Here we are once more in November
Last year I resolved in October to push on and get some writing work finished. I began a Novel, with a rough outline in my head for two or three books in a series…Not the first time in my life I’ve had such notions, and on occasion I have pushed on beyond the two hundred page mark only to lose my focus, and in my younger days, go on a bender, and lose whatever it was I’d been up to. This time, I’ve got on with it, and have about two hundred and fifty pages first draft completed, with the exception of the final chapter, as I want to allow the second book in the series to develop for a while before finishing the first and building that bridge between the two…I’m aiming for sometime around March 2016 to launch it on Kindlebooks.
At the same time as I began my novel series, my wife and our mutual friend Chris, were chatting to me about doing some recipe books…or at least providing some local pubs with some recipes for some kind of vegetarian meals that anybody with the ability to use a knife and read English could follow.
For some background I perhaps should explain that I like to cook. When I say like to cook, I mean I’d prefer to make something nice to eat than open a packet of something and eat that…I’m not a trained chef or cook, but I’ve been eating a long time, and it’s amazing how much information you can gain about food by consuming it. I’ve also been vegetarian for nearly thirty years and get annoyed at being offered a farts-on-a-plate meal when I do go out to your run of the mill establishments for an easy night out. You know the sort…cauliflower cheese, mac and cheese, goats cheese tart (always shop bought), pasta with a hint of ‘ragu’ or some other jar of tomato based sauce with a vinegar preserve that’d make a wino squint. ‘Taint rocket science…and for crying out loud, we all eat multiple times every day! Surely the pub trade can figure some of the basics out…and especially if that’s your livelihood!
I’m not over fussy by a long stretch, and I live in an area of outstanding beauty (designated) called the Chiltern Hills, where there’s a permanent (seems like it to me) small country pub crisis. In this crisis, establishments that have been serving food and drinks back through the centuries are finding themselves and their business no longer viable, despite being surrounded by more money than ever in history.
The pub crisis, and the ever looming threat of closure seems to hang over almost every pub.
Partly, this may be due to changing habits, I mean the Drovers meandering through country lanes are long gone, and the labouring classes who once serviced the land and the pubs are no longer either.
Old photos seem to suggest that people previously spent most of their time out of the house and really only went indoors to eat and sleep. The houses we live in now are far more comfortable too, larger, and keep within them all we might need to sustain ourselves. It also may be due in part to unrealistic rents being demanded from Landlords and Landladies who attempt to run and make a living from these places. Those letting out the pubs don’t seem to have noticed, but people by and large can’t drive to the pub anymore, and the days of people staggering out en masse with bloated bellies and empty wallets, and faffing around at the wrong car before swapping with the fool messing with their own car, seem pretty much behind us. Even designated driver evenings are occasional events, and people being able to pick beers up in a supermarket for not much over a pound are reluctant to part with four pounds plus to sit on a hard chair for the evening, so even if they do make it out, they drink less, far less, than hitherto.
Also, the wine in pubs tends towards the more dreadful end of the scale, history having ingrained in the very fabric of the buildings a resistance to anything with a whiff of French about it.
I’ve digressed enough, and have ended up in pub-talk, about pubs, so enough about that.
Suffice to say, the girls…or women, now that they’re all grown up, have formidable stares and ways of fixing their clothing that seem oddly threatening, they, or more specifically, my wife leaned on me, and niggled at me to do this recipe book. Being mildly stubborn, I reluctantly began one. You know the type of thing…starters section, mains section, desserts, soups…there must be a million of the buggers already done and cluttering up the bookshops. They’ve become the chicken and egg question of television celebrity…the question could we have smashed the bloody egg before this thing began being the elephant in the room! Anyway, I started into it, thinking it would be a straight forward kindle book, with photos etc., and something I could do in between writing and researching my novel. After a week or so I began to notice I was avoiding the ‘recipe’ book and was thinking about other things…or anything else if I’m being honest. This is normal for me, as in day to day life, if I’ve scheduled myself to mow the lawn, when it comes to it, I’d prefer to wash the windows, or dig a great big hole with a spoon, and vice-versa on any permutation of those activities.
What I did notice though, and it worried me, was that my narrative voice hadn’t found its way onto the pages of the novel properly yet, and I was struggling a bit. A lot of this was to do with planning I discovered. I’d lay out the chapter, thinking it through, with key points and twists, or whatever, and a structure guide, after which I then didn’t want to write it. My head had already done the work and was reluctant to go over it again, and finding a tone that suited me was like trying to catch an eel with my feet.
But this time I didn’t give up and move on to something else. I thought I’d just free-write some shorts and get myself moving. I’d had a break for a few years from writing and thinking in that manner so it was like my writing gears had half-seized and needed a spin.
The Irish voice has always been a natural one for me to fall into, and the novels I’m working on are intended to be set in that part of the world with a dominant cast of Irish characters.
Somehow or other, the queries about recipes and food must have got under my skin.
I wrote the story, later called Masala Soda Bread, about Paddy Fitz’ fishing off the flat rocks in Dunmore East in a couple of hours, on a day off from working in London. I also baked the Masala Soda Bread, that morning, and had made notes of everything I put in it…not a usual thing for me. Paddy’s wife Marian also needed something to do that day, and I wasn’t in the mood to take her about the villages or into the main town nearby to do some shopping, so I had her make the bread. In the first couple of drafts, I was pernickety with the details of the actual cooking, and was determined that the reader would be able to cook directly from the short story and a ‘follow me recipe’ wouldn’t be needed at all. I think the time spent learning to plan and lay the recipe out and learning how to wrap text around photos and other bits had put me off somewhat. Give me a bare fridge and no options to leave the house and I’ll somehow come up with a meal…and even enjoy doing it. Later that night, I wrote the story that became Leftover Boxty. A flashing blue light went by our cottage, which is a rare to never happened before event, and I wasn’t able to tell whether it had been a cop car or an ambulance. Fog, misty rain, and hedgerows along the fields stopped my distracted gaze…I was supping a beer and trying to find a way in to a story.
That was two ‘recipe stories’ in one day, and as yet I hadn’t mentioned them to my wife.
I’ve found over time that the slight euphoria I feel once I’ve finished a story (first draft) needs a few days cooling for the read to become more objective…otherwise the whole thing is still fresh in my head, and other than a missed comma, spelling or spacing, my mind races through and gives it a big mental tick. Like it’s saying, YES, that’s the story you wrote, now don’t mess it up and start editing it to death! Three days later, the same voice normally says, what’s all this shit and who did it? That’s when I know I can begin to edit.