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Sunday, 28 December 2014

Last Post - 2014

So, since my last post, we've celebrated the birth of Mithras, Odin brought gifts, we've celebrated Yuletide and carried out belated Saturnalia traditions... yes, Christmas has happened!

It snowed, not actually on Christmas Day, but Boxing Day, it was close enough and very pretty on our tree...

It is not yet Hogmanay, but we're off out for our second annual Hogmanay meal at the pub with our friends for a five course feast (beloved is on call and can't drink this year, so he is driving which means that I can! Mwahaha. - Sorry, anyway).

Yes, 2015 beckons, and unlike last year when I did not set any resolutions because I never stick to them anyway, I am setting well, maybe not resolutions, but targets?

Firstly, I shall read 52 books.
Secondly, I shall stitch at least once per week. This shall include my Queen of Hearts project which was shelved for over a year, and although I won't get that finished, I have four other projects that I want to finish before next Christmas.
Thirdly, I shall sew at least one project each month. Starting with small projects (like bags), and working up to large projects like a silk dress for girl child (I have a lovely piece of silk).
Fourth, I shall do a free online course. I'd quite like to do a maths course that the OU offer to people thinking about an OU course, I'll see how the free one goes before deciding if I want to do any paid-for ones.
Fifth, I shall do more excercise (walking, pilates, Nordic Walking) and eat less, or at least more healthily. Obviously, weight loss would be the ultimate goal. I am aiming for at least one dress size smaller. (Hey, little targets).
Finally, I am absolutely going to save money and spend less in 2015... Beloved will be pleased!

Anyway, looking forward to a creative and productive 2015 when I will do my best to blog weekly!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Winter Solstice

Last weekend, we went to see Andre Rieu perform live, with his Johann Sebastian Bach orchestra. It was lovely, although we got absolutely drenched on the way into the venue, by a sudden hailstorm! Fun! The concert made up for it though, and the events organiser at the venue was fantastic. She dried our coats, she even offered LittleBit a new pair of her own tights, after LittleBit's got soaked through, and gave her a t-shirt to go over her dress and keep her warm as her coat, shrug, dress and tights, were all absolutely wringing wet. LittleBit is now a Status Quo fan (because that's who was on the t-shirt that came down to her knees) because it kept her warm!

Midweek, was trophy night at football, and LittleBit is rather pleased with her trophy and certificate.

Then this Friday, I took Nanna to a live concert at the BBC Studios in Manchester for Radio 3. It was very good. We weren't allowed to photograph or record the concert itself, but I got a few photos in and around Media City, including one inside the studio before the orchestra arrived.






Today, on the Winter Solstice, I took LittleBit and two of her friends to the ballet (live streamed to the cinema) and saw the Bolshoi performing the Nutcracker. They have changed the story a bit, for example, the central character was called Marie, rather than Clara, and there was no Sugar Plum Fairy... it was very good though, the orchestra especially, were fabulous, and the girls seemed to enjoy it.

We're now just days away from Christmas. The tree is decorated, the presents wrapped, and the food ordered (to be collected on Tuesday, I should imagine the traffic will be bedlam, but it can't be helped).

We're having a party on Christmas Eve, which we hope will be enjoyed by all, and a quiet Christmas Day with relatives visiting on Boxing Day!

I've hardly had time to read or stitch, although I've managed some limited cooking (no baking since the shortbread though) and I have hardly written a word (one poem, this blog post, an imperial tonne of Christmas Cards, and a few letters, but no more work on any of my numerous wips), so I am rather looking forward to a few consecutive days off, when I hope to be able to read, stitch, write, bake, and curl up and catch up on television and radio shows that have been recorded! Although I'm not sure if I will ever have time to listen to the R4 10 hour spectacular that is War and Peace on New Years day, and I am not convinced that the tivo box would take the hit of it, so I shall have to decide later whether or not to listen to it on the i-player!

My festive highlights will include the radio dramatisation of Good Omens (starting tomorrow at 11pm) and the last episode of Cabin Pressure (a two parter starting on Christmas Eve), which along with Christmas Specials of Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Strictly Come Dancing, will hopefully keep us entertained after the board games have gone away, and the Queen's speech is a distant memory.

I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas, Nadolig Llawen, God Jul, Buon Natale, Joyeux Nöel, Frohe Weihnachten, Feliz Navidad and Nollaig Cridheil.

I know that the solstice was today, so a happy solstice and I think I've missed Hannukah/Channukah by a few days, but I hope that any of you who celebrated, enjoyed it enormously!

I shall endeavour to post once more before 2015, but just in case I don't, Happy Hogmanay, and I hope that the bank holiday lasts longer than the hangover!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Ebaying things

I occasionally sell things at car boot sales. In the summer, I can cope with the odd early morning on a Sunday to stand in the cold while strangers tell me my belongings are worthless, but the promise of enough cash to pay for the entry fee and Sunday dinner and taking home less than we took in the morning, is usually enough to keep us going, while we stomp our feet and breathe into cupped hands to stave off the cold. We take cup-a-soups, water and sandwiches, and usually it’s not so bad.

However, ladies clothes, in my experience at least, don’t fare too well at car boots, and it is December. I am not going to a car boot sale this side of the Easter weekend in 2015, thank you very much! So, I decided to list a few things on ebay, and then blog about it, like a writing exercise and cathartic rant, all rolled into one… there’s a picture of some shortbread and a link to the recipe if you want to skim to that and then move on, I’ll never know, fill your boots!

I do buy things from ebay fairly regularly, and it’s not my first time selling, but I dislike selling on ebay, and do it as rarely as possible.

So, I had already sorted through the clothes between those to be recycled (cut up, re-styled, or just hoiked) and those I thought I could sell for a few pounds. So I photographed the clothes. Nothing fancy, just on my phone while they were hanging (on a normal clothes hanger) over the living room door. Then I weighed them, and went onto the royal mail website to guess the postage. Checked the labels (where I hadn’t snipped them out) and bought some packaging materials. For most of the items, I’ve gone for “padded envelope” (£1.59 each from WH Smiths) and for the one item which is too big, I have had to buy brown paper, bubble wrap (just to protect it) and parcel tape (can’t buy just enough to wrap one parcel, had to spend £5.67 on that little lot, but hey, I’ve got it there in case I need it again!), armed with my notes, and the items in front of me, I logged onto ebay and started to list them.

First, it asks you what you want to sell, the listing title. It then guesses which category your item is in and it got it right every time for me, although you can change the category if you’re not happy with whatever it chose.
Then you say whether the item is new or used (all used) and depending on the category chosen, it has drop box of extra information, which you can ignore, but I answered as many as I could, before the description.

I noted any flaws, where the flash made the colour look slightly different and tried to give an accurate idea of fit and length for each item.

Then the postage charges, ebay guesses for you based on your category and description and matched what the Royal Mail website has guessed for each item, so I went with that, set them for 5 days each and on they went.

And then there was nothing to do but wait… only I didn’t, I checked each listing at least twice (as you do), they had no bids and no watchers (not massively surprising, but ebay does tell you). So, I went to make shortbread to go with the lemon possets that darling daughter had made earlier in the evening (and which were chilling in the fridge) – the recipe is here. Sadly, I was most of the way through making the shortbread when I realised I had run out of almond, so I used desiccated coconut instead. The coconut itself burned before the shortbread was cooked, but it tasted lovely! Although, I will get almonds in before I make it for Christmas eve. I also baked mine in a silicone chocolate mould that I have, shaped like roses, and I quite like the effect of that!


As I was going to bed, later on, the ebay app on my tablet made a rather loud noise like a cash register opening and when I checked, not only did every single item I had listed have at least 2 watchers, but one of them had a bid!

I was actually rather pleased, and strangely excited. I had spent £18.48 on packaging materials so far, it was going to cost another £3.20 just to send that one item out, and I would receive (after ebay fees and paypal fees) £4.40 for it, if no one else made a bid, so I was currently running a theoretical loss of £17.28, but still, it was a start, and I was happy.

Day 2:
Only checked ebay twice in the morning (luckily work kept me occupied), no obvious change, the number of watchers may have changed, but not into double figures! At lunchtime it stood at items listed: 8, No of bids: 1. But it was a workday, people are busy, can’t all be browsing ebay at lunchtime.

I managed to only check back once in the evening, and there had been no changes. I want to tell you that my willpower was strong. It wasn’t, I wasn’t feeling very well, and the medicine I took made me very sleepy.

Day 3:
Quick check before work, there had been another bid! On a different item, no less! And one of the items which had had no bids then, had 15 watchers!

So, potential profit and loss update on day three. So far money spent itself hasn’t changed, but I will have to spend more to post the second item out, and monies in will change. So;

Expenditure so far:     £18.48
Projected Postage:     £06.40
Total Expected Out:   £24.88

Expected receipts:      £08.80
Total Profit/Loss:        £16.08

The projected losses were lessening. I promised myself that I would not check in on ebay again until the following day, but then, a magazine that I had ordered arrived, and I had to bob on at lunchtime in order to leave feedback for the seller…
The only change was that an item which had previously had 2 watchers, now had 4… lowest number of watchers on a single item was now 3, with 15 still the highest and the items with the fewest and highest were different than they had been the day before!

Luckily, I had a series of meetings that afternoon, and the school Christmas Prize Bingo kept me occupied for most of the evening.

Day 4:
I was incredibly busy and only checked after I received an email telling me that I had received a new bid on a new item! Woo! Did not have time to check my sums, because it was about 1am and I was in a hotel room (above a Christmas Party), listening to the dying notes of the Pogues as the DJ wrapped it up, and I went to sleep, at very long last, as I had had a long day at work, including my works Christmas Lunch and then off out to see Andre Rieu in concert with my Nan, Mum and Daughter – it was a fantastic evening, but ebay was tragically (or gladly?) forgotten.

Day 5:
A full day of Christmas shopping, I did briefly check, only to discover that the auctions did not end until the following day (Sunday) so I ignored them, in favour of a birthday party,

It’s all over: Day 6:
I wrapped all of our Christmas Presents to other people (not LittleBit’s, or beloved’s though) wrote out most of the Christmas Cards, did the weekly shop, some housework and finally sat down and checked my emails fairly late on, and another item had sold!
One of the winners has not yet paid, and another had messaged me asking if I could please send the item first class as she’d like it by Wednesday? I confirmed that the cost was for first class, and I would send it the following day.

I wrapped the items which had been paid for, I printed off packing slips and I labelled them up ready to be taken to the post office by beloved the following day.

So; My overall expenditure (including predicted postage charges for all items won (not all items sold) was as follows;

Packaging Materials:              £18.48
Projected Postage:                 £17.25
                                                £35.73

Total Paid so far:                     £25.87
Plus due:                                 £05.90
                                                £31.77

Less paypal fees so far:          £01.48
Less expected paypal fees:    £00.40
Less expected ebay fees:       £02.86
                                                £04.74


All Incomings:                         £31.77
All Outgoings:                         £40.47
                                              -£8.70

So, overall, I haven’t sold everything, so some of my packaging costs were wasted, but I have relisted one item, which may not sell, but that can be added to my shiny new ebaying spreadsheet if it does sell.

I didn’t want to have to wait until items had sold to buy packaging materials as this would increase the length of time it takes to post things out, but I think next time, I may only buy a few packaging items (or just use existing supplies – as I now have some left over) until I know how many I need.

The things that haven’t sold, and haven’t been relisted are off to the clothes shop in town in the week, who recycle them and pay 60p per kilo… may have another sort out and see if I can bulk that bag up a bit with things I would never have ebayed anyway…


In the meantime, I’m off to list a few more things on ebay (magazines, and ornaments this time) to see if they are any more profitable… and to update my spreadsheet!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Inspiration

What do you find inspirational?

By it's very definition it should be anything which inspires you, but that could be anything. Last week, for example, I read this story, which inspired me to write an exciting Christmas adventure story for my daughter. we're going to read it on Christmas day and she's rather excited, I may share the short children's story at Christmas... we'll see if Itsy thinks it's any good first!

It did make me think though, other people may have found that an amusing, or even slightly silly, news story, so inspiration must be different for each of us. It would explain how geniuses (or should that be genii?) of old were able to imagine some of the fantastic things that we now take for granted! Who first made the letters of our modern alphabets? What made them shape the letters the way they are? What about the symbols they use to express pronunciation in dictionaries? Who thought those symbols up and assigned them a meaning? I can see how watching a bird in flight would push someone to try and find a way to power human flight, but what provided the leap to the internal combustion engine?

And then I think further, does it depend on what the affected person is inspired to do, whether the thing that inspires them is actually considered inspirational?


This morning's Pause for Thought on the radio mentioned a booklet (Love Life, Live Advent) which contains little ideas to inspire people, each day of advent, into thinking about what Christmas really means, obviously in a church context, and tries to suggest a few things that people can do to make life a little better for other people. This is clearly an inspirational leaflet, it's existence, it's whole purpose is to inspire good deeds and kind (and hopefully happy) thoughts in people. Having taken the liberty of purchasing an electronic copy of the booklet, I have decided that it is probably aimed, primarily, at people with children, but the ideas can equally apply to adults, and obviously, it is heavily intent on inspiring prayer and religious meditation, but there is no reason why the vast majority of the daily ideas couldn't be applied to an atheist equally as easily. I don't want to do spoilers, but some of the ideas are as simple as helping someone who you know is very busy this month? Or donating food to a food bank? Or, my personal favourite, spend time looking closely and thinking about the form and shape of something as simple as a pine cone. Almost like saying, you know what - modern life is hectic, especially in December, take a minute, take a time out, have a break and think about something that is just a thought. I like that. I found that inspirational.

So, apart from writing an exciting Christmas Adventure story, what have I been inspired to do? Well, I'm going to do some of the things suggested in the booklet, and I am going to try to remember this month, that it isn't all about the presents and the pre-apocalyptic Christmas Eve milk and bread buying scrum

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Advent

It can't be December already? Surely?

There were times when this year dragged, but, here we are, the advent house has been stocked and the first few windows have been opened, and the end of 2014 is nigh... they have even played Slade on Radio 2 today. And if Noddy Holder yells "It's Chriiissttmmmaaaassss!" at me, well, who am I to argue? So the trees are up and we have received our first card (and a handmade one at that)!
Little Bit's Advent House
Another NaNoWriMo has ended, and although I made 71k (my highest score yet), I still have not finished the actual story. I am going to write, at least once a week, throughout the whole of 2015 (not just November), and as well as working on my current story (I shan't call it a novel, until it truly is one), I am working on some short stories, so I'll have plenty of variety to keep me interested, and hopefully, I get to start typing "The End", because I definitely need the practice at that!

Life is starting to get back to normal after NaNo, and I've been reviewing my reading list. I only need another two books to clear off my bingo card, but I am terribly behind (with three weeks left) for the 52 book challenge, and the alphabet challenge has been failed for this year. I have, however, set my goals for 2015. Starting with the Alphabet Challenge (from scratch). I have decided to allow one book to count for only one category in each challenge, but it can count in multiple challenges... so, my 26 alphabet challenge books can count towards my 52 book challenge for 2015 too. I also want to include the 20 World Book Night books for 2015. Ideally, I want to read them before World Book Night (23rd April), but they can count (where applicable) to both the alphabet and 52 book challenges. I have a new reading bingo card, and I am challenging myself to read not the usual 12, but fifteen books from "The List" next year!
I am also setting my self stitching goals. I want to get back to working on my mammoth project, The Queen of Hearts, from Heaven and Earth Designs, which has been languishing for over a year since it went into storage before we moved house. I shall start again before the new year, but I aim to stitch, on just this one project, for at least one hour each week (exceptions will be while we are away on holibobs as I shan't be taking it away with us!)

Another goal for 2015 is to take at least one photograph each week on my camera (rather than my phone). No theme, or particular subject matter, but I want to improve, and have a nice collection of pictures by the end of the year. And I shall state now, so I can't back out... I don't want to cheat and just take arty photos of things around the house! The odd one of a particularly impressive home-grown bloom, or vegetable I may allow myself, and I will take photos of my stitching as I go along, but no "arty" shots of quill pens. Hopefully this will be the year I get an adaptor to connect my camera to my telescope and there may be some funky space shots, but don't hold your breath!

There's the usual weight loss and exercise goals, I have some exciting things planned for book club (if I can organise them). I will try harder to learn enough Norwegian to hold a proper conversation, rather than asking directions to Parliament Street, and I'd like to be able to order more food than a sandwich and perhaps order something other than beer or wine to drink (not that that's a problem, but it might be nice to be able to have a glass of water!). Also, now that we've moved house and everything is out of storage, I want to unpack the remaining boxes (yes, still) in my office. I want to sew again (I think a new baguette bag for me, and I have some gorgeous silk I picked up to make a skirt for Little Bit) and I want to play music. Oh, I'm dreadful at it, but I do enjoy it, and the more I practice, apparently the better I will get! And so, I shall practice, at least once a week... or at least, that is the plan.

I hope to blog again before the end of December, and next year I shall aim for a more regular weekly blog, but just in case, I shall take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hogmanay and all the best for 2015 x

Thursday, 20 November 2014

NaNoWriMo - Day 20 Update

Once more, I have taken up the challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in the thirty days of the month of November. This morning see's the very start of Day 20, and I can confirm that I have written 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel. In fact, I have written 50,398 words of a Murder Mystery novel, however, it is not yet finished... but neither is November! So I shall continue writing and I hope to be able to finish the story by midnight on the 30th...

I managed to finish reading The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood too (I know, in November as well! I'm impressed!) I have got to be honest, I didn't really enjoy it. I know, I know, that it's a classic, and the concepts behind the dystopian Gilead is terrifying! However, I struggled to get into the book at the start, I didn't get a fully rounded sense of the characters, which may have been a purposeful thing to increase the sense of disconnection that the narrator feels, but I didn't like it. I shan't do spoilers, but I hated the ending!

I do have many other books to read though. This week I shall start reading The Defiant Lady Pencavel. I hope to be able to finish it by the end of the week, however, it's Thursday already and my reading week changes on a Sunday and it is still NaNovember! So I won't make any promises.

I have started a new cross stitch though. It's been a while as my cross stitch stuff ended up going into storage fairly early on, because it takes up quite a bit of space... the project I am working on is by a designer called Maria Diaz, who has converted quite a few classical art works into cross stitch patterns. They look fabulous, and the one I am working on is based on Albrecht Dürer's "Betende Hände" (Praying Hands) which are based on a preparatory drawing for the Heller Altarpiece. My Cross Stitch pattern book sadly informs me that the Altarpiece itself was destroyed by fire on 1729. It also goes on to say that the original drawing was created in Vienna in 1508. Wikipedia shows the original being on blue paper which the artist made himself, but the cross stitch version is sepia toned, which, although I thought it looked pretty spiffing in the books, is actually (so far at least) taking an age to stitch because I'm stitching on a creamy/off white evenweave, with creamy off-white thread! I really, really, didn't think my fabric choice through here! However, I am confident that it will look so much better, when I finish it, than it would have done on white! I am hoping to be able to finish this in time for it to be a Christmas gift (the recipient is, to the best of my knowledge at least, not online, but I don't want anyone telling so I won't say who it's for!) This is what it looks like so far - I photocopied the page from the book with the pattern in it, so I can mark up where I am up to - that's not me scribbling over my book with a highlighter pen! Though, as you can see, there is still a way to go yet!

And Finally: My Municipal Liaison (it's a NaNo thing - but it loosely translates to awesome, lovely and supportive friend and NaNoWriMo expert!), gave me some advice. Make soup! Vegetable soup is best, and Butternut Squash is a trademark named diet brand "superfood" apparently, because it is very, very low in fat, but contains lots of vitamins and minerals, so it is good for you! The idea being that you make a huge vat of soup, and then freeze it and microwave it for a speedy meal while you are buys increasing your NaNoWriMo word count! So, I did!

The first thing that I did was to Google (other search engines are available) the easiest way to peel and chop up a butternut squash... which resulted in me finding this awesome video on You Tube! She never does appear to explain "How she knows" though... But I can guess!

With that in mind... here's what I did. I should caution you that I measured almost nothing, and I like my soup thick - no, really thick! So thick you can almost stand your spoon up in it! I want to eat it rather than drink it!

I started by preparing all of the ingredients... I failed to take a photograph of all of the ingredients prepared and ready before they went in, but my ingredients were as follows:

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large parsnip
  • 1 large carrot
  • 2 large leeks
  • a handful of celery sticks
  • 2 weedy looking sweet potatoes
  • 2 pints of stock
  • 400ml of coconut cream
  • A variety of herbs and garlic (or I could have used a bouquet garni)
  • A wodge of butter (that's a real measurement, I'll have you know)
  • seasoning to taste.
So once my veggies were all chopped up, I put the wodge of butter in the pan...
Then I added the chopped onions, leek, and celery and cooked until they became translucent (doesn't that sound nicer than limp?)


I then added my garlic and herbs, which included a bay leaf, thyme (because it always smells delish), sage, basil, oregano and coriander leaf. I used dried herbs, because I always have some in, and they do the job. Obviously if you have fresh herbs, use those, but I'm rubbish at keeping them alive and they cost more (and I never use them so close together that I get to use the whole packet of fresh, so dried works out better for me).
Then I threw in the carrot and the stock.
Followed by the parsnip, sweet potato and the squash;
I stirred it all up, and then put the lid on and let it go for a few hours before adding the coconut cream.
and then let it go for another half hour.

Now I need you to learn from my experience. Please take the soup off the heat and let it cool slightly before you try and blitz it!
I didn't, and it spits a bit - and it burns getting boiling hot soup up your arms... not badly, wiping it off was enough to stop it, but it was faintly stupid of me.

Anyway - the result, as you can see, was a lovely bowl of soup for lunch. As well as six plastic tubs of soup to go into the freezer for lunches on other days.


I would also add, that frozen soup takes longer to micro-nuke than I originally anticipated, and so I would recommend taking tomorrow's lunch out the night before, so it defrosts naturally in the fridge, and then you can either reheat it in a pan, or microwave it as you please!

But thanks to Linda for the idea, because it was a blooming good one! Bon Appetit!





Sunday, 9 November 2014

NaNovember...

Remember, remember, the fifth of November.
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason,
Should ever be forgot.

One of the highlights of the year, certainly in our family, is Bonfire Night. We're lucky to live in an area, in which our Local Authority puts on a large and rather impressive display on the gantry wall in between the canal and the river, so that it can be viewed from both towns. It's always on actually on Bonfire Night, and it's free. (Ok, so the council actually pay for it, and out of our council taxes, but on the night, there's no charge to go and view it, and besides, you knew what I meant!!)

Sadly, there is no longer a Bonfire (there used to be one at the Town Hall, and after that at Spike Island, but 'elf and safety reasons made it not be a thing any more.

Something that may surprise you, certainly given my usual blog posts, is that I didn't take my camera! 



Another thing about November, is Remembrance Sunday. This year it's actually on 9th as the eleventh itself is on Tuesday. But I will wear my poppy throughout the month, in remembrance of those who gave their today for our tomorrow.



Don't forget Children in Need (next Friday, 14th). It's a fantastic charity, and if you are able to make a donation to the cause, then please do.



Finally, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel during the thirty days of November.
So far, I have written 18,233 words, and am slightly ahead of target, so wish me luck as I tap away at my Alphasmart, watching the words grow.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Book Club Film Night

A few months ago, our book club read The Book Thief. It was my recommendation after I saw the film at the cinema. Last night, we all watched the film (on DVD).

I hope everyone else enjoyed it as much as I did, because, whilst there is obviously far more in the book, it is still a very, very good film. The things they have taken out of the story, the story survives without, it's still moving, heart-wrenching and lump-in-the-throat inducing. 

Watching it on DVD is still as good as watching it in the cinema, with the added bonus of being able to pause it to go to the loo, and alter the volume... oh, and we can ask questions part way through (I know that actress!!! Who is she?)

Nibbles were eaten, wine was consumed, talking about books happened (as did talking about other things).

If you haven't tried watching the film version of a group book at your book club, personally, I'd recommend it.

Anyway - not yet organised next month's book club, but I am hoping to have something a little bit special up my sleeve! I shall report back once I have managed to do a bit more organising!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Harrogate History Festival 2014

Unlike the Crime Writers Festival, I couldn't stay for the whole weekend this time. I left home disgustingly early, braved the M60 and M62 at morning rush hour, and made it to the Old Swan in time to get a front row seat to see the awesome Bernard Cornwell!

He is amazingly funny, and was interviewed by Radio 4s Mark Lawson, who was very, very good at asking open questions, and like Val McDermid at the Crime Writers Festival, really made the audience feel part of the conversation.
Bernard Cornwell and Mark Lawson
The signing queue for Bernard Cornwell was, perhaps unsurprisingly, immense, but I made it through, he was awfully nice, and I even got back into the ballroom for the Elizabeth Chadwick talk. Sadly, I was much nearer to the back, but she was being interviewed by Vanora Bennett, whose books I have read in the past. I have seen Elizabeth Chadwick before and she is fascinating to listen to. Although she's an author of fiction, she really, and I do mean, really, does her research! Another fabulous event, with a long signing queue after!

The only other event on the Friday I had tickets for, wasn't until 8.30pm, so I took myself off to the bar, where I met Rob Low (who writes some fantastic books about Vikings and Robert the Bruce). He was very kind and spoke with me about his newest project, which sounds interesting and very, very readable.

I met a few Facebook friends, whilst I was there, who I haven't met before, include a couple who were staying at the hotel on a railways tour! Bit of a coincidence, but it was lovely to meet them, and we had a lovely chat in the bar.

I was also lucky enough (whilst sat in the bar, author-spotting, let's be honest) to see some other authors that I really like! They were very friendly, kind enough to chat for a bit and clearly enjoying being there.

Eventually, just before 8.30, I joined the rather long queue to see Manda Scott interview Sandi Toksvig in a Desert Island Books talk. It was fantastic, I really wish I had written down all of the books that Sandi chose though, as I can only remember about half of them now, which is rather a shame, because apart from the Janet and John book, she made them all sound like must-read books! She was absolutely the funniest person I have ever been in an audience for, and when she was talking about the books that she had written, they all sound utterly brilliant... I managed to only buy 3 of her books whilst I was there, and believe that this was an achievement!

At the end of the evening, I chatted with the festival staff, some of whom I recognised from the Crime Writers Festival, and at least one of whom was there when I arrived just after 8am in the morning and was still there when I finally left at around 11pm! Those ladies worked so very hard all day, and there were still friendly and smiling after 15 hours!

My sat-nav had some kind of epic fit on the way home though - deciding, in it's infinite wisdom that rather than take me to the M62 (from where I could have turned it off and got home without assistance), it would take me across the pennines on the darkest, narrowest, hairiest roads imaginable, until I arrived at a roundabout opposite a large, lit-up saying with the name Dave Fishwick on it... (of 'Bank of Dave' fame), when I realised that I was in Burnley, a place I have never been before! I'm sure it's lovely when it's open, but at almost midnight, it's a bit dull.

I've digressed. Rotten roads aside, I made it home in around 2 hours (ish, plus a services stop) and I genuinely had the best time! I cannot wait to go again next year, this time for the full weekend! If you are able to get tickets and go next year, I would definitely recommend it!


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Unpacking

We're almost there. Almost. The boxes are no longer stacked three high and three deep in the living room. In fact, there are none left in the living room, only 3 still in the hall, with 2 in the bedroom and 12 in the office.

I know, I know, 12 sounds like a lot, but it isn't, not really. And besides which, most of the 12 is either ornaments or books, neither of which have anywhere to go just now because we have run out of bookshelf space at the moment.

I know, it sounds silly, but you see, we didn't just put our belongings in storage to move house, we put a lot of our things, especially books and ornaments, into storage in order to 'stage' our house while we tried to sell it. (This involved de-cluttering and neutralising our house, I will do a separate blog post about that though.) Alas, this fabulous concept was successful in so far as it got us a sale... sadly, we continued to buy things, mainly books, but some new ornaments (especially candle holders) too. It wasn't until we'd got most of the way through unpacking that we fully realised the downfall of this.

Luckily, we have managed to buy a few new bookcases. So far, one each in my office and beloved's man-cave, one in the dining room and one more to be collected on Saturday. I have been informed (by beloved) that there will be no more bookcases and he will be instigated a "one-in-one-out" policy going forwards, before we end up on one of those 'hoarders' programmes on telly.

I didn't like to tell him that I have at least 3 books (due to be released tomorrow) on pre-order, and as I am going to the HWA festival at Harrogate this weekend (only for one day, sadly, but next year...) that I intend to get these books signed and they will be "keepers" thereafter. Also, if the Crime Writers festival earlier in the year is to be a yardstick, even just for one day, the chances are, I will come home with more books than I take with me!

We'll see how I get on anyway. I am gutted that I can only go on Friday this year, I desperately wanted to see both Ben Kane and Giles Kristian (Sat and Sun), also Robert Low (Sun) who was so utterly lovely the first time I met him. However, I am just grateful that I am going at all, as I managed to do my back in (again) this week, and I wasn't sure that I'd be able to go at all. Luckily, my lovely Dr let me have a new prescription for painkillers (as I'd used up the last lot) and I have purchased a tens machine (I used to have a disposable one, which finally gave out on me and the pads are non-replaceable). I have also been really good about keeping moving, not sitting still and letting it seize up again. It's very tiring keeping walking round the house when you are struggling to stand upright, but as sitting down was causing immense pain, I managed, and I'm very glad I did as this is the quickest that my back has ever recovered (only one day off work ill - was 4 weeks the first time it happened).

Anyway, I'm off to round up the books I want to take to Harrogate on Friday, and to do the excersizes off the physiotherapist so that my back doesn't go again!!!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Pinata Cake

If you accidentally stumbled onto my last blog post, you may have noticed one or two comments about a cake.

Well, it's Tyglet's birthday next week and she wants a pinata/anti-gravity cake, so I practiced the pinata part of the cake a week early (I have since discovered that pinata cakes can be purchased, so that will be what she gets!).

Firstly, learning from my mistakes, I haven't finished unpacking all of my kitchen stuff, so I only had a single silicon baking dish - which was a square dish that was too wide and shallow really. If I ever make one again, I'd make it in a smaller, deeper cake dish.

As it was, I made a vanilla sponge and a chocolate sponge. I cut the chocolate sponge into two layers and then used a scone shaper to cut a circle out of the middle of the vanilla sponge.

I put a layer of the chocolate sponge on the bottom (with jam and butter cream) then the vanilla sponge, filled the hole with sweeties (m&ms and jelly tots), then jam and butter cream, then the other layer of chocolate sponge and then I covered the whole thing with caramel flavoured butter cream.

It wasn't the neatest thing that I have ever baked, but it tasted ok. The sugar came off some of the jelly tots, so I probably wouldn't use them again, and some of the m&ms were a bit soggy, so I'd probably use smarties in future. In fairness, I had intended too, but the coop had run out of smarties, so we bought m&ms instead... I know, complete shocker! I will let them off though, because they are usually pretty good, and it's not their fault that everyone else wanted smarties on the same day as I did... 

Anyway, here is the result. I wasn't massively happy with it, but everyone else was, and the cake (which smelled like it was overdone but was luckily caught in time) was really nice, moist and tasty on it's own.

Sadly, although the oven managed a bang-up job of the cake, the element in the oven went on Sunday whilst I was mid-way through making our first roast dinner in our new home! Not only did it make the oven decide to 'not get warm' anymore, but when it went, it took the rest of the electrics down with it! Having aimed originally for a one o'clock dinner, it was almost 4pm by the time we were able to eat, and none of it was actually roasted! Luckily, the hob still works, I'd done the lamb in the slow-cooker anyway, and we have a microwave with  a built in oven/grill!!

Not my finest hour, but we got food on the table eventually. We looked online for new built in electric ovens (very expensive) but will try replacing the element first. We've been told it's easy enough to do and pretty inexpensive! Wish us luck!

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Following Blog Post is Especially for the British Medieval History Group on Facebook...

... and carries directly on from a thread in the group.

Firstly, it was Donna Franklin Dennis who made the original chart of how many mentions each historical author was getting in the thread, then someone (I think it was Donna again) suggested that someone else should count all of the likes that each comment had... and I had some time to kill whilst waiting for a cake to bake this evening, so....

Secondly, I have counted every author named in a comment, so if one comment listed several, they're all listed, and they all get the same number of likes for that mentions (say a comment had 4 authors and 16 likes (one did) then all 4 authors got 16 likes for that mention). If a comment mentioned an author but said something along the lines of "ooh, I don't like him/her much", I didn't count it! If someone named a book, I googled it & with one single exception (The Mistletoe and the Roman), listed the author instead. (I couldn't find The Mistletoe and the Roman, but it was mentioned once and had one like, consider this a special mention).
**Edit: Thanks to Jel Cel, we think that the book meant was The Mistletoe and the Sword by Anya Seton, whose totals have been updated accordingly...** 

Finally, the thread is still live, comments are constantly being edited, liked and (I think) deleted) as my tally didn't match Donna's original. In my defence, it is getting rather late and I am trying to bake a practice pinata cake at the same time, so I may have just miscounted, but I'm not about to do a recount, it's taken 4 sides of A4 notepaper as it is... and I was writing pretty small.

Oh, and Nota Bene: I haven't heard of every author mentioned, spelling errors may be the original commentors, or they may be mine... apologies if anyone is offended, let me know and I will edit the spelling.

Ok - my list then; this is in order of the 'total number of recommendations', counting both number of comments which mention the author in a positive light, and the number of 'likes' (probably trademarked by Faceache by now) each comment mentioning said author had...


Author Number of times mentioned Number of Likes Total recommendations
Sharon Kay Penman 24 122 146
Elizabeth Chadwick 20 80 100
Bernard Cornwell (aka Suzannah Kells) 18 73 91
Anya Seton 13 56 69
Edith Pargeter/Ellis Peters 12 48 60
Dorothy Dunnett 10 38 48
Ken Follett 9 37 46
CJ Sansom 12 30 42
Alison Weir 7 30 37
Jean Plaidy (aka Victoria Holt) 7 29 36
Edward Rutherfurd 6 26 32
Margaret George 3 16 19
Hilary Mantel 3 14 17
Ariane Franklin 4 12 16
SJ Parris 4 11 15
Nigel Tranter 4 11 15
Candace Robb 4 10 14
Anne O'Brien 3 11 14
Josephine Tey 3 10 13
Jeanne Kalgridis 2 10 12
James Forester (aka Ian Mortimer) 3 8 11
Umberto Eco 3 7 10
Susanna Gregory 3 7 10
Thomas Costain 2 8 10
Mary Renault 2 8 10
Kate Sedley 2 8 10
Nancy Bilyeau 2 7 9
Maurice Duron 2 7 9
Anne Easter Smith 2 7 9
Dan Jones 2 7 9
Nora Lofts 2 7 9
George RR Martin 2 7 9
Marion Zimmer Bradley 2 7 9
Emma  Donoghue 1 8 9
Sarah Dunant 1 8 9
Conn Iggulden 1 8 9
Karleen Koen 1 8 9
Mary Stewart 1 8 9
Rory Clements 2 6 8
Robert Graves 2 6 8
JRR Tolkein 2 6 8
Philippa  Gregory 3 4 7
Manda (or MC) Scott 2 5 7
Timothy Baker 1 6 7
Antonia Fraser 1 6 7
Erik Linklater 1 6 7
Michael Shaara 1 6 7
Guy Gavriel Kay 2 4 6
Deborah Harkness 2 4 6
Georgette Heyer 2 4 6
Helen Hollick 2 4 6
Michael Jecks 2 4 6
Elizabeth Goudge 1 5 6
Roberta Gellis 2 3 5
James Wilde 2 3 5
Paul Doherty 1 4 5
Daphne Du Maurier 1 4 5
Ben  Kane 1 4 5
Giles Kristian 1 4 5
Robert Low 1 4 5
Imogen Robertson 1 4 5
Gaynor Arnold 2 2 4
Lindsay Davis 2 2 4
Jeri Westerson 2 2 4
Steve Berry 1 3 4
Patricia Bracewell 1 3 4
Andree Aelian Brooks 1 3 4
Michelle Cameron 1 3 4
Mitchell James Caplan 1 3 4
HA Culley 1 3 4
Barbara Erskine 1 3 4
Elisabeth Kostova 1 3 4
Stephen Lawhead 1 3 4
Sharan Newman 1 3 4
Terry Pratchett 1 3 4
Cecil Roth 1 3 4
Vanitha Sankara 1 3 4
Garrett Mattingley 2 1 3
Geoffrey Chaucer 1 2 3
Alexander Cordell 1 2 3
Arthur Frazier 1 2 3
CW Gortner 1 2 3
Susan Higginbotham 1 2 3
Susan Howatch 1 2 3
Charles Palliser 1 2 3
Steven  Saylors 1 2 3
Maeve Binchy 1 1 2
Emma  Blair 1 1 2
Christan Cameron 1 1 2
Susanna Clark 1 1 2
Cathryn Collier 1 1 2
Catherine Cookson 1 1 2
Margaret Doody 1 1 2
Margaret Frazser 1 1 2
Elizabeth Freemantle 1 1 2
Diana Gabaldon 1 1 2
Nicola Griffith 1 1 2
Jan Guillou 1 1 2
Cecelia Holland 1 1 2
Charles Kingsley 1 1 2
Barbara Kyle 1 1 2
Paula Lofting 1 1 2
Patricia McIntosh 1 1 2
Judith  Merkle Riley 1 1 2
James Michener 1 1 2
Richard K Morgan 1 1 2
Kate Morton 1 1 2
Patrick O'Brian 1 1 2
Zoe Oldenbourg 1 1 2
Iain Pears 1 1 2
Anne Perry 1 1 2
Evan Rhodes 1 1 2
Linda Root 1 1 2
Rosemary Rowe 1 1 2
Mary B Sherwood 1 1 2
Alfred P Smythe 1 1 2
Mel  Starr 1 1 2
Karla Tipton 1 1 2
Leon Uris 1 1 2
Brian Wainwright 1 1 2
William Watson 1 1 2
Lauren Willig 1 1 2
Robyn Young 1 1 2
JE Neale 1 0 1

On a personal note, I'm gutted that some of my favourites are so low down in the list, so don't let lack of recommendations put you off trying, it just means that other people haven't discovered them yet, but I think it's fairly obvious who the most popular are!

Just now, I can smell the tell tale whiff of over-done chocolate cake, and as there is nothing on earth as rank as dry chocolate sponge cake, I'm off to rescue it!