Christmas at the Farm

Tomorrow is the day!

Three pairs of socks? Check!

Sheepskin gloves? Check!

Thermal base layer? Check!

You’d think I was off to conquer the Alps, or at the very least Helvellyn. No, I’m going to the community farm down the road. I’m not visiting it, mind you, I’m going to be working there weekends and school holidays until Christmas. I’m going to be Mother Ginger. She’s a friend of Santa and Mrs. Claus, you know, and she makes all the gingerbread to go into children’s Christmas stockings, and as such she will be waiting to greet hordes of excited children as they visit the farm over the next few weeks.

Gingerbread. Not made by me, but image from Pixabay (PublicDomainPictures)

She will be doing this, outside in whatever the weather has to throw at us this year. Given the amount of snow we’ve already had, I thought it would be wise to buy the sheepskin gloves. However, from the weather forecast, I’m more likely to be soaked by a downpour tomorrow than trekking through the snow and ice.

Christmas trees in the rain. (From Pixabay, user 3111)

I’ve been creating a backstory for Mother Ginger. She makes all the gingerbread men, and she has elves to help her decorate them – one smily face and three gumdrop buttons are what a gingerbread man needs! However, one of the elves got a bit carried away and created a gingerbread man in a pair of running shoes, and he’s run away. Now she’s looking for the naughty gingerbread man, but he keeps on running, calling over his shoulder ‘Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!’ as he vanishes off into the distance. I’m hoping that the children will want to help me try to spot my missing gingerbread man …

Gingerbread man. From Pixabay, Anncapictures.

I’m not entirely sure what to expect. Part of me is leaping up and down with excitement and possibilities, and the fact that Christmas at the Farm sounds almost like a novel title! However, the other part of me is looking nervously out of the window, and wondering if one pair of sheepskin gloves will actually be enough, and just how deep the mud is going to get if it rains all day tomorrow.

The one thing that I’m looking forward to most of all is that I’ll be doing something to help make Christmas magical for children, now mine are more-or-less grown up. The flickering candles of excitement in the eyes, the half-heard tingle of bells, the smell of frost in the air … and that’s just me!

See you at Newham Grange Farm tomorrow!

New Directions

Lake District weather …

I’ve finished another book. This time I think it might be commercial enough to tempt a publisher (none of my usual black comedy and awkward characters) so wish me luck with the book currently known as “Summer Showers at Elder Fell Farm”.

It features a remote and beautiful campsite, a single mum and a widowed dad, two mischievous boys and a deflated air mattress. Oh, and lots of rain.

I bet you can’t guess where it is set!

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?