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It’s the end of an era for me. Or it feels like that, anyway.
The last four years I’ve been at home, writing. I couldn’t do much else. A medical condition more or less confined me to my chair. It was a difficult time, but now, looking back, I think I made the most of it. I had several surgeries which didn’t work and during one operation which went horribly wrong I nearly died. In April this year I had another operation which worked, and now I’m fine.
How can I tell you how important, vital even, you were to me during that time? Some of you probably have an idea, if you remember the whole Authonomy whirlwind, when my first attempt at a novel soared up the charts to the editor’s desk in three weeks. I went into shock and removed it from the site. I’d only written 10,000 words, and it was so far from being a novel that the idea of a HarperCollins editor giving me a review was just daft.
That same book has now been out on Kindle for a year, most of the time in the UK top 1,000 Kindle books on Amazon. I am still pinching myself about that. In fact, I’m embarrassed. A few weeks ago my computer packed up, and I lost my hard drive and all my emails, which seemed like a calamity. Not so. I went back to the earliest drafts, and discovered the oddest thing. After all that editing, all those revisions, trying to be a bit cleverer each time, I found that the first drafts were the best. (Thanks, Caro – I did what you suggested!)
So to mark the first anniversary of publication, I have uploaded a newly edited version of Daisychains of Silence. I’m a lot happier with it than I was. It’s not perfect, it never will be, but I’ve learned to trust my first, often hastily scribbled words. I hope, with my next book, I won’t waste time editing the life out of my writing. It’s not that I don’t think editing is important. I do, I think it’s crucial. But there’s a difference between thoughtful editing and unnecessary padding, just because you doubt what you’ve written. Bits that felt too raw, somewhere during the editing process I took them out. I think I got scared, which is how the padding crept in instead. I’ve realised that less really is more. Now, the ending is very different. If anyone who read the earlier version would like me to send them the new file, please just let me know. The new version might not be downloadable for a day or so – and the look inside feature takes a while to catch up as well. Oh, and there’s a new cover, too, to mark the occasion.
But the last four years haven’t just been about Daisychains. Far more important to me is my father’s writing. The Ripening Time, a revised version of the original novel, is out there for readers, and I hope also to finish typing up the original, so people can read that again if they wish. The miracle out of it all is that my father’s literary estate is now being represented by Peters, Fraser and Dunlop. Three of his titles are due to be re-released by Bloomsbury Reader, and also as audio books by Audible. That is something I never dreamed would happen, and makes everything else seem unimportant. But without Daisychains, none of this would be happening. And that’s down to you (I want to start typing names… Lisa, Stef… but there are so many of you I would fill the entire page!). Some of you have appear to have vanished into the ether, but you have not vanished from my heart.
Wherever you are, I want to thank you all for the support and friendship you’ve given me over the last few years. You made the impossible happen. I’m not really an extrovert, tweeting, blogging sort of person, but those of you who are, I love you for it. You kept me company through some dark times. You made a real difference. And those of you who are quieter, I felt your comforting presence, and I look out for your blog posts, and will continue to – maybe even while I’m at work, during quiet times!
Yes, tomorrow I go back to work. I feel so lucky at my age and after being so incapacitated, to have this opportunity. We won’t have to sell the house! We might still choose to move, but it will be our choice, not because we are so broke we have no option.
I’m going back to the same company I worked for over ten years ago. They’re prepared to have me back! That alone is lovely. Some of the people are the same, and I will enjoy spending time with them again. It will be a huge learning curve though – technology has moved on since I was there, so I’ll have a lot to learn.
My computer’s sorted, my book’s updated (and the price is reduced for a while, to celebrate) and my new, historical time-slip novel is saved on Scrivener, waiting for me to flesh out the bones of it when I can. That might be years, but now I’ve started writing again I don’t intend to stop.
Our son recommends we pay a monthly subscription to some online file-saving back-up system, and that’s probably a good idea, so however long it takes, my files will be safe.
In the meantime I won’t be far away, and will be thinking of you.
well, I’m trying to write, so might not be online very much for a while.
Please email me at email@example.com . Thanks for being there and I look forward to catching up with you later in the year.
Bye for now. x
There’s a ‘virtual’ party going on this evening and I can’t be there so I’m saying hello now so I don’t miss you all. I’ve visited lots of blogs and that took quite a while. I hadn’t planned to stop and read so many of them, but sometimes you just can’t help it and whole hours go by and you look up and find you are still in your dressing gown. Or maybe that’s just me.
I wanted to make this a welcoming post but to do your visit justice I feel I must at least be dressed and have cleaned my teeth. So I’ll be back in a few minutes …
And I wonder what you would like to see here. A nice welcoming front door is always a good start:
Come in. Have a seat, I hope you’ll stay for a little while. No, please don’t look up like that. Those cobwebs are doing a good job up there but I prefer not to be reminded about them. Have a flapjack instead:
You want the recipe? Ok. They’re dead easy and I like to think they’re good for you, with all those oats.
Turn the oven on to around 160 C. My oven’s always too hot so I set mine to 150 C. Mix together in a bowl:
4 oz self raising flour
4 oz rolled oats (porridge oats)
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
chopped pistachio nuts
chopped glace cherries
Put 4oz margerine, 2 oz sugar and a large tablespoon of golden syrup in a pan. Heat gently until the sugar is melted then stir in the oat mix. Spread the mixture into a swiss roll tin and flatten with the back of a spoon or if you want cookie-type biscuits arrange spoonfuls of the mixture in the tin. Bake for around 15 minutes, until golden.
This is a great recipe that can be used for all sorts of different flavour flapjacks. I often use chopped apricots which are just as tasty. I wish I had a photo to show you but they get eaten as soon as they’re cooked so don’t sit around long enough for me to remember to take a picture.
Having visitors to my blog feels just like having visitors to my home. I did a bit of virtual dusting. There’s a couple of stories that we thought were hilarious but you might not so I hid them. That feels exactly like when the vicar’s coming round and we shove whatever it is I shouldn’t be seen to be reading under a cushion. I’ve put fresh flowers out though – see above. I’m typing this just out of sight of the photo. I would take you for a stroll round the garden but the foxgloves which were towering to the sky are leaning across the path and there are more rose petals on the ground than on the arbour. The cut and come again lettuce which looked so lively a week ago is shorn and limp and not coming again at all. There are photos around here somewhere of the garden last June when it did look beautiful, and if you fancy some Pavlova, there’s the recipe somewhere.
You have to go? Well, thanks for coming, it was lovely of you to stop by. I’ll be popping round to yours very soon …
and if you want to follow me all the buttons are on the left. Look forward to seeing you.
I’m thinking of writing a memoir about the gardens I have loved. The light is fading yet the gardens in my memory are bright with colour and with hope. To capture their beauty in words will be a challenge. The peace and harmony I’ve found throughout my life in the gardens I’ve known I’ll struggle to convey in words, yet some impulse drives me. My story begins when I was three years old.
The light is fading. It’s my bedtime. It’s raining and I should be inside. I run across the grass to the darkest corner of the garden and crawl through the undergrowth. Rhododendrons tumble onto my shoulders, scattering raindrops on my cheeks and down the back of my neck. It tickles. My fringe is plastered to my forehead. I shove my nose inside a great crimson bloom, poke my tongue out and lick the petals from the inside. I am a bee!
I’m inside the foxes’ den. The rhododendrons tower to the sky, their huge green leaves layering a ceiling above me. I sit down. Dig my shoes into the soft earth floor. Spongy brown, damp. Insects scatter. I pile the musty leaves over my socks and shoes and legs, burying them. My blue pleated skirt spreads out like a fan. I fall to the ground and shut my eyes. It feels cold but wonderful. I’ve put myself to bed with the garden.
My mum was born and brought up in Australia. Melbourne, to be exact. I suppose that should have meant she was Australian, but with my mum somehow it never did. Her ancestors were some of the earliest settlers – no, not convicts, she told us repeatedly, in case anyone got the wrong impression. No. Her great, great not sure how many greats grandfather hailed from the Isle of Skye off the north west coast of Scotland. He was the youngest son of the Chief of the clan MacLeod, and as such had no future, no means to build a life for himself and his family in his homeland. There was no work and no inheritance for the youngest son of a clan Chief. No future at all. Instead, he sailed to the other side of the world and began afresh.
Two hundred years later in 1950, my mother, a single woman in her early twenties, embarked on the six week journey across oceans home to Scotland. She met my father, also a Scot, and didn’t return to the land of her birth other than for brief visits. I have never been to Australia though I did meet my Australian grandparents. My grandmother was Dorothy MacLeod, and she had a cake shop. My mother also loved cooking, and when her marriage broke down she, who’d never had to work in all her married life found a job doing the thing she knew best. As a cook.
Unlike my mother I didn’t need to go looking for my Scottish heritage. I was born into it, immersed in a world of porridge oats and marmalade, Celtic knots, kilts, ceilidhs, Highland Games, Andy Stewart and the comforting drone of the bagpipes.
Instead, mixed in with and sometimes lost among the tartan, was a growing collection of Koalas, several different sizes of Kangaroo and a (threadbare because it was my mum’s) velvet Platypus.
But one thing more than any other has come to symbolise the connection between the women in my family across generations and continents. For me, no celebration feels complete without a Pavlova. There’s nothing Scottish about it, other than the women in my family who’ve made them. It’s a boldly Australian invention (though a quick google search reveals that New Zealand also claim ownership… if you want to find out more about the origins, try here) and as well as being absolutely delicious is very easy to do, it can be cooked in advance, looks spectacular and can be decorated to suit the theme of any celebration.
Here’s my recipe:
For the meringue base:
4 large egg whites – eggs must be at room temperature
225 grams caster sugar
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
For the filling:
Double cream or whipping cream
Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, Kiwi fruit or any fresh fruit you like.
Tips for success before you start:
Remove the eggs from the fridge in plenty of time. They should be at room temperature. You’ll need a large mixing bowl with high sides and a small bowl for the egg whites. The most important thing is to make sure the bowl in which you’ll place the egg whites and the mixing bowl you’ll beat them in is squeaky clean, without a trace of oil or fat, or the egg whites won’t whisk up. I always wash the bowls and beaters in hot soapy water, rinsing well and either leave them to air-dry or dry them with a freshly laundered teatowel.
Cut a piece of baking paper and line the base of the tin you’re going to use. I turn my roasting tin upside down and use the flat base. That way I can make whatever shape Pavlova I need. When it’s ready you just peel away the baking paper. There’s no trying to get the thing out of a tin without it breaking up. By using a flat-based tin you can just slide it off.
Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. I do this by cracking the egg and transferring the yolk between the shells while all the white pours out into a small bowl. Some people transfer the yolk from one hand to the other allowing the white to slip between their fingers into the bowl. The most important thing is to do ONE EGG WHITE AT A TIME into a small bowl. Then transfer ONE EGG WHITE AT A TIME into the mixing bowl. If the tiniest amount of yolk gets into the egg white you have to discard it – it’s fatty and so the egg white won’t whisk up. (If you don’t transfer one egg white at a time into the mixing bowl you could accidentally break the yolk of the 4th egg and then all the whites would have to be discarded). Put the yolks in another bowl and set aside. You don’t need them for the Pavlova but could use them to make mayonnaise.
Preheat the oven to 170C / fan oven 150C / Gas 3 or 4.
My oven is far too hot so I have to be careful it doesn’t burn. It’s better to be cooked at a lower temperature if you have the same problem.
Beat the egg whites until they just form stiff and shiny peaks. Gradually add the sugar, a couple of tablespoons at a time and whisk really well between each addition. Continue whisking for 3 or 4 minutes or until the meringue is stiff and glossy and stand up in peaks. Then whisk in the cornflour, cream of tartar, vanilla essence and vinegar.
Spoon the mixture onto the baking paper, spreading it out into a circle or a rectangle or whatever shape you want with a palette knife. I try to make the edges thicker than the middle so there’s a bit of an indentation for the cream and fruit. With a rounded knife I make small swirls round the surface of the edges. It’s best not to make too many pointy peaks though – they might look nice now but they’re liable to brown (or burn) more than the rest of the meringue.
TURN THE OVEN DOWN TO 120C / fan oven 100C / Gas 1/2 (half)
Cook for 1 1/2 hours (one and a half hours). Check it’s not too hot – you can tell it’s too hot if the meringue starts to turn brown. Ideally it should remain white, though mine never does. It doesn’t matter, it just gives it a hint of caramel.
When the time’s up turn the oven off and leave the meringue inside the oven until completely cold. I usually make the meringue the day before so it stays in the oven overnight. Stops the cat getting at it.
The next day
Carefully peel off the baking parchment and put the Pavlova on a serving dish. I use a large marble slab but a large wooden bread board would also be ideal. Or one of those round stone pizza platters.
Beat the cream until thick, smooth and glossy. Stop before it goes too thick and loses the glossy peaks. Spread on top of the meringue, smoothing over the whole thing with a palette knife. Pile fresh fruit on top, dust with icing sugar or grate some dark chocolate over it if you prefer. Or just leave it as it is. Whatever, it will be delicious.
in the rain and the cold. It was more like February than June but the roses were all in bloom and friends and family came round and we huddled together under a hastily-erected gazebo. We lit our brand new firepit and got smoked out by the wet logs. Guitars appeared from forgotten corners; we sang Donovan and Bob Dylan songs and reminisced. Here’s what we had for pudding:
Over the last few months I’ve read and enjoyed a variety of excellent books. Most, though not all, have been fiction – some paperbacks, some e-books on my Kindle. A handful were published by well known and established publishers, a few were self-published and some were published by small press ‘independent’ publishers.
All had typos. Every single book. Some were blockbusters - brilliant, headline-hitting marvels that made me laugh and cry. Some had only one or two tiny mistakes that must have slipped through the final edit, some had several typos that (in a perfect world) would have been weeded out on a final, final proofread.
Please don’t think I’m saying this because I think my own books are perfect. Far from it. I recently re-read The Ripening Time and was aghast to discover that too had its share of minor typos. I was cross, but went through it again and uploaded a revised, hopefully this time error-free manuscript.
Anyone who’s read my ‘How to publish on Kindle’ post will know the same thing happened with Daisychains of Silence, but with the kind and speedy assistance of fab editor Stef Mcdaid at Write into Print, and a painstaking final, final proofread, a fresh and fully edited file was quickly scooted off to Amazon.
I know the big publishers wouldn’t appreciate an email detailing the typos that caught my (unqualified) eye as I read and enjoyed their authors’ books. But what about self-published writers?
If it was me, I’d want to know. If any of my Facebook writer friends or Twitter pals spotted a typo in one of my books I would leap on it and shower them in effusive thanks. But I think that’s just me.
Somewhere during this writing process I’ve got the impression nobody wants some well-meaning eagle-eyed smartypants upsetting things by pointing out typos after the book’s out there in real readers’ hands. As if, what’s the point of telling them now? As if it’s too late, like shutting the door after the horse has bolted. As if they think the messenger might be slightly crowing…
But I don’t think it’s ever too late. Yes, there are probably hundreds of copies of my books with typos already out there being read, or sitting on Kindles waiting to be read. But as a self-published writer it’s easy to correct a typo (in an e-book) once we know about it. And from then on all copies sold will (fingers crossed) be perfect. And surely that’s what we all want.
So do I tell writer friends I know in this virtual world when I spot a typo in their book, or do I keep schtum and just read on and enjoy the story? I realise the glitches I’ve spotted might already have been amended but it’s also possible they might not. As I said, if it was my book, I’d like to know.
Don’t all growl at once. :/ x