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 meat, 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 smiles at my passion and shares 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.

It’s what I do.

I am a Writer.

~~~

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.

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, salad and fruit, wine and coffee, everyone is usually happy to see to themselves for breakfast and lunch, with one or two being responsible for producing a simple evening meal.

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!

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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.

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 is 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.

~~~

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.

~~~

I would love to hear your suggestions.

What have you tried?

Have you enjoyed the luxury of a Writers’ Retreat?

~~~

SALT OF THE EARTH

I thought this was a delightful blogpost by Marylin Warner. Informative, evocative and just delightful. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Things I Want To Tell My Mother

My maternal grandmother, a woman of strong faith, great kindness, and soft hugs for five children, thirteen grandchildren...and many great- and great-great grandchildren. My maternal grandmother, a woman of strong faith, great kindness, and soft hugs for five children, thirteen grandchildren…and many great- and great-great grandchildren.

A picture of Grandma's five children, lined up in a row on the farm.  My mother is the middle child. A picture of Grandma’s five children, lined up in a row on the farm. My mother is the middle child.

I recently saw a “Helpful Hint” newspaper article devoted to salt. In addition to being worth its weight in gold for many centuries because of its medicinal, cooking and international commerce importance, it’s also recognized as an inexpensive and effective household cleaner today. For instance, to clean a grimy garbage disposal, pour 2 cups of ice into the disposal and add ½ cup of salt. Turn on the tap and run the disposal for 20 seconds. The gunk will be gone!  Or if a drain is clogged, pour in a mixture of ½ cup salt and 1 cup baking soda. Let it sit for a few hours…

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#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.

~~~

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.

~~~

#3 — Food in Fiction

In Part One, we gave some thought to some scenes in novels we’ve read where food played an important role, and we talked a little about how their attitude to food can reveal things about your character’s character.

In Part Two, we looked at a couple of examples of that, and also talked about how important food is in our lives and, by extension, the lives of our characters.

In Part Three, I thought it would be interesting to think about food as a central character. For instance, in Chocolat by Joanne Harris, chocolate plays the most important role. Without it, there would be no story.

When an exotic stranger, Vianne Rocher, arrives in the French village of Lansquenet and opens a chocolate boutique directly opposite the church, Father Reynaud denounces her as a serious moral danger to his flock – especially as it is the beginning of Lent, the traditional season of self-denial. As passions flare and the conflict escalates, the whole community takes sides. Can the solemnity of the Church compare with the sinful pleasure of a chocolate truffle?

What I love best about the story is that Vianne finds the chocolate that matches the person’s personality best, demonstrating that, just as the foods we have our characters choose can tell a lot about them, so the character’s personality and the role they play can determine the food we might choose to have them eat in our story. I mean, would you really have your romantic hero eat tripe and onions? Or give his lady-love a box of frozen peas bound with a ribbon?

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The chocolates in this photo are my husband’s chocolate gingers. Anyone tell me what kind of personality Vianne would match those to? Then I’ll tell you if its a good match.

Writer Teagan Kearney, http://writingmynovelnoworkingtitleyet.blogspot.co.uk says, “I think my all time favourite novel featuring food was ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris, especially the passages describing the preparation – as a chocolate lover they had me drooling!”

As one Amazon review puts it, “Chocolat is an utterly delicious novel, coated in the gentlest of magics, which proves–indisputably and without preaching–that soft centres are best.” –Lisa Gee

~~~

Similarly, in The Sweetness of Forgetting, by Kristen Harmel, there would be no story without the delicious sweets and pastries, inspired by Rose’s youth in Paris, and passed on to her daughter and granddaughter, and, again, the main character, Hope, matches pastries to people, offering them those she thinks will please them.

This is a tale of baking, love, hope and faith across generations.

The North Star Bakery has been in Hope’s family for generations, the secret recipes passed down from mother to daughter. When the bakery runs into financial trouble and Rose takes a turn for the worse, Hope’s delicate balancing act is in danger of crumbling entirely.

Then Rose reveals a shocking truth about her past and everything Hope thought she knew about her family and the bakery is turned upside down. At her grandmother’s request, Hope travels to Paris, armed only with a mysterious list of names. What she uncovers there could be the key to saving the bakery and the fulfilment of a star-crossed romance, seventy years in the making.

The Sweetness of Forgetting now comes with added book club discussion topics and inspirational food ideas created by the author.

Now, this is a book I can heartily recommend to you. I read it a while ago and can actually still remember much about it, because I thoroughly enjoyed it and the recipes are delicious.

~~~

And, now, as a special treat for you, here is a short story written by my good friend Sharon Scordecchia, in response to my request in Part One of this series for observations on the part food plays in the books we have read.

The book she remembers is Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, and the part played by luscious, red strawberries, ripe for the picking.

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~~~

Dear Tess,
I read your story years ago, when I was seventeen. I hated that Alec d’Urberville. I hated you being in the greenhouse with him. I was fearful when he insisted on feeding you those strawberries. I wanted to shout out to you, “Don’t eat it, Tess! Don’t let him put it to your mouth.”
I read your story for my English lesson. Mr S was our teacher, S for Strawberry or Seduction or Sleaze? S for Squirm. Mr S sat, his never-ending legs stretched out before him, crossed at the ankles, talking about your ‘luscious lips’, hissing the ‘s’ of each word, the sounds snaking their way around the classroom. He licked his huge lips making them shiny and wet and he laughed, his large straight teeth exposed in a leer as he held your story aloft in his great hands, while he educated us. We sat in a semi-circle around him, behind our desks, not knowing where to look. When it got too much, all his talk of strawberries being forced to luscious lips, I stabbed my pen into the grain of my desk, gouging inky disgust into the wood, defacing Alec and Mr S.
My class had a weapon though, Tess, something we used frequently to combat all that talk of strawberries and luscious lips. Each lesson, before Mr S arrived we would nominate the class’ best actress to sit in Mr S’ seat. She became Mr S. She licked her lips and leered at us and lolled back in Mr S’ chair stretching herself across the floor, holding the invisible piece of fruit, “luscious lips” slithering from her mimicry.
We sat behind our desks, our heads thrown back in bursts of raucous laughter, holding onto our sides, laughing till we cried.
If only you’d resisted the fruit, Tess. The outcome may have been different, better. But then, I was only seventeen, what did I know? I was still learning that truth is stranger than fiction.

Sharon Scordecchia

~~~

Please, do keep them coming, observations, reviews, poems, short stories, whatever — all about Food in Fiction. Your prize? I may well share it here on my blog in #FoodinFiction

~~~

Story a Day for a Week in May…plus 2

 

cap again

Couldn’t resist writing another hapless Hugh story!

***

Cooking a Capercaillie

by

Christine Campbell

This morning was the last straw, the ridiculous, humiliating last straw. Sandra’s feet beat out the rhythm of the words on the wet pavement as she stomped her way home. Locked in the broom cupboard! ‘This is not what I signed on for,’ she fumed.

By the time she turned into the communal stair of the flats, she had built up a fair head of steam in her boiler, fuelled by the indignity she suffered, 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.

“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. Dickie-bird,yes, about that…” 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 and potato casserole with stir-fried vegetables? 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 in 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 four,” she read out.

“Oops!”

“Oops, indeed. But, even for four, it’s an awful lot.”

He took the recipe back and pointed to the ingredients list. “Look, four 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, well, a bit over, actually. The thing is, potatoes are quite big and the last one put it over, but take it out and it was too much under.” He shrugged, his face screwed into a ‘what-else-could-I-do’ sort of expression. “Then a couple of peppers and onions, a bag of mushrooms, four ounces of…”

“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, another three after that.

 

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