First World Writer’s Problem

I’ve never had a rejection for a piece of writing, ever.  I keep waiting, and it just doesn’t happen.  It makes me feel, somehow like ‘less of writer’ – without my stacks of rejection letters to prove my street cred.

This is a somewhat narcissitic introduction to my latest short-story “The Ice Bridge” – winner of the emerging writer prize in Above and Beyond Magazine’s Great North Canadian Writing Contest.  Its also my first piece of paid fiction. Woo hoo!

Please read and share!

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My First Novel

I wrote my first novel at age 12.  And it was as terrible as you’d think.  Filling 4 1000 page notebooks with handwritten scrawls, it documented the story of sophisticated 17 year old ingenue Taylor, who on the verge of a successful life with a music scholarship to her favourite university discovers the child she’s babysat for the past 2 years, Emma, is being abused by her parents.

Devastated, Taylor confronts Emma’s father only to have her future music studies threatened when he manufactures evidence of her plagiarizing admissions essays.  Backed into a corner and desperate to save Emma, Taylor impulsively decides to take the baby and run – but not before her boyfriend Laurie insists on coming with them.  With nothing but a car, $300 and each other, Taylor and Laurie must figure out a plan to ensure their beloved girl is kept safe.

Yeah.

Its fair to say my beautiful, sophisticated and independent protaganist represented escapism for me at its finest.  An awkward pre-teen, I dreamed of my future adolescence and scribbled madly while I spent every Friday and Saturday night babysitting for families in my local town.

My novel is, of course lost.  We moved 3 more times between when I completed it and my family settling in Yellowknife.  But I did complete it – Taylor and Laurie manage to prove the abuse through a dangerous mission to steal family photos and medical records, and return to triumph as Emma’s parents are arrested.  However, the duo are still convicted of kidnapping and sent to juvenile detention for 5 years.  Calmed in the knowledge that Emma is safe, Taylor remains defiant and unapologetic – vowing to marry Laurie as soon as they are released.

I remembered this epic writing exercise when lamenting to myself the fact that I am no longer grabbed by plot lines in my mind and driven to write – whether by lack of practice or whether its because I’m actually living my life instead of imagining it, I just don’t feel driven to get a story out from inside my head in the same way.

However, its made me realise I need not be intimidated about writing future novels since after all, I’ve already written one by hand.

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Maybe I can bake.

Of course you can bake, said Leah dismissively.  And scones are easy, I’ll come and help you.

Leah is a new friend, so of course she doesn’t know about when I ruined lemon drizzle cake by adding double the milk, or when my brownies puffed up like a souffle and hit the top burner in the oven, oozing out over the sides into caked on burnt goo that I spent hours scrubbing out of my mother’s over.

If you say so, I said.

So the arrangements were made – and yesterday we gathered the ingredients and the equipments to make scones and she stood before me and said ‘OK, put two cups of flour in a bowl.’

Which I did.  I pour two cups of flour, more or less, into my bowl.

OK, she said, patiently.  Lets do that over again.  THIS is how you measure flour.  And then laughed and laughed and laughed because until that point she didn’t really believe me when I said I couldn’t bake and I didn’t know what on earth I could be doing wrong and it turns out that I can’t even measure properly.

Our second hurdle came when, butter and flour in one bowl, milk and eggs in another she instructed me to mix the dough until it all came together into a ball.

It won’t come together! I said, mild panic in my voice.  Let me add more flour.  Its too wet.  I can’t mix it into a ball.

Keep going, she said calmly. It will be fine.

I’m panicking.  I said.

But it was fine – just as she said. And maybe, potentially, in the next 4-6 months I could bake something unsupervised.  But not yet.

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I resent my soy sauce

It was a flickering thought at first.  With a fresh, steaming plate of pork and chive dumplings, I opened the cupboard above and reached up.

That fucking soy sauce, came the unbidden thought.  I sweep it away.  Don’t be silly, I lecture myself.  Its a cupboard, its a condiment and it is a very ridiculous thing for an almost 31 year old woman to hate her soy sauce and think it is out to get her.

I knew why it was there.  Two Saturday nights ago.  Dinner on the run, same steaming plate of dumplings, this time freshly consumed.  A quick clean up before I leave, already late, in full make-up and a really cute dress.  I reach up to put back the sauce, it slips from my fingers, splatters EVERYWHERE in the kitchen, but most especially on my dress.  I swear, I clean up the mess, I change pretty dresses even though that one was just perfect.  All because of my asshole soy sauce.

Return to tonight.  Don’t jinx yourself, I think, there is no soy sauce curse.

And as I think this, the soy sauce knocks against the bottle of Chinese black vinegar which falls into my bowl of dumpling dipping sauce which shatters and splashes, again, all over me.  All over my kitchen.

My brain screams THAT FUCKING SOY SAUCE and I do two very solid childish stamps and yell

‘fuck fuck fuckety fuck’ and I realise this has to be the lamest tantrum of all time.

But still, the damage is done – I hate my fucking soy sauce.

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Squished Herby New Potatoes, Potato Salad, Pommes Dauphinoises

We had a potato salad competition. My acidic beauty (on the left) won!

Is there anything better than fresh, home grown potatoes?  You can try to come up with answers to this, but I’ll probably lose interest so don’t bother.

I don’t eat a lot of potatoes – my paleo experimentation and general carb aversion (I know, I know) means I eat them when I’m out and about, but I rarely cook them at home.

But cycling home with 2 boatloads of potatoes in my pannier bags from a friend’s ‘farm’ in Rotherhithe meant I needed to dig out my favourtie recipes (from the back of my mind) and get cooking.  Here they are: in no particular order

My Pommes Dauphinoises – no man has been able to resist!

Potato Salad

This is an acidic, ‘in-your-face’ potato salad that is based a bit on the types I ate in Germany.  No chopped egg (controversial) – creamy but tart and salty.  Yum!

about 8 medium new potatoes, scrubbed and boiled whole
half a yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup white wine or cider vinegar
1/2 cup good ‘posh’ or home made mayonnaise
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsps whole grain mustard
bunch of chives, chopped
bunch of parsley, chopped
generous amounts of salt

Combine the vinegar and chopped onion and let sit for 5-15 minutes for a ‘flash pickle’. When the potatoes are cooked cut them into bit size chunks and let cool while you assemble the rest of the dressing.  Mix all ingredients except potatoes and season to taste.  When the potatoes are warm (but not hot), combine with the dressing and chill.  Tastes better on the second day.

Squished New Potatoes with Fresh Herbs

This was the first way I made the potatoes and then, well I couldn’t stop.  Basically scrub your new potatoes and boil them whole.  Drain when cooked and add any herbs your have around your garden.  I always add parsley and chives, but I’ve stuck in thyme, basil, tarragon – whatever.  Take a potato masher and squish them ONCE.  I mean it.  Only once.  Then stir in equal parts butter and olive oil, salt and pepper.  Serve.

Pommes Dauphinoises

So my ‘impress a man’ dinner is usually a steak, pommes dauphinoises and something green like sprouting broccoli.  Simple, and definitely worked well for me!  I keep this very simple.

4 small/medium potatoes, peeled
1/4 -1/2 cup double cream
1/2 clove garlic, grated
salt and touch of nutmeg.

Mix the garlic and double cream and add salt, set aside.  Thinly (and I mean THINLY) slice all your potatoes and mix in a bowl with half of the creamy garlic mixture.  Then layer like you’re putting slates on a roof in a pan.  When you’re halfway through pour on 1/2 of the remaining mixture, finish then pour on the rest of the cream and any that might be in the bowl with the potatoes.  Bake at 180 for 30-40 minutes. Serve.

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Bad Dollar, Future Human, Short Fiction

A few days ago I was one of the lucky finalists in a short fiction contest run jointly by salonniers extraordinaires Future Human and digital micro-publisher Bad Dollar.

In a world where self-publishing is becoming more and more accessible (and less stigmatised!) Bad Dollar has a lovely raison d’etre: it promotes its $1 short fiction wares by only selling fiction about terrible ways people have spent a dollar.

Bad Dollar is home to my favourite story by my very good friend Jean, but its also a great platform for emerging authors: support to develop your story, a simple premise, a kindle search that has your name as a result.

My story “The Portfolio” is still in development (though very close to being finished) but the support I got from the audience after reading my excerpt and plot was a great confidence boost and for a second, just a second, I felt like a real writer.

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Why I should have gone to Canada this Summer.

Because THIS is what my brother was doing this past weekend.  Damn him.Image

 

 

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Imagine you had no access to contraception…

I don’t often post things on here to do with work, but I don’t often produce things that I am so personally passionate about. But this is one – a great film that helps us remember how contraception plays a crucial but often invisible role in our lives – a role that is missing from the lives of over 200 million women.

Sign our petition at www.savethechildren.org.uk/givegirlspower

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Father’s Day

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So about 14 months ago my world exploded.  And now that it is my second father’s day without a father, I am almost ready to put some words on this blog about this loss.

I have written about so much here.  Old lovesOther bereavements. Happy things. Sad things.  But never my dad, never this. My blog is 5 years old!  It is my life scrapbook, and yet its missing something huge.

The loss of a parent becomes a dividing line in someone’s life.  You realise there is a secret world out there, a club that you have become a member of without realising.  Now in the world there are only those who ‘get it’ and those who don’t.  The anguish I felt at my own ignorance for my friends who had also lost parents, how little real empathy I had had – I wanted to call them all and apologise.  The fact is this: no one gets it until you lose one too.

And yet, ironically when you become a member of ‘the club’ you never would want such an apology.  You’d never wish the pain on your worst enemy and you only want to hold the hand of one who was suffering.  When all of it happened I spent a hellish 24 hours trying to figure out how to get a flight out of Addis Ababa to Canada to get to my family.  My lovely and sweet driver whispered to me, as we waited for the Lufthansa office to open at 8am in those first hours: I lost both my parents.  I grew up in an orphanage.  I am sorry.

At the time I felt conflicted – he was extending sympathy, and yet I somehow felt spoiled at 29, having both parents and only threatened with losing one.  How easy my life was.  His sentiment, of course, was simple.  No one should have to go through this, but I have been there too.  And it was comfort.

Not everyone’s reactions have been that easy.  An ex-friend, who at best I’d had a petty disagreement with de-friended me on facebook and refused our mutual friend’s urgings to simply contact me to acknowledge my loss.  For months, many friends would cry immediately upon seeing me.  I was so accustomed to my grief I rarely cried when it seemed the right time, but the sight of me was a trigger for many and their sadness bubbled to the surface.

I often looked in the mirror and wondered: can people see it? do I look different?  Tears upon sight didn’t help to alleviate this worry.  I took perverse pleasure in making lists in my head of people who were going through worse hells than mine.  Madeline McCann’s family. Anyone whose relatives had been murdered.

And now I find myself an orphan to those societal benchmarks I never found a ‘big deal’ previously.  I am a father’s day orphan and as the stores fill with merchandise and people share what they will do, I think of my father and my loss and I realise this was always happening for so many in the world and I never realised it.

But I am so happy to be the type of orphan I am.  I had a wonderful father for 29 years.  I was so loved and I never questioned it – I never had to.  I feel such solidarity for my fellow orphans who don’t have these assurances.  Those who never knew their fathers.  Those fathers who failed them, betrayed them or ignored them.  On Sunday I’ll be thinking of you.

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Quinoa, Chipotle and Pulled Pork Salad

Quinoa, Chipotle and Pulled Pork Salad

Remember 2 weeks ago when the sun was shining?  It was hot and bright and London glowed and the whole world seemed alive with possibilities.  On one of those hot and steamy evenings I met @shedlikesfood for an impromptu dinner.

My friendship with Shed is for all intensive purposes a quarterly one – which usually ends in deep personal bonding of the ‘I-LOVE-YOU-MAN’ type (usually negroni-fueled) and then we go our own ways for 3 months and then meet again, pick up where we left off, download each others lives and then meet again in 3 months and so on and so forth.

Our palate’s that evening demanded FRESH and SALAD and OUTDOORS and other green words like this and it seemed inevitable we would end up at The Modern Pantry off Clerkenwell road.  Its a restaurant  I love for 3 main reasons:  1) It has a female head chef 2) she cooks in an unpretentious and utterly original way you can’t find anywhere else and 3) its close to my work and has outdoor seating.

Our meal was as great as I’ve come to expect from the MP.   It involved such unconventional combinations as cuttlefish ink laksa, pulled pork and quinoa salad, scallops with parsnip puree, crispy pork belly with plaintain, gooseberry eton mess  all distinguished by Anna Hansen’s unique ability to take a dish, add 7 ingredients more than you think should work and create something really surprising and delicious.

Shed and I ate, dished on life, love and food and went on our merry way.  But that dinner has stayed with me – and a week later when I was trying to decide what to do with a kilo of pork shoulder on a jubilee weekend afternoon, it was the spirit of Anna Hansen that led me to this dish.  A warm salad of chipotle and brown sugar pulled pork, avocado, grated caroot, flash-pickled red onions, romaine lettuce, cilantro and quinoa.

Enjoy!

Warm Chipotle Pulled Pork Salad with Quinoa, Avocado and Pickled Onions

For the pulled pork:

1kg pork shoulder
4 chipotle peppers in adobo (chopped) and 2 Tbsps sauce
3 cloves garlic
125ml water
50ml white wine vinegar
brown sugar to taste

Brown the pork shoulder in oil, then add garlic, chipotle peppers, water and vinegar and simmer for 1-2 hours, checking liquid as you go.  When the pork is tender and pulls easily, remove it from the liquor and shred with two forks.  With the remaining sauce add a few big lumps of brown sugar, more vinegar if it needs it and reduce until its a sticky sauce.   Watch it doesn’t burn!  Note: this sauce will be hella hot and spicy, but it will mellow with time.  If your pork was especially fatty (mine wasn’t) you might want to skim off some of the fat.

For the onions:

Thinly slice one red onion and cover with white wine vinegar, a bit of salt and sugar and chuck in the fridge for 30mins or so.  They will turn the most wonderful pink colour ever.

For the quinoa:

I don’t measure quinoa, but I generally have good results if I use a ratio of 1 part quinoa to 1.5 parts water and add a wack of salt.  Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes or until liquid is gone.

For the rest of the salad:

In a bowl layer romaine, quinoa, a grated carrot, pickled onion and chunks of avocado with springs of coriander.  Spread the warm pulled pork over top and spoon over the sticky sweet dressing.  Top with more coriander and serve!

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