It’s not Rocket Science

Delicious recipe just right for our asparagus season. Thanks Barry.

Being Britalian

I was watching a British chef on television this week enthusing about risotto; in fact he was making so much noise about it’s preparation that you’d think he was solving complex equations rather than making a simple Italian rice dish. I turned off the TV and went shopping for some ingredients to make my own and so here’s my recipe for pancetta and asparagus risotto with none of the bells and whistles. For this recipe which serves 4 people, you’ll need:

1 red onion. 500g Arborio rice*. 500g asparagus. 100g soft cheese. 100g cubed pancetta. 400 ml vegetable stock and 2 garlic cloves. You’ll need salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon to season. A glass of white wine and my special asparagus stock.

To make my asparagus stock for extra flavour, Snap off the bottom inch or so of the asparagus using your fingers; the stems…

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My Working Day: Lynn Smith

My guest writer today is Lynn Smith. As always it is fascinating to learn how other people work.

Lynn's photo

I’ve done my usual five-minute browse of the world beyond the window. Nothing exciting to report. Dull sky, noisy crow on next-door’s roof, but no real diversions.  A promising day. I’m in my writing space, small, but big enough. It has all I need, laptop, notebooks, pens and an array of non-essentials.  It’s here, among the clutter, that I try to bring life to an imaginary world.

Creativity involves thinking before doing.  My characters are often born in those mundane moments of domestic boredom, when it’s possible to allow the creative part of the mind to wander and let the practical one get on with chores.  Mine wandered so much one Christmas that the preparation of dinner produced a thousand-word story which featured my grandchildren and a sprout called Cyril.  Can it ever be a waste to wander?

But at times there are static pauses devoid of any kind of creativity.  That has been my problem recently.  Like neglected puppets thrown to the back of an under-stairs cupboard, two of my favourite characters are now still and silent.  The truth is that I have become so detached from them that I’ve been tempted to just leave them in that cupboard.

I want to get back to serious writing.  Enough of diversions and distractions, I need motivation and inspiration.  I find these in music and poetry and in quotes where someone else’s experience and wisdom can clear the fog.  So, ignoring my usual weaknesses, Twitter, Facebook and emails, I opt for Brainy Quotes.  Coffee and croissants at hand and feeling optimistic, I am, hopefully, absorbing the insight of the gifted.

Ernest Hemmingway said that, “When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people not characters.  A character is a caricature.”

Sounds like my problem.  I’ve forgotten who and what my characters are. They are certainly not living right now.  It’s depressing to recognise that I’ve failed them, but it happens.  I’m annoyed and frustrated.  Too eager to get to the last full stop, I cut corners.  That doesn’t ever work.  I know that and yet, for a while, I indulged in idle writing, assuming that it would turn out ok.  It didn’t.  I have no excuses.  So, life got busy, disorganised.  Happens to everyone.

I need to revive my characters.  I need them to be Evie and Harry again.

Time to go back, to read about them, not as a writer looking for errors or faults, but as a reader looking for a connection.

More coffee, a comfortable chair and a browse through the draft. There are chapters that catch the essence of both the story and the characters.  The Talk in the Park is one of them.  I’ll start with that.

They are sitting on cold metal chairs outside a small café overlooking the lake.  It’s a chilly autumn morning.   Evie is cold.  Harry is ordering hot chocolate. It’s a simple, but vivid scene and within the first few words, I am part of it.  At the point where Harry notices Evie’s tears fall into her hot chocolate, I am feeling.

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader….”   Robert Frost.

I’m making shambolic notes now. Thoughts and ideas coming fast and it’s exciting to feel this enthusiastic again.

Notes:   little things make the biggest impact.  Need to be in the room, not looking through the window.  Harry needs a scarf – don’t know why yet, just know he needs a scarf.

Another two chapters and I’m feeling more optimistic.  I do know these two.

I know that Harry makes Evie happy, but I don’t know what makes her dance around the kitchen when no-one is there.  He is her rock and even rocks must crumble at times but I don’t feel it, so he doesn’t show it.

Notes:  characters hesitant and fragile.  No confidence in the writing – no pleasure in the reading.  Too black and white, no shades. Too many spaces, too little emotion.  No fun. But I can fix this.  We need a party.

Hans Christian Anderson: “Where words fail, music speaks.”

So, lunch, a thirty-minute break with iTunes and playlist one, then time to let Evie and Harry out of the cupboard.

The best thing about imagination is that anything can happen when your eyes are closed.

Evie would have been a wild child, given half a chance.  Harry is Harry and always has been.  Solid, dependable, a perfect foil for Evie.  She’s dressed, sixties style and Shakin’ all Over with Johny Kid and the Pirates. He’s still in 2017 and he’s donned jeans and trainers to fit in, although, given half a chance, he’d be Leaving on a Jet Plane with John Denver. Evie’s having a ball and he’s watching, tapping his feet and despite feeling out of place, enjoying her enjoyment.

These people…people now…not characters, are living in the moment. Me too.  I can’t keep up with them, my pen is on fire and so am I.

Note:  Why the scarf?  A whole chapter taking shape.

When the dance hall in my brain closes, I’ll head for the keyboard and hit it – hard!   I think I may be back on track.  Perfect day.






Family Arts Conference


From young children, to grandparents and every age in between, how can people and their families be involved in the Arts? And indeed why should they be?

These were some of the questions tackled at the Family Arts Conference in Bristol this week. Delegates spoke about the need for inclusion, for family friendly performances, for access for people who are disabled. Among other topics there was mention of role models for various disadvantaged groups, among which older people can be included. Some are isolated through circumstances, or ill health, others are on very low incomes and all of us have been castigated by the media for robbing the next generation of any hope of owning a home of their own, taking their jobs and being a huge burden on the NHS.

Whatever our circumstances, being older is not currently valued in our society and however hard you try this attitude does inevitably affect the way you see yourself. Being an artist, in whatever discipline, however, allows you to value yourself and your work.

I took part in the Family Arts Conference as a delegate from Ages and Stages Theatre Company. ages-and-stages-5When Jill Rezzano our director, co-ordinator, leader, I’m not sure which title adequately describes all that she does, asked for volunteers, Jackie and I said we would be interested in taking part.

At our session on Intergenerational Work for Older Families, Jill gave a succinct run down of the inception of Ages and Stages and all the work the company has done since then. Jacky and I talked about how we joined the company and what being part of a theatre group has done for us.

My involvement came about by accident. I’d gone along to the Live Age Festival fully intending to take part in one of the writing workshops. When I got to the venue however it occurred to me that taking part, and/or leading workshops is something I’ve done numerous times and maybe opting for the drama workshop would be an opportunity to challenge myself.

I enjoyed the session so much that I came along to the next meeting of Ages and Stages at the New Vic and the rest as they say is history.

On a more serious note, being challenged is one of the reasons why taking part in the Arts is so important. It is so easy to stay safely ensconced in the comfort zone, but, once you dare to set foot outside it, life becomes infinitely richer and more exciting.

I found myself acting in public for the first time since my university days. I was challenged, not just by performing, but because I had to attain the same high standard as the rest of the group.

It is this striving for excellence, even though you know that you will never reach it, which is why the Arts matter so much. It is also the reason why, one day, in some glorious future, there will be no need to have conferences about inclusion because people will be valued for what they have contributed to their art, not for who, or how old or young they are.

In the meantime, I had a great day in Bristol. The sun shone, the sky was blue, Jill, Jacky and I ate our picnic lunch outside.240px-Stgeorgeschapel The venues were great and I learned so much  from the speakers in our session; Fergus Early and his inter-generational work with The Green Candle Dance Company, Susan Langford, the director of Magic Me and Emma Robinson of Age Cymru and Kate Organ whose talk on the Inclusion for Older Family Members was truly inspirational.


World of Bunch #2

Jan Edwards

gasmaskAnother oddity that arose in researching the home front aspects of WW2 for my crime  book Winter Downs concerns gas masks and whether they should be a part of the background information.

The fear of gas attack in 1939 was very real. This may possibly have from memories of gas warfare in the trenches of the Great War or reports of gas bombs being dropped on Gurnica in the Spanish civil war. Whatever the source the British government intended every person living in the Britain would be issued with a gas mask. This gargantuan task began in July 1939, and by December of that year over 38 million had been distributed.

pic-2The public were urged through nationwide adverts and leafleting to inform their local Air Raid Warden if they had not been issued with their gas mask, and it was the responsibility of those wardens to ensure that everybody had been…

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The World of Bunch: part one

Jan Edwards

rat_bookWhilst writing Winter Downs and the world of my heroine, Rose ‘Bunch’ Courtney, there were many things that required some careful research. The first that came to mind was the knotty problem of rationing. Conducting a small straw poll it would seem that the general perception of  many people  is that rationing came in with a bang and remained there until the end of the war, when it was lifted immediately. This was not the case.

Mindful of the privations suffered in the Great War, the Ministry of Food was set up to oversee supplies and there was an original plan to implement full rationing from September 1939. The MoF did announce rationing several times in those early months – only to postpone them due to some vociferous newspaper campaigns, spearheaded, by all accounts by a series of editorials in the Daily Express; which for example, urged the public to…

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