The big leap

I signed up for  A Big Leap mental workout thing run by Suzy Greaves – you got a free 3 week programme if you sponsored her in the London Marathon. You have to do an exercise a day and complete a blog post on the site. I’ve stuck to it this week, which is an achievement for me. But today I couldn’t partake as I had a shit day emotionally. Still disappointed that I didn’t make the shortlist of the Bath Short Story Award – had two stories on the longlist so I thought/hoped/prayed that the odds might have been a little kinder to me- but no, neither story had the legs to continue. I know this happens when you start to put yourself out there and that was my intention – get a fistful of decent stories and hurl them at the wall of competitions and by the laws of stickiness a percentage will remain stuck. It worked – had 3 longlistings now and one shortlisting. It’s my first real organised attempt at short story stomping and it’s working BUT I need to up the level and get in the final list. The list that carries weight and possibly publication and lucre… Much as I love it I do want to earn money from it. So felt shit anyway and then my sweet Mollycat turned serial creature killer and I had a mouse head on the kitchen floor yesterday and tonight I came in to find a poor hatchling of a blackbird. So brand new it was the eyes weren’t open, the feathers weren’t grown and no wings – pure Jurassic mini dinosaur anatomy. It was heartbreaking because it was perfect – only sign of trauma two tiny piercings (incisor teeth me thinks) on back of skull and high. More heartbreaking was the sight of he mother blackbird hopping and fluttering around the garden in search of its baby. Reader I cried.

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Good blog. Bad blog.

Hands up, I’m no good at blogging. In fact I’m bad, very bad, at it. Can’t find the discipline to write the damn thing with sufficient consistency required to attract an audience and haven’t cracked layout to include ‘blogs I like’ ‘links I like’ ‘things I like’ etc etc. I used to be a whizz at techie stuff – ex graphic designer an all. HTML, eps, tiff, jpeg files, bytes, high res, low res – terms of endearment  once. I was very good at being patient and actually used to enjoy problem solving… now if things don’t happen instantly or go wrong in the process I get frustrated and annoyed and just want to walk away. I know why – it’s the guilt thing again. The guilt associated with not utilising ALL of my spare time to writing. If I’m fannying about trying to sort out a blog or website I get frustrated and twisty with myself because in my head (in the bit marked Fantasy section, sub section Impossible Writing World) that wasted time is a sin!!  and should have been spent more productively writing a new short story or editing the novel for the enth time. Even as I type this new post I’m thinking, well you sat down to work on your novel you know and here you are being a wingeing blogger, surfing twitter, buying books on amazon, checking facebook. So that’s my intent, after I get this posting out of the way, which I started writing in response to an excellent blog post by Susan Lanigan – she’s following the Bath Short Story Award – which I am also doing but a tad more furtively. Rachel Dunlop is also another good blogger – recently blogged about the agony of longlists – highly recommended. If I could just add their links…

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Guilt rots

I was born into a loving nurturing home, no low cloud oppressive religion going on, no overbearing parents dishing out emotional blackmail or criticism, no siblings to hide things from or compromise with, so no competing for attention, no need to develop negative skills of trickery. Me, I arrived into the world with nothing to feel bad or guilty about at all. An only child in a family of three adults that loved me unconditionally. How lucky was I – three doting adults all to myself! Problem is when it’s that good, it leaves you a lil vulnerable when you do encounter that shitty stupid guilt stone. Trip, I nearly died… It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I find it absolutely paralysing. I just wish I could  pick it up and hurl it through the nearest plate glass. At least there’d be a shift, a movement, a sound. Its the freakin stillness and static nature that I find so difficult to handle. How it just sits and sits and sits. And how it makes me just sit and sit and sit. I need another creme egg.

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who cares about algebra. I did once upon a time, when I was a studious maths pupil. I could do maths because you just followed the rules. It was satisfying but I couldn’t see the bigger picture. But I didn’t need to, I got maths and I was good at it. But I didn’t grab me, so when I’d taken my final exams I dumped all my course work in the class bin – in front of my teacher. Until I became a teacher myself I had no idea how insulting that was. I was a girl with brain but I didn’t really know how to use it. I was good at maths and chemistry and biology. It impressed people, a girl being good at science. But as I said, all you got to have is a memory and the ability to apply rules and methodology. Arts subjects are quite different. You have to present arguments, you have to be well read, you have to be able to write a good essay even! I found that much more difficult. I’m trying to finish my novel an. it’s much harder than I thought it would be but I won’t let go. It’s grabbed me and whatever happens, published or not, that’s what counts.

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Ward 11

I visited my father in hospital. He’s 84 and has never been in hospital before. Tough isn’t the word. Anyway I get there and his sister is at his bedside. It’s a little awkward meeting his sister because I don’t really know her. And to be honest, it’s a little awkward meeting him because the last time I saw him he was a bit of shit to me and I was a bit of a shit back. My Dad has the kind of eyes that make you think of a clear summer sky. It’s a trick of nature, giving a hedonist eyes like that. I forgive him and sit down and his sister sits next to me. She’s wearing the biggest gold cross I’ve ever seen. She’s also wearing glasses that make her blue eyes huge and all pervasive. I lied to her before coming here and I think she knows. I sit and examine my father’s bruised arms. His sister tells me he kept pulling out his drip and that’s why they’re all back and blue. ‘What drip?’ My Dad goes searching the ceiling. His sister’s daughter arrives. She’s a few years younger than me, a few inches taller and has cheekbones that bit bigger than mine. We shake hands. Her name is Judith, the same as mine. It’s not quite the coincidence I thought. ‘I was named after you,’ she says.

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banana curry recipe

 c/o The Best of Rose Elliot (The ultimate vegetarian collection)

Feeds 4

300g basmati rice
500g new potatoes, halved
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 green peppers, deseeded and chopped
2 tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp root ginger, grated
4 garlic cloves, crushed
5g curry leaves
4 large under-ripe bananas, sliced
300ml water
75g creamed coconut, cut into pieces
4 tsp fresh tamarind, sieved and deseeded
125g roasted cashew nuts
Salt and black pepper

1 Start by cooking the rice. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add the rice, bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the rice is just tender. Drain, rinse with boiling water, drain again well, then return to the saucepan and keep warm over a gentle heat until required.

To make the curry, put the potatoes into a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and allow them to simmer for 10‑15 minutes, until just tender, then drain.

3 Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan with a lid, add the chopped onion and peppers, cover and cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time.

4 Add the mustard seeds, stirring over the heat for a minute or two until they start to pop, then stir in the turmeric, ginger, garlic and curry leaves and cook for a minute or two longer.

5 Stir in the drained potatoes and the bananas, then add the water, creamed coconut and tamarind. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and leave to cook gently for 5-10 minutes, until the sauce is thick and the flavours blended. Season with salt and pepper.

6 Quickly add the cashews to the rice and fork through, then serve the rice and curry together on warmed plates.

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