tea

I Am So Angry I Shall Have To Have Sausages For Breakfast

This utterance from my good self sprang forth during a moderately tepid online conversation this morning and, indeed, having typed these immortal words I at once threw down my phone and marched to the kitchen to get some sausages out of the fridge. Being so incredibly British, I am not especially comfortable with either dealing with or expressing emotion that extends much beyond ‘I’m very well, thank you’ and rely heavily on food and drink to handle unexpected sensibilities. 

Sausages are a good failsafe food for all manner of things. They are appropriate at any time of the day or night and cover such diverse applications as the humble sausage sandwich to elaborate casseroles, toad in the hole to the mighty bangers and mash (with onion gravy). My personal favourites are the magnificent Newmarket sausages, but I tell you – there’s absolute nothing wrong with a Richmond, either. (Other brands of sausage are available). 

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And as I devoured with some ferocity my breakfast sausages, I began to think about all the times I turn to food in place of actually just expressing anything close to what would be described as ‘feelings’. The following is far from definitive and variants on the theme are of course influenced by availability of time and supplies, but this is a passable example of my menu of maladies…

Over The Moon – Steak and chips, with a huge salad and variety of condiments. And that pepper with all different coloured bits in. Whether there is something to celebrate or everything is just great for no real reason at all, nothing says utter delight like steak and chips. Sometimes I like an egg on my steak, sometimes cheese (a spicy cheese, if possible). I don’t mind if the chips are skinny or built like railway sleepers, but they must be crisp and piping hot.

Very Chirpy – Ideally I will have the time and energy to make a lovely curry from scratch and spend several happy hours doing so. The only problem with this is that the joy of making the curry is in danger of tipping me over the edge to ‘over the moon’ and then I want steak and chips. I see no reason why one cannot have both.

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Delighted – Why, it can only be a traditional roast dinner! Whilst best enjoyed on a Sunday (when not playing cricket), a roast dinner is perfect any day of the week. For mid-week delightedness, a roast chicken dinner is wonderful. But nothing beats really pushing the boat out with, perhaps, slow-cooked beef or lamb, accompanied by crispy roasties (cooked in goose fat, if we’re really making a thing of it), honey glazed carrots and parsnips, asparagus in butter and the humble garden pea, gently steamed. Yorkshire puddings are an absolute must and, if you can bear it, chuck some of your lovely red wine into the gravy. I could go on all day about roast dinners and the endless varieties, but the most important thing is to get everyone you can find around your table and have a few bottles of the good stuff close to hand.

Happy – All of the food, all of the time. This is my default setting both in temperament and appetite, a fact for which I am very grateful. When I am consuming everything with gusto, I know that all is right with the world.

Subdued – When not exactly unhappy, but not quite full of the joys of spring, I turn to comforting and easy to construct food such as cottage pie or spaghetti bolognese. Levels of onion and garlic in both dishes can be adjusted according to the mood of the moment and there is excellent cheese potential here as well. It is good to make a huge version of either and then I feel comforted in the fact that there is now a lot of nice food at my immediate disposal. 

A Bit Fed Up – Cheese on toast or pancakes, if possible made by someone else – if not possible, then made while tutting a bit and sighing occasionally. Actually, I’m not fed up at all, but now I’ve written ‘pancakes’ I really fancy some.

Grumpy – This is not a good state of affairs as I have the tendency to be rather unreasonable when I am grumpy. The only recourse under grumpy circumstances is something like an all-you-can-eat Chinese, or tapas or a sampling menu. Lots of different flavours, textures and aromas are required to distract me from my hump and remind me what is really important in life – which would be eating, obviously.

Sad – Oh dear – this doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I find it best to treat it with the same regard as ‘happy’ – all of the food, all of the time. That way, I fool myself into thinking I’m happy and – voila! – happiness descends once more.

Absolutely Furious – If I am especially volatile then it doesn’t really matter what I eat, but I would advise feeding me very quickly as the source of my fury is likely to be because I am hungry.

Smug – Crispy duck breast with plum sauce, horseradish mash and steamed green beans. I don’t know why, but this is my go-to dish when feeling particularly pleased with myself.

Love (unrequited) – Pies are the best way to deal with all kinds of heartbreak and romantic disappointment. I favour a sturdy beef and ale over something lacklustre such as chicken and mushroom, personally, but whatever pie it is, it must be a proper pie with pastry all the way around – not just a stew with a top on it. Shortcrust pastry, at that – save the puffy stuff for desserts and buffet food.

Love (requited) – Mostly eating absolutely nothing at all, or if I do, it is healthy and lean, just in case the object of my affection wants to see me in the nude. Once the first flush of anxiety-inducing  emotion is out of my system, I default back to delighted, very chirpy and over the moon. Because love is wonderful and should be celebrated with food. Except when it isn’t, and then grumpy and absolutely furious are both perfectly acceptable.

Important To Note – Remember that there is nothing that cannot be achieved when starting the day with a fine Full English Breakfast and a healthy supply of tea and cake throughout the day will overcome all challenges and obstacles. The only thing that can ever hold you back is hunger itself.

By the way, ignoring all your emotions is ridiculous and dangerous but some of us find it very difficult to quantify our own internal workings. I know I do and I’m a bloody writer for goodness’ sake! The best thing to do is have a friend at the end of your phone who is equally inept and will not baulk at messages or phone calls that begin ‘I am sad/angry/frightened for some reason and I want you to know’. I cannot tell you how invaluable this is. Thank you, emotionally inept friends, you know who you are.

Cricket And Other Nonsense

“What are you going to do about your breasts?”

This was the beginning of a brief but earnest discussion between members of my cricket team, regarding the safety of my lady bouncers (top cricketing term) during play. Their concern was touching (not actually touching, you understand) but as this took place in the pub after the match, it was a moot point. Besides, The Girls have come through many a perilous escapade unscathed so I wasn’t too worried about them. Best to let them get on with things on their own, I reckon.

Me bravely seeing off a herd of cows who were after our sandwiches

There really is little more lovely on a Sunday afternoon than a leisurely game of cricket – although you can’t be too worried about actually winning anything if you play for the Rain Men. A nomadic team of eternal optimists, the Rain Men roam the country, offering other cricket teams the unique opportunity to feel better about themselves by giving us a sound thrashing. Two marvellous books written by our brave and fearless leader, Marcus Berkmann, have chronicled the ups and downs (mostly downs) of this illustrious team. Comprised mainly of the eccentric, elderly (they say you can’t beat experience but apparently you can – frequently) and infirm, there are nonetheless a smattering of thrusting athletic types and one or two of them are actually jolly dashing. No doubt fraternisation is frowned upon so I shall restrict my attentions to balls of the leather nature, to be on the safe side.

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Cricket is a marvellous game. For a start, there are no rules. There are laws, true enough, but I am naturally averse to rules where as laws I find appealing, so this suits me nicely. Also, it has a whole language all of its own that sounds vaguely rude. Grown men talk about googlies and yell at each other to ‘go deep’ and no one bats an eyelid. I can compliment a bowler on his lovely length and ball handling prowess without a hint of impropriety. The game involves a fair amount of standing about which allows one time to admire the scenery and have a bit of a think about things. Best of all, after a while, someone from the pavilion calls you all in for tea like they are your mum or something. When no one can possibly squeeze in any more tea, cake, sandwiches, sausage rolls, crisps and whatever else, the match resumes – albeit at a slightly slower pace than before the tea, obviously. Some players enjoy a beer or glass of wine during play. No one minds.

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This Sunday saw a record-breaking performance from the Rain Men, to which I undoubtedly contributed. It was our lowest scoring match ever, with us all out for 36. Pretty terrible, even by our standards. In a shock twist, the opposition invited me to come and play for them, but this was probably due to the fact that one of them recognised me (fame at last!) as opposed to my sporting credentials. They are an absolutely super bunch who wear natty striped blazers and carry bottles of wine on their bicycles, so I immediately agreed. Besides, I need all the practice I can get, so playing for two teams can only improve my game.

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Anyway, I promised you other nonsense as well. Aside from roaming pretty English villages in my whites, I have been interviewed by prolific and world-renowned (he’ll love that) writer and editor Dan Alatorre. Of course, with two literary heavyweights such as ourselves at work, the interview was jam-packed with hard-hitting, intellectual cut-and-thrust about the writing world. But there were still a couple of questions with which we may have struggled…

Oh, and there was news about Who Shot Tony Blair? too, but with all the rambling on about cricket I shall have to get back to that next week… do stay tuned!

 

 

The Thing About Writer’s Block

Not just the scourge of authors, writers and poets – anyone who has ever sat down in front of a blank page will, at some point, have experienced the phenomenon popularly known as ‘writer’s block’. I have come to an important conclusion about this most maligned of conditions and it is somewhat controversial, probably won’t be popular, but I thought I would share it with you anyway.

It doesn’t actually exist.

The natural flow stops not because of some mystical interference from the literary gods, but rather because something somewhere isn’t quite right, the narrative has gone awry or because something just doesn’t work. When the words dry up for no apparent reason and everything comes to a grinding halt, go back and look at it again. Retrace your steps, find out where you’ve gone wrong, look for the bits that don’t fit. There are all manner of things to think about, these are just a few…

Planning

Whilst the debate between ‘Plotters’ and ‘Pantsters’ will rage until the end of time, it’s fair to say that if you don’t know what, ultimately, you are trying to say or where the narrative is going, you’re going to hit dead ends far more frequently than if you have a clearly defined objective or resolution.  You don’t have to have all the details worked out, but you do have to know what the point of it all will be.

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This is me having a think about stuff. Or I might have wind, difficult to tell.

You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About

They say to write what you know and there are very good reasons for this. Writing from your own experience will always be more authentic than relying on imagination alone. But we don’t always want to restrict ourselves in this way, so research becomes very important. Read, watch, listen, visit, converse –  as much as possible make it your personal experience. You can’t write what you don’t know.

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Research is the writer’s friend.

It Doesn’t Work

Not every idea is destined to become a fully-blown, finished work. It might have sounded brilliant in your head when you thought about it on the bus, it could even have held great promise when jotted down in your notebook. But when it comes to properly bashing it out on the page, it just doesn’t gel. Maybe only bits of it are wrong, perhaps the perspective is wrong, or to could just be that it’s a non-starter all round. Don’t be afraid to abandon these lost causes in favour of more fruitful pursuits.

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Consign bad ideas to the fiery pits of hell! Or a wood burner. Whatever’s easier.

It’s You

Not you personally, you are just lovely. But if you’re tired, distracted or simply not in the right frame of mind, it stands to reason that writing will be a struggle. Professional writers have found ways to minimise these effects and have to be able to overcome them in order to produce work to order, often to tight deadlines. That’s what makes them professionals. But even the most dedicated and hard-working professional will sometimes have to admit defeat and either have a break, sleep on it or take a step back.

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It’s not you, it’s me. (But actually it is you.)

It’s An Excuse

No one ever said this writing lark would be easy. Good writing takes practice, patience and lots of bloody work. There are no shortcuts – writing is time-consuming and other aspects of your life will have to be sacrificed. This isn’t for everybody, for a myriad of reasons. But if you really, honestly, want to be a writer, these reasons can only ever be excuses. This might be tough to hear, but if writing is what you really want to do then it will have to become a priority (at least, a lot of the time) and little hiccups like ‘writer’s block’ will have to be wrestled down and overcome very quickly if you want to be taken seriously.

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Writing is hard. Rolling around on the grass is easy.

Getting Over It

There are lots of oft-repeated hints and tips for tackling those times when pen and paper just won’t get it together; oft-repeated because they are good advice. Going for a walk is my favourite. It gets the blood pumping and a change of scenery can jolt a tired brain back into action. Walking is brilliant for thinking. If I’m struggling with a scene I take myself for a good stomp and let myself think of all the wildest and most outrageous things to write – I mean, really let the imagination go. These things will never make it onto the page but it’s better than thinking about nothing and, eventually, the crazy ideas settle down into something much more sensible and useful.

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A nice walk is a good idea.

I am a big fan of tea, although lots of writers prefer coffee. Some even swear by alcohol, but I can’t say I recommend it. Writing is my job and I don’t drink when I’m working. Often I don’t drink the evening before, either – certainly not to excess. You have to treat it like any other job and give it the respect it deserves. Food, too, is very important. The brain needs glucose and all sorts of things to work effectively. Genius is never achieved on an empty stomach.

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A cup of tea is a good idea.

What it all boils down to, is that writing takes time, effort and just a smidgeon of talent. Don’t romanticise it or swath it in esoteric nonsense. Put the kettle on, your bum on your seat and just get on with it.