Monday, 26 May 2014

Regency Romance - A Love Letter

One summer, before I started university and got a job, I spent the long summer months both trying (not very hard) to find a part time job, and reading between 2 and 3 novels a day. I can honestly say that it was one of the best summers of my life. It started with Georgette Heyer and went through Victoria Holt, Jill Tattersall, and a dozen others beside. But so great was my book gluttony, that when I started university, and they had things like internet which wasn't switched off at night, and - heaven forbid - a ton of work to be done, the reading pace had to slow down.

 

I never had the opportunity to read like that again. The next few summers I got a job, and while I read as often as I could when I was free, it wasn't like it had been. 

As time wore on and degree stress gave way to work stress, I read less and less. I used to read several books a week, but I've probably only read 5 so far this year. And it isn't that I don't still love it. I have found instead that I turn to regency only when I am very sad and feel in need of comfort. It's the same with Disney films. Historical romances have become my crutch in times of need, and of the five or so books I have read this year, not a single one has been a historical romance. If I need a quick fix of comfort now, I ask OH for a hug or, if he's unavailable, I go to Netflix. 

When I do read, it tends to be quite bleak and Gothic (who'd have thought!) and I read my books in one giant gulp, then brood on them for a few days/weeks (schedule permitting) before starting again. Is that better? Does it matter? All I know is that I miss it. What I am glad of though, is that there is a time -a safe place I can go to when I need to be happy.

That summer affected me so much that a few years ago, when I was trying to get into the writing in the first place, I wrote an article about it. I wrote the following over 5 years ago, which rings out over a decade of Regency love. 


            When I was sixteen, I fell in love. Can I not just leave it at that? Oh, alright then, at sixteen, my life was changed irrevocably, and I have never recovered. It was the beginning of what has become an obsession, a habit, and an addiction. My name is Katherine Holt, and I love regency romance novels. The trashier the better, those ones with couples passionately embracing on the front with half open shirts and ripped bodices are my preference. You know - those ones you can’t read on the bus without a paper cover on. This love has endured for five happy, bonnet-filled years and shows no sign of waning. I remember my first. Who doesn’t remember their first time?

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Here on Goodreads!
It was called The Beau and the Bluestocking, by the wonderful Alice Chetwynd Ley. I have just looked and you can still get it on the internet second hand, a fact which fills me with hope for the future of our nation, if not the world. Share the love! Before we get into the who and the why, I feel I must share how this precious tome found its way into my naïve and quivering hands.


My sister and I stumbled upon a dusty old box in our attic. We blew the dust from the top before pulling back the cardboard flaps to reveal a veritable treasure trove of regency delights. There were seventy nine books in total. Seventy nine! We split them in half, choosing our preference by cover artwork and blurb, with the intention of swapping once we had read them all. Of my thirty nine books (well, she was older, we were going to swap in any case, and I could hardly cut the odd one in half), I picked The Beau and the Bluestocking to begin. Why? Mainly because the heroine was excitingly named Alethea, wore a big blue hat, and the hero had some tights with bows on the knees. I started reading it that night at about ten o’clock, just before bed - it was a school night after all - and finished at one o’clock the next morning. I have always loved reading, but never before had a book captivated me so much.

As I turned the final pages, closing the book and resting it on my heavily quilted knees, I recall thinking that I could not wait for study leave for my AS Levels to begin so I could stay up until one o’clock every night reading. That was the only coherent thought in my mind, the rest being taken up with bowing men in breeches and flowing shirts, manners, and the virtue of being a bluestocking. How wonderful it was that I had inadvertently stumbled upon a genre which seemed to be aimed directly at me. And I had another seventy eight books to read. Seventy eight! I resisted the urge to begin another there and then, showing what I feel was a marvellous amount of will power, and reasoned that I could begin another one the next day and read a couple of chapters a night. No hurry. That vow didn’t even last one day. I read one every night and two a day on weekends, my only worry being that I would run out. I passed my AS Levels, but I can’t help but feel I would have done better if one of the exams had been on A Romanticised View of Regency England or The Rules of Ton Society with Emphasis on Etiquette at Almacks.

My love endures, five, nearly six years on. I know these books have their critics, and don’t get me wrong, I read other things as well, but for a pick me up, these cannot be beaten. There are arguments that they promote a submissive female role, an idea which does not sit well in our post-feminist era. Some of the older ones do, that cannot be argued, but for me these books have given me standards, a hope that not all men are lager-swilling louts, and the promise that even if all else fails, I can become a governess.

Where other memories have faded and where boyfriends have come and gone, regency romances have remained. I love these books, and I don’t care who knows it. For the escapism they bring after a hard day, the standards they have helped me set for the men in my life, and the hours of enjoyment they have given me, I send out this - thank you. As I curl up with a bottle of red wine, a heavy heart, and an evening to spare, I raise a glass to you, the romance writer. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a book to read.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

His Wicked Shadow

A few years back, I wrote a book. It was the second full-length piece of fiction I'd ever written, and was a massive learning curve. It went through draft after draft as I tried to find my feet in a community I realised I'd completely failed to understand when I was writing my first manuscript. Since then I've realised that every new manuscript I attempt, I have to re-learn all of that stuff, but then it was all new, and it was exhilarating and scary and wonderful, all at the same time. And it still is, but you never forget your first.

I sent it out, and eventually was offered e-publication, which I chose to turn down, instead going with an agent in the hope of being traditionally published. For a few reasons, not least various personal issues I was going through at the time, we decided to part ways after a year. And thus His Wicked Shadow remained, untouched, gathering dust in a lonely corner of my hard drive.

Remember this early character sketch? What, no? You mean you haven't been reading this blog for over three years?
I've considered self-publishing for a long while. Many is the time I have almost done it on a whim, but decided against it. (And might I add that you can't do it on a whim because of the very complicated tax forms and the necessity of phoning an IRS office in Philadelphia!) But with the support of OH, I decided to go for it.

It's just shouting to be read.
It's a scary thing, putting your work out there. And telling people that you've secretly been writing all this time and haven't mentioned it. But I've already done the rounds of editors and agents, and my work has undoubtedly ended up the better for it. So here it is. And if you'd like to read it, and think it'd be worth buying, then I'd be very proud. And if you think it's worth leaving a review, that would be great too.

It's a somewhat Gothic tale about being in love with somebody you don't understand. And there's also sex, murder and a possible witch. Look on the Shop tab or just click here if you fancy it.

But in other news, there should be some new stuff soon. Artsy shit. I'm trying a few things out which will decide what I do with the other MS gathering dust - An Unnatural Daughter. Previews soon, when I sort myself out.

Kx

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Made from Scratch - Dessert & Drinks

I've always had a sweet tooth, and the chocolatier the treat, the better. Back in November when this FEAST OF EPIC PROPORTIONS was undertaken, I'd been vegan for just over a month. I hadn't yet tried the varied array of dairy-free ice cream there is out there (For the record, nothing beats Booja-Booja, in my opinion) so I was more than game for attempting to make ice cream. No ice cream maker? Pachaw, why let that stop us from sweet, cold goodness. OH and I agreed that we weren't above a little labour, and set about it with gusto. 

We chose Chocolate Chip Soya Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce, from the previously mentioned and still wonderful 500 Vegan Dishes by Deborah Gray which involved firstly mixing things together in a pan and then allowing to cool. Cleverly, we did this step before starting anything else. Foolishly we underestimated how long it would take to cool before we could begin freezing. After sitting by an open window for over an hour, we were the only things getting any colder, so we stuck the bowl of mixture on the balcony for another 40 minutes. Bearing in mind this was in November, at dusk.


It made no difference. Since this needed a good 6 hours to freeze, we gave up and just went with it. Just as it took forever to cool, it took forever to freeze. Approximately six hours later - and late into the night - we were at this stage:


It was beginning to freeze, but we had a good, ice-cream-less while ahead of us and had long since eaten the main. So we went to plan B - attempt to recreate a cola-bottle cocktail OH had in a fancy bar. It was clear, had vodka in it, and tasted exactly like cola bottles, right down to the gelatine tang. I was dubious and didn't try it, but was intrigued nonetheless. It was clear to us that they must have melted down cola bottles then kept them liquid by mixing with vodka.

Vegan cola bottles at the ready. As you can see, we bought ours in Extremely Fancy packaging. 


Melting down cola bottles is absolutely not what they did. Unless gelatine melts in a completely different way. Don't worry, these didn't go to waste. I ate the entire, gummy mess off the spoon. Totally worth it.

We checked the ice cream again but still no cigar. So we decided to start Googling cola flavouring, to see where that got us.

Here. It got us here.
Molasses, water, cinnamon and vanilla. So simple! So overpowering! So we diluted and served, over ice, with rum.


And watched a film. And by the time that was nearly finished, the ice cream was ready!




The ice cream and the cola are the only things from FEAST OF EPIC PROPORTIONS that we haven't made again since. Perhaps it's just because of the sheer time the ice cream took, or the volume of vanilla the cola needed. But they were, like the rest of the meal, delicious.

We've intended to do another one of these Everything-From-Scratch meals for a while, but haven't yet. I'm sure I'll stick it on here if we do!

Kx

Monday, 12 May 2014

Made from Scratch - Main

Following on from the Starter post, here's our main - Mediterranean Vegetable Pasta with Garlic Bread. (Capitals are important to emphasise just how tasty this was). 

And now to pasta. I used this recipe, not least because the family in it looked to have so much fun. And fun it was!

Behold my resting dough. 
We toyed with the idea of putting basil in here too (we had a lot of fresh stuff left over) but as you will see, the recipe became pretty basil heavy later on. 

One of the things that has put me off making pasta before is that I assumed you'd need one of those fancy machines which not only look difficult to use, but like they have the potential to remove part or all of one or several fingers. But all you really need is a rolling pin or, failing that, you can MacGyver one with cling film, which works very well.




We dried our pasta on cling film, for want of a better solution. Which, for the record, is below.


Then the easy bit! Veg time. We went with courgettes, mushrooms, onion and garlic...



Remember the tomato base we made for the soup? we added spices - a bit more chilli and whatever we could find in the spice rack, as well as a whole heap more basil.


Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...


While that was cooking we made some garlic bread. This utilised the left over bread from the starter, and we knocked together some garlic butter. Garlic butter is just so easy. Given my vegan persuasion I can't buy it any more, but one of my favourite things is making my own garlic bread with those half-baked loaves you can buy. Beautiful.


This was a good spoonful of dairy-free margarine (I think Vitalite tastes the best) with as much garlic as we had left - about 4 or 5 cloves, with a good handful of basil. I think this would have worked better with parsley, but as you can see, once it came out from under the grill it was still oozy perfection.

Cooking the pasta

Garnished with basil. Obviously.

Et voila! And it was delicious. I felt so proud eating that. The pasta ought to have been a little thinner to cook completely through, which was a lesson I have since put into practice, but there is nothing like the pride of eating something you've put so much effort into making. Freshly made pasta tastes so different from the dried stuff - which is still good stuff - but I'll definitely keep making my own when I can:)

Next blog - Dessert & Drinks - Ice cream and home-made cola!

Kx

Monday, 5 May 2014

Made from Scratch - Starter

One of the questions I am asked most often is why I decided to go vegan. I went vegetarian over 4 years ago, after I cooked my first chicken and was appalled that I couldn't bring myself to eat any more than the white meat. Since that time I slowly cut out more and more, from leather goods to certain types of chocolate.  Eventually that made me take the final push to going vegan, and with the support of my nearest and dearest, it's been much easier than I could have imagined. And once I knew what went into making those products I thought I craved (I'm looking at you, cheese), I completely lost my appetite for them.

It was surprising to me just how many animal products are in what you would regard to be relatively simple food items. The more reading I did, such as Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet, the more I was shocked by just what we put into our bodies, animal products or otherwise.

Now, it's still a long process, and I still eat far too much processed soy and it'll be a long time before I eat my last Oreo, but I am trying to cook as much food from scratch as possible. With that in mind, last November (I know, ages ago, forgive me!) OH and I set about making a FEAST OF EPIC PROPORTIONS which was all made entirely from scratch. And it took 8 hours, all in, because we made ice cream. So it isn't viable to make a super-fancy 3 course meal (including drinks) entirely from scratch every day, but gosh darn it, it was fun. And it tasted so good!

Menu

Starter: Spicy Kidney Bean and Tomato Soup with Basil Bread

Main: Mediterranean Vegetable Pasta with Garlic Bread

Dessert: Vanilla Choc Chip Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce

With: Rum and Cola

Can you see why it took 8 hours now!? Admittedly most of that was the ice cream freezing time, but actual cooking took 4 - 5 I'd say. Although it was a long time ago so who can say? But let's get on with the cooking.

We decided the easiest thing to do was to make a tomato base that we would use both for soup and for pasta sauce. Ordinarily this would be tinned tomatoes or passata, but we went all out. That there is one of the 3 blender's-worth of tomatoes we used, each of which also contained a chilli.


If I was doing this again I'd de-seed the 24 tomatoes we used. I've heard on various cooking shows that blending seed makes the resulting tomato sauce bitter, but that didn't happen here. The only reason I'd remove the seeds now would be to get rid of the enormous amount of water, which we cooked off on a low heat for about an hour and a half, and made the kitchen smell wonderful.


Look at the colour of that! I remember being very hungry at this point, but we were barely even started... While the tomatoes were cooking down, we set to making the bread. It was a very basic bread recipe, from the back of the yeast packet (flour, yeast, water, and a pinch of salt), and we added a big handful of chopped fresh basil.

Action shot of kneading.
I'm terrible at kneading. I give up too quickly, and it never seems to form a lovely pliable ball of dough, instead being just a pile of creases which I hope will bake out but never do. This time was better than usual, given that OH stepped in to provide the muscle.

Risen and ready for the oven.
 Once the tomatoes were ready, the soup could be brought together. We used the Black Bean Soup recipe from 500 Vegan Dishes by Deborah Gray and adapted it to suit what we had around the house.

Steamy

Wooden spoon not present during blending process. Safety first!
Aaaaand blend. At this point I didn't realise the blender came with a kneading attachment. What a fool.


But nonetheless, how nice does the bread look! 


Sexy close-up with basil garnish


And behold, we ate it! And it was beautiful, and tasted all the better for having taken so many hours. We've made this soup again since, but without the home-made tomato base it's never tasted so good. 


Looking at this is making me hungry! The next blog will be the main, which was home-made pasta - one of the easiest things to make, ever. 

If you are interested in finding out more about where food comes from and all that, here are a few resources which I've found particularly helpful over the past year.


Kx

Depression

I've touched on this briefly in a previous blog, (could be the last one, depending on if or when I decide to publish this) but over the past year or so I've found it increasingly difficult to actually do any creative work. It wasn't until about 7 months ago that I realised that I'd become very depressed.

Being a person of a naturally maudlin disposition, it took me a while to notice. I'd assumed that was just what I was like, and that was that. It wasn't until I was in a situation where I really ought to be a lot happier, but found myself unable to be, that I realised that being quite that maudlin might not be how I was supposed to be after all.

At first there were periods of days where I'd feel down, with a few days or weeks respite in between, then it grew and stretched and swapped until one day I realised I couldn't remember the last time I'd actually been happy. That's an awful realisation to have, but unfortunately it wasn't the turning point I was hoping for. The one moment in the film where you get a realisation so shocking and jarring that your life immediately changes doesn't really exist.

I'd been depressed before, but that was triggered by external factors. I remember the trigger for getting better was when I was sitting in the bath drinking vodka and trying not to think about anything, and realised that I expected to want to kill myself at some point. That led to Motivation March, which I mentioned on here over a year ago, being as it was, in March. A turning point I suppose, but then, I wasn't so bad that time.

I remembered that, once I realised this was depression, and considered my options. There were a number of things I felt I could do to make myself better, but on days where it's difficult to bring yourself to walk across the room for a glass of water, it's even more difficult to make yourself do something more productive. The problem lay in the fact that I didn't feel like I deserved any of those things - I had no reason to be sad, so I didn't deserve to be better.

I hated myself like you wouldn't believe. If I drew, it was terrible and I had wasted my education. If I read, I was self indulgent, if I wrote, god forbid, it was hideous trash. I felt that if I could just stick at doing any of these things regularly, I might have a chance to get better, but I couldn't bring myself to. I spent my time instead avoiding myself as much as possible, and feeling bad about inflicting my company on those who loved me, not least because the longer they spent in my presence, the more quickly I thought they'd realise what a failure of a human I was, and leave me alone.

Allie Brosh put it best in these, (Part 1, Part 2) I think, where she said she found herself wishing nobody cared about her so she could just die. And that happened. And it still wasn't a turning point or a wake up call. I don't know that there necessarily is such a thing. Perhaps you just have to wait it out. I was forcing myself to spend more and more time alone, with that horrible mind who hated me so much, and wanting nothing more than to stop existing. I read Allie's comics on depression, and that's when I started crying. And I couldn't stop. It was just before Christmas.

I don't like Christmas, so the depression was even worse for the whole of December than it would have been otherwise. I'd started regularly imagining what it would be like if I just stopped existing and idly considering dying. I had ruined every occasion and outing of the Christmas period for myself, like trips to London, drinks with friends, even just evenings in, by constant self-flagellation by my own brain, convincing me that everyone hated me.

In Allie's comic, she'd mentioned how telling people was very difficult. It seemed insurmountable. How can you tell somebody you love that you want to die? But it had to be done.

Talking about it, was, I think, what helped to make it better. I didn't hide the crying any more, and for the first time in months, I wasn't alone in my own mind. In fact, I cried more, and it was OK, because I was feeling again and I wasn't alone. I had somebody who loved me unconditionally and I saw how hating myself so much was hurting them. It took a while after that to get better, and I am now, or I was for a month or two, except that I'm now seeing the signs of it coming back. Or rather, I'm constantly on the look out for them, and sometimes see them, whether they're there or not.

Perhaps it isn't a process of getting better, more of finding a way to cope with it until it passes. It makes me sad that I'm not free yet and may never be, but I've been on that downward slope before - the Catch-22 of self flagellation. I have somebody to talk to about it now, and while there's the lingering fear that I will make them hate me if it happens too often, I can talk to them, and they can help. I think that's the thing to remember, and I hope that means that if and when it happens again, I won't fall so far. It's hard to rely on somebody that much for my sanity.

I mention this here because I feel like I need to. Perhaps nobody reads this but the fact of the matter is that hiding it doesn't help. When you're sitting by a window at 3am, wondering how far you'd have to fall, it's hard to believe anybody else feels like this. But they do. I did. And I'm still here. That's a pretty big deal.