Z is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

Z is for Zen

If there was an opposite to zen it would be me. In fact, in the dictionary of opposites, beside zen, it would say Jo Tracey.

I’m on a quest to be more zen-like, less attached, less concerned about the opinions of others, less worried about things I can’t control, less likely to take on other people’s problems. I’d love to be serene and detached…but caring at the same time. I’d like to be that person who can shrug off a bad work day without needing wine. I want to sleep at night without a million what if’s running through my head.

The whole meditation thing was supposed to help with that, but I’ve fallen off the meditation wagon over the last couple of months. It’s also one of the reasons I know I need to do something about yoga.

In the meantime, I’ve started to read The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck. How’s that going for me? Well, it’s a good read. I’ve heard other people say it’s changed their life. I’ll let you know.

X is for

In April I’ve taken on the challenge to post for 26 days in a row. The subject? Books and writing, of course.

X is for X-perience

Ok, I’m cheating a tad…but I’m beginning to run out of ideas…

Speaking of which, it’s experience that leads to ideas. It’s why, when we travel I spend almost as much time researching the history and culture of where we’re visiting as I do planning accommodation. I like to know the stories of the destination.

We like to get under the covers of a place, visit the local supermarket, the markets, the fish or wet markets. We’ve even been known to go to livestock markets. We like to shop where they shop, eat where average people eat, use public transport, visit churches or other places of spirituality, sit in parks and coffee shops and watch people go about their daily business.

Sure, we also tick boxes – I usually have a list of places and things that I’d like us to visit or experience. It’s not a to-do list, but rather a range of choices to select from when the mood takes us or if we’re wandering aimlessly – which is another thing we like to do.

It’s from these moments that we make our experiences – and from these experiences that story springs.

 

W is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

W is for Walking

Walking is my favoured exercise. It connects me with nature and clears my head at the same time as I move my body. Multi-tasking at its best.

I’ve always had a desire to walk a very long way and did that with both The Routeburn Track and Milford Track. After Milford I declared, however, that I was never ever ever ever going to walk a very long way again if there was a mountain involved.

Just as it does with childbirth the pain has faded and is being replaced with a feeling that I have unfinished business with this long distance walking thing. So I’m looking for a new challenge to aim for – and possibly write about.

I was considering doing part of the Camino del Santiago – apparently, the French part is pretty – but I’ve also heard that there’s a lot of highway walking involved with the Camino.

Other than that, the following are on my list of possibles:

The Cotswold Way. This 164km track – running from Chipping Camden in the north to Bath in the south – is apparently one of the most beautiful you’ll do. Plus, you can do it without carrying too much – there are services that will take your gear to the next stop. And there are pubs. Proper English ones.

Then there’s the Ridgeway – said to be England’s oldest road. It runs for 139km from Wiltshire along the chalk ridge of the Berkshire Downs and down to Salisbury. There’s lots of real history along the way- as in stone circles, castles, hill forts, and other relics from the bronze and iron ages through to medieval times and beyond.

Also in England is the South West Coast Path. Running from Somerset through Devon and Cornwall and around to Dorset this path stretches for over 1000kms. Naturally, I only want to do parts of it. The coastal scenery is striking and stories of smugglers and shipwrecks abound. This is Poldark country.

There are also a few I’d still like to do in New Zealand:

  • Holyford Track – there are no mountains in the middle
  • Able Tasman Track
  • Queen Charlotte Track
  • Another one that I can never remember the name of that involves you staying in cottages on farms…it will come to me…

In Australia there’s the:

  • Cape to Cape
  • Cradle Mountain
  • Bay of Fires

My issue? My husband is not the least bit interested in doing any of these. I could possibly persuade him to do parts of some of the ones in England, but I’m not confident about that. Anyways, 2020 will be the year for another long walk…I just need to decide which one!

What about you? Have you done any of these long-distance walks? Do you know the name of the one in NZ I can’t remember?

 

V is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

V is for Vegetables

My leading lady in Wish You Were Here is Maxine (Max) Henderson. Max lives in Brookford – a small town in the Cotswolds – and is a seasonal cook. She writes the monthly newsletter Harvest Happenings for the garden centre she works at.

Here’s an excerpt from April’s Harvest Happenings. And the recipe? You’ll need to wait until I’m back from France for that…

The first of the season’s spring onions were picked the other day. They’re still thin and straggly, but will soon be much plumper ‒ if only I can leave them in the ground for just a little longer. We’re also getting some curly lettuce and cucumber, and a few skinny spears of asparagus. In another few weeks we’ll start to see fresh peas and artichokes, then broad beans, tomatoes, and then … I could go on.

It’s about this time of year that we start to shed our layers, see what’s underneath and vow to make better friends with salad. Which leads me into dishes that go well with salad, or dishes that salad goes well with. There’s a difference. Even in the middle month of spring there are days when we need comfort, something warm in our belly, but without the richness and heaviness we look for in winter. Take cheese, for example. Whereas in winter we might long for creamy mornays or cheddar-rich macaroni cheese, now we’re after something a little lighter. Ricotta fits that brief.

Of course you can buy ricotta ‒ we stock a particularly good one from Westfarm Dairy ‒ but it’s easy to make it yourself. All you need is a saucepan, some milk, and lemon juice or vinegar. Heat, Curdle, Drain ‒ One, Two, Three. It couldn’t be easier.

Step 1: Heat. Pour two litres of whole milk (don’t even think about attempting this with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk) into a saucepan. If you want a creamier ricotta, add a couple of tablespoons of cream to the milk. Season as required. Heat until it’s almost at the boil. You can use a thermometer if you must, but really, just bring it to this side of a boil.

Step 2: Curdle. Add four tablespoons of white vinegar or lemon juice. The purists use citric acid, but I find you get a good curdle from vinegar or lemon ‒ and a good curdle is exactly what you want. Stir gently, then bring the mix to a simmer for a couple of minutes before removing the pan from the heat. Once the mixture’s sat for about ten minutes you’ll notice that the curds have floated to the top and the whey is at the bottom. We’re only interested in the curds for ricotta ‒ although there are plenty of uses for whey. I’ll leave you to google those.

Step 3: Drain. Line a sieve with cheesecloth or something similar (I find clean pudding cloths are perfect) and balance it over a large bowl. Pour the mix through and allow the whey to drain away. The longer you leave it draining, the more solid your ricotta will be.

This is a fresh milk product so you’ll need to store it in the fridge and use it within a few days, but as ricotta is so versatile that’s not difficult.

You can crumble it into an omelette, over a salad, or on top of your tagliatelle carbonara ‒ remember, no cream in the carbonara, we do it the Italian way! The ricotta is also lovely on hot toast with some cinnamon shaken over the top. You can even use it whenever you’d normally use Greek yoghurt ‒ not that you’d use Greek yoghurt on toast, but you get the idea. It goes especially beautifully with bananas, strawberries and honey. Speaking of honey, have you tried the local honey we have in the shop at the moment?

My favourite use for ricotta, however, is in little gnocchi-type dumplings. I love gnocchi, but let’s face it, they can be temperamental. If the potato isn’t cooked exactly right, or dried out enough, or worked too much, your perfect little gnocchi can easily taste like rubber. You won’t have that problem with these ricotta dumplings. I serve them with a smoky, sweet red pepper sauce. Coincidentally, peppers are coming into season next month. I’ll pop the recipe for both the dumplings and the sauce up on the website.

Until next time,

Max

If you want to read more of Max’s story – and perhaps more of Harvest Happenings – Wish You Were Here is available now on Amazon and ibooks. Follow the links here.

U is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

U is for Ubud

Ubud is less a place than a state of mind.

Not that you’d know that if you’ve just come in on a day trip, landed at the market, had a look around the palace and wandered down Monkey Forest Road. The main street of Ubud feels just like any main street in Bali – chaotic.

Of course, if you’re after transport or an armful of cruisey beach dresses, sarongs and Bintang t-shirts…or perhaps even the ubiquitous wooden penis bottle opener, in the centre of town is where you want to be.

Walk a little away from the Palace, though, and things feel different- quieter. Venture up a side street and it’s different again.

It’s in these side streets that you find local designers and jewellers, galleries, homewares, jam makers, soap makers, organic food, spas, get your chakras cleaned…the list goes on.

Take a wander, peer up that alley, through that gate. When it all gets too hot and melty, there’ll be somewhere to sit and have a coconut, a healthy juice or a beer. When you get hungry, you’re spoilt for choice. There are so many little places that you enter from an alley or a tiny door that open up into a working rice paddy.

We took a stroll through the back streets one morning and ended up in the rice fields where the only noise was trickling water, ducks, and the occasional gamelan. Paradise found.

It can all be a little Eat Pray Love…but I like that – so much that so far I’ve partially set two books there. In Baby, It’s You, Em escapes to Ubud and…well, that would be telling.

These days if we go to Bali we split our time between Ubud and the coast – but it’s Ubud that we miss when we leave. It’s where we exhale.

If you want to see more about Ubud – where to go, what to eat, check out these posts on my old and anyways site

Lotus

 

 

 

 

 

T is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

T is for tourist vs traveller

As this post is published if all has gone to schedule hubby and I will be starting Stage 2 of our road trip through France.

We first came through here in 1994 on a Trafalgar bus tour. It was three weeks on one of those “it’s day 3, we must be in Lyon” type things.

Mr T was over 30, so we were too old for the backpacker bus and found ourselves with an older crowd.

I got severely claustrophobic. By day 2 I was sick of having times and running sheets barked at me. So Mr T and I made a pact – the only excursions we’d do with the group would be the included ones.  The only meals we would have with the group would be the included ones. This meant we did everything else under our own steam.

They’d come back complaining about the prices of sandwiches and soft drinks from the sellers in Pisa, we’d waltz back on the bus having found a cute spot that sold pizza and wine for less than $10. They spent ten minutes queuing to hand lira (yes, it was that long ago) to a grumpy old woman in a public toilet whereas I’d talked myself into something much more comfortable.

It worked. We had the best of both worlds – time on our own to explore and the ease of having everything in between figured out. The only problem is, once people cottoned on to what we were doing and how we’d found great places they didn’t, we began to get a queue behind us as others on the tour followed us.

The good thing about tour buses is that it allows you to tick off major locations without stressing about the travel involved between. It doesn’t, however, allow time for exploration and immersion – but that’s not the point.

I don’t think I could do an organised bus tour now – mainly because I’m way too independent, like my own space, and want to change my plans if I feel like it. Back then though? We had limited time and it suited. Plus it was enough of a taster for us to know where we wanted to one day come back and explore properly.

I had someone ask me the other week whether I considered myself a tourist or a traveller – the implication being that one was somehow less than the other.

According to this “expert”, it seems that tourists stay in hotels, resorts and cruise ships and travel in an organised or group fashion.

In contrast, she said, travellers explore. Rather than five countries in six days, they might base themselves in one place over a longer period and “live like the locals.”

Tourists tick boxes and travellers don’t. Apparently. It’s all a lot of whatever as far as I’m concerned.

To be honest I’m a little of both – tourist and traveller. I don’t see the difference and don’t believe there should be one. I travel to a new place and I’m a tourist when I’m there. So there. And yes, I photograph everything before I eat it too. I’ve also been known to do the occasional selfie and will post it all on Instagram.

I chose to do both The Routeburn Track and The Milford Track walks with an organised group rather than as an independent or “freedom” walker – and am glad I did. It took absolutely nothing away from the experience – and made it all a lot more comfortable and achievable than it would have been if I was walking independently.

My travelling bucket list has places on it that I want to visit just to tick them off, and places I want to visit for immersion purposes. I’ll do the former by way of cruises or drive-throughs, I’ll do the latter for longer stays.

I have no issues being both a tourist and a traveller – nor do I think it matters. As long as travel is taking you away from your normal boundaries who cares how you choose to do it?

I love the fact that the world is accessible. I love the fact that we have the choice to immerse ourselves or to take a few photos, tick a few boxes and leave. I love the fact that we get to experience other places and broaden our physical horizons and our minds. I love the fact that I can choose to be a traveller or a tourist, and I love the fact that it doesn’t worry me much which one I am as long as I have a boarding pass in my hand and a stamp in my passport.

I never ever want to be jaded by the process, or fail to be excited about hopping onto a plane to somewhere. I’m the person who grabs the airline menu and wonders without complaint what’s on offer. Apparently, that’s something a tourist does; whereas a traveller leans back and sleeps – something I’ve never been able to do…I could miss something.

What about you? Are you a tourist, a traveller or, like me, a little of both?

 

S is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

S is for Sexy Scenes

Yep, I’ve written a few. I like to think – okay I hope – that when I have used a raunchy scene that it has advanced the plot or the characters a tad. I’m not, however, comfortable writing them.

So, how does one go about writing a sexy scene? Do I set the stage with mood lighting and soft music? Maybe a few candles? Nope. I wrote some of my more “interesting” scenes in decidedly unsexy surroundings:

  • In my lunch break at work in the food hall near IKEA with screaming kids and flatpack trolleys (Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry)
  • On the bus during my commute (Wish You Were Here)
  • Listening to next door’s washing machine beeping because it was out of balance and needed to have the load shifted and he’d gone out for the day (I Want You Back)

Then there have been those scenes I’ve written while still in bed on a Saturday morning with hubby standing in the doorway asking if I’d like scrambled or poached eggs – or maybe an omelette – for breakfast? Hmm…

The thing is, writing a squidgy scene isn’t a whole lot more different than writing anything else. Plus, if you let your imagination go wild, it can even be kind of fun – although it helps if you pretend that it will never be read by your mother. Before I gave a copy of Wish You Were Here to my mother I seriously considered redacting entire paragraphs. (sorry Mum)

But, I digress. When it comes to writing those scenes essentially:

  • The first sex scene between your protagonists should be the longest one in the book. It’s a turning point and a huge emotional whammy – often in more ways than one.
  • It’s also primarily an emotional act rather than a physical one. Whatever it is that our characters are doing – or how they’re doing it – we want to know how they’re feeling.
  • If you can delete the sexy bits without impacting the story, they probably shouldn’t be there. It has to advance the story in some way – either through bringing your protagonists together, pushing them apart, or complicating things enough to make a situation worse before it gets better.
  • Sex is when we’re at our most raw, most needy, and most emotionally vulnerable – this should come across (no pun intended) in that first scene.
  • Stay away from the IKEA style tab A into tab B type of physical instructions. As, (I think it was) Anne Gracie said in the Trust Your Voice session at last year’s RWA Conference, sex is about more than the “docking procedure”.
  • With your attention (and blood) diverted to areas much further south than your brain, deep and meaningful or philosophical conversations can happen before or after, but absolutely not during. Speaking of which, sex is real – as is humour – so it’s ok to lighten the mood as well.

In One More Dance (yes, I have a name for Book No. 5 now) my protagonists are in their fifties and – even though it shouldn’t have – writing their scenes presented a different set of challenges.

Previously I’d written characters in their late twenties and thirties. It felt easier opening their bedroom doors than it did opening the doors on an older couple – even though it shouldn’t have. In the end, I wrote their scenes in exactly the same way as I’d written for my younger characters. Time will tell whether that was successful or not.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me…although I’m on holiday at the moment so mightn’t get around to answering or responding to all comments.

R is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

R is for Rick Stein

Another of my foodie heroes, I love how Rick doesn’t just give you a recipe, he takes you on a journey. I’m sure some of it is scripted but I truly can imagine him wandering marketplaces and sipping beers in cafes writing notes and ideas in his journal.

Rick Stein is exactly the sort of food writer that I’d like to be – if I was actually writing about food, that is. I’m sure we would be besties if we ever met. Truly.

R is for Reviews

I don’t read them. I can’t – I’m way too thin-skinned. While logically I know that my stories and my characters won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – I don’t want to read that.

The same goes for my protagonists. We’ve all met people in real life who we don’t take to, so why should I be upset if others don’t like my characters? Yet I am.

So I don’t read reviews – in case no one has left one, and in case I don’t like what I see.

I do, however, leave reviews – if I’ve enjoyed a book, a restaurant, a hotel. Having said that, if I have a problem, I address it first with the restaurant or hotel before going to town about it on Trip Advisor.

As for books? I’ll leave reviews on Goodreads only for those that have really touched me. Much of the time if I don’t like a book, it’s because I don’t like the genre – and to review on that basis isn’t fair. If it wasn’t my cup of tea, why should I leave something soul destroying for the author?

I get that the whole business of reviews is, well, a business – especially in the indie author game. I also know that I need reviews in order to have any impact on the complicated system of algorithms that Amazon uses, but I can’t bring myself to actually ask for them. Nor do I think I’ll ever be the author who posts snippets of great ones on social media – only because I would have had to read them first!

Q is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

Q is for Queenstown

I’ve told you how much I love New Zealand before, but Queenstown? If you haven’t been to this town you simply must.

Framed by The Remarkables mountain range – one of the few ranges in the world that runs truly north-south. That in itself is a remarkable fact, but I’m more inclined to believe they were named because of just how remarkable they look.

They, and Lake Wakatipu, change almost by the minute as the sun changes position and the light varies. Moody one minute, dramatic the next, but always, well, remarkable.

So remarkable that I’ve (so far) set two books there – Wish You Were Here and One More Dance (previously known as Book No. 5). I’ve also been percolating a new series all set in and around Queenstown.

The pic above is in a cafe in town – my favourite place for breakfast, Vudu Cafe and Larder. This cafe was the inspiration for Jess’s cafe, Beach Road, in Wish You Were Here and One More Dance.

The lookout spot on the road to Glenorchy

I’ve also taken my characters out to Glenorchy and Paradise. They’ve walked parts of the Routeburn Track and all of The Milford Track.

Paradise

In One More Dance, they get to explore Arrowtown and also get a glimpse of the wineries in the Gibbston Valley.

I haven’t yet allowed them to stroll through Old Cromwell or smell the wild thyme under their feet around Bannockburn. No doubt that will come.

Naturally, setting a novel in a place requires research – and lots of it. But in this case, it’s research that I’m more than happy to do.

 

 

P is for …

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

P is for Pop Music and Playlists

I’m a pop music tragic and manage to bring it into almost every book that I write. Indeed every book has a title inspired by lyrics of a pop song.

Em, my heroine in Baby, It’s You, has a playlist for every one of life’s moments. When she breaks up with her boyfriend she goes straight to the break-up playlist and the break-up meal.

In fact, that book was written with not just a soundtrack in mind – and yes, I have a soundtrack or playlist for every book – but there was, in the background,  a song allocated to each chapter. In one of the earlier drafts, I used these songs as the chapter titles.

As for using songs and lyrics in the book itself? No, I don’t go there.

I was going to – in Baby, It’s You – but after seeking permission to do so, the cost to use just a couple of lines from Augie March’s “One Crowded Hour” was prohibitive. Instead, I worked the lines into the dialogue. I’ve done the same in I Want You Back, working lines from “Xanadu” and “Blinded By The Light” into what my characters are saying.

Given that I’m not (yet) selling shedloads of books could I have got away with it? Possibly, but I wasn’t prepared to take that risk.

I wrote a post about the process I went through in order to obtain permission. You’ll find it here.

P is for Podcasts

I listen while I’m at my desk in the day job and I listen when I’m walking. Weirdly, I can’t listen while I’m writing – the sound of someone else’s voice and story gets in the way of the one that I’m telling. I say it’s weird because I write best when I’m in a coffee shop or at the Surf Club and am surrounded by white noise – yet can’t do day job work in those conditions.

Anyways, podcasts.

My favourites?

For indie business, I listen to Joanna Penn’s “The Creative Penn” and Mark Dawson’s “Self Publishing Formula.” From time to time I’ll add others into the mix, but these are the perennials.

For story ideas and human interest, I listen to:

  • Richard Fidler’s “Conversations” on ABC
  • BBC Radio 4’s “Saturday Live”
  • BBC Radio 4’s “Desert Island Discs”
  • BBC Radio 4’s “Books and Authors”
  • Gary Mehigan’s “A Plate To Call Home”

I also download specific episodes from:

  • Ideas At The House – talks at the Sydney Opera House
  • The Wheeler Centre
  • Sydney Writer’s Festival
  • Sparta Chicks Radio. This one is for athletes, trail runners etc, but has some great content for mindset stuff.

and enjoy

  • Chat 10 Looks 3 with Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb
  • Flights of Fancy with my fave travel writer Ben Groundwater and
  • The Pineapple Project with Claire Hooper

I’m on the lookout for new podcasts with writers, so if you have suggestions…