Monday 31 October 2011


NaNoWriMo starts in a couple of hours.
Not sure what's going to happen but it will certainly be an experience.
As the days have crept past I have become more convinced that I can't write anything, let alone a book. Have struggled to even do my 100 words.
My mind is totally blank.
Devoid of inspiration.
I spent the evening a few days ago learning how to use the Scrivener programme, so at least I have achieved something.

Friday 28 October 2011

Anno's Journey

Anno's Journey by Mitsumasa Anno is one of my most favourite wordless books. It is a series of pictures that follows the journey of our hero Anno (on his horse) as he travels across Europe:
The book is just for looking at and talking about, the pictures are full of detail, characters and activity that appear from one picture to the next, mini stories going on for you to follow, some quirky optical curiosities. The images are just so beautiful, soft delicate colours, nothing garish or cartoonish, so clever and well thought out. You could (and we have) pour over it all day, and come back the next day and find things you missed.
This picture shows the detail from The Enormous Turnip (which just reminded me of a whole load more stories I want to find):
Here we have a detail from Bathers by Georges Seurat (and there are apparently several other paintings that we have not spotted yet.)
I love the way the shops have big signs outside so you know what they sell ... here is the toothpaste shop:-)
Little things to look out for ... like the escaping prisoner:
but my new favourites are now, the spinning lady:
and the postman:
Available second hand from Amazon for mere pounds (get hardback, it will need to last.)

Pie and Cake

Creature and I went out to a local NaNoWriMo gathering last night and met some lovely people, and were most reassured to find that hardly anyone had done much novel planning. Sitting on the tram I bet her there would be hardly anyone there ... and I lost, and so had to come home from work and make lemon cake.
Dunk and I are coming to the end of a month without meat, inspired by Vegetarian Awareness Month. It was partly an attempt to get us out of a food rut (you know what it's like, making the same dozen dinners over and over), though mostly I have found myself returning to old favourites from when I was a vegetarian for a few years during my 20's.
Just to prove that sometimes I don't throw things out I have a 25 year old recipe leaflet from 'Maggie's Farm', a wholefood cooperative in Durham, they produced it one Christmas and charged 5p, with recipes contributed by the staff. This is 'Wilf's Raised Pie':
The crust is a pork pie type pastry:
4oz water
4oz margarine
bring to the boil in a saucepan
Add to 12oz wholemeal flour + salt and mix quickly to a warm dough. Roll out and line a 7" pie or cake tin (line the bottom with greaseproof to make getting it out easier). Keep 1/4 of the dough for the lid.

Filling, you can use variations on the theme really, fried together in a pan:
garlic (plenty), red pepper (or any colour really), chopped brussel sprouts, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, seasame seeds, pumpkin seeds.

In a bowl (not cooking these first)
8oz of mixed nuts, half chopped half ground
finely chopped leek
herbs (your favourite)
salt and pepper

Mix all together, add 1/4 pint of hot water with 1 teaspoon of yeast extract and 1 tablespoon of tahini blended in (or a bit more liquid if it seems dry, but you do not want a sloppy mixture)
Fill the pie case and put the lid on the pie, then bake hot 200˚ for 20 minutes, reduce heat 160˚ degrees for another 30 minutes. Be warned it is very filling.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Luscious lemon cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.
I started off thinking how lovely this book was and ended up a bit meh. So Spoiler Warning before we start since I have to tell you why.

It is the story of Rose, and her family, and one day she discovers that she can taste what people are feeling in the food they have prepared. So far so good. It is kind of a metaphor for growing up and coming to terms with the difficult things that people experience, except it happens to Rose all at once, which is a bit of a shock. They have this neat self-contained family unit, but a dad who doesn't really know them and a mother who loves them so much she swamps them a little:

"He was cheerful enough when he came home from work but he didn't really know what to do with little kids so he never taught us hoe to ride a bike, or wear a mitt, and our changes in height remained unmarked on the door frames, so we grew tall on our own without proof. He left at the same time each morning and came home at the same time each evening, and my earliest memories of my mother were of her waiting at the door as soon as it was anywhere near time, me on her hip, Joseph at her hand, watching car by car drive by." (p.22)

Since her brother Joseph is as distant (more of this in a minute) as her father she develops a longing for his friend George, who takes her food problem seriously and tries to understand it. I loved this little scene from their trip to the cookie store, all the simplicity and intensity of her feelings (she is obliged by her mother to 'hold hands' whenever she crosses the road):

"...on an impulse, I grabbed George's hand. Right away: fingers holding back. The sun. More clustery vines of bougainvillea draping over windows in bulges of dark pink. His warm palm. An orange tabby lounging on the sidewalk. People in torn black T-shirts sitting and smoking on steps. The city, opening up.
We hit the sidewalk, and dropped hands. How I wished, right then, that the whole world was a street." (p.60)

So Rose learns to adjust her relationship with food, to try not to taste, avoiding eating her mother's meals and surviving on things from packets, that are mostly made by machines. Over time she comes to identify all sorts of subtleties, the ingredients within the food, where it comes from and the feelings of the people who picked it, the disinterest of fast food chefs and the warmth and passion of other cooks. But while still young her feelings are more avoidance and almost blaming the food for it all:

"She set me up with a knife and a cutting board and a pile of green peppers. My mind still clear from the chip bags. I liked this aspect of cooking, being a distant hard-to-identify participant, all so long as I didn't compile or stir anything. Way too scary, to eat a whole meal I'd made myself, but I did enjoy the prep: chopping and dicing, mincing and paring, shredding and slicing, just attacking all these objects that dominated my days even though I knew that nothing would take away the complexity for me, nothing short of not eating them. Still: it gave me such pleasure to grate cheese, like I was killing it." (p.131)

Time passes, their strange grandmother sends them stuff in boxes, the mother starts an affair, the father works and comes home, Joseph withdraws more, Rose makes a friend who just uses her to analyse her feelings. There are a couple of peculiar incidents where the brother 'disappears' but I didn't make much of them, he spends a lot of time alone in the dark in his room anyway. George gets into a good college by Joseph doesn't, he is clever but not an all rounder and has no social skills, so he persuades the parents to rent him an apartment and he pretends to go to a local college. When he fails to call the mother sends Rose to investigate. She finds him in the dark, and on closer inspection he appears to be merging into his chair, she leaves to room to get the phone and when she comes back he has vanished. This was where the book fell down completely for me. It was all too over the top. She tries to argue, through Rose's thoughts, that maybe he was experiencing something like Rose, but on a level from which he could not escape. He reappears briefly and Rose has this conversation with him at the hospital in which we are just supposed to accept that he has been turning into furniture. No. It was all wrong and spoiled a wonderful book. Rose was wonderful and the way she learned about her tasting, how she came to deal with it, she was real and warm and engaging, and then the whole thing with the brother was surreal and unnecessary.

The story pulls itself round and Rose finds new ways to deal with her food problem, coming to meet the food rather than avoiding it. It is a long slow process, just like proper growing up and I was left hoping and caring that she would be ok. So I will avoid all the brother stuff and give you a nice quote about soup, in a restaurant with her father and George after she has discovered Joseph's disappearance:

"My soup arrived. Crusted with cheese, golden at the edges. The waiter placed it carefully in front of me, and I broke through the top layer with my spoon and filled it with warm oniony broth, catching bits of soaked bread. The smell took over the table, a warmingness. And because circumstances rarely match, and one afternoon can be a patchwork of both joy and horror, the taste of the soup washed through me. Warm, kind, focused, whole. It was easily, without question, the best soup I had ever had, made by a chef who found true refuge in cooking. I sank into it." (p.209)

We bought more lemons the other day. It's funny how often there will be no fruit in the house except lemons. I am hoping Creature will get round to doing lemon cake. This is from the original Cranks recipe book, the one they have on the website now is nothing like it:

Luscious Lemon Cake

4oz margerine/butter
4oz sugar
Melt together, in a pan if you like but I use the microwave
Cool a bit then whisk in
1 free range egg
grated rind of 1 lemon
4oz SR wholemeal flour (or plain and some baking powder, I use wholemeal as it gives the cake a nice texture)
The mixture will be more runny than most cake mixtures.
Line and grease the base of a tin, 6-8", and bake 180 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden.
While baking put the juice from the lemon in a small pan with 1oz sugar and make a syrup (but don't reduce it too much, it's okay if you have quite a bit of liquid). When the cake is cooked pierce all over with a knife or toothpick or something and dribble the lemon syrup over, it will soak in and make the cake wonderfully moist. Enjoy.

Saturday 22 October 2011


Last night I went to another poetry reading, this time at The Contact, an event bringing together a writers collective called Speakeasy People, a group of young poets from Manchester called Young Identity and Jean 'Binta' Breeze. Although Jean was the main event (and she had held a writers workshop in the afternoon) the whole evening was just excellent, almost an overdose of ideas and images coming at you in quick succession, and it was nice to get to some real forthright political commentary. The theme, unintentional I imagine, of the first half was a rejection of conformist/consumerist society. It was interesting because it was not loud and angry but quiet and thoughtful, and thought provoking, and all the participants had quite distinct voices and styles.

Jean was obviously a practiced performer and it was completely spellbinding. She started off telling us things about her life, when suddenly you would realise that it was a poem. She moved between stories and poems and songs seamlessly, creating a very intimate atmosphere, like you were chatting round her kitchen table. She was equally convincing in the voice of a young Jamaican child as being a world-weary mother, and she gave such a vivid portrayal of her cultural heritage and history. I was left with the feeling that some poetry needs to be spoken aloud and some works well on the page of a book, and this poetry needed to be performed. Her work seemed so integral to her personality I imagined it feeling a little flat as mere written words, so here she is performing one she did for us:

And just for the fun of it here is Bob Marley, singing the song that she ended with, all the audience joining in:

Her books are available here from Bloodaxe Books.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Poetry in foreign

I have been doing some volunteering for the Manchester Literature Festival over the last week (it ends at the weekend so still plenty of interesting stuff to go and see) and last night I went to a reading of Latvian and Macedonian poetry.

The photo here shows Igor Isakovski, and he was just the most perfect romantic, brooding european poet you could ask for when attending your first poetry reading. He brushed his wild dark hair back from his eyes and held the book balanced casually in his left hand while reading. Listening to him read it made me think that the only other time I have ever heard any language from that region it was in connection with the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990's, angry men on the news talking about politics and violence. He was followed by Latvian Anna Auzina, a lovely dark haired lady who was frequently amused by her own reading. Also Latvian Karlis Verdins looked like an angry young man from the 50's, serious and stylish, with a smart turtleneck and thick framed glasses. Contrary to my expectations he was the only one with any political theme to his writing, contrasting mundane images of life with what was happening to friends who had travelled to the West. The others were all much more lyrical or personal in their writing (though of course we had only a very small sample of their poetry). Last up was Lidija Dimkovska, another Macedonian, petite and younger, and by far the best reader, much more passion and expression in her voice. I liked her poem about nail clippers very much, a very strange kind of symbolism going on there:-)

Not being able to understand I found myself just concentrating on the sounds and rhythm of the language, listening for word repetitions and picking out the occasional english term. Though the poets could all obviously speak some english they chose to have an earnest elderly couple read the english translations, which I was sorry about because I did not feel either of them read particularly well. What struck me most was nothing to do with the poetry but how different the two languages were. The macedonian soft and lilting, romantic, where the latvian was much harder, like a cross between russian and something scandinavian. I was also sorry that the poets did not introduce themselves or say a little something about their writing or motivations, it would have been interesting, they just came on and read and then said thank you. Having said that it was all most enjoyable and I am looking forward to some more tonight when I will get to hear Mimi Kahlvati and Carola Luther (again at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation) and then Jean 'Binta' Breeze at The Contact on Saturday. An organisation called Literature Across Frontiers sponsored this event and it works to bring writing from across europe to a wider audience. The Latvian and Macedonian poetry books are amongst a selection of poetry anthologies published by Arc Publications and are available through their website.

Last Friday I went to hear Roma Tearne, an author I had not heard of but who's book The Swimmer was on the Orange Prize long-list this year. She read a wonderful heartrending passage where a mother hears over the telephone of the death of her son, talked about her inspiration, and then followed a very interesting discussion about both her writing in general and the political history of and current situation in Sri Lanka. The event was so good I think because there was active and enthusiastic audience participation. She is definitely a writer I will come back to.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Birthday cakes

The Babe had a slightly early birthday party on Sunday. She didn't get 'blowing out the candles' but enjoyed the singing and the fact the nobody told her to stop sticking her finger in the icing.
Creature had a cake made entirely from rice crispies and melted marshmallows and mars bars ... totally yummy.

Little Bee - a guest post

I was wandering Atlanta airport looking for something not to get interested in half knowing all the time that I would. But it was the challenge, to look at so much tat and not find anything worth turning over. I was sorely tempted with two screwed up balls of paper .. one bright pink and the other brown .. I nearly succumbed to them. But in the end I failed.
It was one of those chromium plated book alcoves that seem to cling to the wall of one of those mindless nowhere tunnels in the hope that some totally confused idiot would pause and, out of some mixture of desperation and pity, buy something. I did.

Chris Cleave wrote Little Bee
well he is a Guardian writer you see
so it was obvious
this little book would appeal to me

It is an amusing horror story
and in parts its rather gory
in a matter of fact sort of way
but once I even turned away

But Little Bee is Nyjeerian who stowed away
and so she lived to survive another day
though she watched and saw her beautiful sister
sent away with the sharp blade of a machete.

As an asylum seeker
she seeks the lady who gave
her middle finger for her life
and that is all I tell you.

Sent to me by my dad, Don Frampton (pictured here), who despite owning a computer for many years cannot fathom out how to leave a comment on a blog:-) but I am glad because I like the idea of having guest bloggers. I have tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to get Creature to write about the books she reads. Hopefully it might happen again sometime.

Tuesday 18 October 2011


As the birthdays creep past you can sometimes be caught unawares that in no time at all every single one of your offspring will be 'grown up'. Creature reaches the grand age of 17 today. I am at a loss as to what to do with such an annoying person, who claims to want no plans or anticipation in order to avoid what she sees as inevitable disappointment, but then has to be forcibly removed from the kitchen to prevent her searching the cupboards for ingredients I had just bought for a 'surprise' cake.
She asks for nothing, I mean quite literally, so I have knitted her a 'pi' scarf. It has pi to 60 digits on it, appealing to the geek-girl in her (Yes, I double checked it. After knitting to the '926' only to find I had missed out the second '1' and having to unravel four numerals, I had a moment of panic and went to Wiki just to make sure, then wrote it on a sheet of paper and crossed off each number as I knitted it.)
Cakey pictures to follow, she is off spending the day with her sister.

Monday 17 October 2011

More on writing

A couple of days ago I revisited the Guardian article on 'Ten rules for writers' and on the recommendation of Hilary Mantel I bought a second hand copy of 'Becoming a Writer' by Dorothea Brande. Though the opening is very inspiring and encouraging to anyone with writerly aspirations she then says something which was at once depressing (for being so frighteningly true) but which also lays a heavy weight of responsibility:

"The influence of any widely read book can hardly be overestimated. If it is sensational, shoddy, or vulgar our lives are the poorer for the cheap ideals which it sets in circulation; if, as so rarely happens, it is a thoroughly good book, honestly conceived and honestly executed, we are all indebted to it." (p.19)

I anticipate this book will have some interesting food for thought.
I have also been keeping up with my 100 Words every day so far this month, the ones I have been pleased with are included over on Leave No Sign.

Wednesday 12 October 2011


At the Whitworth Art Gallery today Tish, Creature and I went to see the Dark Matters exhibition and we particularly loved this (picture comes from the dark matters website, we wanted to film it but were not sure if it was allowed):
This particular installation was by a group called Brass Art. It was a structure made of tiny transparent figures and cellophane around which a light rotated casting shadows in the surrounding walls. We watched the images move, enlarge, cross over each other and fade; each time the light went round you saw different details and patterns. For several rounds we followed the light (so our own shadows did not get in the way) and then also stood by the entrance. The transparent cellophane made shadows but they had an opaque quality that suggested smoke, and the larger more solid shape in the centre changed, one minute seeming like a protective hand, at others something more threatening to the scene. It was utterly mesmerising and I could quite happily have watched it all afternoon.
Having been a few months ago and been disappointed by the Mary Kelly exhibition, which was merely bewildering, this was most enjoyable and we will definitely go again, it is on til January.

I came home to a new (second hand) copy of 'Bears in the Night'. I have been looking after the Babe on Thursdays for a few weeks and am working on rebuilding my collection of children's books so we have nice things to share with her. She is nearly two and doesn't quite have the attention span for the more sophisticated stories (she was most insistent last week that I could not read The Sneetches, but loves The Elephant and the Bad Baby). In this tale a family of small bears get out of bed and go on an adventure "up Spook Hill", only to encounter something very scary. As Creature and I walked back from the bus stop we were discussing the book (I had ordered it a few days ago) and were pleased that we could remember it in it's entirety: out the window... down the tree ... over the wall... under the bridge... around the lake ... between the rocks... through the woods ...

Monday 10 October 2011

Coming of age?

Twenty one years ago tonight I went off to Guides as usual after a busy day shopping in town, pretty much despairing that the huge lump I was carrying around with me was ever going to make their appearance, I was 38-and-a-bit weeks pregnant. Then at 8.45pm I felt this little pop and my waters broke (fortunately not in a gush or anything). Mary (ex-mother-in-law) took me home and we called the ambulance. By the time it arrived I was well in labour and a bit iffy about going anywhere. The ambulance man said he had delivered a baby but never twins. So we went and I swear that the driver hit every pothole down Carrville high street, while I swore at him the entire way.
Tish (Thymian Maria) arrived at 10.40pm and Jacob followed shortly afterwards at 10.55pm, no doctors, no messing around, it was quite a relief after Lewis. The first year went past in a bit of a blur but since then I have always considered it a blessing to have two together as they always had someone to play with, and mostly they played quite nicely:-) Happy Birthday 21 today.

Nice people

people with letterboxes big enough for a large Amazon packet
people who leave their porch door open
people who leave notes saying 'please put packet in recycle box'
people who sensibly have their parcel delivered to their workplace
people who meet you at the village shop and offer to take their post (particularly if they live at an isolated farmhouse)
people with doorbell chimes (particularly christmas carols)
people with lavender in the front garden
people who leave a gap in the fence (or even a gate) between themselves and next door so you don't have to walk up and down the paths again
people who have a box at the end of their very long drive
people who have an old ship's bell as their door bell (the most brilliant sound ever)
people who are always home for parcels
(slightly crazy) people who chase after you down the road to give you a banana (yes, that really happened:-)
people who offer a glass of water on a hot day
people who remember your name
people with cats
people who put signs on their postbox warning you there is a bird's nest inside
people who bring out baby hedgehogs for you to meet
people who let you hold their baby while they sign for a package

(In response to Friday's post so people don't think I am a miserable bugger)

Sunday 9 October 2011

Novel Writing

Originally a newspaper column in the Daily Telegraph 'A Novel in a Year' then became a book and I have been using it for the past couple of months as a basis for a bit of writing practice for NaNoWriMo.

The book consists of alternating chapters where Louise Doughty introduces an aspect of writing, from creative prompts, to character development, to metaphors, and so on, then she gives the reader a writing task and then in the following chapter she recaps on the responses to the task given by participants on the website. Sometimes this was interesting but to be honest a lot of the time I would rather have been able to read more of the contributions than the little edited snippets that she gave, with too much of her saying 'this one was interesting' and other people did this or that. More real examples would have been more helpful. I confess I wasn't really giving it that much of my attention and I'm sure if you devoted yourself to the book as a project it would be very helpful. There were lots of interesting and useful bits of advice on the subject of writing from Doughty herself and other authors, and she didn't in any way try to make it seem like a walk in the park. There is no getting around the fact that it is hard work to write stuff and invariably what you end up with will be utter rubbish.

I keep thinking to myself that 1700 words a day is not very much, though of much of the time I will be doing my day job as well. Of course making stuff up is a whole different kettle of fish from writing blog posts, and even they can take several hours to cobble together. I am really feeling like I can use all the advice that's out there when tackling such an adventurous project. So, a useful little book, though you still need your 1% inspiration before the real work starts.

Friday 7 October 2011

Stupid people

people with letterboxes smaller than 3"
people with letterboxes that are above head height (yes it does happen)
people whose letterbox is on upside down (so does that)
people with vertical letterboxes
people with ankle height letterboxes
people with a badly fitted draught excluder on their letterbox which actually prevents things being put through the letterbox (if i had a penny I'd be bloody rich by now ...)
people who design draught excluders for letterboxes
people who design those metal boxes to fix to the wall so you don't have to cut a hole in the front door, mostly they are crap too
people who have dogs who eat the post
people who don't have a warning sign that their dog may be behind the letterbox ready to eat the post
people who have a basket behind the letter box even when they don't have a dog who eats the post
people who have a letter box where the hole behind the flap is smaller than the metal covering it
people with letterboxes so stiff I nearly break my fingers trying to open it
people who have both brushes and a flap inside their letterbox ... WTF!
people with no bell or knocker so I bruise my knuckles
people with a sign saying 'bell not working please knock' ... fix it can't you
people who come to the door after five minutes and say 'sorry I didn't hear you knocking'
people who don't hear you knocking but do strangely hear the card being put through the letterbox

(Had a really crap day and my only consolation is walking round muttering 'stupid people' under my breath for every house that irritates me.)

Wednesday 5 October 2011

The sad book

I don't write about children's books very often, mainly because I don't read them much these days, but I was drawn to the cover of Michael Rosen's Sad Book when I saw it in Julie's living room this afternoon. The title strikes you for a start and the front cover picture, which is all grey. I sat and read it to myself. It is a sad book. It is a children's book and it is about his son who died and how sad it made him feel. It is the most beautifully written book, not mawkish or sentimental, just poignant and gently heartbreaking. It describes how upset and angry it made him feel to have his life so changed by the death of his son, how much he misses him and the things it made him think and do. Then it describes the things he tries to do to make himself feel better, sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, and the sadness never really goes away. It is so perfect because it is so honest. It does not say that it is in any way wrong to feel sad about things, and does not try to have any answers or cures for feeling sad. It just acknowledges that sometimes this is just the way you feel and you can't do anything about it. In the world of children's stories that is so dominated by enforced bright cheerfulness it is wonderful to find someone prepared to write such a book.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

NaNo gloves and all that

NaNoWriMo preparations are warming up. Over on my other blog (they have been proliferating a little recently) I have been joining in with Magpie Tales, a weekly creative writing prompt, and have also started writing 100 Words a day for October (got to start somewhere if we are going to be doing 1700 a day during November), you can read them on the 100 Words website without joining up I think.

I sat for a couple of evenings and knitted myself a pair of fingerless gloves (pattern only available if you are a Ravelry member), in what was left of the lovely lambswool and silk, so that I can type and still keep my hands warm on those chilly autumn mornings when I am too mean to put the heating on. I am still working on the hoodie for Tish that I started back in August, it is slow because of being fine yarn, but also because of getting distracted by other stuff.
Am racing to the end of War and Peace (100 pages of epilogue!!) so expect a mammoth review some time soon.

And Creature has been out joining in with the protests again, they made themselves into a gang of zombies with the assistance of the marvellous Emma and became 'the generation of the living dead', making their voices heard during the Tory Party conference that has been happening in Manchester this week.