knitting and nanowrimo

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So, Nanowrimo is over. And, sad to say, I not only failed to make the official finishing line, but I also collapsed long before I reached my own finishing line (25,000 words).

I was on track for a full eight days during which I managed to hammer out 12,000 words. But then my mini-Nano was derailed by a deadline which was suddenly brought forward from January to November. Work, of the paid variety, always has to come first. And fortunately it was a nice feature to write – it’s about two very interesting people and it will be accompanied by some lovely photographs taken by my friend James.

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Although the writing didn’t go entirely to plan I did get a lot of knitting done. I find that simple knitting – of the hats, fingerless mittens and socks variety – is very conducive to the sort of free-form thinking that creative writing requires. Round and round I knit, and round and round my thoughts go. I always have a notebook to hand and ideas pop into my mind effortlessly; so different from the paralysis I experience when staring at a blank screen.

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It works with articles too. There is always a point when whatever I am writing about becomes far more complicated than it needs to be. A cup of coffee and a bit of knitting, and the tangle I am in with my writing has miraculously unravelled.

The hats, from top to bottom are Snawheid by Kate Davies (pom pom yet to be attached), Julia’s Cabled Headband by Paulina Chin and finally my first, and not entirely successful, attempt at making a hat without a pattern. I also managed to make several pairs of fingerless mittens using this excellent pattern by Leslie Friend, though I am now keen to have a go at two other fingerless, wrist-warmery, stash-busting patterns, both of which I’ve had sitting on my desk for months now: Susie’s Reading Mitts by Susie Rogers and Runrig Muffatees by Annie Cholewa, aka Knitsofacto, who is currently running a very lovely knitting-related giveaway.

losing the plot

This time last year I was a little over halfway through Nanowrimo, an international event in which participants attempt to write a novel in a month (or 50,000 words). I was wrestling with a story I’d been writing on and off for several years and although hard work, it was liberating to just write and be damned. Writing without looking back, without tinkering with your copy, is essential if you are to have any hope of crossing the nano finishing line. There is also a lot to be said for the whole idea of writing as badly as you can. To be able to say to yourself “this is SO atrocious, so cheesy, so cliched” is incredibly exhilarating.

Anyway, I crossed the finishing line. Just. And then I put the manuscript to bed, at the back of the filing cabinet. I’ve tinkered with it since, but not much. My plan was to plough on with the rest of the story for this year’s nano, and then kick it all in to shape in the New year.

But the starting gun for Nano 2012 was fired in the middle of half term. There was no way I could manage 2,000 or so words a day (however bad they were) during the holidays – not fair on the girls, not fair on me either, frankly. I thought that perhaps a late start would be possible – I would have been happy to limp in at around the 40,000 mark.

However, on our return from Dorset a whole run of family-related events, issues and life stuff rolled over the horizon, as it does from time-to-time, and the slightly late start became a non-start. But a few days ago, whilst out on my morning run, and very much in the spirit of my new found love of running, I decided I could do a half-Nano (25,000 words) instead of the full Nano, and write like a demon for the last two weeks of the event.

I tell you this by way of explaining the lack of activity on my blog, and the fact that it may remain rather quieter than usual until the end of the month.

I’ll finish by saying that I really enjoyed all the comments on my last post – who would have known that a humble canvas shoe had so many names? It might warrant another post – not least because I have these two books sitting on my desk, and I am itching to read them.

Oh, one final thing, if you are hopping around the internet this weekend, there is a nice word game taking place here – I’ve found it a fun, if maddening, distraction this week, and  it’s not too late to join in for round one.

PS trees are all in Ashton Court, a favourite place for walking the dog and now running. 

finished!

It’s over. Nanowrimo is behind me. I made it to 50,106 words today. It’s not a novel – the plot is all over the place and half-formed characters abound – but it’s the start of something. Now I’m going to print it off, stick it in a folder, and ignore it until next year.

Despite its ups and downs, Nanowrimo has been an incredibly rewarding experience – a  boot camp for writers, with weekly pep talks from the likes of Erin Morgenstern, who says she wrote The Night Circus over the course of two Nanowrimos, and Philip Pullman.

Out in the real world another November challenge is drawing to an end – Movember. To celebrate the amazingly hairy fundraising effort made by the male teachers at the girls’ school, all the children were encouraged to wear moustaches for today (school is closed tomorrow). Bea went in sporting this rather natty little number.

this week’s biscuit

The Nanowrimo challenge grinds on, and it seems to get harder every day. I am now over 30,000 words into the task and despite the pain, boredom and frustration that I experience each day, I am enjoying the process. I can’t bring myself to call what I’m writing a novel, as currently it’s just a thicket of ideas with barely a squeak of a plot, but a story of sorts is emerging. Obviously this calls for more biscuits.

These chocolate and nut bars have proved very popular with the girls too, which is a surprise as they all claim to hate nuts. The recipe is from a very old cookery book, The Cook’s Companion, by Josceline Dimbleby, which my mother gave me twenty years ago, and which I still turn to on a regular basis. These little bars can be run up in ten minutes or so as everything is made in a pan, and they take twelve minutes to cook. Although only the thickness of a biscuit, they have a slightly cakey consistency which I think means they occupy that part of biscuitdom normally only inhabited by the Jaffa Cake. They are great on their own, but brilliant with ice cream. I have used toasted hazelnuts as the recipe suggests, but I think any nuts would do.

Chocolate and Hazelnut Thins

125g butter; 25g plain chocolate broken up; 1tsp instant coffee; 75g soft dark brown sugar; 1tsp vanilla essence;  1 egg beaten lightly; 25g plain flour; 1/2 tsp salt; 50g skinned hazelnuts, toasted and chopped up.

Preheat oven to 190/375 gas 5; Butter (and I also line) a 25 x 30cm Swiss roll tin.

Melt the butter and chocolate together over a low heat, stirring all the time. Add the instant coffee and stir to dissolve. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla essence and then the egg. Sift in the flour and salt and mix until smooth.

Pour the thick mixture into the tin and spread evenly, or tilt the tin to get it to level out across the base. It will look like a very scant amount, but don’t worry. Sprinkle with the chopped toasted hazelnuts.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, turning the tin halfway through to ensure that it cooks evenly.

Leave in the tin for a few minutes before lifting to a wire rack to allow them to cool. Alternatively, eat them straight away, whilst still warm.

NB – late addition here: I didn’t bother with the 1/2 tsp of salt as I used lightly salted butter rather than unsalted.

crumbs

Having signed up to a mad, month-long writing project which involves attempting to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days (NaNoWriMo), I find that all I want to do is bake stuff. And biscuits, in particular, have become very appealing: they are quick to make and, perhaps more significantly, easy to eat whilst alternately drinking coffee and typing. Or, more typically, staring into space.

The biscuit obsession began during half term when Bea rustled up a batch of peanut butter and chocolate cookies for her godmother, Jess. Whilst overseeing production, I was struck by the speed with which biscuits can be made, cooked, and dispatched.

I know there are recipes out there for cakes which can be whipped up in minutes (Delia has a very good basic sponge that springs to mind), but even so, biscuits seem quicker. I suppose it’s partly because biscuits tend not to be iced, which means that you don’t need to wait until they’ve cooled before diving in. In fact these cookies are particularly delicious when they’re still warm. The recipe is from Christmas Treats by Linda Collister.

But of all the biscuit recipes I’ve looked at recently (and it’s been quite an intense period of research), shortbread must be the easiest. It only has three ingredients, all of which are store cupboard basics: caster sugar, butter, flour – cocoa powder if you’re feeling flash.

The recipe for this chocolate shortbread came from The Great British Book of Baking, which accompanied the first series of The Great British Bake Off. It’s very rich.

And finally, for now anyway, from the same book, Jumbles. So called, I guess, because you sling a jumble of whatever nuts, fruit or chocolate you have to hand into the basic biscuit mix. Quick and easy, Jumbles are delicious and smell heavenly as they bake. All three of these biscuit recipes have been made on a loose rotation for the last two weeks. I have plans for some freezer biscuits this weekend – you make a dough, freeze it and then, when you want biscuits, you take it out and let it thaw slightly before slicing off the number of biscuits you want to bake. I love this idea. Though I can see some problems – chief among them being the temptation to bake a biscuit or two with every cup of tea.

Of course all this domestic goddess malarky is just a complicated, and fattening, way of avoiding my daily word count. Still, making biscuits is more fun than the endless vacuuming I found myself doing when I was trying to revise for my RHS level 2 exams.

Fortunately my daily walks with Sybil go some way towards ensuring that my bottom doesn’t take on bus-like dimensions as I sit in front of the computer.

These walks also give me a chance to get outside to enjoy my favourite season.

Enough! I have biscuits to bake. No, what am I saying? I have a novel to write. My cardboard characters are demanding a better plot. They say their situations are boring, their motives shaky. I am inclined to agree*. All my baking, walking, gardening**, quilting***, knitting, and blogging, have conspired against The Great Project. It is now 2,000 words behind schedule. Back to the grindstone.

* I don’t really care though, the exhilarating thing about Nanowrimo is that you just plough on, churning out words without a backward glance. I know that when the 1st of December dawns I will have some cringe-inducing prose awaiting me, but I will have thrashed out the framework for a story I’ve been thinking about for years.

**Despite several mornings on my knees, I still have 200 bulbs left to plant. 

*** It’s finished! I will write a post about this later. 

PS If anyone wants the recipes, just leave a message and I’ll post them as soon as I can. I’m sure it’s alright to post someone else’s recipe as long as it’s credited. Just can’t face typing them up right now.