Monday, 29 November 2010

GIVEAWAY UPDATE/MONDAY MISCELLANIOUS


Look at all this snow! And before Christmas too. Is anyone else slightly worried that The Dark Is Rising? Watch out for ravens! (I tell you, I crack myself up - that's the second time I've told that joke today, and it's still just as funny. To me, anyway).

For years and years I have loathed snow. Often, people would wonder why I greeted their cheerful announcements that it was snowing with groans of despair. They assumed I was some kind of Scrooge, wanting to rain on their snow parade.

But the moment the white stuff started falling my head would be filled with memories of slush filling my boots and snow melting through my coat on the way to work, so that I had to spend all day at a chilly, air-conditioned office in damp clothes - and the inevitable sneezing, sore throat and general unwellness that would follow. Of slipping on ice and bashing my knee or elbow as I tried to get on the bus and nearly passing out with the pain. Of buses that never arrived and taxis that were cancelled so that I would be left stranded by the stop for hours, getting colder and colder. Memories of finally managing to make it to the office, only to get sneered at and told off by bosses who, of course, owned nice warm four wheel drives and couldn't understand why a little snow needed to make anyone late.

If anyone had asked me a week ago how I felt about snow, I would have told them flatly and without a thought that I hated it. I now realise that isn't true. It never was. What I hated was having my simple, childlike glee in the beauty of snow, and the way it transforms a familiar landscape into something different and new, stolen from me by my adult responsibilities (and the bunch of complete *******s that I used to work for).

For the next little while I have the enormous privilege of being a full-time writer, and that means apart from taking my dog for a walk three times a day I don't have to go anywhere. Everything I need is right here. I can even, in this day and age, get my shopping online and talk to all the people I like via email (please, God, do not take my broadband from me). I'm able to look at the streets, houses, marshlands and coppices that I see every day with completely new eyes and just enjoy it all. It is, quite frankly, blissful.

But I know that there are soooo many people out there who ARE still suffering, in various ways, through this unexpected cold snap. They have my sympathies, and for their sake I hope the snow goes quickly. I'm just glad to know that, for the moment, I have been freed from hating something that I never wanted to hate in the first place.

Moving on! Over the weekend I made a trip to London (and got trapped in Doncaster for an hour because of the snow, but even that wasn't enough to upset me) in order to take part in an event at my publishers. Some loverly, loverly bloggers came out to hear about Walker Books new Undercover promotion, which includes Shadows on the Moon, and I spoke to them about that for a while, and then about writing, and books, and jewellry and all kinds of other stuff. I had a very nice time indeed. Many thanks to Liz, Sarah, Lauren, Lynsey (did I get the number of y's right?) and Becky!

However, something else very important happened during that visit:

I GOT MY HANDS ON MOAR ARCS OF SHADOWS ON THE MOON!

Which means, instead of the single ARC that I was previously offering, I can now promise *three*. Three! Your chance of winning one just tripled... If, of course, we get 200 followers by Christmas. 

Go to work, little grasshoppers!

Friday, 26 November 2010

SHADOWS ON THE MOON ARC GIVEAWAY!

That's right - my post title deceives you not. The time has come - as long promised and awaited - for me to give away ONE PRECIOUS COPY OF SHADOWS ON THE MOON!


Do I seem a little excited to you, readers? You bet your sweet bippy I am! I only have THREE of these little babies in my clutches, and this is the first one to be sent out alone into the cruel, cold world *Sob*.

The winner will recieve a signed and (if they wish) dedicated copy of the uncorrected proof this book, along with any other goodies I have hanging around at the time, including (but not limited to) signed postcards and fridge magnets, bookplates, scented Japanese fans, chocolates, sparkles and kittens (well, maybe not kittens). I will send the prize anywhere, up to (and including) Utter Pradesh, Outer Mongolia, Deepest Peru and the Polar Icecap.

This book will not be released in the UK until July 2011, and at present I do not plan to give away any other copies, since my mum has dibs on one and I'd like to keep one for myself. So if you want it, this is pretty much your only chance.

What do you have to do to get your eager little hands on this fantabulous prize? Well, here's where it gets interesting, my lovelies. I need you guys to help me out.

You see, when I started this blog, I was a wee, naive little creature, unschooled in the ways of blogging. I thought that if I posted interesting original content on a regular basis and made a sincere effort to interact with readers, I would soon have a thriving audience. And at first, it was so. Within the first month, before I could even catch my breath, I had over a hundred followers! What's more, they were the most faithful, intelligent and enthusiastic followers I could hope for.

But I've noticed that my follower count has pretty much remained completely static for the last three months, and since I am now slightly more savvy as to the way authors usually draw readers to their blogs, I realise that in order to increase this number and reach more readers, I'm supposed to 'friend' influential people on Goodreads and Facebook, stalk and follow certain key blogs, and make comments all over the place, even when I have nothing to say. Apparently this is the reliable way to increase blog traffic.

Um. No. Not gonna. It all seems a bit fake to me, to be honest, and I have enough trouble keeping up with the people I really do want to follow. Plus, stalking is creepy. However, I would still like more people to learn about my blog. Because I believe in my blog. I think more people *should* get the chance to hear about it, and read it, and ask me questions about writing and publishing and get honest answers. And you guys do too, right? So what I want is for you to be my emissaries. I'm not going to tell you how. I'm not going to ask you to post links. I just want you to go out and there talk about The Zoë-Trope. Tweet it, Facebook it, stick a link in your blog, chat to friends about it, whatever. Go forth and find me followers.

If, by Christmas, the number of blog followers has reached 200, I will pick a winner from among all those followers to recieve the ARC. And I will also post a video of me singing the blues (live and unaccompanied) on YouTube. Anyone that knows me knows that singing in public is one of the very few things that gives me stage-fright, so I'm really sticking my neck out here.

That's it. That's all. 200 blog followers by Christmas. Since the number of my followers is already 114, that means you only have to find...(counts on fingers, scratches head, gets out abacus) 86 new followers. I really, really hope you can do it. Even if it does mean squawking like a chicken on YouTube.

Come on...you know you want it...

Monday, 22 November 2010

FROSTFIRE TEASER

Hello, readers. Today I wanted to post a teaser of Shadows on the Moon, but it's getting harder and harder to do that because, a) there are few bits left that are not spoilery and b) my Word doc. doesn't contain the most recent version of the book anymore - the copyedits were done on paper. Anyway, I'm going to be giving away an ARC of Shadows soonish, and I don't want to spoil you.

So instead of a Shadows teaser I bring you...a FrostFire teaser! This bit's been revised about four times now so it should be fairly typo and blip free (although I know writing that has just guaranteed at least a hundred mistakes will show up in it). Remember, too, that this novel has not been submitted yet, which means it has a lot of hoops yet to jump through, and any and all scenes are subject to change or even (gulp) deletion.

Enjoy, my pretties!

Friday, 19 November 2010

GIVING UP

Hello blog readers. Another Friday, another post. And today, I'm going to talk about giving up. Because that's what I've been wrestling with for the past couple of weeks.

You guys may remember that I've been revising FF (FrostFire, the companion book to Daughter of the Flames) lately. And I've been struggling. The Epic Fall and Evil Virus didn't really help, but they were not the cause of my consternation. In the last day or so I have come to an unavoidable conclusion: I need to give up on this draft. Wait, wait - before you start screaming, let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

(If you got that joke, give yourself a bonus point).

My normal writing process, as documented on my website and all over the internet, goes thusly: Zolah buys a notebook. Zolah scribbles in the notebook. Around once a week Zolah types these scribbled pages into her computer, changing and revising as she goes. When she has reached the end, she prints it all out and leaves it to mature for a couple of weeks, reads it over, revises again and sends it to her editor. She calls this her 'first draft'.

That's the way I've always worked, and because of that, I simply did not realise how VITAL each stage of the process was.

Then I went full-time. I started writing from nine to five or later each day, and I found that my terrible eyesight (which causes me to crane over the page in order to see what I'm writing), and the resulting bad posture while writing by hand were causing me serious neck and back problems. It's one thing to fold yourself into a pretzel for a fifteen minutes during a teabreak, or even an hour in the evening. It's another to sit that way for eight hours a day. I couldn't handle the pain. So I simply cut the notebook stage out. I began writing everything directly onto my laptop. My neck and back thanked me, and I was hitting 12,000 words a week. Awesome, yes?

No. No. No.

When I came to revise my 'finished' first draft, I found to my horror that it was all wrong so very very wrong OMG what HAPPENED HOW WHAT ARGHGGHG! Instead of the fairly polished first draft which I expected to read, I found an incoherant, badly paced, badly written mess. In skipping the initial scribbling and revising stage I had effectively created a manuscript that read like those scribbled notebook pages. Because of course, using the notebook method, what I had been calling my 'first draft' was in fact more like a second or even third draft.

Trying to fix this with my normal polishing and revising process was like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. It might take your mind off things and give you an illusion that you're being productive, but in the long run you're still heading for a disaster. And so, after a week of hiding my head under the covers, groaning and baking (holy granola guys, you should SEE my kitchen right now. I've had to borrow cake and biscuit tins from all over the place) I've finally come to the realisation that it is time to give up.

Not on the book. On this draft. I cannot fix it. I can rearrange, revise and polish it until the cows come home, but it still won't be right. I need to scratch at least 70% of this manuscript, get out my trusty notebook and propelling pencil, and start again.

This, as you can probably imagine, is a hella scary position to be in. My deadline on this book is around the tenth of January (since that's when my editor gets back from her extremely well deserved holiday), which leaves me just under two months to write the new version. And those two months include Christmas and New Year, when I will have various committments to family and friends which I just can't toss aside. So you'd think I'd be freaking the heck out right now.

But I'm actually not. The sheer of relief of finally letting go, giving up on what can't be fixed and making a decision about what needs to be done, completely drowns out any sense of panic. I'm not only quietly confident that I can do this; I'm really excited to do this. I'm filled with glee at the thought of getting stuck in and making this book as good as it really deserves to be. I'm well aware that I'm going to be working flat out and that it will be really, really hard, especially at this time of year - but it's also going to be fun.

I hope.

Anyway, I leave you today with this video from the amazing Jackson Pearce, who not only has profound things to say about giving up, but also manages to BATHE HER CAT (yes, in actual WATER) and survive. If I tried to do this to either of my cats I'd end up needing prosthetic arms for the rest of my life, and probably a breathing tube as well. How does she do it? I suspect that she may be a witch. Or an elf. Or both.



Is there anything that you guys are struggling with lately, that you might need to let go and just give up on? Tell me about it in the comments.

(P.S. I have just ordered a box easel to put my notebook on when I'm writing. Hopefully this will allow me to write by hand without crippling myself. Win!)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

FIVE THINGS THAT DEFINE MY WRITING

This is topic comes to you courtesty of The YA Rebels, who've been doing a Ten Things Week on YouTube. Most of them seem to be focusing on physical things that encapsulate their lives or which help them to write. I'm going a bit more philosophical with mine, and - since I want to go into depth without this post becoming unbearably long - I'm only going for a list of five.

Thing Number Five: IDENTITY

Looking at the books I've written and the books I want plan to/want to write, I can see that all of them explore the theme of identity in some way, whether it's a heroine questioning her 'proper' place in the pecking order of her family, or one who discovers that her whole life so far has been a lie. I think this is a topic that comes up often in YA literature, because part of the struggle of being a young adult is learning who you are, who you want to be, and how to live with that. YA fiction needs to reflect that struggle in order to depict fully formed and realistic YA characters.

But I also think that the reason identity comes up over and over in my stories is that it's a theme which is personally significant to me. For a long time my image of myself was defined by other people's expectations of and reactions to me - it was only when I hit my twenties that I began to break free of that and allow myself to explore just who I really was without feeling fear or shame that I was doing something 'wrong' because it didn't fit with a stereotype.

Some people seem to have a very strong idea of who they are from the moment they're born (my niece Clemence is one) while others are gentler and more malleable (like my other niece Alix). But underneath the more obvious traits and characteristics which cause the people in our lives to try to label us - and people, no matter how well-meaning, will ALWAYS be trying to label you - we all have an inner self who is often a complete mystery, even to ourselves. Who are you, really? Do you decide this, or is it preordained? Are some people born bad or good? Does upbringing have the power to shape you, and is it ever possible to break free? My search to answer these questions is part of what defines me as a writer.


Thing Number Four: HIDDEN DEPTHS

Character's hidden depths are my sparkly sprinkles. They make me smile. You, the reader, may never know about them, but every time I put a character on the page I give them hidden depths, secret histories, a little flicker of life that makes them special to me. Here's one: Rashna, in Daughter of the Flames, is Surya's biological daughter. Surya didn't want children and had Rashna adopted when she was born. Shocking, eh? Of course, because these hidden depths are just that - hidden, not explicitly spelled out on the page - you don't have to agree with them. If you want to decide that Rashna is actually Zira's illegitimate sister, that's fine too. I want you to use your imaginations, and when I write I always try to give the reader room to make up their own mind about things like that wherever I can. Nevertheless, I think that the secrets my characters keep has a profound effect on the way that my plots unfold. Most important of all, these secrets make my job fun.

Thing Number Three: UNEXPLORED WORLDS

On the surface this seems simple, because all my books so far have been what is called High or Epic fantasy, meaning that I create worlds from scratch for my books, literally building new universes down to the colour of the leaves, where the seas go, and the patterns of the stars. In the future I plan to write urban fantasy books set in contemporary Britain, but even this will involve constructing a magical framework, a world beneath and around our everyday world, that will allow the events of my story to unfold.

However, when I say Unexplored Worlds, I'm not just talking about the fun and hard work of creating fictional universes. I'm talking about pushing myself to take chances each time I sit down to write my next book. I think it's very easy as a writer to get into a rut. To write almost-the-same-plot with almost-the-same-characters in almost-the-same-world each time. Writing can be heart-breaking and scary and when you come up with stories it can be sooo tempting to just do 'more of the same'. Sometimes there's even pressure from agents and publishers on this score as well. I've seen a lot of writers that I loved and respected fall into this trap, and while I understand it, I also think it's a waste.

So I try to explore new worlds with each story that I write. Set myself new challenges. Push myself, even if that means feeling less comfortable. Shall I set this story in an industrialised country? Can I make this story take place over the course of just one week? Try a love triangle? Write a lesbian main character? Write in third person instead of first? Possibly this means that my work will be less polished but hopefully it will also mean that I keep on developing myself and my skills as a writer.

Thing Number Two: ANGST

When I tell people that I write books for young people, they nearly always jump to the conclusion that my books must be funny, madcap adventures for younger children. That's because (as you might have noticed if you read this blog much) I am a funny, madcap and slightly whacky person. But when it comes to my writing, a whole other personality springs to life, and this personality does not laugh much, if at all. She is not whacky or madcap. She is serious. And angsty.

I don't know why. I have no explanation for the fact that when I come to write stories I'm nearly always drawn to the dark ones. I have no idea why, when the first thing people say about me in real life is 'funny', my characters hardly ever get to laugh. When I finished Shadows on the Moon I promised myself I was never going to cry that much over a book again - but FrostFire was even worse.

But even though my characters nearly all go through terrible ordeals, I think their suffering has meaning - not only in terms of moving my plot forward but also in helping them to change and grow, and learn the extent of their own strength, just like in real life. Angst defines me as a writer because I want my characters to be real.

Thing Number One: LOVE

I know what you're thinking. Smoochy smoochy. However, I'm not just talking about romance here.

Love motivates all my characters in some way. In Daughter of the Flames, Abheron's fear of and craving for love causes him to act like a monster, while Zira's love for her country and her people makes her a leader and a heroine. In The Swan Kingdom, Alex's love for her brothers and Gabriel gives her the courage to stop running and fight back for the first time in her life. Love of himself motivates the villain of Shadows on the Moon.

I believe that love is one of the most frightening and powerful forces in human experience. It can make people do terrible things, fill them with fear and hatred, destroy them - and it can also heal people, teach them who they really are, and allow them to perform acts of astonishing bravery and self-sacrifice. Finding out who and what my characters love, how they express that love, the way it changes them, is probably the most important thing to me. It's what helps me to develop all my plots, all my people - and it's what keeps me writing until the end. Without love, I honestly don't think I'd be able to write anything at all.

So those are the things that define my writing. What about you?

Monday, 15 November 2010

THE BEST BOOKS I BET YOU'VE NEVER READ

Hello and Happy Monday! Remember, it's only three days until Friday, and the worst day of the week is already over with (I'm trying to convince myself as much as you, here - edits are kicking my butt).

So today I thought I'd do a little post about books that I absolutely love and adore and which have had a huge influence on me - but which I bet many of you have never heard of before. Some of these books are more famous on one side of the Pacific than the other, some of them don't get the attention they deserve anywhere. Get your pencils ready, boys and girls! You're going to want to write these down.

  1. First of all I'm going for one which (in my view) is not well known enough in either the UK or the US, and a book which I blame both for my incurable romanticism and my enduring love for bad boys. I was actually about eight when I read this the first time, way too young to be in the target audience. It didn't matter. This book changed my life: The Changeover by Margaret Mahy. It's the story of Laura Chant, a girl who notices odd things about the world that others do not, who gets strange feelings about people that tell her they are not entirely what they seem, and who gets 'warnings' from the universe when things are about to go wrong. When her beloved younger brother falls terribly ill with a sickness she thinks is supernatural, the only thing she can do to help him is to approach Sorry Carlisle - a beautiful and enigmatic boy from her school that she is sure is a witch. This is probably the first paranormal romance written for young adults. In fact, it's one of the first books to recieve a YA label ever. I love, love, love it and I think you should all read it if you can.
  2. Next up, a book that has recieved a lot of praise and attention in the US but very little in the UK. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (and it's sequels The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia. There's a fourth linked book called A Conspiracy of Princes but I don't consider that to be part of the same series). If you like surprises, beautifully realised, intricate fantasy worlds, and multilayered REAL characters, these books are for you. I got through all three in about a day and a half and finished nothing less than awed by this author's skill. You may notice I'm not giving a synopsis here: that's because there's so many twists and turns in these books that there is literally nothing I can say which isn't a spoiler!
  3. Here's one that very few people have heard of: The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip. I cannot express how much of an influence this book has had on me. It is a book that truly deserves the word 'lyrical', like a prose poem that completely captures you in it's bittersweet, dreamy mood. It's the story of a young girl who has lost both father and mother to the sea in different ways, and how, through her passionate hatred of the ocean, she unravels a terrible curse, earns the love and gratitude of two princes, and heals both them and her own broken family.
  4. Bit of a change of pace here - we're going from fantasy to historical. If any of you have ever sighed over the exploits of Darcy and Elizabeth, then you will probably enjoy the works of Georgette Heyer, and my favourite of her books is The Unknown Ajax. The most telling thing I can say about it is that if I could marry any hero from any book I've ever read, it would be Hugo Darracot. I adore him, and I adore this novel.
  5. Back to fantasy. If you live in the UK you've probably heard of Diana Wynne Jones. A lot of people here read her younger fiction as part of the wizard craze following Harry Potter's release (although DWJ has been around a lot longer than JKR). But she also writes amazing YA fiction and Hexwood is one of her strangest, twistiest, scariest and most romantic books. The love story here takes a bit of effort to get your head around, but it's all the better for that. If you're anything like me you'll find you can re-read this about five times and get a different book each time. It manages to be funny and tragic, and to weave universal truths about human nature into its universe spanning tale of treachery, intrigue and love. It's that complex.
  6. Finally The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. This lady is huge in the US. Not so much in the UK. If I was stranded on a desert island and could only bring a few books, this would be one of them. Cazaril is a wonderful character, flawed and struggling yet noble and compassionate with every fibre of his being. I loooove him. I love the way the plot unfolds here. I love the strong, intelligent female characters and I love the fictional world. This is an adult book and first time I read it, quite frankly it shocked me - there's some dark and powerful stuff in here. But now I know the way everything turns out, it has become my number one comfort read.
I hope there's at least one or two books here you've not come across before! Order them from your local bookshop, find them in the library, heck, even get them on Amazon - they won't let you down.

Friday, 12 November 2010

SNORKTASTIC!

I stole this from YA Highway - it made me snork so hard I simply couldn't resist posting it here in it's entirety. Some of them are actually great, some of them stink so bad they require removal by a trained team of medical professionals. 

 

56 of the Worst (or Best) Analogies Written by High School Students 

"Apparently the washington Post held a contest in which high school teachers sent in the “worst” analogies they’d encountered in grading their students’ papers over the years."

  1. Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.
  2. He was as tall as a 6′3″ tree.
  3. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
  4. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.
  5. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
  6. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
  7. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
  8. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
  9. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
  10. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
  11. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.
  12. The lamp just sat there, like an inanimate object.
  13. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
  14. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
  15. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at asolar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
  16. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
  17. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.
  18. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.
  19. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
  20. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
  21. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.
  22. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.
  23. Even in his last years, Grand pappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it hadrusted shut.
  24. He felt like he was being hunted down like a dog, in a place that hunts dogs, I suppose.
  25. She was as easy as the TV Guide crossword.
  26. She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.
  27. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
  28. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
  29. “Oh, Jason, take me!” she panted, her breasts heaving like a college freshman on $1-a-beer night.
  30. It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.
  31. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.
  32. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.
  33. The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.
  34. Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.
  35. Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like “Second Tall Man.”
  36. The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.
  37. The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon.
  38. She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from screen doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again.
  39. Her pants fit her like a glove, well, maybe more like a mitten, actually.
  40. Fishing is like waiting for something that does not happen very often.
  41. They were as good friends as the people on “Friends.”
  42. Oooo, he smells bad, she thought, as bad as Calvin Klein’s Obsession would smell if it were called Enema and was made from spoiled Spamburgers instead of natural floral fragrances.
  43. The knife was as sharp as the tone used by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) in her first several points of parliamentary procedure made to Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) in the House Judiciary Committee hearings on the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton.
  44. He was as bald as one of the Three Stooges, either Curly or Larry, you know, the one who goes woo woo woo.
  45. The sardines were packed as tight as the coach section of a 747.
  46. Her eyes were shining like two marbles that someone dropped in mucus and then held up to catch the light.
  47. The baseball player stepped out of the box and spit like a fountain statue of a Greek god that scratches itself a lot and spits brown, rusty tobacco water and refuses to sign autographs for all the little Greek kids unless they pay him lots of drachmas.
  48. I felt a nameless dread. Well, there probably is a long German name for it, like Geschpooklichkeit or something, but I don’t speak German. Anyway, it’s a dread that nobody knows the name for, like those little square plastic gizmos that close your bread bags. I don’t know the name for those either.
  49. She was as unhappy as when someone puts your cake out in the rain, and all the sweet green icing flows down and then you lose the recipe, and on top of that you can’t sing worth a damn.
  50. Her artistic sense was exquisitely refined, like someone who can tell butter from I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.
  51. It came down the stairs looking very much like something no one had ever seen before.
  52. Bob was as perplexed as a hacker who means to access T:flw.quid55328.com\aaakk/ch@ung but gets T:\flw.quidaaakk/ch@ung by mistake.
  53. You know how in “Rocky” he prepares for the fight by punching sides of raw beef? Well, yesterday it was as cold as that meat locker he was in.
  54. The dandelion swayed in the gentle breeze like an oscillating electric fan set on medium.
  55. Her lips were red and full, like tubes of blood drawn by an inattentive phlebotomist.
  56. The sunset displayed rich, spectacular hues like a .jpeg file at 10 percent cyan, 10 percent magenta, 60 percent yellow and 10 percent black. 
Oh, my sides! My sides! They hurt so much...

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

CRUMBLE MAKES EVERYTHING RIGHT

Hello, faithful readers! I'm not quite over my cold yet, but I'm at the stage where I've got my appetite back and I'm yearning for real comfort food. And what could be more comforting than crumble?

I decided to post a step-by-step recipe here because I realised that despite calling myself a Baking Goddess in my biog, I've never really talked about cooking much on this blog. It's a writing blog after all. But since I feel too ill to get any work done at the moment, baking seems like the next best thing. By the way, if my pictures here are a little shaky, please forgive me - I was actually standing on one leg throughout making this crumble (due to the unfortunate accident mentioned in Monday and Friday's posts) and so I was taking pictures with one hand while leaning on the countertop for balance with the other.

One legged baking y'all. That's how I roll.

For those of you who have never really done much baking, let me tell you, it's one of the most soothing occupations in the world. You follow the recipe and food comes out. What could be better? I've even found that if I get a stress headache, whipping up a cake or some brownies will get rid of it and make me feel much happier and more relaxed, even before the tin comes out of the oven. For those of you who are bakers, this recipe will be really simple, but why not give it a go anyway? I promise it's delicious.

Although I was raised, like most people, on apple or rhubarb crumble, once I discovered plum I was an instant convert. Sometimes apple can be a bit sweet and bland, and sometimes rhubarb can be a bit sharp and bitter - but plums have both the sharpness and acidity of rhubarb and the sweetness of apple without any of the downsides. Plus, it's much less hassle to stone and chop a dozen plums than to peel core and slice up apples or deal with fresh rhubarb.

So firstly, you need your ingredients as follows:

Filling
  • About 12 plums, with the stones removed and chopped into quarters
  • ½ a lime, juice only (juice from a bottle is fine)
  • 160g/5½oz caster or granulated white sugar
Crumble 
  • 175g/6oz flour (doesn't matter if it's plain or self-raising, and don't bother sifting it)
  • 50g/2oz caster or granulated sugar
  • 50g/2oz muscovado sugar (this is a sticky, dark sugar - don't skip this, it's really yummy)
  • 100g/3½oz butter cut into cubes (use it straight from the fridge, it needs to be hard)
  • 100g/3½oz rolled porridge oats
Sometimes I also put some ground ginger, cinnamon or nutmeg (just half a teaspoon) into the crumble, but you can leave that out if you don't have it, or don't like it. You'll also want some single cream, custard or icecream to serve with the crumble, since it's incredibly rich and sticky.
First of all, chop up the plums and take out the stones. Be careful not to accidentally put any stones in the crumble - these little babies could do for someone's tooth. The easiest way to do it is to get the plum, slide a sharp knife into it until you feel the stone, and then slide the blade all the way around the stone, cutting the plum in half. One half will come off with the stone in it: then you can easily cut that part in half again and get rid of the stone.
Put all the plums into a baking dish (you can grease it first with butter if you like, but I never bother), then cover them with the caster sugar and a good glug (that's technical speak for about three tablespoons) of lime juice. I use lime because I think it has a less bitter flavour, but you can use lemon if that's what you have. The citrus acid helps the plums break down and go nice and soft when they bake.


When you've done that, make the crumble topping. Put all the dry ingredients except the oats into a bowl and then rub the flour and sugar into the butter until you have a mixture with the approximate texture of breadcrumbs. But don't be too careful about it.


I think the number one reason that some crumbles are a bit dry is that people put a lot of effort into making the crumple topping really fine, almost like sand - but what you really want isn't a fine topping but a nice crunchy one. So leave it a bit lumpy. It'll be better that way.


When you've got the crumble right, add the oats and mix them in, then put the topping onto the plums. Depending on how big your dish is, you might have a bit leftover. Resist the urge to just plonk ALL the topping on, if this is the case. Too much topping will make the whole thing soggy. Put any extra crumble in another dish and bake it separately, then you can use later it as a topping for yoghurt, icecream or fruit salad (God, I can't believe what a domestic goddess I am).


Finally, put the crumple into the oven at about 180C (I've just checked and this would be 360F or Gas 4). If you have a fan oven you won't need to preheat it, but otherwise it's a good idea to put the oven on to warm up about ten minutes before the crumble is ready to go in. Leave it for about forty minutes, or until you can see that the topping has noticeably changed colour and become golden, and that the plum juice (which will be a deep purple colour) has started bubbling up around the edges.


Personally I like my crumble served nice and hot, with some cream like so...


Om nom nom. Finn wants some too:


But he can't have any - crumble is bad for dogs. Sorry Pooch!

Monday, 8 November 2010

AND...IT JUST KEEPS GETTING WORSE


Okay. So now, in addition to the sprained ankle, dislocated toe and bruised hip that I gained on Friday, I've also caught my first cold of the winter. Probably from the hours I spent waiting in the hospital A&E. I both look and feel like something grey and soggy that one of my cats might bring up after an extended grooming session. If I could walk, I'd be walking (well, shuffling) around the house covering all the mirrors.

Sorry guys, but I'm bailing on today's post. Even I'm not capable of being entertaining when I'm this wretched. I'll be back when I've down a few gallons of fruit-juice and chicken soup. In the meantime, take care of yourselves.

In closing: BLERGH.

Friday, 5 November 2010

HURRAH FOR AMAZON PRE-ORDERS!

Hello, faithful readers! Happy Friday!

I don't have much of a post for you today because I've been completely submerged in my FF re-reading and marking up (the actual re-writing starts next week). And also, at just about the time that I would normally have been writing something witty and fascinating for you all to enjoy, I was taking a tumble down the stairs and doing some fairly nasty damage to my knee and ankle. But not to worry. I have applied frozen garden peas and frozen green beans to the affected areas, and I'm sure I'll be running about as normal very soon.

However, I do not come to you empty handed. Today, I present to you:

Shadows on the Moon, now available for Pre-Order on Amazon. Whoohoo! Check out the synopsis, guys.

The new edition of The Swan Kingdom (with improved cover!) also available for pre-order! And I can tell you that the despite the green lettering on the Amazon thumbnail, actually this cover has gorgeous shiny red lettering. Just like I always wanted!

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Monday, 1 November 2010

COPY EDITS...FINISHED!

Hi Everyone! First to reassure you that despite my wild eyes, bad hair and strange babbling in Friday's vlog, I am, in fact, fine. You don't actually have to send me coffee! The first chunk of any kind of editing nearly always sends me into a tailspin. Then when I hit the halfway mark I get my game-face on and open a can of whup-*ss, and everything's sorted.

I finished the Shadows copy edits on Sunday and posted them off today. So my new task is to re-read, mark-up and re-write FF. I'm really hoping that won't take more than a week or two at the very most. Fingers crossed.

Now onto prettier things. Autumn (fall, to American or Canadian readers) is my favourite season. I love it. LOVE it. I always forget just how much I love Autumn until it comes around again, and then I want to hang onto it for as long as I can. I love the chill in the air, the frosts, the clear skies, and most of all the colours. Suddenly every time you go outside you're greeted with a new array of living treasures.

On Sunday after the copy-edits were safely finished I decided to clear my head by going for a long walk in Weelsby Woods with my mum and my dog. And because I love you nearly as much (all right, all right, just as much) as I love my favourite time of year, I took my camera with me. Behold!


Finn, otherwise known as Finbar Finley Finbarsson the Third, The Devil Hound or Wonder Pooch. You may think this is a look expressing sheer doggy love and devotion. In fact, he is thinking: Give me a cheese treat. 


This was the start of our walk. Just to give you an idea of scale, that is the back of my mum, who is a lady of average height. These pictures, by the way, really don't do justice to the glowing gold, amber and red of the leaves. Something to do with the quality of the digital camera and it's photons.


But probably if I posted pictures that did capture the real colours you'd think I'd doctored them, because the Autumn display is so incredibly bright this year. It took our breath away.

Don't you just want to lie down and roll in those leaves? Maybe I even would have, except my dog went and pee'ed on them. Damn it, Finn!

He doesn't care. He's saying: Well, you should've given me a cheese treat.
Doesn't that look exactly like the path you see in The Fellowship of the Ring, right before the Ringwraithes come for Frodo? I had a shiver walking down this avenue, let me tell you. And I'd forgotten it was Hallowe'en! I'm lucky to have escaped alive.

Here's a tree I always stop to look at when I walk in these woods. Quite often you'll find little garlands of flowers or leaves draped over it, or sometimes empty snail shells. Sometimes you even find seashells. This wood is nowhere near the sea! So I'm pretty sure it's a fairy throne or something. I always make sure to nod respectfully at it, and put back the garlands or shells before I walk on.



We spotted a red squirrel - a rare sighting in England these days - just about here, but I wasn't quick enough to catch it. It darted up a tree and probably laughed at us.


This was as we were coming out of the woodland into the park, which still has a lot of trees but isn't really wild. But I can almost see an elf or a shapeshifter flitting between the trees here. I told my mum that, and she rolled her eyes at me and said: You and your imagination.

After twenty-eight years, you would think she'd be used to it by now.


The last picture I took before we left. You can't see them here, but as I took the photo there was a gust of wind and a shower of golden leaves came fluttering down. It was like something from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Gorgeous.

In other news, I saw the film Whalerider for the first time in full this weekend, and I think it might be one of my all-time favourite films. I also made my first Asian noodle soup from scratch (I'll use less chilli next time. My throat is still sore).

What did you guys do with your weekend?
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