Feb, 2006. For the past five months I have been living in a car at the edge of woods — jobless and homeless and totally unable to find a way out. I can't sing, I can't dance, I can't scream loudly enough, but I can read and write. So here I am laying down tracks...hopefully the start of an online paper trail out of here. (Update: Miracles happen....if you are reading my story I am part of your proof.)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Tis (almost) the year's midnight...

and the day's....

Today is the last day of summer — apparently! The starlings are off to Africa, everything is hunkering down, and despite the shiver I get at this time of year now - from memories of that time in the car when the cold set in — I still love more than anything this whole season— the long, slow striptease of autumn.

Thanks very much for your emails. Yes, I am well, just haven't written in here much because I am concentrating on looking ahead, putting all this behind me, trying to get back to where I was.... Things these days are, mostly, good — definitely mostly good. Even though at times it still feels as though I am holding up the sky with one hand. Especially as we begin the long run-up to Christmas.

Try as I might to shrug it off, and no matter how many people I surround myself with, Christmas will probably always be dimmed a bit by loneliness for me — it probably always has been — but now that I've written my book and so can no longer be in touch with any member of the family I used to have, ever again — even if I wanted to - in case they find out and get hurt and/or angry. We can't even just play 'happy families' once a year as we had for years, years back. I used to love Christmas, I still do, but there is a loneliness about it now, people not there who should be there, whatever you feel about them. I find myself looking on it almost as a chore, wishing it was over already. There are worse things though. Having lived in my car for all that time, I now feel very qualified to say that. I need to remember it....No matter how tough or hopeless things seem - I know there can definitely be worse.

Besides, this year I will be with someone who I know cares for me, and with other lovely people — and, before the Christmas tree is dusted off and the tinsel untangled from its boxes, we've got the year going down in flames, in another spectacular autumn to look forward to! Why am I thinking of Christmas already....Now is the perfect time of year.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Food for thought

When things get to me I cook. When they really get to me I bake. Yesterday I baked TWO egg custard tarts - which, warm, has got to be the ultimate comfort food — and a loaf of banana bread. Then I settled in, with several mugs of builders tea, to finish the book I am reading - The Road Home by Rose Tremain.

Almost every novel I have read recently has increased my desire and — more and more — my confidence, to write. If writing were that simple everybody would be doing it, but sometimes you read a book that makes it seem so easy. The Road Home is one of them - Tremain definitely manages to make it seem that way. Maybe my response is because it deals with homelessness and surviving on the edges of society - things which are still fresh in my mind; and so I feel I could have written something similar from experience rather than imagination. In places it almost feels like writing-by-numbers, which after the brilliance of Music and Silence I almost don't dare write. Of course it isn't...But because of my own experience of it all, the fact that for all those months I walked such a similar walk to the main character in the book, it seems so.

Maybe that is why the plot felt so visible at times. I always had the feeling of knowing what was coming next. It spoiled it for me a bit. Answering questions raised in a novel before the plot reveals them to you, and anticipating surprises is part of the pleasure of reading, but I felt the answers came a bit too easily here (robbing me of the satisfaction of the penny-dropping moment coming after the appropriate amount of head-scratching). Who am I to say though - it was definitely a moving read, and kept me engaged with the characters and wanting to know what happened next right to the end. And Rose Tremain is Rose Tremain — every line of her should be read, and I couldn't even dream of writing that well. It has even won the Orange prize for fiction, so what do I know....Maybe you need a book like that to come along to give you that extra bit of confidence that you can do it yourself... Or maybe the craft always shows through the story when you look for it as closely as I have probably been doing since I put my own story into words - something, subconsciously, I had probably been 'writing' in my head my whole life, since childhood. Anyway, it has confirmed the fact that I want to write more than I want to do anything. Nothing comes closer to that feeling of sitting alone in a room and loosing yourself in writing and it all coming together... I want to do that more than anything. Not the kind of book Abandoned is, but to write books that people want to curl up with. There can't be a pleasure greater than that.

Though egg-custard tart sometimes comes close...

In case I've wettted your appetite, here's my recipe:

250g (9oz) sweet, shortcrust pastry (you can make it or buy Just-Roll shortcrust pastry)
2 egg yolks, beaten — for sealing the pastry case
75g (3oz) caster sugar
8 egg yolks
570ml (1 pt) double cream
freshly grated nutmeg
20cm (8") fluted flan tin

Preheat oven to 180/350/mark 4. Line the flan tin with the pastry and cover with greaseproof paper. Fill with uncooked rice (or baking beans if you have them) to keep the pastry flat. Place the pastry case in the oven and bake 'blind' until it starts to brown around the edges. Remove from the oven. Carefully lift out the greaseproof paper and baking beans before replacing the pastry case in the oven. Once the base starts to colour, remove from the oven and brush the pastry all over with the 2 beaten egg yolks to seal any cracks. Return to the oven and as soon as the egg yolk mix is cooked repeat the process twice more to ensure that the pastry case is totally sealed. Finally, remove from the oven and set aside.

Turn the oven right down to 120/250/ mark 3/4 and proceed to make the filling. Whisk the sugar and 8 egg yolks together in a bowl. Bring the cream to the boil in a saucepan, then take off the heat and pour over the egg yolks and sugar, whisking well. Pass through a fine sieve (if you have one) into a jug. Leave to cool slightly and skim off any bubbles from the surface.
To bake the tart, place the baked pastry case on a baking sheet and put into the oven (it is much easier to fill the case once it is in the oven - it avoids any spills!) Carefully pour the filling into the case. Grate fresh nutmeg over the top and bake for 45-50 minutes. Keep checking as the tart cooks. You are aiming for the filling to be just set, but slightly wobbly in the centre. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Don't put in the fridge as this will change the texture. (But I any leftovers put in the fridge will taste even better the next day).
Now, dim the lights, draw the curtains, turn the lock and settle down to eat it undisturbed with a good read and a glass of something cold. Some things are not for sharing. Enjoy!

If you have any favourite recipes you would like to share, add them here as a comment, or email them: I'm collecting recipes at the moment...the luminous yellow notebook I used to keep recipes in, and which was bursting with torn-out recipes from magazines and newspapers over the years, and scribbled with ones people had given or cooked for me, disappeared with all the rest of my stuff in storage. So now I'm starting again— making a new one — and since there are readers of this blog from so many countries there must be some really interesting foods. I'm sure everyone has at least one meal they love to cook, one recipe they think is perfect and would be able to cook on a desert island.

There are eggs, potatoes and onions, a few slivers of ham, some slightly greenish cheese, and half a loaf of homemade olive-bread in my fridge. Anyone got a good recipe for tortilla? Or maybe Quesilladas?