The Writing Bit
Ok, so everyone’s blogging about NaNoWriMo this week, and I’m not going to try and be different because frankly, that would be weird. If you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo, let me be the first to welcome you to our planet. NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, and it involves pledging to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days, the idea being that at the end of the 30 days, you have a rough draft or the bare bones of a novel. If you haven’t signed up yet, here’s the link http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/dashboardIt doesn’t cost anything, it’s great fun and it fosters a wonderful sense of camaraderie among the participants.
With only a few days to go, I’m frantically trying to prepare. Unlike many other seriously impressive NaNo-ers, I have singularly failed to write an outline for my novel, or even to come up with a title. I’m not sure where the story will start, and I only have a rough idea how it will end. I do know the characters though, because they’ve been milling around in the foyer of my brain for several months. I also know one or two of the themes, and I have at least three dramatic events lined up. That’s it, though. What I’m not sure about is, whether A is still pregnant or she’s already had the baby; whether B is still alive; whether A & B are still in contact with C; whether C has ever forgiven B and whether any of them really understand the impact on them all of what happened to D all those years ago…
So basically, I haven’t a clue. But when I start writing my 1700 or so words a day, I now something will come out of it. I hope it’ll be at the bare bones of my next novel, but even if it doesn’t turn out to be a workable draft, at the very least I’ll have something to work on. It may well be crap, but crap but be rewritten and rethought and reshaped, whereas a blank page is just a blank page.
And in order to prepare for this short bout of insanity, I’m doing some practical preparation by cooking great vats of vegetable chilli, curries and cassoulets to put in the freezer; I’m doing a mega shop to so that I won’t have to faff around going to the supermarket too often; I’m cleaning the house (a bit – don’t want to take this thing too far) and I’m attempting to get all my lesson planning done in advance. I’m having some physio to try and sort out my RSI (not a great way to start NaNoWriMo!) And I also intend to tidy my desk and study before Tuesday, though realistically, that may not actually happen.
Finally, I intend to spend a few hours immersing myself in what I do know about the novel by going through my most recent notebooks (the ones in which I’ve jotted down my thoughts about this novel) with a highlighter pen so I can mark anything I can use. Then, in the last hours before it all kicks off, I will be having a jolly good think about where to start. I’ve done it before, so I can do it again – and so can you! See you in the NaNozone!
The Reading Bit
Blackmoor by Edward Hogan is set against the backdrop of a close-knit community forced to abandon the Derbyshire mining village in which their parents and grandparents grew up. The main characters are the Cartwright family, George, his albino wife Beth, and their son Vincent. In the first chapter, we learn that Beth Cartwright jumped to her death in Blackmoor when Vincent was a baby. It’s clear when we meet Vincent as a young teenager that he’s unaware of the circumstances of his mother’s death, largely because George seems unable to even speak of his late wife, and is barely able to speak to his son. As the story flips back and forth between Vincent’s toddlerhood and teenage years, the sad truth of his mother’s life and death in Blackmoor is gradually revealed.
There’s a lot to like about this novel: the prose is simple but elegant, the switches from past to present and from one viewpoint to another are smoothly executed, and there’s a wonderful sense of place. I felt the blurb on the back cover was slightly misleading (though that’s not the author’s fault). The blurb mentions ‘a series of bizarre happenings’ in the village’ and tells us that a decade later, Vincent ‘stumbles towards the buried secrets of his mother’s life and death in the abandoned village.’ I expected the story to centre more around Beth, whose neighbours believe she is ‘an ill omen’, and her connection with the ‘bizarre happenings’, but instead I felt slightly distanced from Beth, and indeed from her husband George, although I think we are meant to feel distanced from him, perhaps so that we can better understand how Vincent feels shut out by his father. Vincent is a well-drawn and convincing character, and I enjoyed his sections the most. I did enjoy this novel, but I didn’t engage as closely and consistently with some of the characters as I’d hoped to, and the plot never quite gripped me in the way that I thought it would. Having said that, I’m glad I read it and I would certainly read more by Edward Hogan.
The Food Bit
Ratatouille crumble – this is a versatile meal that can be easily adapted to suit vegans and non-vegans, kids and adults. (Basically, just use margarine and real cheese if you don’t want the vegan version, and if you’re making it for kids, just cut the vegetables into much smaller pieces). First, make the posh ratatouille: you need an aubergine, 2 courgette, one each red, green and yellow pepper, one red onion, two cloves garlic and one and a half tins chopped tomatoes. Slice the garlic and set aside. Cut all veg into largish chunks, toss in olive oil, grind some sea salt and black pepper over the top and roast in a hot oven for about 20 mins, then add the sliced garlic and roast for another 10 minutes. When cooked, add the chopped tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
To make the topping: put about 50g vegan sunflower spread and about 50g flour into a blender, whizz for a few seconds at a time until it resembles breadcrumbs. Set aside. Tear up a slice of bread and put into blender with some parsley if you have any, a handful of nuts (anything will do – I used pinenuts last night) and some grated vegan cheese. Add some salt and pepper, then whizz until the bread becomes crumbs and mix with the flour and fat. Spread the crumble topping over the ratatouille and cook in a medium oven for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned. Serve with mixed leaves if you’re feeling sophisticated, or baked beans if you want comfort food. This is enough for a family of four (or three big eaters). I virtually guaranteethis will be a hit – let me know if you try it!