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Obsession and Minimums

Punch 1902 vol 123

Look here, Steward, if this is coffee, I want tea; but if this is tea, then I wish for coffee.

Anon

I’m not obsessed, I’m just highly preoccupied

George Muncaster

if the minimum wasn’t acceptable it wouldn’t be called the minimum

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Jenny Oliver tells us how to make a pie

Questions for Authors:

 

  1. Can you tell your readers something about why you chose this particular topic to write about? What appealed to you about it? Why do you think it is different and your approach is unique?

I wanted to write a series of books set in one place with characters who we would see again, and catch up with, as the series progressed. I love the river – I grew up living by the Thames and also rowed for a number of years. Through rowing I travelled to lots of places across Europe and the UK and have seen a lot of towns but all of them only from a boat! Writing about a little town on the water really appealed to me and cherries are by far my favourite fruit Cherry Pie Island was born.

  1. How long do you think about a topic before deciding to write about it? Do you have a set of notes or a note book where you write down topics that appeal before making a decision as to which topic this time?

Im thinking about what to write all the time and often start to think about the next book when Im halfway through the current one Im writing. I carry a notebook with me and have numerous dotted about the flat that are half scribbled in. If I get stuck I look back over them and theres usually an idea that sparks my imagination.

  1. How long does it take to research a topic before you write? And for this book?

Once Id decided on Cherry Pie Island it was all quite quick. Getting the initial idea however was much slower. It took a lot of time and back and forth and dead ends to get to my answer for question 1!

  1. What resources do you use? In general and for the last book that you wrote?

I use my family A LOT! If Im stuck Ill go round to my mum and dads on the pretence of bringing their grandson to see them and then quiz them for ideas about how to get out of a plot hole. Ill talk to my husband whos a kids book author so comes up with some bizarre solution like: just make him have a really big nose! I read a lot of blogs, cookbooks, listen to podcasts, I go to places that are similar to what Im writing about or might spark my imagination, I use quite a lot of my own memories and steal some snippets from my friends lives. Ive also spent a lot of money in our local Caffe Nero.

  1. How helpful do you find authority figures such as the police when you say you want to write about them? Is there a good way to approach them in your experience?

Ive never had to approach the police, but if I need some detail verifying I will usually work out who I know who might be able to help me or who knows someone who knows someone! Or I use Google.

  1. How many times have you been rejected before your first novel was accepted or before this book was accepted?

It was only when I wrote The Parisian Christmas Bake Off that I felt I had a commercial, appealing story with a beginning, middle and end and I think that was why it was accepted. What I had written in the past lacked all direction! Hahaha, it was just rambling. It felt right because I wrote most of it in a week on the beach in a cheap, crappy notebook that I had to buy really quickly (rather than pick the one with the nicest, flashest cover etc!) because the story was there in my head – and I knew where the plot was going.

  1. Did you need to self-publish on e-books before a publisher took you up?

No I didnt.

  1. Would you recommend self-publishing and building an audience before approaching a publisher? If so, what benefits do you see that it might have for the aspiring novelist?

I think that any opportunity to get reader feedback and to build a readership is worth taking, so would definitely encourage self-publishing. I also think the value of a good editor, copyeditor and designer is huge and its worth investigating these independent services before you put your work out there so that you can make sure its at its very best.

  1. Does writing provide sufficient income to live on? And how long did it take before this happened?

I suppose it all depends on how much you need to live on 😉 I certainly havent given up my day job.

  1. What is the best piece of advice you were given that you could pass on to aspiring writers?

Treat it as a job. Look at what you like to read and the commercial market, set a deadline and enjoy revisions – they always make the book better!

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Use the ‘packet pastry’ pie!

Puff pastry is one pastry not even Delia smith admits to making herself very often – nor Jamie Oliver – so I feel very justified in going to the supermarket and buying sheets of puff pastry that are already round and don’t even need to be cut!

The issue then comes as to what do I put under the puff pastry. Note that this recipe for a pie is being published as part of a blogtour by Jenny Oliver, the author of Cherry Pie Island – see the pdf attached to this post and also my book review on the 11th March:

Cherry Pie Island

Well for me it has to be fruit. Usually pears or rhubarb. I do love a rhubarb pie especially if it come from our garden.

A very simple pie to make of course as rhubarb cooks very quickly.

Take your sticks of rhubarb – as many as you can buy – usually a kilo works best for the standard pie dish.

Place in the dish with a tablespoonful of sugar scattered over. Raw cane sugar is best as it gives an extra flavour. Add more sugar if you have a sweet tooth but the fruit juice adds some sweetness too.

Add some orange juice (or mixed fruit juice if you don’t have orange) until it is about a quarter full. Bake in the oven at around 180 for 15 mins to start the rhubarb softening.

Remove from the oven and cool for around 15  mins and then add the pastry topping. By now the rhubarb juice will have started coming out and if the dish looks a little wet you can pour some liquid off. It should stay less than 1/3 full of liquid.

Egg wash the pastry. Make small holes with a fork and crimp the edges of the pastry around the pie dish. Don’t seal too hard as the liquid needs room to bubble up.

Scatter some caster sugar – again raw is best and bake in a hot oven (according to the pastry packet but usually around 220 or 200 for a fan oven and bake around 20 mins until the sugar is browning and the pastry looks golden and ‘puffy’!

Serve with clotted cream or vanilla ice-cream

I have included a picture of what it could look like – not mine as I haven’t made one yet this year!

rhubarb2

Nb  adding strawberries to rhubarb pie is scrummy.

 

 

 

 

 

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Not forgetting:

Cherry Pie_BLOG-TOUR Novelicious_LARGE2_logo

 

 

 

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Books I stopped reading: An on-going list

This will be a set of reviews of books I have stopped reading because I stopped enjoying them.

My principle is to read either 40-50 pages or 25% minimum to give each author a chance to hook me into the story. The problem they have is – that as I read so many books each year – I am a picky reader. I will not waste much of my time reading books I am not enjoying when there is a veritable cornucopia of books out there to choose from which I may enjoy more.

Thus this blog will be updated as I stop reading any book and will become a list.

It starts with:

Hit and Run by Maxine O’Callaghan

I initially enjoyed this book but I then found that the story dragged once I was ¾ of the way through. So I stopped reading.

There was insufficient happening and too much re-iteration of the dire circumstances of the PI – we got it – it had been described in detail several times already..

I started by feeling sorry for the PI but ended up being irritated by her.

There was an interesting possibility of a story with the old man killed before he was ru over, but it was laboured. I rather liked the feisty shop-lifter though…

A NetGalley Review.


Dream Student by JJ DiBenrdetto

Bored by this book. I read 25% and gave up- as going nowhere fast – and thus obvious how they could make a series out of it – they really stretch the story-line out!

a book about two university students who meet up physically after they ;share’ a dream. The dream gives them an emotional connection – but after 25% of the book this is as far as they have got.

Just what the series could contain I cannot guess and definitely do not want to explore.


Carry Me Down by MJ Hyland

This was a book chosen for my f2f book club and is an Irish coming of age story.

I seem to be having a struggle at the moment with Irish writers. I have not really enjoyed any that have been chosen by the Book group. There is a dark atmosphere to most Irish stories that I come across recently with very slow action and under-currents that I find very disturbing. This book gets very disturbing as the discussion with the book club members showed. Just why did the boy sleep with his mother? And what did she do with him there? The grandmother was an interesting character too with her table manners and hiding important items – just why didn’t she trust the family to know when she won money. And then there was the father. Why wasn’t he working? why did he think he was clever enough to go to university now? And just what effort was he putting into preparing himself?

Irish family dynamics baffle me and thus I find these books very hard to understand and so stop. Yet I can read complicated law and crime and thrillers with no problems, so it isn’t the complications…

Suicide is for mortals

By Alyson Miers

I am afraid that this another book that will go on my ‘incompleted’ list.

I got to 22% but gave up. I just couldn’t get interested in the differences between predatory and non-predatory vampires and the mortals they are trying to protect. The story just didn’t seem to go anywhere after the author was ‘turned’. Just a lot of chat and wanting to go back to being mortal and so on…

What more can I realistically say except that it was very simple in style and storyline and I prefer things to be more complex and complicated – where I need to think and be challenged by the story.


 

 

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Cognitive Psychology and Knitting: Pattern matching and selective attention

There is a very interesting book called Things I learnt from Knitting by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.

In her introduction/foreword she discusses the idea that Knitting is a very strong example of certain Cognitive Psychology concepts. Namely those of Attention;  Pattern recognition; Object Identification; and Time Sensations.

In Cognitive Psychology they are interested in how people choose what to focus on, the way patterns are recognised even though they may be very different in apparent appearance, and how time is perceived.

Filtering and attention relate to how we use our mental energy. How we decide on what we should pay attention to and what we should ignore, what we will store in our neuron and pathways and what we will discard or not pay sufficient attention to for it to register in our brain.

Thinking about pattern recognition, the theory states that pattern recognition describes a cognitive process that matches information from a stimulus with information retrieved from memory.

So consider the letter a. As a child we are taught how to read and write, but each book we read uses a different font or paper size and thus font size and so on, and yet after a while we recognise all the letter ‘A’s we come across. I realised this fact just recently as I was being read to by my grand-daughter. we had written each of us, our own books on small folded pieces of paper – concertina books –  and I had written in cursive script – clearly I thought but… It was a different cursive from the one she was used to and thus some letters she had difficulty in recognising eg I use the continental way of writing a cursive ‘z’ and my ‘s’  was different and so on. Yet once explained she knew them and recognised the letters when they came up again. Reading is her joy at the moment but she is still learning how the combinations of letters make words and how they can be pronounced differently in different contexts eg ‘bow’.  English is very tricksy!

In a crowded train carriage my husband dons his noise cancelling headphones. I get out my reading and knitting. Which of us hears less of the noise made by the loud chatterers? Which of us knows where we are in terms of stations? Not me, that’s for sure. I am immersed in what I am doing and all the other sensory information within the train carriage passes me by. I am not paying attention to it. I am focussed on my tasks.

Sensory information comes in four formats:  visual; auditory; tactile; and olfactory. It is more than just simple registering of sensory information… it involves some sort of interpretation of that information. We can ignore that part of the sensory information that surrounds us if we are focussed on our tasks. We filter and pay attention only to that which interest us.

Broadbent (1958) argued that information from all of the stimuli presented at any given time enters a sensory buffer.  One of the inputs is then selected on the basis of its physical characteristics for further processing by being allowed to pass through a filter.  Because we have only a limited capacity to process information, this filter is designed to prevent the information-processing system from becoming overloaded.  The inputs not initially selected by the filter remain briefly in the sensory buffer, and if they are not processed they decay rapidly. We therefore lose them and do not remember them.

Alternatively Treisman’s (1964) model retains this early filter (Broadbent’s) which works on physical features of the message only. The crucial difference is that Treisman’s filter ATTENUATES rather than eliminates the unattended material.  Attenuation is like turning down the volume so that if you have 4 sources of sound in one room (TV, radio, people talking, baby crying) you can turn down or attenuate 3 in order to attend to the fourth.

It is my experience that we can do both – we can choose which model to follow – or at least I can. Sometimes I am completely immersed and nothing will come in from the external world, sometimes I am not so focussed – I am not paying enough attention because what I am doing does not require me to – perhaps it is very familiar – eg knitting plain and purl stitches – I can do this without looking at the needles and the wool as I very familiar with the feel and pattern my hands need to make to complete the physical task.

Yet when we knit we can focus on our counting, our pattern changes and the rows we need before we change colour etc to such an extent that the external world fades away and the world is concentrated in the movement of our hands.

Many different patterns can all be recognised as examples of the same concept. We use pattern recognition all the time we understand a stitch or the regularity of a decrease on a sleeve so that we do them automatically. We know when something has gone wrong – when what we are knitting does not look right.

We also use object recognition to know what a stitch or a pattern looks like on different items – a hat Vs a coat or a scarf, and in different colours; and when we know and understand that one sleeve is different from the other in the sweater we are knitting.

cable patternfairisle

What the author claims is that by virtue of knitting we change the way our brains work in terms of those cognitive functions. We train our brains to work in different ways from those people who do not knit.

 

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