Pie-filling Wednesday.

Or, How my husband made crisp sandwiches and learned to love social media.

As an author, I’ve spent years now trying to find something to set myself apart on social media. That niche that is something that is unique to me, memorable, exciting, interesting that will help me to be noticed, amongst the hundreds of other writers out there. Seems I’ve been missing a trick, and that trick is … crisp sandwiches!

Photo courtesy of Ben Taylorson, the crisp sandwich guru. It’s a Parmo-inspired crisp sandwich, since you ask …

Since the beginning of February, my husband has been making, photographing and then eating crisp sandwiches on Twitter. He has gone so far as to declare it to be #CrispFebruary. He’s @BenTaylorson if you like bizarre food combinations like the above Teesside parmo crisp sandwich. (You don’t know what a parmo is? Look it up, it’s Teesside’s only claim to culinary fame!) He’s been encouraged and supported by lots of friends on social media, and his idea of #CrispFebruary has started to spread. It has caught people’s imagination to the point that he’s been invited onto the our lovely local radio station, BBC Tees to talk about Crisp February. Now he’s making videos of crisp-sandwich making. At this rate, he’ll be next week’s Jackie Weaver, only with more crisps.

Our house is becoming a temple to the crisp. We dissect the success (or otherwise) of each day’s experiments at lunchtime. At dinner he considers what the next day’s culinary masterpiece might consist of. In the evening, over a glass of wine, we discuss the difference (and relative merits) of potato crisps vs. maize-based snacks. And best of all, at suppertime, I get to raid the stash of leftover crisps!

Photo by the author

It’s fun and it’s given us a lot to laugh about, when, to be honest, there isn’t much else to lift the mood. We joke about him producing a cook-book and appearing on daytime TV as a crisp-sandwich-chef. In the week that the baked beans and Weetabix combination seems to be overwhelming social media, suddenly anything seems possible!

All it took was an idea that sparked the imagination. So I’m off to think of one, a food-lovers niche of my own. Only problem is that, other than eating fruit pie filling with a spoon out of the tin from time-to-time, I don’t really have any quirky food tips. Pie-filling Wednesday, anyone?

Another novel crisp sandwich combination by Ben Taylorson, the King of the Crisp Sandwich.

The dance and the journey

This week I’ve started reading Death at Rainbow Cottage by Jo Allen, as part of my attempt to broaden my reading horizons. I don’t usually read crime, but it’s nothing to do with the quality of crime novels, simply that I’m not fond of dwelling on the darkness at the heart of the human condition just before I go to sleep. Murder, missing children, blood, jealousy, revenge …

Image by Stevepb from Pixabay

This led me to thinking about the differences between romantic fiction and crime. In some ways they are similar – immensely popular genres, often dismissed as “light” reading, but for me the underlying difference is one of movement.

I’ve always thought of romance as a dance, in which we know the ending and the beginning of the music. Two people take to the floor, they weave a pattern around each other as the music plays, and then, as partners, they leave the dance floor hand-in-hand at the end of the dance. It’s the pattern that is of interest, the steps the couple make while they are falling in love that holds the interest for the reader. There is something comforting about watching the pattern unfold, and knowing where it will eventually lead.

Image by fsHH on Pixabay

For me, crime fiction is more like a journey into the unknown. The story starts with a crime, and the detective (whether a real detective by profession, or someone who is merely swept up in the events) sets off on the road to find out the truth. There will be diversions and wrong turns along the way and we don’t have a map. We don’t know which of several suspects the detective is going to find guilty, and we don’t know why they have done whatever it is they have done. We do know that we will find out; the journey will have an end, but we don’t quite know how we’re going to get there and what will be waiting for us when we do.

Image by Victoria Borodinova from Pixabay

I’m still happier with the comforting dance of romantic fiction, particularly last thing at night, but perhaps (during the day, when there is time to forget about the blood before bedtime) setting off on a journey with an unknown destination can be exciting.

And as for Death at Rainbow Cottage, I’ll be reviewing that soon, once I know where the journey is going!

Writing a synopsis

This is not a “how to” post. In fact it’s a “how on earth do I …” post!

Following last week’s fairly disastrous working week in which very little work got done, this week I am working on the synopsis for the book I’m about to start submitting to publishers. Let’s be honest, I know before I even start that the odds are stacked against me. You know, lockdown has produced 6 million undiscovered masterpieces, every single celebrity has “written” a book and I’m not very good at marketing myself. In fact, my “author brand” these days seems to be a female Victor Meldrew with a pen!

So, if I’m to stand any chance of finding a publisher for the latest ms., I need a good synopsis. I have several guides from various respected sources on how to write a synopsis, but the problems is they’re all different.

Allow me to demonstrate, with the help of Enid Blyton.

One guide states clearly that you should only ever name the three most important characters in your manuscript. Everyone else should be described. If you don’t do it this way, no self-respecting publisher will read further:

JULIAN, DICK and GEORGE have an adventure with Julian’s little sister and a dog.

Another suggests naming all the characters and gives their ages in brackets. The age is an absolute necessity, without it, publishers will toss your ms. in the bin without a second glance:

JULIAN (14), DICK (12), GEORGE (10) and ANNE (8) have an adventure with TIMMY (2) the dog.

Another source suggests that age should only be included if it’s relevant and adds something to the character. This is what publishers like best and will guarantee that your synopsis will be read to the end:

JULIAN (14) has an adventure with his friends DICK, GEORGE and ANNE, as well as TIMMY the dog.

Then there’s the question of whether or not to give the characters’ full names. Advice varies, but at least one source suggests that every character should be given a surname. Even if the author isn’t sure what it is (as apparently Enid Blyton wasn’t!)

JULIAN KIRRIN [or BARNARD] (14), DICK KIRRIN [or BARNARD] (12), GEORGE KIRRIN (10) and ANNE KIRRIN [or BARNARD] (8) together with TIMMY ‘THE DOG’ KIRRIN (2) have an adventure.

I already don’t know what to do, and that’s just the first sentence!

There are however several truths that are universally acknowledged.

  1. Do not print your synopsis in green ink.
  2. Do not use a fancy font. In particular, do not use Comic Sans.
  3. Always include the ending.

I think I’ve got it, I’m ready to go! How will any publisher be able to resist?

The glamorous life of an author …

I thought, when my life-long dream was realised and I held my first book in my hand, that it was going to be different. You know, book signings, award dinners, publishers’ parties … the kind of stuff that authors do.

Instead, let me tell you what this week has consisted of so far! I’ll let you into a secret, a lot of it involves rain …

Image from Pixabay.

On Monday, it started by not being able to get my daughter out of bed to start school. This took about one and a half hours of tears and tantrums (and that was just me). By the time I finished this, I had lost all the time I had set aside to set up my social media posts for the week, and I had also lost the inclination to do them. It’s hard to be happy happy happy, fluffy kittens, pink cupcakes and clouds after a morning spent arguing with an angry teen. I find it hard enough on a normal day to pretend to be sweet and nice. I rushed out a couple of posts and resolved to do better tomorrow. I took my usual walk before lunchtime, I’m trying to do 10,000 steps a day, but this takes time. An hour and a half walking round our boring suburban streets in the rain I had achieved about 8,000 of my 10,000 steps, and lost a further hour and a half of potential writing time. I spent the afternoon editing. I’m finishing off a book which I absolutely loved writing. It has a grouchy heroine, a grumpy hero, and a pink fluffy cupcake cafe which both of them hate. I can almost guarantee that no-one will want to publish it – you know, it’s just not happy, happy, happy, fluffy kittens, pink cupcakes and clouds. I did the final 2,000 steps in the evening as I went to the supermarket for the weekly shop. I may not have got much actual work done, but at least we’ve got enough fresh fruit to see us through the week.

Tuesday was almost as glam as Monday. At least my daughter made it out of bed today! I spent the morning delivering Avon orders in the rain (yes, I supplement my writing income by selling cosmetics. I make more selling cosmetics than I do from my books. I don’t make much selling cosmetics.) and I did get some editing done in the afternoon. At least the deliveries meant that I did my 10,000 steps without a struggle. I tried to channel my happy happy happy vibes and think of entertaining, relevant and witty things to say on social media. I failed. I resolved to do better tomorrow.

Image from Pixabay.

Wednesday? On my authorly “to do” list for Wednesday was “Write blog post. Social media. Finish editing and print out.” Well, let’s see how that went shall we? First, I had to take my husband (in a lot of pain) down to the dentist and wait for him to have a tooth removed, because he wouldn’t be able to drive back. This meant sitting in the car in the pouring rain, worrying about teeth, in the centre of Middlesbrough. It doesn’t get more glamorous than that, does it? When I got back, there were a couple more deliveries to do that I didn’t manage yesterday. In the rain. I noticed that the garden was partially underwater when I got back. Finally, after lunch, I sit at my computer. Now, I will admit that my computer is quite glam. It’s rose gold, very satisfying to type on, and it sits on my lovely wooden desk, in the room we lovingly refer to as “the library”. At my glamorous computer on my satisfyingly bookish desk, I spent rather more time than I should have done agonising over whether my hero should use the F word or not. (The decision was that he should, because it suits his mood. If I ever have an editor, it can be their problem. I am unlikely ever to have an editor, by the way, because no-one in their right minds will publish a book where the heroine is mean to everyone and the hero uses the F word.) By the time I finish agonising over the F word, my husband comes down to say that his mouth is still bleeding and we have to go back to the dentist. I panic (I do that a lot these days), I use the F word myself, and spend another hour in Middlesbrough in the rain, and boy, it really is raining. We drive back on roads that are starting to resemble rivers. I do not write my blog post. Instead, I have a cup of tea, and hope that soon my hands will stop shaking. By the time I have cooked the kids tea, and our tea, and washed up, and had a walk to get those final few steps, I’m done for. No energy left at all. The garden is now completely submerged. I did not write a blog post, I did not do anything on social media, I did not finish editing, I did not print out! I resolved to do better tomorrow.

Image from Pixabay. I had a picture of my own to post, but apparently it’s a security risk.

Thursday. Oh well, there’s always today. Now, if I could just persuade my daughter to get out of bed …

We’re all going a little bit Regency …

Book Review: A Libertine’s Christmas Miracle by Emily Royal.

Last year I made a vow to widen my reading experience. I wanted to try new genres and new authors, and as such I was introduced to the wide and varied delights of Terry Pratchett (I know – how could I never have read any Pratchett?) Robert Harris and Barbara Cartland.

This year I’m moving forward with my reading education, and I’m taking a leap … no, perhaps a genteel spring … into the world of Regency romance. Which is huge, varied and not just Jane Austen. With the amazing popularity of Bridgerton on Netflix, isn’t everybody going a little bit Regency this year?

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

I chose a novella by Emily Royal “A libertine’s Christmas miracle” which is part of O Night Divine, a collection of novellas published by Dragonblade publishing. I’ll be honest that I chose it because Emily is a friend, and I therefore knew before I started that I was in for a dramatic plot, a dark hero and some scenes of an adult nature. I didn’t expect a cute puppy called Twinkle, but that’s another story …

Unlike Bridgerton, A Libertine’s Christmas Miracle is not set in the world of the “Ton”, but in a Cornish country house, at Christmas, in the snow. It’s a atmospheric setting for a Christmas romance, and I loved the little details that brought home the feeling of the period. The scents, the sounds, the feel of a country house at Christmas are beautifully evoked:

“The quiet, soft sounds of Pengannon – the longcase clock ticking in the hall, the crackling of the fire and the distant footsteps as the servants rushed to and fro, preparing warming pans.”

Image by Couleur from Pixabay 

Although the story is told largely from the point of view of Alice, the spirited mistress of the house, my favourite character was Susan, her somewhat crotchety spinster visitor. Susan doesn’t hold back from saying what she thinks, and declares that she doesn’t need men to fight her battles. I’d love to have known how her story continued!

An atmospheric opening, reminiscent of Wuthering Heights or A Christmas Carol, a satisfying ending and plenty of mulled wine and a roast goose in between. What more could you ask of a Christmas novella?

I thoroughly enjoyed my foray into Regency romance, and it reminds me that I still have Georgette Heyer on my to-be-read list, and several other novellas in the collection yet to investigate!