Jam Jam Jam Jam

Here in Edinburgh (well, on the outskirts), it's been a pretty rubbishy Summer.
Wettest June on record, cold and dreich in July, and August isn't looking a lot better, thus far.
So I'm not expecting much in the way of forage-able fruit, and I seized five boxes of reduced price cherries in the supermarket on Tuesday like a woman possessed. 
I've never made cherry jam, but it's one of my favourites, so I repurposed the olive stoning part of my garlic crusher and set about pitting more than a kilo of Spanish Picota cherries. 

Into the saucepan they went with sugar and a healthy dollop of Certo liquid pectin, and I brought the gloriously red combination to the boil. 
I boiled.
And I tested. 
And I boiled. 
And I tested. 
And I boiled some more. 
I put it all into jars, and the next morning I lifted one of them up the the light - and it slopped about. 
So I tipped the whole sticky mess back into the pan and I boiled it again. 
There must be some trick about cherry jam, but it escapes me. I now have three jars of VERY sweet cherries in slightly less sloppy jam (ish) juice. I reckon that another twenty minutes would have turned them into glacé fruit. 
However, none of this matters, because Gavin approves (he has a sweet tooth) and he has been discovered eating it with a teaspoon.

On Sunday morning, I went and investigated the wild raspberry situation and it was just as dire as I have been anticipating. Nothing daunted, I came home with 75g in a little bag (about enough to fit into a small yogurt pot). 
75g raspberries
45g sugar
A slosh of lemon juice
And boil for five minutes (nothing LIKE the hour or more I had to do for the cherries).

Less than an hour after being picked, we had a (very small) pot of raspberry jam. 
Total food miles = about 500 metres. 
There are more raspberries in the woods where we walk Boris, so I'm going out tonight equipped a couple of freezer bags.
I'll report back.
Any jam-making wisdom will be gratefully received, so please tell me your secrets. 


PS  I've set up a Subscribe option for the blog in the sidebar. It will deliver all the blog posts for the week in a single email on a Saturday, like getting a free magazine every weekend. 

The Guardian NTBP Long List

As a teenager, the family newspaper was always The Guardian.

Or as my Dad called it, The MANCHESTER Guardian.
I never dreamed that one day I would write a book and that it would be listed in the newspaper as being worthy of a prize, but that is what happened this week. 

The Sewing Machine is on the Not The Booker Prize Longlist. 

If you would like to vote for it, you have until 23:59 on Monday.

Visit the website here.
In order to vote you need to create a Guardian account (name and email).
Then choose TWO books from the Long List. 
They must be from DIFFERENT publishers.
Vote in the Comments by typing
Vote Book 1 = (the name of the first book)
Vote Book 2 = (the name of the second book)
And then leave a review of one (or both) of them. About a hundred words, something personal.

Same publisher = Both votes invalid.
No review = Both votes invalid. 

It would be lovely to be shortlisted, wouldn't it?
I know some of you have voted already.
Thank you. 




Last week, I came home from Glasgow at about eleven o'clock in the evening and found this wee hedgehog lying on the doorstep.

It wasn't moving and was lying on its side, which I thought was a bit odd. Hedgehogs are supposed to curl up, aren't they, not just go to sleep any-old-how? The front door light makes it seem rather bright but it was actually dark outside (as you would expect at that time).

I left it for ten minutes and it didn't move at all. We have a significant cat population and although I didn't think many moggies would want a mouthful of needles, there were also the Rooks and Magpies to consider, so with mittens on, I picked it up and brought it into the house. 
It curled up... sort of...  but this was a pretty poor attempt at self protection, so after consulting various websites, I found a cardboard box and an old towel and installed it in the utility room with the door closed where Boristhedog wouldn't be overly interested in the smells.

In the morning it was a bit more lively, so I weighed it - just popped it in a bowl on the kitchen scales. 
One website informed me that this meant it was about five to six weeks old and it wouldn't yet be weaned so I rang the SSPCA and they promised to send someone out to see it. I didn't want to put it back outside in case it had been orphaned and was too young to fend for itself. 
About an hour later an SSPCA person arrived and had a look... there was nothing to worry about. "It" was a "he", and he was well hydrated and by now, quite active. He was about 8 weeks old and perfectly capable of coping on his own.
Back he went into the box, along with dog food and water, until the evening. Hedgehogs seen in daylight are in trouble, so it was important to wait until it was dark (ish).

He doesn't look very big does he?

Five minutes later he was gone. I watched him positively racing across the garden in search of food and adventure. He had quite a turn of speed!

This short video is on Instagram
We are very lucky to have hedgehogs in the garden. About ten minutes after he made his bid for freedom, another, larger one appeared at the back door. This is an excellent reason to leave the grass and the undergrowth a little on the untidy side, I think.
I'm now wondering about buying some proper hedgehog food - I mean, I feed the birds, so why not feed the hedgehogs?


It's Tuesday, 21st March 1911

The strike at the Singer factory in Clydebank, began on Tuesday, 21st of March 1911.
A Tuesday just like today, one hundred and six years ago.

Some statistics:

At the time, about half of the women who lived in Clydebank and who worked outside the home, worked at the Singer factory.
According to the 1911 Census, four times as many women in Clydebank worked in the engineering and metalwork sectors then were employed in domestic service (the main female employment in 1911).
80% of these women were under 24 years of age.

The Singer strike was initiated by fifteen women who worked in the Polishing Department. By the end of day one, two thousand of the total workforce of about eleven thousand were on strike. Imagine for a minute, how that must have felt. 

When I first started writing "The Sewing Machine", I thought it was going to be a novel about, well, a sewing machine. But as I wrote, Jean and Fred and Connie and Donald took over and different themes emerged.

There is sewing, of course, but the characters, and the research, dictated other narratives as well.

It's a novel about employment, about what happens when we are unable to work for half a dozen different reasons and how the removal of that choice makes us feel.
It's about families, and family secrets. Sometimes secrets are kept because people are ashamed, however there are many other reasons for remaining silent.
And it's about craft. We have all experienced the feeling of getting engrossed in a project, whether that's knitting a sock, icing a cake, sewing a dress, or even mowing the grass in the back garden very carefully into stripes. Craft, especially craft which is complicated enough that we need to concentrate, but not so fiendish that we want to chop it into tiny pieces, allows us to switch off when we are stressed, and to heal.

Once a book has been published, it no longer belongs to the author, it's the property of the reader. 
I'm incredibly excited about letting Jean and Fred go out into the world to tell their stories.
Launch date SOON!


Adventures in proofreading


My proofs have arrived.

This means more learning of unfamiliar software; on this occasion Adobe Acrobat Reader. If anyone wants to take up a hobby to keep their brain active, I can heartily recommend the publishing process. It's not the actual writing - it's the editing, the software, the multiple balls being kept airborne at the same time and the scouring of old newspaper archives for obscure dates.

Do you want to know about the weather in April 1911? 
The change in the cost of posting a letter over the last eighty years?
The problems with the potato harvest during WW1?

I can tell you about all of these in considerable detail, but I won't - or at least, not now.

As I said, the proofs have arrived. This is the last step before publication and is simultaneously very exciting and utterly terrifying. 

Can you see those four capital letters on the bottom line?

That is, or will be, the 13 digit International Standard Book Number which is assigned to my book. I confess I had the biggest smile on my face when I saw it in the proofs. Suddenly this has all got a bit real. I can't really talk about timescales at the moment because all the strands of the process are not yet woven together, and the Christmas and New Year holidays have slowed things down a bit. 

As soon as I have dates, I'll let you know.

I hope you had a splendid Christmas and a wonderful start to 2017. 



The kindness of strangers

On Thursday evening, I went to Aldi to do the grocery shopping. I was fitting it in between finishing the copy-edits (yippeeeee) and collecting Gavin from the airport. So, while I wasn't in a rush, I wasn't hanging about. As some of my friends know, I do not see shopping as entertainment, the only possible exceptions being fabric, books and stationery. I have been known to post a photo of an empty trolley on Twitter, and ask my followers to lay bets on how long it will take me to  get to the end of my shop with a full week's worth of groceries. I think the record so far is twenty six minutes, including checkout. 

Aldi is small shop, which helps a lot. One variety of canned chopped tomatoes, one size bag of frozen peas, three sorts of honey - have you LOOKED at the big-supermarket honey section recently?

So I was reasonably confident I could get in and out in about twenty minutes, and indeed, I was lined up at a newly opened checkout counter in seventeen. I unloaded my shopping onto the moving belt and waited for the lady on the till to catch up with me. I felt in my pocket for my purse and ... no purse. 

'Hold on!' I said, 'Can you just give me a minute, I have left my purse in the car.' And I raced off to get it. 

I opened the passenger door, fully expecting it to be on the seat. No purse.  

I ran back into the shop. The checkout lady was ringing through someone else's basket of stuff and chatting away.

'I'm really sorry, I must have left it at home.' I said. 

I stood there patting my pockets, feeling like a prize fool. And then I remembered that I had gone into the boot to get my shopping bags and boxes before I had collected the trolley. 

'Wait a minute! It might be in the boot!' I looked apologetically at the people in the queue behind me. 'Really sorry, I'll be back in a minute.' Again I sprinted outside to the car, and, sure enough, there it was, under a large IKEA bag.  

I grabbed it and walked (I was out of breath by now) back into the shop, waving it triumphantly. 

The couple who had gone ahead of me smiled and went on their way.  

It wasn't until after I had paid for the groceries that the nice checkout lady told me that the couple had offered to pay for all of it.  


Just to clarify, this wasn't a little top-up shop, I had a full conveyer belt of food.  


£39.52 worth of shopping, which two  complete strangers offered to pay for. 

I have no idea who they were, but this was Livingston Aldi at about 19:30 on Thursday 8th December.  

Thank you, whoever you are.  


Helsinki - day 2

18397 steps


Today was a bit more rainy and we were nipping in and out of the shops to avoid the showers.  


Clas Ohlson is a mixture of B&Q, IKEA and MUJI. I was quite tempted by the idea of a Snow Kick, available in lime, pink or purple. 


Or how about a serious piece of snow clearing kit? Your very own petrol driven snow blower.  


All the cardboard boxes Santa Claus could ever need.  


And your very own sauna kit.  


Today was the day the Christmas lights got turned on under the expert guidance of a lady engineer on a step ladder, and her daughter, probably aged about ten. You can just imagine her teacher tomorrow in school - 'Write an essay about what you did at the weekend'. 

After that it was time for the procession, led off by three police horses wearing stuffed antlers.  

These were followed by all sorts of groups. Two batches of people walking Bassett Hounds in dog sized red jackets, and one collection of Dalmations doing the same.  

A vintage tram filled with pensioners dressed in cherry red sweaters.  

A library bus with Moomin on the side (naturally). 

Three or four fire engines of varying vintage.  

An entire ice hockey team complete with cheerleaders.  

A street cleaning/snow clearing municipal vehicle with a scoop bucket on the front and hay bales on the back.  


The cast (or company) from the National Ballet who were accompanied by tin soldiers, mice and ballerinas in numerous layers of leg warmers. I think they were performing the Nutcracker. 


There were Clown Doctors and finally, of course...


... there was Santa Claus in his sleigh.  


The Christmas tree is up, so I guess that means it's soon going to be time for mince pies and mulled wine.  

The procession tour was stuffed with families and young children in snow suits. It was notable that there was no tat - no street vendors selling glow in the dark plastic rubbish.  And the musicians outside the big department store weren't passing around a hat or bucket for coins, so I assume they are being properly paid by the store, which is rather nice, I think. 


On the way back to the hotel we went to the supermarket for some uce cream, and I just had to take a photo of the mustard shelves.  

Thats a SERIOUS selection. I wouldn't know where to start. And this was just an ordinary store, not a Posh shop. 

More tomorrow.  


Helsinki - day 1

Most of our holidays feature a lot of what we call 'mooching' and what other less uncharitable (and perhaps more organised) folk would call 'aimless wandering about'.


Although we have our trusty Lonely Planet guide with us, we took advantage of the hotel's supply of maps and leaflets and set off this morning in the general direction of the city centre.  

This blogpost is as much a diary for me as a public blog so what follows are notes and snippets about what we saw rather than coherent literary observations.  


You know that thing which happens when a double glazing company cold-calls you and you say 'sorry, it's been done' and they reply, cheerily 'have you thought about a conservatory then?'

I can't be the only person to have the overwhelming urge to say 'actually I live in a four storey apartment block on the top floor'. 

In Finland the double (or triple) glazing companies have that covered. I give you, ladies and gentlemen, the after-market top-floor apartment conservatory. You're welcome.   


A concrete turtle.  


More concrete turtles.  


Chocolate nuts and bolts. Yes, I wonder if they work too. 


A nativity scene made from rolled paper.  




The train to... 


No, we didn't.

Tempting though.  


You have to love a fabulous Post Office, don't you? 


And a café made from shipping containers.  


Day one.  

10km walked. 16,183 steps... 


... and they have great coffee too.  


The country mouse

I'm at the airport.  


Today, this country mouse is off to the big city in the south to meet her publisher.  

Even saying the words 'my publisher' makes me feel as though I have stepped into some kind of alternate reality. Me. The girl at school who spent English lessons wondering what it would feel like to have my name on the cover of a book. Not because I wanted to be famous or anything so silly, but to have something I had written being read by people I didn't know (SCE examiners didn't count).  

And now, or at least in the next couple of months, it's going to happen. The developmental edits are done, the copy edits will come back to me next week, and then it's the home straight of proofs and acknowledgements and (perhaps) book club notes. 

Unbound, my publisher (there I go again) is five years old and I've been invited to their birthday party in London. In publishing terms five years is the turn of a page.

Penguin is EIGHTY, founded in 1936

Canongate were set up in 1973. 

So Unbound are mere whippersnappers - and I like that. Kids see the world differently. They ask the questions no one else dares to voice. They say 'why?' And 'what if...' quite a lot. being a kid in the publishing world is rather fun, I think. 

My red party shoes are in my suitcase (actually a well travelled and rather battered rucksack) and I'm really looking forward to meeting the amazing people who want to publish my book.  

I wonder if there will be cake.