Proper Preparation Prevents P+++ Poor Performance

Getting the house party ready is fun but tiring as chairs that haven’t seen the light of day since we lived in a cottage have to be carted down from the loft. With their authentic horsehair seats they’ll be going straight back on Monday! We’re too used to what might be modern rubbish to some, but is a heck of a lot more comfortable than these beauties!

I have discovered a fab brass cleaner (restrain your cheers) Called Quickshine Brass Bath – you literally soak your pieces for 5 minutes and that’s your brass cleaning done. I only have a couple of brass pieces that I kept for sentimental reasons – most notably the pestle and mortar which was used to signify Almonds and Raisins, the sweet and the bitterness of life…

Well, I’d better get on as there is baking and cooking to do, but I will try and post some more pics as i go along – and not of brass cleaner, I promise❣️

Have a wonderful weekend everyone,

Love to you all, Susan xx

Food, glorious food

Having my favourite meal tonight – chicken in orange and tarragon sauce.

So easy – lightly cook through raw chicken pieces and a finely chopped onion – by lightly, I still mean thoroughly, but not brown – I fry the chicken and onion in a little olive oil and chilli oil mixed to give it a kick. I know we’re not supposed to fry this or butter that, but to hell with it, I like my food to taste good and rich and yummy.

Then I add finely chopped fresh or dried tarragon, chicken stock and orange juice. Great if you have real chicken stock hanging around in the freezer or fridge, but if you don’t, just use a couple of stock cubes – don’t make the stock too watery – in fact, make it strong, and then make up to the recommended amount with orange juice.

Fresh chopped tarragon at the end – and if I forget to toss my raw chicken in seasoned flour to begin with (which i’ve done tonight) I just stick in some thickening granules at the end. No fuss. Then, you can either add some cream, or creme fresh, or even natural yoghurt if you’re feeling particularly virtuous – but be sure to thicken before you add any of these or your sauce will separate. Or you can eat without any additions, which is even more virtuous!

But how much virtue can you take? Let’s have some indulgent Butternut Squash soup.

I’m not sure if it’s called Butternut Squash in every part of the world, so here’s a pic…

Again, I use a mix of chilli oil and olive oil as i like things spicy (you think?)

So… peel (I know some chefs say you don’t need to peel, but i think that makes the soup gritty however long I bake the squash for.

Peel and remove the seeds and goo from the centre. Slice and place on a baking tray with 2 sliced onions. Drizzle with oil (and honey if you like a sweet soup, but be sparing as both the onion and squash are naturally sweet). Bake in a really slow oven until you know that your whizz-banger won’t explode if you try to mulch the pieces down. I don’t know how long – I’ve never timed it – just make sure it doesn’t brown or you will discolour your soup. Quite a time is my best guide 😜 Maybe an hour — cover if it threatens to brown before it’s soft.

Then whizz bang the pieces of squash and onion with your stock and add coconut milk – season to taste, and hey presto!

I can’t tell you how much stock, either – i’d say to taste – just so the soup is a little bit thick without being gunky – and not watery, that’s for sure.

I love homemade food, and believe me, mine is all trial and error. It wouldn’t be Christmas here without something left to turn to cinders in the AGA – but if 90% turns out yummy, that’s good enough for me.

Love to you all, and happy eating! My mouth is watering just reading this, so I’m off to check my chicken is still simmering away contentedly on the stove (not sure my vegetarian son would agree – but i’ll make sure he has something equally special to eat on Christmas Day 😀)

Susan xx

Dolphin and GOT

OK I’ll admit it. I am totally addicted to Game of Thrones. But…how can anyone watch four series in a week? I’m really not quite sure. Shhh…Please don’t tell a soul – I wouldn’t like my editor to find out!!!

I’m going to post some fabulous Dolphin pics taken in one of my all-time favourite places, Florida, where I was lucky enough to stay for a month one year not so long ago.

These are in answer to a request from Melissa, who lives in Florida. Please don’t be shy – if you have any topics you would like me to feature I’m always happy to try to oblige 🙂

We were just so lucky to see these wonderful animals in the wild, and to spend time in beautiful Florida in February, which must be one of the best months to visit this fascinating State. Here’s to the next time! And thanks as always to my readers for being you, and for living in such truly amazing places xx

Love to you all,

Susanxx

First job

The BBC is discussing ‘first jobs’ this morning. Mine was in a cotton mill at the age of fourteen, where, together with my friend from the local Girls’ grammar school, we plunged into a world of widespread illiteracy, unbelievably long hours for those old enough to work them, and unremitting noise. To say it was an eye-opener would be massively understating the case. There are a lot of things I could say, but maybe I’ll put them in a book one day.

I was put in charge of a ‘line’ of workers, simply because I could read and write and add up, and the only other person who could do this had been moved to another position while I was employed during the school holidays.

I learned a great deal during this time – not least to worship the arrival of the tea trolley with its mugs of strong brew and custard buns with lemon-or at least, bright yellow icing on top!

And, most importantly, i learned the freedom that earning money brought me. My mother, who worked harder than anyone should have to, to support me and her elderly mother, had very little in the way of luxury items, so I saved up my money to buy her the dressing gown I believe she deserved. In day-glo pink with appliquéd flowers, it had caught my eye on the High Street right away, and it was a nerve-wracking wait through the summer holidays to see if it would still be in the shop when I had sufficient money to buy it. My mother, who was always stylish in her clothes, received this paean to all that is garish as if it had been designed by Chanel, and indeed wore its nylon magnificence until it dropped in shreds from her back.

Yes. I learned a lot of lessons during my first job, none of which I would swop for all the money and ease in the world.

Note to self: Show those you love how much you adore them each and every day of your life. Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most – little things and Day-Glo dressing gowns, of course 🙂

My love to you all

Susan xx

On your marks, get set…GO!

It’s December! Yippee!!!!!!!!

Let’s go, um, crackers this year – or in my case, more crackers than usual 🤪,  and put it all out there, whilst sticking to the tinsel rule that there is no such thing as too much at this time of year.  ❣️💃❣️

These don’t count as Christmas trees, as they’re basically glorified twigs (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)

 

The outdoor Nordstrom is up and waiting for its lights and decorations – not quite Trafalgar Square size, but ten foot high is tall enough for me

Four more trees to go – 2 tiny – and two, um, very conservatively sized – at least, that’s my line for Mr S 😉

Meanwhile… Love an inglenook

Rudolf arrived, and has declared himself ready for his annual pummelling and flinging and cuddling…

I never forget that for many of us, Christmas is a poignant time. Mr Frog was my last Christmas present from my mother, and now he watches over everything I do all through the year, ready to supervise, scold if necessary, and bring a smile to our faces, as my mother would have done.

Thinking about you, all my friends out there, who are also remembering someone irreplaceable as the holiday season approaches.

Love to you all,Susan xx

 

 

 

 

Naughty naughty

Yep. That’s right. I haven’t posted my December updates on the SS web site yet. And I got up this morning to find the sky hadn’t fallen in.

I consider myself disciplined. I work office hours. But if I were employed I would take time off to visit the dentist/doctor/for family reasons/because I’m not too feeling too well, or simply because I want a day off, and take it as an unpaid holiday.

An author with deadlines and responsibilities must sometimes do these things too. Don’t stress about it. Do what you have to do and then make up the work.

When I first arrived all starry-eyed at the Royal College of Music, I remember an older student telling me, ‘just wait until you have to make a living out of your music – you won’t love it so much then!’

He was both right and wrong. I did learn to compete, to speak up, and improve beyond anything I imagined possible, through working like stink and maintaining discipline- which also meant keeping my ear to the ground at all times as I pursued the hunt for opportunity – (head on floor great position for singing, I’m sure you’ll agree 😜)

My passion for music – both making it and listening to it, has never faded, nor has my love for writing. But if I stressed about it all the time and put myself under unnecessary pressure, I could see a time when I might think: ‘Why am I doing this?’

I never want to reach that point, and neither should you. So, chill out – and if you do take a day off, enjoy it to the full. I promise you will return refreshed to your writing.

My love to you all,

Susan xx

 

The one and only you…

 

This question arrived via my many wonderful Facebook friends

...could you include a few tips on how to make a story original please? Given that so many are published every month and there are only so many tropes and whatever, how original does it have to be?

As original as you are.

I’m sure none of us likes to think we exactly resemble someone else – in looks we may be similar, but what goes on in our heads is entirely our own. Books are the same. Or they should be.

Each character I write has different characteristics. Not only that, but they respond to the problems I throw at them in different ways.

If i start with a ruthless billionaire and a girl who has battled her way out of adversity, there are two main roads that occur to me immediately – girl doesn’t want to bend and yield to his way, and he certainly isn’t going to bend to hers. Girl needs sanctuary for some specific reason and he can provide it – but what will the payment for this be?

Together with just those 2 out of quite literally thousands of possibilities I might consider, there are as many exciting and original storylines in a particular genre as there are real-life situations in this world. And each pair of hero and heroine will respond differently to circumstance, so the odds for any two stories being the same, shoot off the scale.

If I were more specific, and gave a bio of the hero and heroine as well as a situation to start their journey, each one of us would come up with a different interpretation and tackle the story in our own unique way. We all have learned responses, differing viewpoints and beliefs, and all authors are great observers of human nature, so we have an endless bank of possibilities to draw on right there. You might pull out one thread and develop it, while I might pull out another, and so on.

I am never tired of writing in my genre, or likely to run out of ideas. If a snatch of conversation, or a glance between two people doesn’t inspire you, pick up any newspaper or magazine, and there will be numerous story lines to spark off ideas. My head is full of far too many ideas as it is, but I’m always alert to interesting situations and people.

When Harlequin asks its authors to take part in writing a linked series of books, it’s in full expectation that each author will bring their unique voice and ‘take’ to the overall story, so within each specific genre there will be complete originality and variety for the reader. That’s why it’s so important never to try and copy a particular style, but to show what you have to offer, because THAT originality, your voice, you, is what editors are looking for.

To return to the question I was asked, my instant response was that there are as many original love stories as there are loved up couples in this world, and I never have any difficulty thinking of my protagonists as unique individuals as they are so real to me. Let your characters be absolutely real to you and your readers will believe in them too.

Love to everyone

Susan xx

 

Slouch at your peril

 Slouchy-me and bestie who used to be in fashion – I’m her tomboy friend – not quite a helpless cause, but definitely echoes of the teenage me 😃

Actually, excellent posture is a very nice thing – both to behold, and it makes you feel good about yourself… no noses in the air – but chin up, rather than tucked into your chest. Draw your rib cage up and out of that tummy too.  Shoulders back! As we get older we tend to hunch over, as do some taller women. Stand and sit tall and proud. NO HUNCHING EVER!

This isn’t just to look better than slouchy-you, it’s for the sake of your health too. Believe me, I’m a slouch. I slouch over every inch of our sofas in the most ungainly positions – unless we have guests, of course, when I’m the epitome of decorum. No crossed legs. Ankles may be crossed – and fingers too 😉 but not legs.

LOL – when I entered my teens I was such a tomboy – and painfully shy – together with the wildest of waist length red hair and freckles – that my parents despaired and sent their wild critter to be trained by Lucy Clayton – then a famous model agency. Like the touch-typing my mother also decided I must master, so I could always earn a living, these seemingly shallow skills of learning how to walk and sit and get out of a car without showing my knickers, have been invaluable throughout my life. (thereby hangs many a tale!)

When I learned to play the piano at the age of four, it was impressed upon me that my arms must be at right angles to the keyboard – not that I ever understood angles etc, but I did understand what felt comfortable. My mother even found half sized music so I could keep my chin level rather than crane my neck to see the notes. Starting with Tunes from the Farmyard, I progressed to simple Bach – all in half sized music books – I can still remember my absolute joy at turning those black dots into recognisable music – and without any aches and pains at all, even when I reached the Royal College and was practising for at least 6 hours a day. (no half-sized music by that time! But my learned posture saw me through)

Of course, when I took up singing as a career and wrote books about it posture and breathing was one of the most crucial elements to delivering a good, steady sound that could be adapted as necessary to whatever part I was playing, and so the good posture habit continued.

Until…

A couple of years ago I was in such agony that I thought ‘this is it’ I’m going to be a creaking, aching wreck for the rest of my life. I couldn’t even put my socks on. My usually bendy back refused to bend. A physiotherapist reviewed my sitting position at the keyboard, and threw a complete epi-fit when she saw me swinging around to use my iPad. ‘But your spine is twisted,’ she said. ‘Also, your heels aren’t on the floor, and your arms aren’t level as you work on the keyboard – and you’re working at the keyboard all day long!’

All those lessons learned in my youth had been cast aside by me and boy, did I pay the price!

Ditching my posh office chair, I use a dining chair that supports all of my back and keeps all the angles where they should be. No swivelling around for the iPad. I remove my wireless keyboard and put the iPad in front of me. I rest my feet on an old Apple box so that my feet are flat – and hey presto! I’m bendy again.

Don’t make my mistake. Respect your body and it will serve you well 😘

Love to all,

Susan

Eye-Eye

Today is the first of my ‘health for authors’ issues – with a side-note of, ‘don’t binge on chocolate’! (Do as I say, not as I do, by the way 😉)

Staring at a screen for hour upon hour is not good for our eyes. That we all know, but do any of us do anything about it?

I have Thyroid eye disease, which is manageable, not the end of the world, and, thanks to our truly magnificent NHS (huge thanks and incalculable appreciation to everyone of you who works in this sector), i have my eyes checked on a three monthly basis, so I’m not going to cry about it – but whether you have eye issues or not, there are some simple rules, which I strive to obey so my consultant doesn’t shout at me.

Take a break from the screen every half hour to change focus.

Make sure you keep your eyes well lubricated (these half hour breaks are when you remember to use your eye drops) (chronic dryness is part of my condition, so I never forget, or I’m in agony, especially when I wake up in the morning and can’t open my eyes until I hold them open and swill them with eye drops. I’m also allergic to most preservatives, so that might be worth checking if you can’t find an eye-drop to suit) I have surgical plugs in both eyes to hold what tears i have on the surface – I did worry that these might be like birthday candles, which gave my consultant a chuckle, but if you need them I can assure you that they are so discreet you won’t be able to see them, and they do help, if not at night so much for me at least

Go forth and write, mes braves, but not at the expense of your health, or God forbid, your eyesight.

Much love

Susan xxx