet tucked under little nightdress
Heart beating hard and fast now
Tears held in knots of pain between shaking shoulders
While mother lies beside my sister, soothing coo-ing, stroking better
Nightmare gone, I was a part of, forgotten now as sleep resumes unbroken.
My heart reaches out to hold her close now, that little girl
Who was me at five or six or seven.

Sitting waiting, cast out of cosy, teeth a-chattering, heart a-hurting.
I hold her now, as I would have then, had she been my child.
Having soothed the dreamer, turned to the injured.
Instead, sent back to bed with naught but frustration
What did you do? What did you say?
Get back to bed, she’s sure to sleep now.
Don’t you disturb her, just go to sleep.

Go to sleep! You must be joking! Hormones of flight run amok
Afraid to sleep, awaiting repeat of pattern.
The light switched off, in dark of night, still able to see that frightful sight
A nightmare’s terror in face and body, a sleeping child
Who sees me, but as a monster.
Hold me now, please hold me now.
Honour my pain as well as hers.
And for pity’s sake buy me a bed.

~~~

A Galway Evening

We had a few wonderful evenings with friends when we were in Ireland. They all involved a lot of talking, laughing and eating. Seafood chowder and sticky toffee pudding being only two of the home-cooked treats we enjoyed south of the border, and a slap-up feast of a meal-out with our dear friends in Larne, north of the border.

Some of our evenings involved great music too.

Robbie on guitar, Naomi on Button Accordion, and Rebekah on tin whistle.

We had a wonderful time in Ireland and I dearly hope we can make the trip again sometime. We saw interesting things, beautiful things, wonderful things, but the best of Ireland is in its people. Thank you, dear friends, for making out trip so special.

~~~

Taking a Book for a Walk

In case you were wondering, I do intend to round up my Food in Fiction series, and I set out to do that, but I got sidetracked.

Here’s what I wrote before I wandered off topic:

‘Having looked at how others have used it, and the reasons why it might work for us, let’s think about the mechanics of how to do it: how to put Food in your Fiction.

I suppose we could just mention what a character had for their dinner, as in, “So-and-so sat down to steak pie and chips.” But would that really add anything to our narrative?

Better to give us a taste of the steak pie and chips, figuratively speaking, of course.’

… and that’s where I got sidetracked.

Thinking about a figurative taste of Food in Fiction reminded me of the fun book my friend Jane gave me when we were on our writers’ retreat week, and I decided to tell you that story instead, because you’ll enjoy it. I know you will.

Jane brought us lots of goodies for our week away, and one of them was the rather unusual and marvellous book Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith.

Have you seen it?

Its product description on Amazon tells us,

“Think of Wreck This Journal as the anarchist’s Artist’s Way — the book for those who’ve always wanted to draw outside the lines but were afraid to do it. … With Keri Smith’s unique sensibility, readers are introduced to a new way of art and journal making, discovering novel ways to escape the fear of the blank page and fully engage in the creative process.”

 Jane had given Sharon and I each one of these journals, but she didn’t know how we would react, if we could really do it. Deface these brand new books? Books we had been gifted? It seemed like sacrilege to true book lovers such as we three. We had gone to our retreat to write novels, not destroy books.

Hadn’t we?

But could it do what it says on the label? Could it help us ‘fully engage in the creative process?’

Our first reactions to the books involved a lot of laughter and, “Yeah, that’ll be right!” as we read some of the instructions. But it seemed like such a fun idea.

I knew I could ‘add my own page numbers.’ That was fun. Random numbers in the bottom corners of every page. Hang on, that’s not truly entering into the spirit of the thing. Random numbers all over the pages. Better.

‘Make a sudden, destructive, unpredictable movement with the journal.’ Easy! I threw it across the room to smash against the wall.

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Then we were asked to, ‘Crack the Spine.’ A tricky one for some, but I was okay with that. I’m a crack the spine kind of girl.

 ‘Stand here. Wipe your feet up and down,’ ON THE PAGE! well I wasn’t quite so sure, but after some deep breathing and gritted teeth, I had a go.

‘Poke holes in this page using a pencil.’ Building up steam now. Woo-hoo! ‘Scribble wildly, violently, with reckless abandon,’

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On a roll.

Now, you may wonder what on earth such a journal has to do with Food in Fiction. I shall tell you. There is a page in the journal that invites the reader to ‘Document your dinner.’ with instructions to ‘rub, smear, splatter your food.’ and the suggestion to ‘use this page as a napkin.’

Crazy, yes?

Now we were getting to the hard core stuff. No way I could ever deliberately smear food on a book. No way! Never! Wasn’t going to happen.

Then we had Champagne.

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After Sharon popped the cork, aiming at the target on this page of my book, I was up for the challenge. Well, technically, not just after she’d hit the target with the cork, but after the Champagne hit the target…

Chilli Nachos feature on the pages of my journal.

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It is revolting, truly revolting. It looks bad enough here, but, believe me, it is so much worse in three dimensional, glorious technicolor.

But incredibly liberating.

Incredibly liberating! I had crossed the line. I was working outside the lines. Writing flowed after that. Some of it to be discarded on the cutting room floor when I got home, but some of it the best, most flowing writing I had done in a long time, to be retained and included in my next novel.

Unlike the Chilli Nachos.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book, Wreck This Journal. It provided so much fun throughout our week. We ripped pages, wiped them on dirty cars, made a page into a paper boat and sailed it in a dirty puddle, and glued pages together. SO much fun. I wouldn’t have believed it. We were given permission to be naughty children and the only consequences were lots of laughter and a very bedraggled journal.

I even took the book for a walk on the end of a string, as instructed.

click the link if you want to see how that went!

A sidetrack, yes.

But almost relevant to the topic of Food in Fiction.

Next time, I’ll write the post I set out to write. We’ll talk about how you can use Food in your Fiction. There’ll be tips and treats and writing prompts.

But, meanwhile, why don’t you see if you can meet the challenges set you in  Wreck This Journal

All in the name of setting your creativity free.

#6 — Food in Fiction

To Cook or not to Cook

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Some people love to cook, others have no interest in the workings of the kitchen, and there can be many reasons for this. For instance, the overbearing mother who never allows her child near the stove or the mixing bowl for fear they might make a mess, and knowing she can do it better herself, is unlikely to rear a happy chef. By contrast, the mum who bakes fairy cakes with her three year old, with flour clouding around her elbows and pink icing in her hair, may well produce the next Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver.
There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and from time to time there will be someone determined to strive against discouragement to become a master at the craft.

Another reason many people don’t cook is lack of time. There are many frustrated gourmet chefs sitting in stuffy offices dreaming of steamy kitchens, planning the dinner party they would throw if they only had the time or funds.

Some learn their craft at their mother’s side, others in a school of Haute Cuisine.

The popular film, Julie & Julia, contrasts the life of chef Julia Child in the early years of her culinary career with the life of Julie Powell, a young woman in New York who sets out to cook her way through the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook. She aims to do it in one year. That’s 365 days for 524 recipes. She describes her efforts on her regular blog.
The screenplay, by Nora Ephron, is adapted from two books, an autobiography by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme, called My Life in France, and a memoir by Julie Powell, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen documenting her daily experiences cooking each of the 524 recipes in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
In Julia Child’s book, My Life in France, she describes how she signs up for cooking classes at the École du Cordon Bleu where she learns the art of French cooking.

While the books and the film, Julie and Julia, are not completely fictional, I think the film, in particular, made a very interesting drama and could be used as inspiration for writing food into your fiction.

If you don’t know what to write about, here is a suggestion for you:

Perhaps you could write a short story about attending a cookery class. It could be a class in the local village hall or in a College kitchen. Ask yourself, why does this character want to learn to cook? Perhaps they can already cook, but want to improve. Perhaps it’s to pass a rainy Thursday night in good company.

Or a story about someone’s first attempts at following a recipe.
There’s a lot of potential for humour: mishaps and disasters are common in a kitchen setting, particularly with inexperienced cooks, and can sometimes be very amusing.

I hope you find this next excerpt, from an as-yet-unpublished novel I have written, falls into that category. I always think it’s dangerous to claim you’ve written something funny. Humour is such an individual thing. But I hope it at least makes you smile.

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Sauce for the Goose
by
Christine Campbell

By the time she turned into the communal stair of the flats, Sandra had built up a fair head of steam in her boiler, fuelled by the indignity she suffered at work set against the memory of Hugh lying warm and sleepy in their bed when she left him this morning and sitting with his feet on the coffee table all day watching day-time trash on the unlicensed box, as she imagined he had most of her long, torturous day. ‘Sauce for the goose…’ Colleen’s remark flared in her memory. ‘Equal opportunity…’ She was ready to blow.
A blanket of fresh, enticing, foodie smells doused her anger as she opened the door.
“Don’t…em, don’t come in the kitchen!” Hugh yelled. “Surprise! It’s… it’s a surprise.”
Sandra still had her key in the lock, the door still standing open, the sudden cooling of her anger leaving her frozen in disbelief.
“You’re cooking!”
“Guessed it must be about my turn,” Hugh planted a kiss on her cheek as he busied past her with candles for the table.
“But you never cook. You hate cooking.”
“I didn’t say that, or not exactly. It’s just that…” he ran his hands through his floppy hair, pushing his swimming goggles onto his forehead. “It’s just that you do it so much better. Onions,” he added in answer to her unspoken enquiry about the goggles.
“Yes, I see. But the candles, wine?” She closed the door and followed him through to the living room.
“A sudden pang of conscience. You out there every day working for us. Me in here watching tele.”
A weary snort of recognition escaped from Sandra.
“One of these interminable talk shows. ‘Is your man a loser?’ Suddenly saw that, yes, your man, me, was… am… a bit of a loser Wouldn’t be watching that dreadful program otherwise. Decided to do something about it.”
“A job would be nice.”
“Yes. Yes, I suppose that would be nice. The ideal really, I imagine.” Hugh stood with his hands on his hips, his hips girded with a tea towel, nodding his agreement.
“Yes.”
“I did… I er… did go… to the job centre again.”
Sandra looked up expectantly.
Hugh spread his hands. “Nothing.”
“Nothing?”
“Suitable, I mean. Nothing suitable.”
“If it pays money, it’s suitable,” Sandra muttered.
“Mustn’t lose sight of the big picture, as it were. You know, the right job, best career move.”
Sandra sat down wearily. “Oh, Hugh. What are we going to do? I know you want a career, but, right now, it’s a job you need, just a job. One that pays money. One that pays off the overdraft.”
“Mmm, know what you mean.”
“Do you, Hugh? ‘Cos I wonder sometimes. You’ve had this great Public School Education. The Stiff Upper Lip, English Gentleman, Posh University kind of stuff, but, really, has it prepared you for living in the real world? Has it taught you how to put meat on the table? Has it dickie-bird!”
“Meat on the table, yes, see what you mean.” He sniffed the air, “Sorry, back in a mo. The meat. Need to do some stirring.” And disappeared into the kitchen.
“Smells nice.” She sat up, alarmed by sudden realisation. “How? where did you get the money for meat? We can’t afford…”
“Sold the picture.” Hugh shouted.
Her eyes flew to the empty place on the wall.
“My grandmother’s painting! You sold my grandmother’s painting.” She was on her feet, her anger reignited.
“Don’t come in,” he yelled as she started to push open the kitchen door.
“You sold my grandmother’s painting!” She shouted, her forehead against the door, her fist banging it in frustration. “You had no right.”
“Hunger!” he shouted back. “Hunger gave me the right.”
“It was mine.”
“It was ugly,” he asserted as he squeezed through the door, barring her entry to the kitchen.
“It was mine.”
He looked helplessly at her. “We needed food.”
“I was bringing food.” She held up the carrier bag. “Bread, cheese, pasta.”
“Macaroni cheese?”
She nodded.
“Yes. Yes, I see. The thing is, actually… well, I’m… well, I’m sort of fed up with macaroni cheese, as it happens.”
“But…”
Hugh took off the goggles and ran his fingers through his untidy hair again, reinforcing his air of perpetual bewilderment. “And I was… I was sort of… I was fed up with that hideous picture staring down at me all day.” He tossed a petulant glance in the direction of the offending, now absent, painting.
“It could only stare down at you all day, if you were here all day.”
“Yes, of course. Yes. Well. It seemed the ideal solution, killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. Instead of Capercaillie on the wall, we’ve er… we’ve sort of… sort of got chicken in the… in the er, wok, so to speak.” his voice trailed off the way it often did, though he smiled shyly at his own wit. “You’ve got to admit it was a particularly ugly painting,” he added bravely.
“It was my painting.”
“Chicken stir-fry. Lots of peppers and mushrooms. Garlic,” he cajoled, waving a hand in the general direction of the smell of cooking.
“Painted for me by my grandmother.”
“Spring onions, ginger. Oh, hell! Something’s burning!” He dashed out to the kitchen again. “Don’t be cross about it, darling,” he called back through. “Think of it as, well, as sensible use of resources, so to speak.”
“Why couldn’t you have sensibly used some of your own resources? Oh good grief, what on earth is all this for?”
“I told you not to come through.”
“How many are you expecting for dinner?”
“Just…eh… just us.”
“But there’s so much. All these peppers.”
“I thought it seemed a lot,” he frowned. “But that’s what the recipe said.”
“Which recipe? Let me see.”
He lifted the book to show her.
“Feeds six,” she read out.
“Oops!”
“Oops, indeed. But, even for six, it’s an awful lot.”
He took the recipe back and pointed to the ingredients list. “Look, six chicken breasts, fourteen oz of potatoes. Oz, I knew that was ounces,” he informed her with some pride. “And I knew sixteen ounces equals one pound, so I weighed out nearly a pound, then half as much of peppers, same of mushrooms.”
“But I don’t have ounces on my scales.”
“Yes, you do. ‘Course you do.” He drew them over. “See?”
“Grams and Kilos,” she showed him. “It measures in grams and kilos. You’ve cooked a kilo of potatoes, four chicken breasts and there are several kilos of vegetables chopped up here.” The sweep of her hand indicated the heaps of vegetables covering every available work surface in their little kitchen. “For two of us.”
He scratched his head. “I wondered how it was all going to fit in the wok.”
“Well, it’s not, is it?” she said, weariness giving an edge to her voice.
“No, I suppose it’s not. Sorry.” He shrugged his apology like a child caught in some minor misdemeanour. “What… er… what do you… er… should I…”
Sandra sighed. “Let me get my coat off.”
“Sorry,” he said again, his large brown eyes begging her forgiveness.
How could she be angry with this gentle, schoolboy of a man? “Oh Hugh,” she said, drawing him into her arms. “What are we going to do?”
“I thought, perhaps, eating might be a good idea?”

And, in the end, the meal was delicious. That evening, the next evening and, in various forms, the next three evenings after that: stir-fried; curried; roasted; the vegetables liquidised as soup, and finally as sauce.

~~~

So how about you having a go at writing a story in which food plays a leading role. It might be fun. Let me know how you get on.

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#5 — Food in Fiction

We’ve been looking at how Food is used in Fiction. The places where your characters eat and drink can also be helpful in telling your story.

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Photo taken in the Vintage Tearoom of The Caledonian Bicycle Company

In my second novel, Making It Home, two of the main characters meet regularly in a coffee shop. A coffee shop or tearoom is a neutral location. No-one has to act as hostess. No-one has to assume responsibility for the business of getting fed and watered. So it is a useful setting for a writer to use. It allows dialogue to flow as easily as tea or coffee from the pot, or with as many splutters and stutters as a malfunctioning coffee machine. That’s up to the writer and what he or she wishes to accomplish in the scene.


THE book cover

In Making It Home, Kate and Phyllis meet for afternoon tea, and in this short excerpt I haven’t woven in many references to the food and drink, more using the setting to allow space for the characters to get to know one another and the reader to listen in and get to know them too. The reference to the strawberry tarts, is used to show how Phyllis diverts attention from herself, afraid perhaps of revealing too much about her unusual lifestyle.

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“So tell me about yourself,” Phyllis demanded after they’d bought their coffee and cakes and were settled at a small round table in Harrison’s Coffee Shop.
The surroundings suited Phyllis. Kate had never really paid much attention to the place before. It was just somewhere to have a break and refreshment. Now, she noticed that it was quite elegantly furnished: dark wooden tables, comfortably padded chairs. It all had an air of old-fashioned elegance: the perfect setting for such a delightfully old-fashioned lady.
“You’re married.” Phyllis nodded in the direction of Kate’s wedding ring. “Any children?”
“Two. A girl and a boy.”
“Ages?”
“Vicky’s thirty-four. Paul, thirty-two.”
“You must have been a very young mum.”
“I was.” Kate blushed. “Sweet sixteen… and wish I’d only been kissed!”
“Pregnant when you married then?”
Kate was a little taken aback by the older woman’s directness. Often that generation were a little bashful about such topics. Her own mum certainly was. In fact, she never quite recovered from the shame of Kate’s disgrace. She had made a great point of telling everybody that Vicky was a honeymoon baby. ‘Six weeks premature,’ she’d said. Pretty hard to be convincing though, when Vicky was a bouncing seven-and-a-half pounder!
“’Fraid so,” she admitted.
“And no help for it in those days?”
“Absolutely not. We ‘Had To Get Married’. No other choice. My dad made that very clear. Anyway,” Kate laughed a little wryly. “I wanted to get married. Thought it was really romantic. Getting married, having babies. It’s what I’d always wanted. Or at least, I thought it was.”
“The romance wore off then?”
“Quickly. Once I had two toddlers and a husband who didn’t have a clue what to do with kids. I’m afraid Dan didn’t have much time for them until they could watch the football. Although, to his credit, he was a good provider. Worked hard. ‘Department of Trade and Industry’. He’s quite high up in it now and very well respected, as far as I can tell. Not that he talks about his work. Just that my neighbour’s husband works in the same department. Under Dan, actually. He seems to think the world of him. Says he’s a great manager.” She shrugged. “He’s beginning to get tired though. I think they’ve worn him down. He’d love to get out.”
“Any chance?”
“Oh heavens! I hope not. I couldn’t be doing with him underfoot all the time.”
“He’d surely get something else though?”
“Perhaps.” Kate shuddered.“Anyway, what about you?”
“Oh you don’t want to hear about me.” Phyllis held out the delicate china plate of cakes. “Here! Why don’t you try one of these strawberry tarts? They really are delicious.”

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And in this next excerpt, the tea and the tea tray help to show a scene of family domesticity. No longer a neutral location, Kate is in her own kitchen with her son, a more intimate setting, allowing us to see another, more intimate, side to her character. There are things you may not mind talking about to an acquaintance in a coffee shop, and there are other, more personal things you would only feel comfortable sharing with family or close friends in the safe environment of your own kitchen.

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“You mean you’ve been slipping out of the house, every Saturday for weeks, without telling him where you’re going?”
Kate nodded. “Well, only one so far.”
“Do you think that’s wise, Mum? I mean… what if he thinks you’ve got a fancy man or something?”
She laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous, Paul. Why on earth would he think that?”
“Well, isn’t that what happened to his Dad when he was a wee boy? Did his Mum not run off with someone or something?”
“Yes, but his Mum was a floosie.”
“A what?” Paul hooted.
“Shh! He’ll come through to see what’s keeping his cup of tea.”
“Well, really Mum! A ‘floosie’! Where on earth did you come up with that?”
“Oh, you know what I mean. I don’t know what the current slang is for a loose woman.”
Paul hooted again.
“She fell in love with all things American during the war, particularly, all ‘things’ in uniform. His father wasn’t even sure that Dan was his kid. Then she upped and left him to bring him up on his own. I don’t think they had much of a homelife.”
“Probably why he’s such a miserable sod now.”
“Paul!”
“Well he is. And I do know what the current slang is for that. But, in deference to your feelings…”
“Thank you.”
“So, where does he think you go every Saturday?”
“Shopping, I suppose. He doesn’t ask, so I don’t tell him.”
Paul picked up the tea-tray and started towards the kitchen door. “Fair enough. If he’s not interested enough to ask. It would serve him right if you did have a fancy man. Hey!” He spun round to look carefully at her. “You don’t, do you?”
“Of course I don’t! And watch that tea, you’re going to spill it!”

~~~

You can find Making It Home, internationally, on Amazon

FREE for three days, from Tuesday, November 4th till Thursday, November 6th

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