Facing the future – with resolution

Facing the future – with resolution

books-and-writingA new year, a new start? At Take Five Authors, we all have our own aims and goals for 2017 – we’d love to share them with you!

Janet Gover writes: So – 2017. What have you got in store for me?

We never know what’s ahead – but that should not stop us making plans – or New Year’s resolutions. I’m not a fan of the ‘lose weight’ or ‘exercise more’ resolutions. I know I’ll break those. But here are some resolutions I am determined to keep….

  • Read more books
  • Take my readers and supporters back to Coorah Creek – and this time for a wedding.
  • Expand my reading – trying new authors and new genres because there are so many good books out there just waiting to be read.
  • Expand my writing – try writing something new and exciting because I love a challenge.

That all sounds good and achievable – wish me luck. And I hope 2017 is a wonderful year for you and yours.

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Ellie Campbell says: Resolutions – seriously, why do we bother! We know that by the time February rolls around we’ll be back to our same old habits. Still New Year is a great time to kid ourselves we can change for the better, so here goes.

  1. Finish what we started. We’ve always got at least two or three projects in the pipeline and often find ourselves bouncing from one to the other depending on our mood. But this year we intend to be more focused and linear in our approach – until the next inspiration hits, at least!
  2. Set specific times for work and play and let friends and family know about it It’s far too easy to drop everything when friends come round, or get distracted by a phone call, but all that’s going to change once we have our super-duper new working schedule in place. (Note to selves: Come up with super-duper working schedule.) It might also stop us getting lost in Facebook or so absorbed in whatever we’re writing that we forget dinner is cremating in the oven.
  3. Start off New Year with desks cleared and bills paid And while we’re at it, get our tax returns sorted early this year. (Yeah, right, that’s going to happen.)
  4. Drop the Guilt  Ok, we’re not perfect. However lofty our intentions it always seems there’s something being neglected, be it health, housework, fitness, family, friends, animals. But this year we hope to live entirely in the present and not stress over that extra glass of wine or other worthier ways we could be spending our time.
  5. Have fun  Enjoy writing, but also travel lots (Pam), spend more time with horses (Lorraine) and (both) have loads of fun this year. Now this one we might really keep!

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Mary Smith resolves: I will be glad to see the back of 2016 – and not only because I failed to keep some of my resolutions. I suspect many of us are fearful about the future of the world as we enter uncharted political waters.

I guess we could make resolutions at any time of the year; on the first day of spring, say, or mid-summer – but there is something magical about the minute hand slipping past midnight, ushering in the blank pages of the New Year ahead. For each of us, at least on a personal level, there’s the hope the days ahead will be creative, productive and fulfilling.

This year I completed the manuscript for Castle Douglas Through Time (Amberley Publishing, March 2017). However, instead of sticking steadfastly to my New Year resolutions I found myself saying yes to other projects along the way. This meant, although I managed to continue my Goldfish blog about caring for dad through his dementia, I failed to re-write it as a book.

This year I have made only two resolutions:

  1. to focus on turning my Goldfish blog into a memoir. I have most of the raw material already written but it all requires a lot of restructuring.
  2. to say NO to all other projects which would keep me from my goal of publication of My Dad’s a Goldfish before the end of 2017.

Actually, I might sneak in one more – to make sure I get my nails done regularly, especially when I garden in the summer. Oh, and no more mince pies after December 31.

I wish readers, blog followers, fellow bloggers all the very best for 2017 – and good luck with keeping your own resolutions.

And wouldn’t it be wonderful if politicians and world leaders are right now making their resolutions to bring about peace in the world – though I’m not holding my breath on this.

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Jenny Harper says: I do find Hogmanay/New Year an unsettling time. I found it particularly difficult when I was a single parent – there was always too much to look back at, too many unknowns ahead. I suppose that’s why people do make resolutions at this time – it is truly a time for reflection. It’s difficult not to be clichéd, though. There’s always the food one (less and healthier), the alcohol one (less, and less often) and the fitness one (exercise more). Actually, I’ve done quite well on those in recent years. So what shall I focus on in 2017?

  1. Carpe diem. I’ve lost friends this year. This brings a sharp reminder that our time on this earth is short and that we should enjoy it as best we can.
  2. Be easier on myself. I’ve grown rather self critical, which is all very well but undermining your own self confidence isn’t a great idea. I’m not perfect, but I’m not bad either!
  3. Smell the roses. It’s important to take time out and just sitting in my garden under the dappled shade from the plum tree is a great way of rebalancing. That assumes there’s some sunshine, of course!

Have a great Hogmanay celebration, my friends, and remember to take time to smell the roses too!

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Sue Moorcroft writes: I’m a boring person for resolutions – I don’t make them. At least, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.  Why wait for a certain date? Needing to lose weight happens every few months! Every holiday or conference has to be countered by a following increase in exercise and a reduction in calorie intake.

If I can see ways to improve my writing then I adopt them immediately. If I feel my interaction with others needs attention then I go for it straight away. I’m impatient by nature.

So, as every other year, my resolution is to make none. Instead I wish you health and happiness … all year round.

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Take Five Authors will be back next week with a post from Ellie Campbell. Meanwhile – enjoy those first few days of 2017, and here’s wishing all of you the very best from all of us.

 

Writers cook too!

Writers cook too!

It’s Christmas! And these Five Authors are celebrating by sharing some of our favourite recipes with you – a small thank you for dropping by on our blog over the year. Hope you enjoy them all!

First up, here’s Sue Moorcroft’s chocaholic recipe for Toblerone Cheesecake

toblerone-cheesecake-webIngredients   150g crushed chocolate Hobnob biscuits (or biscuit of your choice) :  50g butter : 280g light cream cheese (yeah, because ‘light’ is going to make a huge difference to your calorie intake with this recipe!)  :  180g Toblerone Milk Chocolate (melted and slightly cooled :  200ml whipping cream : Another 20g Toblerone Milk chocolate

Method  Melt the butter and combine with the crushed Hobnobs. Press into the bottom of a lightly greased 22cm springform tin. Put into the fridge to chill. (Try not to eat any of the Toblerone while you wait.)  Beat the cream cheese until smooth, lightly whip the cream and fold the two together. Fold the melted Toblerone in, too.  Pour onto the chilled crumb base. Smooth. Turn the 20g Toblerone into shavings and sprinkle on top. Return the whole to the fridge and try not to eat it until the following day.

Serves 12. Allegedly.

Sue says: Merry Christmas, lovely readers of Take Five Authors! I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported The Christmas Promise to amazing rankings and chart positions. Thank you for buying, reading, reviewing, talking about, or sending me ‘shelfies’ i.e. pictures of the book in supermarkets, airports, train stations, high streets, independent bookshops, hospitals and service stations. You’ve helped make my Christmas joyful and I hope that yours is just as good.

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Next, welcome to Janet Gover, who has had a brilliant year, winning every award in sight! A proud Aussie, Janet wants us to think barbecues. It’s a bit of a stretch with the wind howling and rain battering against the windows, but here goes!

Janet says: Christmas has crept up on me so quickly this year – I’m now running around like a mad thing trying to get ready. I just want to say thank you to all my friends, readers and supporters who have shared 2016 with me. What a year it has been – in so many ways.

prawns-1776527_1920In Australia – of course, Christmas falls in the middle of summer. When I was growing up, it would often be 40 degrees on Christmas day. A lot of families didn’t do the full roast turkey dinner – it was simply far too hot to even think about turning the oven on. The centrepiece of our cold Christmas lunch was always a huge bucket of king prawns – big and red and juicy. We would just peel them and eat them. Occasionally we might throw a couple on the barbie – but mostly we just ate them with a bit of prawn sauce and a squeeze of lemon as we sat in the shade of a gum tree down by the creek.

A different kind of day to what I now celebrate here in the UK, but in my heart they are the same, and that’s what matters. Much love to everyone, and Merry Christmas.

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Mary Smith says: My recipe is a wonderful alternative pud for those people who don’t like Christmas pudding. It is really easy to make and what’s not to like about a recipe which calls for a pound of chocolate and a pint of cream? I think I came across at the dentists’ years ago – it’s been a firm favourite ever since.

Amaretto Torte

Ingredients for the base:  100g (4oz) digestive biscuits, crushed into crumbs :  75g (3oz) Amaretti biscuits, crushed into crumbs  :  75g (3oz) butter, melted

Ingredients for the filling:  450g (1lb) good quality plain chocolate (minimum 50 per cent cocoa solids)  :  575ml (1 pint) double cream  :  4ml (3 tbsp) Amaretto liqueur (an extra splash won’t hurt)

Decoration:  Icing sugar  :  Chocolate scrolls

chocolateMethod for the base: Mix together both lots of crumbs with the melted butter. Press into a 23cm (9in) loose-based spring-clip tin. You might want to line the base with parchment for ease of removal from the tin.

Method for the filling: Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Or you can melt it in the microwave. Whip the cream until it holds its shape and stir in the liqueur. Drizzle the melted chocolate in the cream and whisk until mixed through. Spoon on top of the biscuit base and level the top. Chill for at least four hours – better still overnight – until firm. Remove from the tin onto a serving plate, dust lightly with icing sugar and decorate with chocolate scrolls.

Method for chocolate scrolls:  Melt some chocolate, a mix of plain and milk, and spread over a melamine chopping board or marble work surface with a palette knife. When hard, push a paint scraper across the top of the chocolate. Keep scroll on a chilled plate until needed.

Enjoy!

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Jenny Harper says: Being Scottish, I’ve always loved shortbread – but it has to be really short, not the heavy stuff that sits in your tum! With my Indian roots, I also love cardamom, and I’ve started serving cardamom shortbread with cinnamon ice cream as a dessert for guests after my husband has offered up one of his magnificent curries. It occurred to me that the shortbread would make a lovely spicy offering at Christmas, so I baked up a few trees! They are a bit different, and your guests should love them …

Cardamom shortbread

Ingredients:  360g plain flour, sieved  :  120g caster sugar  :  240g butter  :  12 green cardamoms, deseeded

jennys-shortbreadMethod: Rub the butter into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add the caster sugar and mix well. Crush the cardamom seeds lightly (I like to make sure some are still whole), then work the mixture with your hands to bring it together. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and butter it well. Press the mixture evenly into the tin with the ball of your hand. Bake at 160C/325F/Gas3 for 20-30 minutes, until a light gold. Allow to cool slightly, then cut into trees (or other Christmassy shapes) with a cutter. Don’t waste the scraps! Mine disappeared before I’d finished the icing …

A big thank you to everyone who has supported me over the year – I hope you have a great Christmas!

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A contribution from Ellie Campbell: Pam’s a vegetarian and Lorraine is catering for about thirty this year, some of whom are on the Paleo diet, which doesn’t matter too much as we’re having Christmas meals thousands of miles apart. One day we’ll get it together to meet at Christmas. Our Pumpkin Pie is based on a Jamie Oliver recipe, which is a classic twist on an American dish. And as it’s made with butternut squash, Pam’s happy as that’s one vegetable that’s a success in her allotment and Lorraine’s happy as apparently it’s on the ‘can have’ lists of the Paleo people. Win. Win.

Ingredients: 500g  dessert pastry (it’s fine to use ready-made!)  :  1 large butternut squash (quartered). Keep the seeds handy for later  :  ¼ teaspoon each of ground nutmeg, ground ginger and ground cinnamon  :  4 tablespoons maple syrup :  6 tablespoons caster sugar  :  3 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten :  200 ml double cream

pumpkin-pieMethod  Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas 6. Roll the pastry evenly. It should be about the thickness of a pound coin. Line a 22cm loose-bottomed tart tin with the pastry and bake blind for 20 minutes. Place the squash in a baking tray and sprinkle with the spices, then drizzle  maple syrup over it. Cover tightly with tinfoil (double thickness is best) and bake for 45 minutes until soft. Reduce the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4.

Allow the squash to cool, then scoop out the flesh (you need about 600g of cooked squash flesh). Be sure to use all the juices! Put in a food processor and blend until smooth, then transfer to a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and the eggs. Mix well and stir in the cream. Fill the tart case with the mix and bake for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, wash the seeds well, then dry them and lay them flat on a tray. Sprinkle them with the remaining sugar and place in the oven with the pie for the last 10 minutes, until crispy. Remove the tart from the oven and sprinkle with the seeds when cool.

Serve with cream or ice cream, if you’re feeling naughty.

Pam and Lorraine say: We both want to wish all our readers and fellow Take Five Authors a fabulous Christmas. May all your hopes and dreams come true. Thank you so much for your great support and may you all have a super relaxing but fun time!

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There’s nothing left to say but Happy Christmas – and be sure to drop by next week for our Take Five Authors’ New Year resolutions!

 

What does Christmas mean to you?

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Nevit Dilmen via Wikimedia Commons

When did Christmas start for you? In September, when the first decorations started to appear in garden centres and certain shops? In December, when postal deadlines loom? Or will it only finally happen on Christmas Eve, when the stress of juggling work, day-to-day family needs and shopping has almost become too much, but you can finally sit down with a glass of wine in the happy knowledge that everything is sorted?

Sometimes we lose sight of the reason for doing things. Christmas is a religious festival – in Scotland, when my parents were young (in the early 20th century), it wasn’t even a public holiday! But as our society has grown ever more secular, so, too, Christmas has become more commercialised and for many people less religious. That can be a real turn-off. I’ve been known to mutter ‘Bah! Humbug!’ myself as Frosty the Snowman blasts out of the shops in October.

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Kris de Curtis via Wikimedia Commons

For all the downsides, though, it’s still hugely important to us. As writers, we know that the reading public just loves a good Christmas story (well done Sue Moorcroft for delivering one!). We long for a ‘white Christmas’, even though in reality a big snowfall can bring misery for anyone who has to travel. Lights and decorations lift our spirits at a very dark time of year. And when the stress of organisation is over, the pleasure of celebrating with family and friends begins.

It’s this aspect of the celebration that makes Christmas important for us, whether we are Christians or not. Shared values and rituals connect us. The appearance of the tree in the village or neighbourhood; the office party; preparing our family’s time-honoured meal; thinking about gifts our dear ones will really appreciate; watching a favourite movie or TV programme with our family – these things make us realise the importance of family and friendship. By participating in such rituals, we affirm the things we hold dear – kindness, generosity, laughter and love.

Writers specialise in digging deep into what’s happening under the surface of events and character, and a time of such social and ritualistic significance offers brilliant opportunities for tension, conflict and – hopefully – sweet resolution. I haven’t written a Christmas book (yet!), but in one of my early novels, Face the Wind and Fly, there’s a seminal scene in the village where everyone gets together in a community garden they have just created and a child switches on the lights as the school choir sings. Families that have been at war manage to come together, characters that have misunderstood each other realise what is important to them and for a short, very special time, all is right with the world.

It’s not just about lights and presents and children singing, though these things are all part of this special festival. In the end, it’s about knowing what we value, and sharing this with others that makes Christmas magic.

Let’s celebrate!

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Lotus Head

And in this spirit, I’m happy to tell you that Take Five Authors will be sharing some great Christmas recipes with you next Saturday – don’t miss our blog!

 

 

 

 

Changing reading habits

It was a holiday in Turkey some years ago which was the catalyst to a major change in my reading habits.

I’d finished the last of the books I’d brought with me – three days before our holiday ended. We were staying in a small town which had shops selling hand-painted pottery, gorgeous silver jewellery and clothing – but no books. The DH, who listens to audio books, panicked at the thought of me being without a book for three days. I panicked at the thought of being without a book to read by the pool, in bed and – terrifying thought – nothing to read on the plane.

Somehow – I think we have Google to thank and the Brits who love cats – the DH tracked down a source of books. In an estate agent’s office discovered a narrow, but tall, set of shelves crammed full of paperbacks. They’d been donated by cat lovers who support an organisation which neuters cats. Disaster averted, I made my selection. The DH gave a donation to the cat neutering charity. I think, in fact, he ended up sorting out their website. On my next birthday I received a Kindle. Now, as long as I didn’t forget to pack the charger, I’d never run out of books on holiday.

kindleI loved my Kindle. I think it is the one piece of technology I embraced with total enthusiasm. I built up my virtual library, discovering new-to-me authors, finding favourites from childhood, (which are still in the attic but clicking that ‘Buy Now’ button is so much easier than hauling down the loft ladder and rummaging around). Reading in bed was so much easier. I also saved lots of money with so many 99p and free books to download. It meant I no longer left little lists of wish-list books around as Christmas neared.

Then, something happened. I was reading a review of the latest book by one of my favourite authors. I clicked on the link and discovered the Kindle price was only slightly less than the print price. Finger hovering over the buy button I could almost feel the book in my hands, the solidity of it, feel the page and hear it flip over, could almost smell it. I saw myself pick it up, flipping through to where I’d stopped reading, maybe re-reading a paragraph on the way. I bought the print book.

Since then I’ve bought more books. The Kindle is wonderful, especially for holidays, but I am so enjoying the joy of feeling a ‘real’ book in my hands again. And I can leave little wish-lists around the house – so helpful when people know what you want in your Christmas stocking.

Are you a Kindle reader or a real book reader? Or do you mix and match?

Happy Christmas!happyChristmas2.png

Gifts for the writer in your life.

Books, generally, are wonderful. But to me, an old book is something special.

Books, generally, are wonderful. But to me, an old book is something special.

It’s officially December and you know what that means… Christmas shopping.

Most of us spend at least some of this month scratching our heads as we try to come up with just the right gift.

So I thought I might put forward a few suggestions for the writer in your life—gifts for writers are just so easy.

Let’s start with the obvious. Books. Writers are readers too. Books are always a great gift idea… and you can make them a little special.

Try for a rare or first edition book by a favourite author. Or go for a signed book. Something a little out of the ordinary.

There are also books about writing – my personal favourite is On Writing by Stephen King – but there are a quite few very good ones out there, depending on the writer you are buying for.

Another favourite – stationary. What was that you said? Boring? No way. Stationary can be fun. I’m not talking about printer paper, I’m talking about brightly coloured and funny shaped post it notes.

And… did you know you can get whiteboard paper that your can you stick on the wall and turn it into a giant white board? They are great for plotting.

You can also get giant post its to put on your wall for plotting purposes.

You can also get giant post its to put on your wall for plotting purposes.

Notebooks can be fun too – there are such lovely ones out there – but a word of caution. Some people get a bit fussy about their notebooks, so make sure you buy the right type. Have a look at the notebooks the writer in your life uses.

And of course let’s not forget pens. Really, really nice ones. A pen that makes signing a book for a reader an extra special experience.

Signing a book for a reader is always a joy... but with such a beautiful pen....

Signing a book for a reader is always a joy… but with such a beautiful pen….

I once got given a desk as a present – that was a pretty good idea. I got to choose the desk – and I am still writing on it.

All these are good presents – but the best present of all is … time.

If you want to help and support a writer, giving the gift of time is just the ticket. It can take many different forms. Just say – today I’ll do the chores or walk the dog or cook the dinner while you take the time to write. Try taking the kids out for the day, leaving the writer free to just write. And the good thing about time given in this way – it’s not expensive.

The one thing we all need more of....

The one thing we all need more of….

If you have the resources, there any other way to give writing time. Send your writer on a course, or a retreat. There they can focus on their writing with other like-minded souls.

OK – so here’s the shameless promotion part… Twice a year, I am one of two tutors leading a weekend retreat near Stratford Upon Avon. Yep –  Shakespeare country. This is the sort of thing I’m talking about when I suggest giving the writer in your life time to write. And a fun weekend away with other writers too.

The next one is in May 2017, but we are already taking bookings. You can find out more about the retreat here….

If a full weekend is not right for you, think about a one day course, or a manuscript appraisal… something to help a writer achieve their dreams.

I like very personal gifts. I spend a lot of time shopping to get just the right thing for the people in my life… At first glance the gifts I’ve suggested might not seem personal – but they are things that will help a writer achieve a dream. What could be more personal than that?

Good luck with the Christmas shopping.