Wednesday, 29 February 2012

MISCELLANIOUS WEDNESDAY

Hello and Happy Wednesday, Dear Readers! Today I bring you a trio of random delights which I hope will soothe away the midweek blues.

We begin with a link to the Queen of Teen Award 2012. Now, I know this is a pink, sparkly site for a pink and sparkly award, and pink and sparkly are not my usual style. But it's for that very reason that the award is interesting to me. It's been running a couple of years and so far both winners have, predictably, been the writers of pink and sparkly books - excellent examples of their kind, funny and heartwarming and all that - but definitely *of a type*. In fact, it seems to me that the organisers of the whole thing, despite no doubt having very good intentions, have unintentionally corralled this award within a pervasive stereotype of YA writing and reading as something 'for girls', and girls as necessarily pink and sparkly. Which we all know is not, in fact, true.

And it seems to me, personally, that it would be a great thing if the next Queen of Teen were not to be the writer of that particular type of book (the type of book often believed by certain people to be the very definition of all teen girls' reading). What if the next Queen of Teen, were, in fact, a man? Or someone who writes about GLBTQ teens? Or even someone, like me, who just happens to write thick, rather gritty fantasies? Someone who does not fit this pink and sparkly stereotype and who perhaps deserves to have their work brought to the attention of a wider audience?

I urge you, Dear Readers, to pop along here, and, if you are eligible, nominate the candidate of your choice, unrestrained by the utter pinkness of it all.

Next!

Curious Writer asks:
When you're writing how do you calculate how many pages you've written? Do you know the approximate number of pages for 10,000 words or 30,000 words? How do you work it out?
A very good question. Basically, this is going to vary a huge amount from writer to writer, so before you can get any idea how many pages would equal 10,000 words or 30,000 words, you need to figure out what your own individual average words per page is. This is based on the size of your notebook pages, the number of lines on each one, how big or small your handwriting is, etc.

How you work this out? Pick out three average pages of your handwritten manuscript - that is, not ones with only a couple of lines on them. Now, on each one, count how many words there are on the top three lines in total. Add the total for each page together, than divide it by three, and three again. The resulting figure (rounded up) is your average words per line. For example:

Page 16 yields 32 words
Page 40 yields 29 words
Page 100 yields 37 words

32 + 29 + 37 =  98 / 3 = 32.6.

32.6 / 3 = 10.8, rounded up = average words per line: 11

Now you need to figure out how many lines there are on an average page. Take the three that you've chosen and count the lines on each one. Do not count any lines which are less than half full, or completely empty. Do now add the total for each page together than divide by three again (only once this time) and round down the final figure:

27 + 28 + 24 = average lines per page: 26

Now, times the average words per line with the average lines per page: (11 X 26) and the result will be your total average words per page: 286

So now you know that if you've written twelve pages, your total would be 3432 words.

Of course, you'll need to redo this each time you switch to a different notebook, as a standard exercise book has a different amount of lines and linespace than a Moleskine than a Paperblanks book. But other than that, you're golden. Hope this helps, Curious Writer!

And finally, I bring this, the first official review of the US edition of Shadows on the Moon. It is from Kirkus Reviews, notorious for being the harshest of all the review journals. Indeed, they had not-so-great things to say about both The Swan Kingdom and Daughter of the Flames. Which makes this particular review all the more memorable!

Review Issue Date: March 15, 2012
Online Publish Date: February 29, 2012
Publisher:
Candlewick
Pages:
464
Price ( Hardcover ):
$17.99
Price ( e-book ):
$17.99
Publication Date: April 1, 2012
ISBN ( Hardcover ):
978-0-7636-5344-6
ISBN ( e-book ):
978-0-7636-5993-6
Category: Fiction


"Cinderella" is reimagined as a revenge story set in an alternate feudal Japan.

On the day Suzume turns 14, her family is destroyed. Soldiers arrive to slaughter her father, falsely accused of treason, and all his line. Suzume somehow escapes, and with the aid of Youta, a mysterious "cinderman," manages to evade the soldiers until her mother returns from traveling, along with her father's best friend, Terayama. Terayama takes mother and daughter under his protection by marrying Suzume's mother, assuming the wicked-stepfather role. As Suzume learns more about her parents' involvement with Terayama, she discovers reasons to hate and fear him. Marriott (The Swan Kingdom, 2009, etc.) writes wonderful villains, who fulfill fairy-tale roles while maintaining a balance between despicable and understandable. Suzume's blooming desire for revenge and the need to conceal herself to stay alive are aided by her emerging magical powers as a "shadow weaver," training in the craft of illusion under Youta. Shadow weavers are rare to the point of mythological except to other shadow weavers, who are conveniently drawn to help each other in times of need. The emotionally damaged, self-harming Suzume needs all the help she can get in her constant illusion-driven reinventions aimed at self-preservation and avenging her family. Strong characters and motivations abound in a rich fantasy world.

A dark yet very fresh fairy-tale reinvention. (QR code to digitally access poetry written by characters) (Fantasy. 14 & up)

Whooot!

Monday, 27 February 2012

RETURN TO BLOG

(Today's post title is a reference to the film Return to Oz, just in case anyone missed that. Sometimes I realise that most of you guys didn't grow up in the 80s and then I feel ooooold).
I know it's exciting that I'm back, but don't lose your head! (Also a Return to Oz joke)
Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! Welcome back to The Zoë-Trope after my week away. You'll be very pleased to hear (or, I hope you will, anyway) that during the hiatus I got some really good work done on Katana Book #2 (which, by the way, does have a title - I'm just being cagey about it for now) and that I also completed the passpages/copyedit for FrostFire.

Passpages basically means that they sent me loose pages which very closely resemble the finished book - the manuscript has been 'typeset' and made ready to go to the printers. So, for the first time, I got to see the internal design of the book and ZO. MIEN. GOTT. Hands up who thought the inside of Shadows on the Moon was really pretty, with the cherry blossom design? Yeah, what they've done with FrostFire is going to blow you away. I actually had to snuggle the pages. Just a little.

Okay, a lot.

So now that the copyedits are finished, the typeset manuscript goes back to my lovely, lovely editor and then on to be made into a real, honest-to-goodness book. I can't wait to hold a copy in my own sweaty, inkstained hands.

In the meantime, some thoughts about the future of the blog. We talked about me adding a permanent page in which all the writing posts would be linked according to topic (Plotting, characterisation, prose, etc.) and I haven't forgotten about that, so look for it some time...soonish. Oh, and I also realised that I'd managed to forget about my folder of reader emails again, so once again, I'll try to get to it. If you're waiting for a response, please don't give up.

The other thing I'm contemplating with regard to the blog is likely to be less popular, and I really hope you're not going to hate me when I put this forward.

I'm thinking of cutting down from three posts a week to two.

*Throws up dustbin lid to sheild self from shower of rotten vegetables*

Got that out of your system? Okay, then hear me out.

The first reason that I'm thinking about this has to do with my father. As some of you (although probably not all) will know, I'm a carer for my dad, who deals very bravely with chronic illness and serious disability. Now, we've just been told that in the next couple of weeks he's going to be moving to a new form of treatment which ought to make him more comfortable, and this is great. It means that he can spend a lot less time in the hospital. However, that also means he's going to need to have certain treatments administered to him at home by - you guessed it - me. This is likely to be two to three hours every day in addition to the time that I already spend looking after him. That's pretty much all the 'spare' time that I devote to the blog gone in one fell swoop.

I've always believed that if something is important to you, you blooming well MAKE time for it, and I fully intend to continue to do this for my Dear Readers. But at the same time, as a human being, I'm forced to acknowlege that there are actually only twenty-four hours in the day, and that writing books does need to be top priority in those ones I have left over. So that's the biggest factor.

The other factor is that I sometimes feel, these days, that at least one of my three posts each week is filler material. This is literally true at least twice a month on RetroFridays, when I'm reposting old stuff in the hopes that new readers might like it. But there isn't an indefinite archive, and I worry that soon I'm going to run out of old posts to present to you guys. It seems better to quit when I'm ahead, and instead concentrate on providing new stuff, just a little less often. That doesn't mean I won't perhaps bring out the occasional old post if I find something good when I'm wandering through the archives, but it will be a less frequent occurrence.

My plan is to move from the Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule to a Tuesday-Thursday one, just because I like things to be symmetrical. I'd also love it if people would ask more questions in the comments, whether those questions are about reading, writing, books, being a writer...whatever. Question posts are probably my favourite ones to write, and I get a lot less chance to do them these days.

Well, that's everything off my chest. What do you all think?

Friday, 17 February 2012

BLOG HIATUS

Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers! Happy Friday to you all! I woke up today to find that Shadows on the Moon was listed in the School Library Journal's Trend Spotter article on 2012's Top Kids Books, right next to Alex Flinn's new book, which acted like a shot of pure caffeine to my early morning brain. Whoot! Let's hope this is a sign that the U.S. will welcome Suzume and Otieno and all the rest. Only two months to go now.

Other than this piece of news, I have something else to tell you, which is that I'm going to take a blog hiatus for next week, so you won't get any new posts from me until the 27th of Feb.

Don't worry! I'm not going anywhere, and the blog's not going anywhere!

I'm taking the week off blogging because I feel as if I've lost my way with the book I'm working on at the moment. I had just started to hit my stride when my family all fell ill, so I had to put it aside while I was running around looking after everyone. And when that started to taper off, I got ill. Now I'm starting to feel better, but I've still been dragging and lethargic for the past week. The net result is that I've not managed to actually write any new words on Katana Book #2 - otherwise known as The Angstening: EmoCakes, for nearly a month. I've fiddled about with notes, researched and scribbled random bits of dialogue, but not moved the story forward at all.

I know from experience that this kind of sudden and unwanted stop in the forward momentum of a book can cause me serious problems, so I've made the executive decision to put everything else aside for a week and focus exclusively on the book, without worrying about anything else. As soon as I made that decision I felt a weight leaving me, so I know it's right.

I love this blog, and I love the little community we have built up together here. I don't want to cut down on the number of posts I make or how many comments I reply to. I think those things are important. But the compromise that's necessary to make this feasible is that occasionally I will have to drop out of radio contact while I focus on other things. Personally, I think that's a good trade-off, and I hope you do too.

So I'll read you all in a week! In the meantime, if there are any topics you'd like me to blog about on my return, or any questions you'd like me to answer, you know the drill - pop them in the comments and I will be all over them like white on rice. Have a great weekend, homies!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

OPENING THE DOOR

Happy Wednesday, Dear Readers! I hope you're all well and having a fun, productive week?

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before (in passing, at least) that as a teenager I used to write a lot of poetry. I was published in a few regional poetry magazines and anthologies and even won some minor awards for my poems. Poetry was such a huge part of my identity as a writer in those days - I used to feel as if poems were multiplying in my head too fast to see, like rainbows glancing off the prism of my mind, that if I didn't clear a space by writing them down they'd come out of my ears!

When I finally cracked the Neverending Story problem and started to complete full-length novels, somehow that endless well of poetry seemed to dry up a little. The need to write three or four poems a day abated (which was partly a relief, because it wasn't always convenient, and partly a sorrow, because it felt like abruptly growing up). Now I'm moved to sit down and actually TRY to write poetry a couple of times a year - not always successfully - and often those poems end up getting dismantled and turned into descriptions for stories instead.

But I still love the form just as much as I ever did, and I probably read more poetry now than I did before. When I stumble across the right poem at the right time, I feel as if a door in my head has been opened - as if I've invited inspiration to drop by any time it wants in the most friendly and casual way. Sometimes that little chink of light let in by the door sets off the rainbow prism effect again, spurring me to come up with creative solutions to problems that have plagued me for weeks, but which I couldn't figure out directly.

So with that in mind, I thought I'd share a few of my favourites this morning, and one poem that I wrote myself. I hope you find that at least one of these opens a door for inspiration in your head too :)

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For the time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
                                                 Wendell Berry

 Marcia

This distance between us
which stretches and shrinks,
as the breathing trees,
exhaling their oxygen,
lift and sigh with the weight of the world,
clasped by the molten center.
How in this braided pattern
we dance in and out
of our bodies which dance in and out
themselves, never one thing or the other.
What is this that we are
so like the mist that changes to water;
this rocking tide that we remember
imperfectly in our separate skins.
Burdened with ourselves,
as we love one another,
how to escape the unyielding law of the universe,
the self and the Other;
imperfect love.
That the self, sometimes
in sleep, admits the loss, the grief, and accepts
the burden of loneliness; embracing
what we will not admit we long for
this separation of mother and daughter.
Ruth Stone                                                 

The Young Man's Song

I whispered, 'I am too young,'
And then, 'I am old enough';
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
'Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.'
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.
W.B. Yeats                                             

And, just to mix it up a bit:

The Dream

I have dreamed of the summer whisper of wind high up amongst green boughs
And darts of gold piercing leaf shadow
Dreamed of the soft movement of water
And ripples with dark underbellies curling on river stones
And I felt the brush of warm air against my cheek
Velvety and fluttering like a bird’s wing
Disappearing with that sweet, aching throb of song
That takes the dream and the summer with it
And leaves me, eyes welling
In darkness 
                 Zoë Marriott

Monday, 13 February 2012

MONDAY BOOK RECS

Hello and miserable - er - I mean, HAPPY Monday, Dear Readers. The lurgy I mentioned last week struck me with a vengeance shortly after I finished making all that chicken soup for other family members and I actually spent yesterday in bed, which hasn't happened for many a long year. Even when I did my back in, I was lying *on* the bed, not hiding under two duvets with a hot water bottle and two mansize boxes of tissues. And a pile of books, of course. I don't have a TV in my bedroom, so in between sneezing/coughing pathetically, blowing my nose, groaning and falling asleep, I read.

Considering that I'm still pretty feeble today, but not feeble enough to want to deprive you of your regularly scheduled post, I thought I'd make use of that reading and share some book recommendations.

***WARNING - THE FOLLOWING BOOKS ARE FOR OVER 16s ONLY! THEY CONTAIN SWEARING AND VIOLENCE AND ADULT ONLY MATERIAL! PLEASE GET YOUR PARENT, OLDER SIBLING OR LIBRARIAN TO VET YOU FOR READING IF YOU ARE NOT TECHNICALLY AN ADULT YET!***

Ahem. Sorry for shouting there, but I don't want to be responsible for scarring anyone's psyche.

The first recommendation I'd like to make is for Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series.

These are really smart books, books that make you think hard to keep up with the heroine's twisty mind and the ever evolving plots. They're part Dystopian, part Urban Fantasy, part thriller and part romance - and whooo! is that romance hot. I wasn't convinced by it at first, but it totally won me over in the end.
 The series concerns the adventures and misadventures of sword-wielding mercenary Kate, who lives in a slightly futuristic version of our world, where magic and technology sweep across the landscape in waves like tsunamis, forcing humans and other creatures (like Necromancers and Weres) to live side by side in a very uneasy truce. Kate is a hilarious, wise-cracking character who is unashamedly tough - a warrior, a soldier and a killer - but at the same time deeply honourable and emotionally vulnerable. I love watching her evolve as the books progress, turning from a lonely, isolated woman who trusts no one to a...well, you'll just have to read and find out!

I think the world-building in this series is simply superb, and I love the intricacies of all the various factions at war with each other and trying to stay afloat amid the battle of magic and technology. Each is portrayed as diverse and multi-faceted rather than simply Good or Bad. Unsurprisingly, my favourites are the weres, who are shown here as highly clannish and loyal to each other, desperately trying to live down a partially deserved reputation for violence. Any people who signal the start of a serious courtship by breaking into each other's houses and leaving gifts of food, or playing extravagent practical jokes, is all right by me. But I'm also fascinated by the Order and by the Red Guard and...oh, a million other details.

I also love the character growth here. It's not just the main characters who get to fall in love, fall out of love, go interesting places, get hurt and get changed. Derek and Andrea are examples of how you write a sidekick RIGHT, and I'd love to have them in my life!

Number of Books in the Series: Five, with a companion novel from a secondary character's POV coming this year, and a number of (brilliant!) secondary character novellas in anthologies. Seek them out!

Favourite Book in the Series: Book Three, Magic Strikes. Underground magical gladiator tournament where the heroine repeatedly gets to kick people's asses, along with a motley crew of loyal friends? Yes please!

Least Favourite Book in the Series: Book One, Magic Bites. I'd actually council readers to skip this one. In my opinion it strays far too close to torture porn in its constant descriptions of the vile activities of its villain, and does a disservice to the rest of the books. You can pick up everything you need to know from Book Two without too much difficulty.

The Guild Hunter Series by Nalini Singh.

I've just discovered these, and I can't believe what I was missing! The Guild Hunter books are set in an Urban Fantasy alternate reality where the world is run by a race of superhuman, immortal angels and Archangels, who in turn create vampires from volunteers in the human population. The vampires, in return for being Made almost-immortal, agree to hundred year contracts with their angelic creators which are essentially like indentured servitude. And, not surprisingly, once those vampires start to grow into their powers (which vary widely from individual to individual, based on their unique personalities and strengths as a human) they often try to get out of their contracts by running. Sometimes they just go into hiding. At other times they go rogue and start killing. That's where the Guild of Hunters comes in. Some of these guys are Hunter Born, able to literally track vampires by scent, while others are just tough badasses that hunt using old fashioned gumshoe methods. Either way, their job is to find and tag the vampires with control chips that prevent them from running again, and return them to their angelic masters for punishment. Needless to say, this is easier said than done, especially since the strongest Hunter is probably not a third as strong as even a fairly newly Made vampire.

The main character of these books is Elena, a Hunter Born who gets forced into working for the most powerful being in the US, and one of the most powerful in the world, the Archangel Raphael. Raphael has a job that only Elena's unusually sensitive nose can handle, and he isn't willing to take no for an answer. Elena is a tough, interesting heroine with a lot of emotional baggage to work through, who still manages to be convincingly badass. But frankly most of my love is for Raphael and his Seven (his loyal commanders, some of whom are ancient vampires, others angels). This guy is scary. All the angels and Archangels are frankly terrifying, as well as many of the older vampires. They are truly inhuman, something beyond the comprehension of most mortals, and are capable of wiping out human lives with as much effort and remorse as I'd rub a smudge off the back of my hand. Some of them, in fact, take pleasure in sadism and suffering. But some of them are capable of love - and Raphael falls in love with Elena, who, petrified of this millenia-old creature as she is, finds herself falling back. Their love changes them both fundamentally, and what happens to them after that is extraordinary.

Number of Books in the Series: Four, including a companion novel from a secondary character's POV, with a collection of secondary character novellas due out at the end of this month.

Favourite Book in the Series: Book Four, Archangel's Blade. I wasn't expecting this, since I personally found the secondary character of Dmitri a total b - er - d - er...um...a bit of a nasty person in the preceding three books. I was cross that he was getting his own companion novel before my favourites Illium and Aodhan. But this story just blew me away. It deals with a very similar theme to one I'm using in my Katana Trilogy, and does so masterfully. This book...it kinda broke my heart a little. I cried a lot, and I adored it.

Least Favourite Book in the Series: Book Two, Archangel's Kiss. Not because it's not good, just because I felt the elements of romance/mystery/training montage weren't as skillfully blended as in the other books, and we weren't given adequate information to be able to work out who the bad guy was on our own. Plus, I missed the New York setting. Still a great read, though.

Friday, 10 February 2012

FROSTFIRE PRE-ORDERS ARE LIVE!

Happy Friday, Dear Readers! A very happy Friday for me, actually - I've just realised that FrostFire is now available for pre-order on Amazon at long last. Hurray!





The cover isn't there yet, but there's a different version of the plot synopsis and you can see that it's 464 pages long - my second longest book, after Shadows on the Moon. And you can pre-order it! Look, there's a button right there and everything! Don't you wanna? Don't you want to spread the word and tell all your friends!? Clickety click! (Anymore exclamation marks and they're going to take my ! key away, so I'll stop now). Ahem.

I checked The Book Depository but unfortunately it's not there yet. I'll keep an eye on that and post a link when it is.

In the meantime, a Katana Trilogy book #2 related question: which are more scary/unnerving - bat wings or moth wings?

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

THE CURE FOR EVERYTHING

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! Apparently I'm now pathologically incapable of opening a blog post without some reference to the weather, so I'll just get it over with by saying that if there's anything more dismal than a landscape covered in half-melted, half frozen-to-ice slush and churned up mud, with a blanket of freezing fog, I don't know what it is. If you're living somewhere that your weather is doing something - anything! - else? Lucky, lucky you!

And apparently the freezing fog carries a nasty lurgy too - at least, that's my explanation for why everyone in my family is ill right now. Including my mum, who doesn't get ill very often. When she does, it's battle stations for the rest of us, as she tends to get *very* ill, bless her, and is not the best of patients.
 
So when everyone is ill, and fractious and grumpy with it, and the weather is depressing and awful, what do you do? If you're me, you make chicken noodle soup, and this makes everyone feel a little bit better for a little while. So here's my simple recipe for a foolproof Get Better Soon dish.

Ingredients:
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 large leek, finely sliced
  • 1/2 a butternut squash, diced
  • 6 chestnut mushrooms or two large portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pint of chicken stock (preferably a jelly stock)
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of chopped rosemary
  • 150gms of cooked chicken
  • 200gms of fresh egg noodles
NOTES: This calls for the chicken to be pre-cooked because if you cook the chicken in the broth you'll get scum rising to the top, which you then have to skim off, and I find this a bit faffy. The recipe is a great way to use up the remaining scrappy bits of meat from a whole bird if you've done a roast, but you can also just buy a packet of cooked chicken if that's easier. Also, it's best to use fresh noodles; dry ones suck up a lot of liquid and you end up with no soup by the time you finish. If you do use dried pasta, add an extra 250-350mls of stock to the recipe. Oh, and remember to add salt and pepper to the whole thing before you serve it!

After you've peeled and chopped all the vegetables and the rosemary, pop them in a large pan over a medium high-heat and add a dash of vegetable or sunflower oil (not olive, as the flavour is too strong) and a knob of butter. Gently fry everything together until the butternut squash starts to break down and the carrots are tender. Don't let the leak brown - if you see it starting to get crispy, take things off the heat and add a spoonful or two of water before putting the pan back on at a lower heat. This stage will probably take about ten minutes.

After the vegetables are cooked, add the stock and turn the heat up a little bit until the pan hits a rolling boil. Leave it for another ten minutes or so. Then add the chicken and the noodles and gently stir everything around for another two to four minutes, occasionally checking the noodles to see how soft they are. Personally I like my noodles quite solid, but my mum (the person I usually make this for) likes them very soft, so bear your intended sick person in mind.

When the noodles are the right consistency and the chicken is hot all the way through, serve this in a bowl with a spoon and a fork (for twizzling the noodles) and lots of fresh, buttered bread. It's guaranteed to make an invalid feel better!

This recipe is for four servings, which is the easiest and most economical way to make it. If you don't have four people to feed you can eat it again for lunch the next day, or pop it into a tupperware container and freeze it to be reheated later. Leftovers will normally need about a cupful of hot water added to them before being reheated, as the noodles tend to suck up the liquid if they're left to sit for any length of time, and water + gentle heat gets them to release that liquid so that you have a soup again, rather than just noodles.


When I make this dish for myself, I do a spicy Oriental version because I find that heat clears my sinuses out. If you like hot food, you can make the spicy version of this by taking the rosemary out of the recipe and adding a few extras:
  • 1 teaspoon of dried red chillies
  • 1 teaspoon of minced garlic or half a teaspoon of garlic paste
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of smooth peanut butter
  • A good glug of balsamic vinegar
  • 5 or 6 baby corn, diced
  • A handful of beansprouts
I fry the vegetables and other ingredients in the same way, but I tend to use sesame or stir-fry oil and I might use a pile of spring onions rather than the leak (holding a few finely sliced bits of onion back to sprinkle on the top when I'm ready to serve).

You cook the dried chillies and garlic with the other vegetables and add the balsamic and the peanut butter when they're cooked, allowing them to emulsify before putting the stock in. Add the beansprouts into the soup at the same time you add the noodles and the chicken.


Studies have actually shown that chicken soup (especially with lots of vegetables) really will make a sick person feel better and help them to recover more quickly. So if you're in a house of sickness at the moment, give it a try! Just be prepared to be asked for it again and again in the future!

Friday, 3 February 2012

SNOWPOCALYPSE!

Hello, Dear Readers! I hope all of you living in Snowpocalypse areas have stocked up on long life milk and the basic ingredients for bread, because IT HAS BEGUN.

After my experience of last year (being snowed in with no heat or hot water and completely unprepared) frankly I was not...overjoyed to see the first powdery flakes filtering down and settling last night. But when the sun came up this morning and I saw we only had a light dusting I had to admit that it was all rather pretty. So I headed out for my normal early morning constitutional with Finn and took my camera along to share the view with you guys.

Grab a cup of hot chocolate (or coffee or tea - whatever's your beverage of choice on snowy mornings) and come along with me on my Tour of the Snowpocalypse.



I tried to capture the diamond glints of the rising sun on the reeds, but ten snaps later, no dice. Some things are for real eyes only.

"Does my bum look big in this?"

The sun rising - probably my favourite part of the day.

The mating pair of swans on the river. Last year they produced no less than eight signets - the river was a bit full for a while!

Finn doesn't actually have a fuzzy beard. That's snow.



The way home...

Finn looks rather fetching in his new coat, don't you agree? He loves snow - he likes to shove his nose into it, break into a run and plough through it, occasionally whipping his snout up to create a miniature blizzard and snap the flakes out of the air. How could anyone hate snow after seeing that? So OK, I'm back on board the snow train. But only if it stays light and powdery. Any signs of heavy fall and I'll turn into a miserable Snow-Scrooge again, and that's fair warning (do you hear me, snow fairy?).

Thursday, 2 February 2012

MUSICAL MAYHEM

Oh, phew! I'm so relieved to be here, even if it's a day later than originally planned.

Dear Readers, I appeal to you for forgiveness. I know I broke routine and didn't post yesterday, but that's because my internetz went for a Burton as soon as I tried to log on and I spent Wednesday helplessly trying to get access to any vaguely useful site. At first only Blogger and Twitter seemed out of reach. Then Facebook went the same way. In could intermittently get ONTO the internet, but then everything would freeze.

After several hours of frustratedly restarting my computer and modem, running diagnostics, trying to check the Status page on the ISP website (which I couldn't see because, duh, my internet wouldn't connect to it) and a frustrating phonecall to the company, I admit that I finally gave up. Sorry. It was that or accept my brain transforming to scrambled eggs within my skull out of sheer rage at the sight of the stupid swirly blue egg-timer.

Happy as I am that my access has come back with today's bright new (well - drizzly, grey) dawn, I can't for the life of me remember what I was actually going to post about. You've probably noticed by now that, unlike bloggers of the business-like and organised variety, I don't schedule posts in advance - I just write whatever appeals to me on the evening before or the morning of a posting day. And whatever its topic was, Wednesday's original post also seems to have gone for a Burton. Sorry again.

So let's have some music recommendations instead!

Last week I happened across this amazing band (they're actually a twosome - two singers, one guitar) called The Civil Wars. I love, love, love their stripped back, accoustic sound. It's incredibly heartfelt and raw, and I've been listening to their album more or less non-stop since I downloaded it. Here's a quick taste:





However, I soon found myself craving something hardcore, and went searching for bands that would give me a contrasting Goth/Emo vibe. As a result I downloaded some We Are The Fallen:



And some Red:





Which in turn lead me to search for something a bit power ballady. I found Anywhere But Here by Safetysuit and was pleased:



And those are my music recs for the month of January :) What are you listening to right now?
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