Wednesday – anyone for tea?

It’s afternoon tea week!! On Sunday in inadvertent anticipation, I shared my treacle scones recipe, then on Monday I had a look at the afternoon tea menu from the Ritz in London… just a little beyond my pocket! Yesterday I discovered the wonderfully named shooting star open sandwich – doesn’t the name just  make you want to wolf it down? So today, I’m thinking about cake… you have to have cake with a proper afternoon tea.

On Sunday, and again at the time I didn’t realise it was going to be ATW (afternoon tea week) and I made a delicious cake by one of my favourite cooks, Maryam, who shares some yumptious Persian recipes and is going to publish a book of them next year (I’m sure she is excited, so am I!) It caught my eye not only because the picture looked so enticing, but also it sounded interesting, olive oil, squash, pistachios? Sounds good to me. So I made it – I’ve had trouble with cakes using oil before, but not this one!! So delicious!! Don’t just take my word for it, here’s a link to the recipe, go ahead, make it! The recipe works and it’s yummy:

http://www.thepersianfusion.com/spiced-squash-cake-with-pistachios-a-healthier-option/

So for my afternoon tea I would definitely have this… and what else, you have to have at least two types of cake!

Going back to Wednesday, named after Woden the Norse god, it’s not necessarily a great day to be born, Wednesday’s child is full of woe… and the Irish and Scottish name for the day refers to fasting… not a cake day then… I’m struggling to find a cake associated with Wednesday or with Woden, but a further link is the planet mercury – so… according to Vedic astrology mung beans are the thing for Wednesday… but no, not for cakes! However, on another site I find that mercury in astrological medicine from the sixteenth century, is associated with carrots and nuts!! What does this mean? it means carrot cake! My favourite!!

Here is a version with pineapple as well, and desiccated coconut. it is so moist and delicious!

Carrot, pineapple and coconut cake

  • 9 oz plain flour
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 7 oz brown sugar
  • 5½ fl oz oil (following my recent success with Maryam’s cake I now use olive oil)
  • 2 medium carrots finely grated, or processed (but not to a mush – the bits have to be carroty still)
  • 8½ oz crushed pineapple, undrained
  • 2 oz desiccated coconut
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (as I don’t like cinnamon I would use mixed spice or allspice)
  • cream cheese frosting (3 oz cream cheese, 2 oz butter, 11 oz icing sugar – I like a lemon flavour but you can add vanilla if you prefer)
  • nuts of your choice to decorate I like walnuts, pecan or pistachio but have what you like
  1. prepare a 9×9 cake tin (greased and lined)
  2. mix dry ingredients
  3. add all the other ingredients and mix well, really well
  4. bake at 350° F, 180° C, gas mark 4 for about 35 mins (this is what the recipe says, in my oven it takes  another 15-20 mins) check and take out if done, or leave in for a few more minutes
  5. when cool, decorate with the frosting and nuts

 

Links to my afternoon tea stories:

https://loiselden.com/2017/08/13/treacle-scones/

https://loiselden.com/2017/08/14/afternoon-tea-week/

https://loiselden.com/2017/08/15/afternoon-tea-week-its-tuesday/

… and a link to my e-books and my recently published paperback, Radwinter:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

 

Tracking

 

I’ve been writing about writing over the last couple of weeks – yes, I know I’ve been writing about writing ever since I first write this blog, but I’ve been thinking about planning and target setting. Some writers – maybe many writers, plan their story in the most minute detail, writing biographies and back stories for their characters as well as family  histories and descriptions (even details which don’t appear in the actual finished work) Some writers have time-lines, and plot lines, and wall maps which look like a map of London underground, and do huge amounts of research about every aspect of the history and geography of the locations… Sometimes it takes a year or so before they are even ready to write!

I confess, I don’t plan… I have ideas… I have thoughts… I may even have some half-started pieces, or left over pieces from other stories. I do end up with all the other things, biographies, back-stories, timelines – except mainly they are in my head. In Radwinter, because unexpectedly it became a series, I do have actual written down family trees, but that’s mainly because they are genealogical mysteries!

Target setting… I generally have a vague idea these days about when a story might be finished, and from then a similarly vague idea of when it might be published, but with one exception, I don’t set myself a target to complete certain parts, or write a certain amount. The one exception is the National Novel Writing Month, an annual on-line challenge to write 50,00 words of a novel in one month. I have done it for the past four years, and completed it, but I have to admit last year was a struggle… but I did finish!

In the past, except for NaNoWriMo, I haven’t set myself a set number of words to write in a day, week, month etc. It hasn’t seemed necessary. However, just at the moment I have so many writing projects, that I confess, I am losing momentum with my latest novel, another Radwinter story, probably to be called ‘Saltpans’.

Then, two things happened… one of my favourite writers who I follow on Twitter, posts a daily word count. I suspect there are several reasons, none of which are to be boastful or brag; I guess it’s a way of motivating himself to write, knowing he’s going to be sharing the results, good or bad, and also to give himself a sense of achievement, and also to set himself a target… yes, target setting.

When I first started teaching, learning to be a teacher, I had to write lesson plans which might be why I so hate planning now. Aims, objectives, method (or some other word) what actually happened (can’t remember the word we used then) future development (or something like that. Our lesson plans were really simple, and as an aid to teaching for a learner, it was quite useful (I never thought I would ever say that!!) When I was a proper teacher, I still planned, of course I did, but my written notes were just jottings of what I was going to do. I knew what my aim and my objective was, it was obvious, that was why I was teaching it! All was well in the world of teaching (sort of) for many,many years, until suddenly I was told to start planning my lessons ‘properly’ again. I have to say I rebelled big time – I became a very naughty teacher (as opposed to a naughty student)

… but this is all off the point – except that detailed planning really puts me off and shuts down inspiration and spontaneity – and actually has the negative effect of making me feel anxious and irritated!

The second thing that happened was that I was cruising round the NaNoWriMo site as I often do, seeing what’s new:

http://nanowrimo.org

… and I came across a ‘tracker’ device. It is not tied to the November challenge, or any of the other activities (writing camps for example) it is just a thing which allows you to set a target of however many words in however many days/week/months, you set the final date.Well, I thought to myself, well this is light – why don’t I have a go? So I set myself a two month target to try to write eight hundred, 800, words a day.

I mentioned last Tuesday that I was going to try and have a set word target, and that was before I discovered the NaNo goal tracker… so last Tuesday I started… and I am pleased to say it’s worked really well! I’m not sure I will do it for everything I write but the beauty of it is it’s just anonymous words not attached to any complete thing – so I could do a track for two weeks to finish off a particular part of something for example. The word count is averaged out – so if I don’t manage one day, if I’ve banked enough words from another day, I am still on target!

It’s like going to a fitness camp where you build up your writing muscles and stamina! So in seven days I wrote 6,350 words, which works out at just over 900 a day!!! Wow! I am so impressed with myself – and so pleased with getting back into the rhythm of writing!

By the way… it would be interesting to see how many words I write here every day!!

Here is a link to my e-books and my recently published paperback, Radwinter:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

… and if you want to follow me on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/LOCOIMLOCO

Don’t confuse your reader!

As you can imagine, as well as doing a lot of writing (I’ve actually set myself a 800 word a day target for the next six weeks – not counting what I write here!) I do a lot of reading, and I do a lot reading about writing. It was a mixture of these things which, on the suggestion of my fellow blogger from my other blog, the Moving Dragon, that I had a look at a site which runs a ninety day challenge – to write eighty-five thousand words (yes 85,000)

The site which is called 85k90.com, has lots of interesting and helpful articles and I came across one which really rang a bell with my writing teaching – from when I was a teacher to now when I lead several writing groups. It’s all about not confusing your readers – and in actual fact they are the most simple and obvious points – simple and obvious but very easy to forget!

Here are the five by Wendy Janes:

  1. Ensure names and descriptions of characters are consistent
  2. Differentiate your characters
  3. Handle time carefully
  4. Yes, write beautiful prose, but don’t show off your vocabulary
  5. Steer clear of using drama for the sake of drama

Simple aren’t they? Because I’ve been writing just about all my life, from almost as soon as I could hold a pencil, I’ve learned these lessons by making mistakes on all these tips. Now I really try to make sure I don’t create muddle with names – however, in my genealogical mysteries, because my main character is dealing with family history sometimes there is a repeat of names – in my fiction as in real life family trees. I do that deliberately and carefully – and sometimes there is a muddle – but that is part of the story and I very clearly (I hope) make sure the reader knows it’s an intended muddle! I also write things down in old diaries to keep track of the dates of when things happen in my stories – I want events to be sequential and to be possible!

I guess my ultimate challenge in trying not to confuse the reader with characters was my latest Thomas Radwinter mystery, ‘Earthquake‘, where there were thirteen Chinese girls at a little boarding school in the 1930’s, one of them was murdered and the other twelve were all suspects! Twelve teenage girls!! I had to work really hard to make sure my readers didn’t get in a muddle (I got a bit in a muddle at times myself, I have to say!

When I read point number four, I almost blushed… with a little embarrassment. Last year I published my e-book ‘Lucky Portbraddon‘; it was something I had written quite a while ago but I wanted to get it off my mental writing shelf and out into the world. I set to editing it, having not looked at it for about seven years… oh dear… When I wrote it I had been trying to write a literary book… some of what I had written was actually very good, but it just felt unnatural and not my style, and well… pretentious to be honest! I went through with a mighty editing scythe and whipped out all the pompous, ‘aren’t I clever, aren’t I a wonderful writer‘ bits. I slimmed it down by more than a third cutting out ‘the beautiful prose’ which was just ‘showing off’ my vocabulary. It was a lesson learned, I can tell you!

Here is a link to the article which is very appropriately entitled, ‘Avoid Confusing Your Readers’!

https://85k90.com/five-simple-editing-tips/

… and here is a link to the challenge site:

https://85k90.com/

…and here is a link to my slimmed down ‘Lucky Portbraddon’:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/LUCKY-PORTBRADDON-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B01LWTVURP/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1502443608&sr=8-3&keywords=lois+elsden

… and my twelve suspect 1930’s murder mystery:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1502444271&sr=8-2&keywords=lois+elsden

… and here is a link to our other Moving Dragon blog:

https://somersetwriters.wordpress.com

Salt

Salt, or sodium chloride is a mineral which we need to survive, and for most people in the modern western world our diet has more than enough – in fact sometimes too much salt! It’s not just that we add it to food we cook and food we eat, it is present in a lot of food which we buy, sometimes in surprising amounts in surprising food. We might expect it in savoury foods, but it’s also in a lot of sweet foods, and also in products we might not consider as food – toothpaste, medicines and pain killers.

But where does salt come from? Salt mines and the sea… I have been researching salt production from sea water because it features in my next novel, possibly called ‘Saltpans’ – which gives a big idea! From Roman times, if not even earlier, people obtained salt from the sea; in hot countries sea water was held in vast shallow lagoons which would evaporate leaving crystals of salt – it has been done for millennia and it is still done today. However, in our cooler climes, it was necessary to evaporate the water from the sea with human intervention. Sea water was contained in bucket pots, and some evaporation would occur, but then the salty liquid was pumped – sometimes using windmills, into salt pans, vast five meter square iron containers, the saltpans, which were heated, sometimes by coal, sometimes by wood, sometimes by charcoal to evaporate the remaining liquid. This as you can imagine put the pans under some stress as the salt was corrosive.

So salt is used in and on food, as a flavouring and as a preservative, but it has many other uses:

  • tanning
  • medicine
  • chemical production
  • the chlor-alkali industry
  • the soda industry
  • gas and oil exploration and drilling
  • textiles and dying
  • processing metals
  • paper manufacture
  • white rubber manufacture
  • soil additive
  • de-icer for roads
  • salting food
  • in the food industry in many, many ways
  • fire fighting
  • household cleaner
  • windows and prisms
  • … and no doubt much, much more!

It is an amazing product, and it’s no wonder the Romans used it in part payment of their soldiers. I will be sharing more on salt, as I learn more – and I hope to give you peeps into my new book, and what my character Thomas Radwinter discovers about salt production in his little town.

Here is a link to my other books featuring Thomas:

 

 

 

So many words a day

One of my favourite writers posts a daily word count on Twitter… I wonder if he has a target or  if he is just keeping track… Maybe I should ask him.

I don’t keep track of how many words I write, I just write! if I did keep track, would I also count the words I write here, or only the words I write for whatever story I am working on? At present I am writing the next Thomas Radwinter story, provisionally called ‘Saltpans’ and I don’t have a finish date in mind either. I think it should be finished in the first draft by halfway through September – I had hoped for the end of august, but no, other things have interfered. When there is no-one else involved like an editor or agent or publisher, there is only me to keep cracking the whip. Maybe best-selling writers have people to clean their houses, do the washing and ironing, take care of the garden, go shopping… well, I just have me and my husband. I’m not complaining, I’m fine with it, but that’s the way it is!

Going back to word count; the only time I do keep track of my words is November, the National Novel Writing Month, a thirty-day challenge to write a new novel. Does it help me, is it something I should adopt? Well it is actually quite stressful, especially if unavoidable things happen, like visitors, or days out or weekends away, but I do manage to maintain that 1,700 or so words a day for those thirty days… Well, I have for the last four years, but could I maintain it for more than thirty days… I am sure I could not. So would I be able to sustain a lower target, say a thousand words a day? Maybe – but how would I take account of the work I do re-writing, researching, writing background or support material which won’t go into the actual story?

Maybe instead of setting a target I should just keep track of my story word count – just so I know what progress I’m making… Maybe I will do that. Maybe I’ll start that today and report back next week, next Monday – no next Tuesday afternoon!

In the meantime, here are links to the books I started for the national Novel Writing Month, and finished and published:

2013 – Radwinter – published 2014:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B00IFG1SNO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502118569&sr=8-1&keywords=LOIS+ELSDEN

2014 – Raddy and Syl – published 2015:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADDY-SYL-RADWINTER-Book-3-ebook/dp/B00WAN0YD8/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1502118569&sr=8-12&keywords=LOIS+ELSDEN

2015 – Earthquake – published 2017:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1502118569&sr=8-2&keywords=LOIS+ELSDEN

2016 – And the River – to be published (2018/19)

 

My name is Shsh Shshsher…

With all the excitement of the launch of my first paperback, which is also the first story of my Radwinter series, I have been a little neglectful of the most recent e-book which I published at the beginning of April this year. That book was the latest in the series, and is called ‘Earthquake‘. My main character Thomas Radwinter conducts several investigations during the course of the novel, one of which is for a new client… in this extract, the new client rings him up:

Even so, mornings are hectic, and the priority is to get Kylie to work and Kenneil to school and then the little ones and I can sort out my work. So it was today, a proper paid work day today, and the twins were at the nursery, Cassie was with her cousins, John’s children, Julia and Janek, and I settled down to make the most of my day and earn some money.
I have to be very strict with myself, which is much more difficult than you might think, because particularly when I’m doing someone’s family tree I get terribly side-tracked by interesting names and strange occupations. I have such a busy life, housework, cooking, washing, shopping, John’s allotment, looking after our garden, taking Cassie and Kenneil swimming, seeing my brothers and their families…
So I was concentrating completely on the ins and outs of some legal papers for a client and didn’t register my phone was ringing. I answered it rather more loudly than I meant to and there was silence then the sound of laboured breathing…
Good grief, don’t say I’ve got a heavy-breather… Hello? I said rather firmly and sternly ready to finish the call and block the number.
“Good morning… is that Mr. Radwinter….” And the voice, man or woman I couldn’t tell, faded away, then started again. “My name is Shsh Shshsher…”
“I’m sorry, you are?”
“Shsh Shshsher… A friend at the golf club suggested you might be able to help me…”
When I was working as a proper solicitor in a practice in Strand, I had a dear old gentleman who always asked for me to assist in his matters and business, usually changing his will which was a bit of a hobby of his. When our firm amalgamated with another and moved their head office to Castair, I was effectively given the sack; however my kindly old gentleman insisted I continue to handle his affairs and more than that, recommended me to a lot of his friends at the golf club. The golf club gang, as I call them, are my best clients, and are nearly all nice people and also quite wealthy.
As well as the usual conveyancing, enduring powers of attorney, wills and even a couple of divorces, they have asked me to help them on several intriguing ‘investigations’ as I mentioned above, the missing woman, the Moroccan and the Tibetan Lama.
“I will try my best Mr. Shshsher…” I couldn’t ask him again for his name, having tried to work it out three times. “Perhaps we could arrange a time where we could meet, or maybe I could call on you… what sort of business do you wish to conduct?”
There was another yawning pause before Mr. Shshsher replied that he would have to discuss that with me…  He wasn’t sure I could help, he wasn’t sure anyone could help, but his friends had recommended me highly…
He gave me his address, a place I didn’t know over on the other side of Strand, and we agreed I should call the next day at eleven.

If you want to know what the mysterious assignment is, and whether Thomas manages to undertake it successfully, here is a link to ‘Earthquake’:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1501356444&sr=8-2&keywords=lois+elsden

and in case you haven’t yet got a copy of my paperback, Radwinter, here is a link for you:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-x/dp/1521415196/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1501356444&sr=8-1&keywords=lois+elsden

The Ramseys were all sailors, mariners, fishermen…

In my next Thomas Radwinter book, which maybe called Saltpans, Thomas begins to investigate his wife’s family history… here is a sneak preview…

Kylie’s family, the Ramseys were all sailors, mariners, fishermen… occasionally one was a master mariner, or joined the navy and moved away, some sons went off to work in the brick factories,   the daughters were in service or worked in shops or milliners, their work may have been ordinary but they always worked, census after census that I went through there they were, grafting… Kylie has it in her blood because she never stops working either! I went through the local work house records and didn’t find a single Ramsey; when I was researching the Radwinters they had impoverished lives from time to time and had to apply for poor relief, or actually ended up in the work house… grim times…
Patrick Ramsey married Marie Lesesne Finch in 1930,… and I drew a blank. Plenty of Finches, loads of them but I couldn’t find a Marie Finch who married Patrick Ramsey… This happens; you have to get used to the apparently most simple search being confounded. Patrick Ramsey married Marie Finch in 1930, that I do know here it is, and she died in 1995, aged 90, here is her death certificate, and it says she was born in Yarmouth – not Yarmouth on the isle of Wight which we visited a couple of years ago, but Great Yarmouth in Norfolk on the East coast.  However, I’m blowed if I can find her birth… I have a little ponder, and then look her up on the 1911 census; she’s not there either unless her birth date is wrong.
There are ten Marie Finches, one is only a year old, so I guess our Marie could have been born in 1910 not 1905, but why would there be a mistake like that… Hmmm… Well her unusual middle name Lesesne makes me think that it might have been her mother’s maiden name so I look up a Miss Lesesne (or maybe Mademoiselle Lesesne) marrying a Mr. Finch…
…and here she is Marie Lesesne married Anatole Finch. Here he is Anatole Finch… what a name… surely another French name?  Anatole Finch was Marie’s husband not her father, her first husband, and he died in  1929… Poor Marie… I’ll explore Anatole some other time, because he isn’t actually related to us, but I’ll go back and look at Marie Lesesne and find her family; that should be easy, she was born in Yarmouth and I should be able to find her now I know her birth name wasn’t Finch, that was her first married name…
Except she still doesn’t appear in the births… well maybe she was called something else, when she was born, Mary or May or Margaret not Marie, and I do find a couple of children, Marguerite and Madeleine, in the births, but they don’t appear in the 1911 census… although Marri Lesesne does! Good grief! Why didn’t I just check her in the census straight away! And there she is in Norfolk, born in great Yarmouth she would be in Norfolk, aged six, but wait a bit, she’s not with her family… what? I can’t make this out.
She’s on her own in 1911, she’s only six and she seems to be in some sort of institution! I’ve found Marie, among a load of other people, mainly adults, although there are a few children, but what is amazing, they are nearly all French!
Here it says that Marie is French and she was born in Menton, not Great Yarmouth! However that’s near where she was living in 1911, living in Norfolk! I look up Menton which it turns out is on the Mediterranean, right next to Italy and not far from Monaco.
I have a quick look on Wikipedia and skip through the history of the little town, nick-named the Pearl of France. Apparently its name was first noted in 1262 and then was ruled by the princes of Monaco, and how wonderful! – It ceded from Monaco in revolt against a lemon tax! A tax on lemons, good grief! And one little town breaks away from its rulers! A lemon tax! I tell Kylie, and she pokes me in the ribs and says, honestly, Thomas!

© Lois Elsden 2017

All the details here are a total fiction, I have made every one of them up; if by some coincidence these names and dates seem to relate to real people, please tell me – it’s an absolute accident and I will change it right away!

If you haven’t yet caught up with my Radwinter genealogical mysteries, here’s a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-5-Book-Series/dp/B072HTG366/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1499777022&sr=8-9&keywords=lois+elsden