THE WRITING LIFE – authors in lockdown

I’m shocked to see how long it’s been since my last post! What happens to the time? Anyway, the idea for this post came from something Northumberland libraries are doing to help promote reading and keep the connection with readers during lockdown. They asked authors what we’re reading and how we’re coping.  I’ve used my response as the basis for this post. 

 

Just because they’re pretty…

LET’S START WITH MY FAVORITE SUBJECT – BOOKS!

Some of my friends are struggling to read at the moment but I’m finding it easier to read than to write. It’s also the best possible activity to take my mind off what’s going on outside the front door. Since lockdown started, I’ve read six novels  and I’m halfway through another. I usually read roughly a book a week, so this is very slightly more than usual for me.

MY Lockdown reading

The Authenticity Project, by Clare Pooley. This has a clever premise (strangers getting to know each other through a notebook in which they’re encouraged to write their own truths). A light, easy read, and very charming.

My One True North, by Milly Johnson. I don’t read a lot of romance, but I fell in love with Milly’s writing a few years ago. Her books just get better and better, and this was an absolute delight, beautifully written and thoroughly uplifting – perfect lockdown reading. I loved it so much I felt genuinely sad when I finished it.

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens. This was our bookclub choice. We usually meet in pubs, but now it’s Skype with wine and crisps. Five of us loved it, the other two liked it, but it was a winner overall.

Heat stroke, by Hazel  Barkworth. This one’s out at the end of May. A heady, claustrophobic (in a good way) novel about the tensions between a mother and her teenage daughter when the daughters friend goes missing.

The Man on the Street, by Trevor Wood. I’m not a huge crime fan, but I really enjoyed this one. It had great character depth, and I loved the main character – an ex-military policeman who finds himself homeless and unwittingly witnesses a crime.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid.  This month’s book club read – I’d been meaning to read this for ages, and after I bought a new copy, I discovered I already had one on my shelves! This went down well – two of us liked it, the other five loved it.

The Covenant, by Thorne Moore.  I’m halfway through this historical drama, and I’m loving it so far. It’s a prequel to one of the author’s earlier novels, and it’s out this summer.. 

So that’s my lockdown reading so far. Next on my list is The Cazelet Chronicles, by Elizabeth Jane Howard. I’ve been meaning to read these for ages, too – heard so many wonderful things about this author.  Hilary Mantel wrote an excellent piece about her recently in the Guardian. You can read it here: Elizabeth Jane Howard

How am I coping in general?

Well, it’s horrible this, isn’t it? I think we’re all a bit jittery. Like many others, I’m missing my friends and my family. Part of my writing life involves meeting other authors in coffee shops, either for writing sessions or just to chat about our writing projects. Although I quite like my own company, I also love being with others, so social distancing is hard. 

For the first few weeks, I was listening obsessively to news bulletins and press briefings, but I’ve slowed down on that now, and I’m careful what I read on social media. The outpourings of political rage, the horror stories and the tragic personal stories of loss and grief are quite a strain on my mental health, and there are days when I simply don’t feel strong enough. I’m allowing myself to admit that now.

In many ways I’m lucky – my kids are grown-up,  so no homeschooling or stir-crazy teens to deal with. My husband and I are used to working at home, and we quite like each other. We have a lab/collie cross called Norman, who keeps us company and joins us on our daily exercise.

Norman among the daffs

 

Norman nestling in the wild garlic

Writing

Workwise, it’s hard to concentrate. I’m in the process of working on an outline for my fifth novel, but one minute, I’m worried that it seems disrespectful to be making up stories while so many people are suffering, then the next minute, I’m thinking, we need stories now more than ever! Then there’s the financial aspect – we’re all suffering a massive drop in print sales at the moment, although hopefully, our e-book sales will do slightly better. Many of us supplement our income by running workshops or doing events, but of course, all of these have been cancelled.  I’m still mentoring, but it’s online or phone tutorials instead of the lovely face-to-face meetings. When I can’t concentrate on work at all, I bake, which is fine, but then I eat the stuff I baked, which is not.  And don’t even get me started on wine o’clock…

So, that’s how this author is coping. I’m a bit fed up, but I’m thankful to not be working on the front line, and I am profoundly grateful to those who are. 

How are you coping? Are you reading more or less than usual? If you’re an author,  how is this affecting your work?

*EDITED 2nd May  It seems the 99p deal has ended – sorry, peeps. I never know when these deals are going to start, or when they’re going to end. Ah well. It’s 3.99 now, so still half the price of a physical book (but obviously not as good as 99p!)

Let’s all try to find something to smile about,  and remember, there are always stories. Let’s take one day at a time, blow a big fat raspberry at Covid19, and settle down with a good book..On which topic, if I may be so bold, how about The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood?

Read some of the reviews here

Buy the e-book here

For more about me and my books, please visit  my website

Do we have a right to a happy ending?

I finished reading a wonderful novel recently. I’m not going to name it because this blog post will be a spoiler in itself. The novel gripped me from the start. The two viewpoint characters were convincing and engaging, and although neither were perfect, I soon began to find one of them more sympathetic than the other. Both voices were strong and the writing was vivid and compelling. In fact, it was one of those books that creeps into your consciousness even when you’re doing other things. I’d find myself looking forward to the moment I could pick the book up again, thinking about the characters and wanting to get back to them to see how they were getting on.
As the novel progressed, the tension increased and the fortunes of the characters swung from ‘okay’ to ‘bad’ to ‘awful’ and back again several times with only the very occasional move towards ‘good’. I turned the pages eagerly, waiting for the heroine to finally achieve her goal (my God, she deserved it by now) and for the other character to get her richly deserved comeuppance.
A few pages before the end, it looked like a terrible catastrophe was about to befall the heroine  and I held my breath. Just in the nick of time, phew! She got out of it. Surely all would be well now? But before very long, this poor character was yet again faced with a horrible, miserable end. I turned the page to see how her last-minute reprieve might come about, only to find the author’s acknowledgements.
I was upset. It shouldn’t have been this way. The ‘goodie’ should have had a happy ending and the ‘baddie’ should have come to grief, surely
Well, that’s what I wanted anyway. A friend said recently that she always felt cheated If she didn’t get a happy ending; I’m not sure I felt cheated, but I did feel a little unsatisfied, and this led me to thinking about whether we as readers have the right to demand a happy ending.  It also led to a slightly bigger question: is an author’s first duty to the novel’s readers or to its characters?
As I said at the start, the novel in question was beautifully written, the story was well-told and the characters felt real. And if I’m honest, the author was, I felt, very truthful in her ending. Realistically, what happened in the story is probably what would have happened if those people and their situation had been real.
Was she ever tempted to give us readers the happy ending (or at least, one bearing a glimmer of hope) so many of us crave? In terms of the integrity of her story, I think she took the more courageous route and told us the truth, but despite the fact that I absolutely loved this novel, I still can’t help feeling just slightly disappointed that things didn’t turn out as I’d have liked them to.

What do you think? Should there always be a happy ending? Is an ending with the merest suggestion of hope ok? Or should the author stay true to her story, even if it means readers might not like it?

Should you read fiction while you’re writing?

    We all know we mustn’t drink and drive, but is reading fiction while writing as risky for the well-being of our novels as drinking while driving is for the well-being of our fellow man?
    Some writers think so.  Some writers claim that they never pick up a novel while they’re writing for fear of being influenced by whoever it is they’re reading. What do they mean by ‘being influenced’? Does it mean there is a danger that we might start writing like those authors? If so, quick! Bring me a pile of books by authors I admire and respect and would give my eye teeth to emulate. I’ll give anything a go. Would that it were that easy!
    Or do they mean that reading novels might cause the words of other authors to somehow seep through into their own writing and sully the masterpiece they’re currently creating? Again, I’ll risk it.
    I have mixed feelings about reading while writing. On the one hand, reading something within my genre can give me a kick-start when I’m floundering. When it’s a writer I admire, the rhythm of the prose and cadence of the dialogue can really inspire me and make me itch to get back to my own work.
    But on the other hand, becoming engaged with a wonderfully written novel can be counter-productive in that I often find myself reading when really I should be writing. Also, I can end up losing myself in the novel I’m reading to the extent that I find I’m spending my spare time thinking about those characters and that author’s fictional world rather than thinking about my characters and my own fictional world.
    If I’m honest, I know that I’m better able to throw myself into my own novel when I’m not reading somebody else’s. The absolute best thing that can happen to me is when I’m trying to read a novel but find I can’t concentrate because my own characters are dominating my thoughts.
    Having said all that, how can we not read? The idea of living life without a novel ‘on the go’ is completely alien to me. So somehow, I’m just going to have to find the right balance.
    What about you? Do you find reading fiction while you’re writing is a help or a hindrance? 
    For more about me and my work, visit www.susanelliotwright.co.uk

    And to access a list of recipes and book reviews on this blog, go to: recipes and book reviews and scroll down the page (past the writing bits)

Twitter, how I’ve missed you!

So, I did it ! A month without Twitter and I survived – just!  As many of my Twitter and blog followers will know, in July I made the momentous decision to stay off of Twitter for a month.  I’d been spending so much time interacting with other writers, reading interesting blog posts etc that I was struggling to find enough time to keep up with my own writing and reading.   
I recently met the lovely @isabelashdown at a book launch (Rook, by Jane Rusbridge – review coming soon) and Isabel told me that she always takes the whole of August away from Twitter. The sky didn’t fall in, she assured me, and what’s more, she got lots of reading and writing done.
I took the plunge and said TTFN to all my Twitter pals on July 31st. It was only when I woke up the following morning that I realised how ridiculously  hooked I’d become; I woke mentally composing a tweet about how odd it was going to be to not be able to share my thoughts on being off the Twitter scene for a while! Composing a tweet about it – you see where I was going wrong!
So, I reminded myself that it was possible to go about one’s daily business and not share every thought and observation with the Twitter community, and I started to use the extra time to get on with my second novel, and to catch up with my reading. I was lucky in that we had a week’s holiday in August, too, so that was even more lovely reading time.
I am happy to report that I have made some progress on my novel. Contrary to my own advice in Writing a First Draft  I didn’t actually get to the end of the first draft before starting to rewrite, because I decided that as I’d made so many changes, I couldn’t realistically write the final sections until I’d strengthened some of the earlier stuff. I have also done a lot of reading – see mini-blog post to come later.
In other news, halfway through August I managed to break my ankle while running up some stairs. I know, I know – the teachers were right when they told us to walk-don’t-run.  It was pretty hard to stay off Twitter at that point, I can tell you! I wanted to get straight on there and tell everyone how much it hurt, how I’d got a flashy purple cast, how frustrating it was not to be able to carry a cup of tea from the worktop to the kitchen table, and most of all, how sitting about with your feet up sounds quite nice, but is spoiled by the fact that it’s a killer for your back. And you get a numb bum, too. 
I’m still on crutches (which aggravates the RSI in my arms)but I’m getting about a little more easily now. I still have to keep my foot elevated much of the time, but at least I can sit at my desk for a few hours each day. I miss walking the dog, though, and dread to think what the lack of exercise will do to my figure!
Anyway, back to the main topic.  I’m really glad I took a month away from Twitter; I’ve definitely got more done, and it’s really made me think about  using social media a bit more sensibly in future. I’ve decided that from now on, I’m going to take a week off each month, just to catch up with work and keep things in perspective. I’m wondering about a daily time limit, too. Or is that too hard to measure?
Having said all that, I’m absolutely delighted to be back, because I’ve really missed my daily chats with this wonderfully supportive and endlessly interesting and entertaining community.  
Could you survive a month away from Twitter? Have you ever tried restricting your use of social media? How did it go? Did you just have some time off or have you made permanent changes? 
 For more about me and my work, visit www.susanelliotwright.co.uk

And to access a list of recipes and book reviews on this blog, go torecipes and book reviews and scroll down the page (past the writing bits)


When’s the right time to share your novel?

The Writing Bit
So, you’ve finished the first draft of your novel; you have a story, a world, and a beginning, middle, and – oh joy of joys – end. You’re probably bursting to show it to someone. You’ve written a book and you know that at least some of it is really very good indeed, so why not?

Although it’s natural to want to show your nearest and dearest how clever you are, there are a number of reasons why it’s best to wait. 

First, I should perhaps make the distinction between showing your work to writing friends for feedback and/or constructive criticism, and showing it to your partner/mum for a well-deserved pat on the back.

Showing it to writing friends:
Writing friends are useful for spotting sections that don’t work so well, repetitions, overwriting, lack of pace, inconsistency of tense, etcetera, etcetera. You may have shared individual chapters or scenes already, and if you haven’t, now is perhaps a good time to identify the parts of your novel that you’re not so happy with and get some feedback from people who know what they’re talking about.

Having said that, I’d still caution against showing the whole of your first draft to too many people at this early stage. You’ll need to ‘save’ readers for future drafts. We all get to the end of a first draft with the hope that it’ll just need a bit of tweaking and it’ll be ready to go, but in reality, it’s likely to go through significant redrafting that may include structural changes, adding and deleting scenes, even getting rid of entire characters. The problem is that once someone’s read your novel a couple of times, they too become too close to it to view it objectively; they may also be thrown by the changes you’ve made, because they remember the first version.

If you have writing friends who are kind enough to commit to reading your entire draft, use them wisely! Don’t give it to anyone until you’ve re-read it after leaving it for at least six weeks to ‘ripen’.  Then, when there’s no more you can do, give it to a writing friend whose judgement you trust – but only one at a time. There’s no point in giving it to four people (assuming you’re lucky enough to have four willing readers) only to find that the first one to finish spots something big that you know you need to change. If you use one reader at a time, you’ll have fresh eyes on every draft – much more useful than a jaded reader who’s almost as close to it as you are.

Showing it to your loved ones and non-writing friends:
This group of people tends to fall into two categories – those who’ll tell you what you’ve written is sheer genius, and those who’ll try to give you what you’ve asked for – honest feedback. The first group is of limited critical value for obvious reasons.

The second group can be useful, but I’d say don’t use them until you’re at or near publishable standard. The reason is that people who’ve never written a novel have no idea just how difficult it is and how much revision and redrafting is perfectly normal. When you tell a non-writing friend that you’ve written a novel, they may be happy to read it and give you feedback, but remember, the only terms of reference they have are published novels, and that’s the standard they’ll be judging you against.

Most people accept that writing a novel is difficult, but they often think that’s because of the sheer volume of words. When I started my first novel I had this idea that I’d start at page one, write through to the end, then do a bit of editing – even a lot of editing – and then it would be finished. I didn’t understand that this is something that only happens rarely for some lucky writers, and it’s the exception rather than the rule.

So your non-writing readers  may unwittingly knock your confidence because their expectations are just too high. The best advice is, I think, to wait. Use readers sparingly, one at a time, draft by draft. I wish I’d had this advice before ‘using up’ all my readers in drafts one and two!

The Reading Bit
No book review this week, but I thought I’d just mention how useful I’ve found the ‘reading journal’ a friend bought me for Christmas last year. I don’t know about you, but I can read a book, love it, but totally forget the story within a few weeks, so when I recommend it to friends and they ask what it’s about, I look blank. The journal allows me to keep a record of what I’ve read, who wrote it and what I thought of it – anything from a few details to a full review. So at a glance, I can tell you everything I’ve read this year with details of plot, characters and how the story’s told. There are also pages to record books I’ve leant to others, and a space to list books I want to read next. If no-one buys you one of these for Christmas, treat yourself!t
The Food Bit
This is the easiest, bestest Chocolate Pot recipe ever – and its vegan!
Simply melt 100g dark chocolate in the microwave or in a bowl over a pan of hot water (some dark chocolate contains milk, so check the ingredients first.) Then stir in 150ml Alpro soya cream and a tablespoon of brandy. When thoroughly mixed, pour into shot glasses and put in fridge to set. Serve garnished with a couple of physalis (those little orange fruits with a papery husk) just pull back the husk and set the fruit on top of the chocolate pots. Yum yum, piggy’s bum.  It’s very rich, so small servings are good.

For more about me and my work, check out my website: http://www.susanelliotwright.co.uk

Creating believable characters

The Writing Bit

Have you ever been handed a sheet of paper with a list of questions, like: what is the colour of your character’s eyes /hair; where was s/he born; what did his/her parents do for a living; what sort of clothes does s/he wear? Who is his/ her best friend?  And so on.

I know some people find these ‘Character Generators’ genuinely helpful in creating characters, but I personally have a major problem with them, and I think they can sometimes set you off on the wrong track.

I believe that characters in fiction should develop organically; that fictional characters, like real people, are formed partly by where they come from and what their parents did, but also by the things that happen to them and the people they come into contact with. I tend to think about new characters almost as new babies; now if you’re a parent, you’ll know that a newborn baby, despite being the most precious, wonderful thing that ever happened to you, doesn’t appear to have much of a character when it’s first born. But gradually, over the weeks and months, as your child comes into contact with various people, goes to new places and has new experiences, he or she begins to develop a very definite and unique personality and character. If you decide before you start writing how your characters dress, who their friends are, what they eat and so forth, it’s like trying to impose a ready-made character on your newborn baby. Parents help to gently shape their child’s character over many years; they don’t dictate it at the moment (or even before!) of birth. 

So before you start writing, by all means decide that you want to write about a forty-something doctor living in a caravan in Aberdeen, or a twenty-something mother at Greenham Common in the eighties. But let the characters themselves tell you the finer details by putting them in situations and seeing how they react. If you send your character on a date or for a job interview, let us see her choosing what outfit she’ll wear; if a character has just had some news he needs to share with a friend, let us see who he calls and what he says.

Character should be slowly revealed;  don’t tell us she’s shy and lacks confidence; show  her trying to think up excuses to avoid a party, or rejecting a red dress  in favour of something less noticeable. Try to show, through thoughts, action and dialogue, not only how your character acts, but how s/he reacts. Obviously, you need to orchestrate your characters to a certain extent – you don’t want to give them a completely free hand, in the same way you don’t let your kids do exactly as they please. But if you put your characters in a situation and let them react, hopefully they’ll surprise you now and again and do things you didn’t expect – and that is the real joy of fiction!

 

The Reading Bit
I was immediately engaged by Isabel Ashdown’s Glasshopper. The narrative alternates between  thirteen-year-old Jake and his alcoholic mother, Mary.  When we first meet Mary, she’s recently separated from Jake’s father and she’s in a bad way. In the absence of a competent parent (Mary spends much of her time in bed, drunk) Jake does his best to hold things together, clearing up his mum’s sick, doing the household chores and looking after his younger brother, Andy.  Jake is a thoroughly likeable character but he’s not whiter-than-white, so he’s convincing. True, he steals from the kindly newsagent a couple of times , and sometimes he thumps his brother unnecessarily. But we forgive him, because he’s hard-working and intelligent and kind and vulnerable. 

The book opens in 1985 and goes back in time to Mary’s childhood. As we follow her life through her teens, twenties and thirties, we see the choices she’s made and the consequences of those choices, and we begin to understand what has led her to the depths she’s reached when we first meet her.  Both Jake’s and Mary’s voices are strong and convincing, and as the family’s history unfolds and the narratives move closer together, there are moments of both joy and heartbreak as a number of secrets are revealed.  I enjoyed the period detail, and I loved the minor characters. I felt Jake’s voice was slightly stronger than Mary’s, but maybe that actually emphasises the fact that Mary is in some ways a slightly diminished  character. I found her story convincing and tragic, and I felt hugely sympathetic to her; if anything, I wanted more of Mary. I found this an immensely engaging and satisfying read.

The Food Bit

Butternut squash and walnut risotto
Even though they can be a faff to make, I absolutely love a good risotto, so when my husband became vegan, I set about trying to find a decent vegan alternative. Now, I have to be honest, real butter and parmesan definitely give this a more gorgeous flavour and texture than the vegan alternative, but this version is really most acceptable, and still counts as comfort food (especially when served with a large glass of red!)

Take one small or half a large butternut squash, peel and dice into cubes a bit bigger than 1cm. Season, coat with olive oil then roast in the oven until soft and slightly caremelised. While the squash is cooking, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan, then add a finely chopped shallot (or half an onion). Fry for a couple of minutes. Make about 600ml of vegetable stock in a small saucepan and keep it on a low heat. Add 150g Arborio rice and a crushed clove of garlic to the onions. Stir so the rice is coated in oil. Pour in a slug of white wine (if you’re vegan, check that the wine is suitable) and when that has evaporated, add a ladleful of hot stock. Stir. When this has been absorbed, add another ladleful. Repeat until most of the stock has been absorbed and the rice is cooked, but still ‘al dente’. Stir the risotto every couple of minutes. When the risotto is cooked, add a heaped teaspoon of vegan sunflower spread, a good shake of vegan ‘parmesan’ – it’s called Parmezano and you find it in the ‘free from’ section of the supermarket. Taste to get the amount right. For non-vegans, add butter and grated parmesan at this stage instead. Add the roasted squash , a handful of chopped walnuts and a good grind of coarse black pepper. Serve in the centre of the plate, topped with rocket and drizzled with olive oil.

No man (or woman) is an island

The Writing Bit
This week, I taught my first creative writing class of the new term.  Twelve lovely writers turned up, some I’ve taught before, some were new faces, but all were  fizzing with enthusiasm. They are writers at different levels of experience, from those just starting to experiment with their creative talents to those who’ve been writing for years and/or are working on novels.
What often strikes me with a newly-formed group is how, when reading back an exercise, the writer will often preface the reading with ‘it’s not very good’, or ‘I don’t think I’ve done it right’. They then usually go on to read something with a particularly vivid image, or a beautifully lyrical sentence, or a striking and memorable character, and they’re often genuinely surprised at the positive response they get from the  rest of the class.
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Gradually, over the weeks and months, confidence starts to improve and the apologies stop. Ok, it may be partly to do with the fact that the writer starts to notice the improvements in his or her own work, but it may have more to do with the positive reinforcement provided by the other writers. This is why I believe that one of the most important aspects of the writer’s life is to have contact with people who are doing the same thing you’re doing, whether it’s face-to-face, or by telephone, email or social networking.
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When my new group took a break for tea, there was an immediate buzz of conversation as existing members caught up with what they’d been writing (or not writing!) over the summer and new members joined in with their own experiences and quickly became part of the group. 
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Of course, it’s always going to happen that lasting friendships develop when a group of like-minded people  get together, but I’d love to know whether creative writing classes have a higher friendship rate than, say, art classes, or French cookery. Because it seems to me that writers face a unique set of challenges that only other writers can truly understand, and for that reason, we have the inclination and ability to ‘bond’  quite easily. Once we’ve bonded, we support one another to aid survival in the world of non-writers, where  people tend not to have their heads full of fictional  characters constantly  demanding  attention.
As well as simply ‘understanding’, writing chums are invaluable for helping you to solve plot and character problems. I have one friend in particular who is great at this. When either of us hits a tricky phase in our work, we meet up or chat on the phone. Sometimes, one of us makes a helpful suggestion about the other’s work, but often, it’s the very act of discussion that stimulates ideas and raises possible solutions.  ‘Talking it out’ seems to be the answer.
What do you think? Do you find contact with writing friends essential to your writing life? Or do you prefer to solve problems alone?
By the way, I met my friend on a writing course ten years ago!

 
The Reading Bit
This week, I am sad to report that I have given up on a book. I hate to do that, but let’s face it, life’s too short to stick with a novel that’s not gripping you when there are so many others to be read. I’ll always give a book fifty pages, and if I’m still unsure, I’ll go to a hundred. But by p50 of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I’d had enough. The story is told in two voices, one of which I quite liked, but not enough to really hold my attention, and one of which I found annoyingly pretentious (I know she was supposed to pretentious, but even so).  After making the decision to leave it, I read some Amazon reviews; some readers loved it some hated it, and quite a few said they didn’t like it at first but it was worth persevering with and they warmed to it over time. Maybe I should have stuck with it, but to be honest, I felt quite relieved to be able to start a new book. What do you think? If a book  hasn’t drawn you in after 50 pages, do you persevere?
 
The Food Bit
This cassoulet is great in chilly weather, but I’m happy to report that it goes equally well when eaten outside on a balmy Indian-Summer evening. I’m a cassoulet convert – I used to think beans were boring (well, on their own, they are) but this seems to hit the spot. I make enough for six portions and freeze what I don’t use. Heat some olive oil in a large pan, then add a large onion, sliced; one each of red, green and yellow peppers, diced; one sliced courgette and a few quartered mushrooms. Fry for a few minutes, then add 3-4 fat cloves of chopped, crushed garlic. Then tip in: two tins chopped tomatoes and one tin each (drained) of cannelini, haricot, borlotti and black eye beans (you can use other types of beans if you prefer). Add about half a pint of strong vegetable stock, a good slosh of red wine, a rounded teaspoon of dried mixed herbs (or a good handful of fresh herbs) and a dollop of tomato puree. Let this simmer away for about 30-40 minutes, then add seasoning to taste. Serve with a green vegetable, crusty bread and a full-bodied red wine. Note: oddly, this tastes better if it’s just hot rather than piping hot. Suitable for vegans, though check the wine.

For more about me and my work, check out my website: http://www.susanelliotwright.co.uk