Hello and welcome to my Little Willow blog, well welcome to those who might stumble across it anyway as I have yet to give this address to anyone :) I thought I might try and see how I get along with just writing in it first. It's all a lot of random stuff, but hey, hopefully there'll be something interesting for people

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Pre NaNoWriMo

So today is Halloween, the spookiest day of the year; although for a slightly different reason this year for me. Tomorrow sees the beginning of NaNoWriMo. The idea fills me with dread, as well as excitement. I'm very much looking forward to having a go and seeing what happens. As I've said in previous posts, I have no intention of reaching 50,000 words as I know life will just get in the way. I'm already booked up most of this week!

However, tomorrow I should be able to get a bit of a start as I'll be going to Caffe Nero before the book club starts in Waterstones, giving me  abit of writing time. It is suggested, however, that you write about 1667 words a day! That seems like a lot, especially when there are work commitments and social commitments that people have. But I understand the reason behind doing it and I think it is a great thing.

If anybody wishes to sign up, the website is It'd be ideal for those who already have a couple of stories floating around in their heads, but haven't put anything to paper yet, especially as it starts tomorrow. There is lots of help and support on the website, which you will find when you join the group from your region. There are meet ups for write-ins and plot plotting etc, and the forum is there to help answer any questions you may have. The general forum also has lots of information on writing for you genre.

Good luck to anyone who gives it a go and I hope that people will be wishing good luck on me also, as I know I will need it!

Below is a word count widget which I'm hoping is linked to the NaNoWriMo website but I have no idea whether it is! But I'll keep posting it on new blog posts about the challenge so you can see where I'm up to - if I don't please ask me about it, nothing like lots of people going on about it to you to motivate you!
Happy writing :)

Monday, 25 October 2010

NaNoWriMo update

I think I have an idea for NaNoWriMo, which is a start I suppose. I won't go into much detail here but I will say it involves me doing a bit of research into Ancient Egypt and the gods and goddesses, which is quite interesting to be honest :-)

I only have a basic outline for a story at the moment, well not even a full story just the beginning of one really which pretty much sucks, but I'll keep working at it and hope for the best :) As I said in my previous NaNoWriMo post, I have no doubt I will fail miserably at achieving the 50,000 word count so I'm aiming for just some words in general and I think I can do that!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Baking Review - Double Chocolate Fudge Cakes

Hello, I've been baking again - and with my new shiny electric mixer which is very cool (although ssshh it's a Christmas present!), I had to try it out to make sure it worked though of course.

The recipe for these double chocolate fudge cakes was taken from the Sainsburys Magazine October 2010.

Makes 12 (mins made 10 but I had a 6cm cutter)
This knockout gluten free caking recipe is quick to make but looks so impressive.
Prep: 20 mins (took me a little longer as took forever to whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar into soft peaks, by hand that is). Total time: 1 hour 40 including cooling.

200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken into pieces
100g unsalted butter, cubed
4 medium eggs
50g arrowroot or cornflour, sifted (I used cornflour)
175g icing sugar
25ml rum or milk (I used milk)
100g ground almonds (I omitted this)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
For the icing:
100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), melted
50g creme fraiche
75g icing sugar, sifted
sugared violets or other decorations

1. Preheat the oven to 180oC, fan 160oC, gas 4 and line a 4cm deep, 20x30cm baking tray with nonstick baking paper. (My baking tray was 24x36 I think - bigger than they say anyway)
2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a large bowl over a pan of simmering water; cool. Beat in two whol eggs and two yolks (save the whiles), then the arrowroot or cornflour, sicing sugar, rum or milk and almonds until smooth.
3. Whisk the two egg whites and cream of tartar to soft peaks (took forever by hand). Fold into the chocolate mixture with a metal spoon until barely combined.
4. Spoon this into the baking tray, smooth the top and bake for 15 minutes until barely set. Leave to cool in the tray.
5. Tun the cold cake out on to a board and use a 5cm cutter to stamp out 24 discs. Beat the melted chocolate with the creme fraiche and icing sugar until smooth (it will split slightly). Beat in a few teaspoons of boiling water (which I just realised I forgot to do!) until the consistency turns satin-like and creamy. Working quickly, spoon a little onto each disc. Stack them two high and decorate with sugared flowers or similar.

383 cals; 22g fat (11g sat fat); 42g carbs; 38g total sugars; 0.0g salt

As I just mentioned above, I completely forgot about adding the boiling water, though the icing didn't turn out badly at all. It would appear from reading between the lines (working quickly...) that even with the boiling water added, the icing starts to harden quite quickly, so you do need to be quick with adding it, don't make it while the cake is cooling and ad it later, I think you'd find you couldn't.

I found that the mixture itself only made about 15 circles, with a 6cm cutter, however, I came up with the ingenious idea of squishing the remaining mixture together and managed to make about 5 more, slightly deranged, slightly crumbling circles. I found that putting then on the top was the best plan as it was nicely restnig on top of a stronger circle and not left to hold everything up.

I haven't actually tried a cake yet so I can't really repor on the taste, though I have tried a bit of cut off cake and it tasted very nice - but may be a bit rich for some people as it's quite a lot of dark chocolate in it overall. My dad liked the cake though. But anyway, try for yourselves and see...

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


Hello everyone

November 1st sees NaNoWriMo start - National Novel Writing Month; a concept first conceived in 1999 in the San Francisco Bay area by Chris Baty, who got 21 people together and they decided they would spend the whole of November writing a 50,000 word novel. A heck of a feat you might think - and you'd be right. Since 1999, NaNoWriMo has gone global with more than 200,000 people now "officially" taking part - those that sign up to the website - there are probably countless others joining in from the sidelines.

I read into this yesterday and really liked the sound of it so I have decided to sign up and try and do it. I don't actually expect to reach anywhere near 50,000 but I think it'll be a good motivational tool to get some words down. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is quantity and not quality - basically just get the words down, don't read over your work and start editing because you'll never get to the finish line. The idea being that even if a lot of those 50,000 words aren't useable, there are probably some gems in there, or ideas to spark off better writing.

I signed up to the website yesterday and joined the Liverpool Forum - woo hoo, people in the actual area I live taking part. There are a number of events scheduled in October and November to get the region through the month. These include meet ups, supply shopping and write-ins. And it just so happens that each Monday in November, the write-ins are in Waterstones Liverpool One and since I seem to spend most of my spare time in there, why not spend a little more? The first one coincides with my book club, so I'll just go to the first half hour and see what it's like, knowing I'll be escaping at 6pm.

Apprently it is advised that you tell as many friends and family as you can that you're writing a novel in November, in the hope that the thought of public humiliation if you don't succeed will spur on your motivation, should it start to lack. I have told a few people but will not be aiming for potential humiliation thank you very much. I've also taken the same laid back approach with telling people as I am here - by stating that I doubt I'll reach 50,000 words, so I'm technically setting myself up to fail already, but never mind I can live with that :) But it would be useful if anyone who reads this asks me from time to time what my word count is, maybe every few days, as a sort guilt trip, if you will.

I bought a little writing kit when I was in America, about 2 years ago but it's pretty much just stayed in the box but I noticed that loads of people were saying on the NaNoWriMo website that they always had their handy copy of 'No Plot, No Problem' near them during November - which just so happens to be the kit I'd bought, so I dug it out yesterday and now realise that I have owned this little kit for 2 years, which tells you all about this writing challenge and is written by the founder of it! I could have tried this out for the last 2 years - I could have been like all those other people on there stating how this was their 3rd NaNoWriMo and how wonderful it was and how they'd "won" at both previous attempts. Ok that may sound a little facetious, but I don't really mean it, I'm just jealous :) It's pretty admirable to be able to write so many words in so little time, especially if you're working and have family and social commitments.

Ok so here is where I need your help people - I have so little time before November 1st and I have no ideas - it's like being told to think of something on the spot-  like when someone says 'say something' -nothing ever comes to mind except 'something'. Now other people doing this challenge have spent months thinking about their plot and their characters etc - although they are not allowed to write any actual words until November 1st, but you are allowed to write notes and work out what will happen in your story. Which is why I can't use any works currently in progress, it has to be something brand new. So if anyone could jump start my imagination, that would be fantastic - I'll acknowledge you when I get my million pound book deal :-p Or even if you let me know what genre you think I'd be good at writing - I'm always drawn to fantasy, but would be willing to explore something else if anyone thinks anything else is better suited.

So now I will sit here and wait for all the comments to flood in...and wait...and wait...

Monday, 18 October 2010

Cheltenham Festival - Day Three (and four)

On my final morning in Cheltenham I had to check out of the hotel by 10am even though my final talk wasn't until 2pm and they wouldn't let me leave my car there until the end of the talk, so I had to go back and pick it up about 1pm so I wouldn't have to pay for as many hours.

This final talk was at the Playhouse Theatre and was How to get published the unconventional way. This talk was a little strange and I'm not sure what to make of it but there were definitely some useful points to take out of it.

I made the long journey home after this talk - which took longer than normal since I left about rush hour on a Friday evening and there were roadworks and the like - silly me!

I drove home, knowing I'd be driving back down again very early on Sunday morning for a second writing workshop which I very much wanted to go to as it was about Writing for Teenagers. So bright and early I got up on Sunday morning (silly o'clock) and set off about 6:45am as I had to be there for 10am and I wasn't exactly sure where the venue was.
I arrived about 9:30am at the Parabola Arts Centre. The lady taking this workshop was Celia Rees a much published author of teenage novels.
This workshop was definitely worth the drive back down as it was very interesting and she directed all of it and gave us all lots of interesting tips and advice, not just specifically on writing for teenagers, but on writing in general and the 3 hours just flew by.

I'd definitely like to win the lottery and go back and do loads of things next year, but the chances of that seem slim to none - but in the meantime, I can dream and I can write...

Cheltenham Festival - Day Two

So on Day 2, I had 3 events planned, one of which was a writing workshop. But my first event wasn't until 2pm again so I could have a lie in - well best made plans and all...I slept really badly unfortunately so was up quite early. I managed to procrastinate a fair amount once I was up though. But I still decided to leave much earlier than necessary so I could have a further wander around - plus I needed to find the venue for my workshop.

I managed to spend more money this day also, but part of it was on a planned Christmas present for my family so it can't be bad :-) and a book on how to write Science fiction and Fantasy. I found the Church very easily so I decided to go and get lunch - in a different Caffe Nero this time and I spent a good long while in there, eating, but also doing some writing and reading and searching online for a variety of things.

The writing workshop was on Writing Convincing Characters with Diana Souhami, which was 3 hours long. I did enjoy the workshop and especially liked that Diana didn't make you read out your work from the exercises she gave us, if you didn't want to and just asked for volunteers - of which there were plenty I can tell you. some people definitely love others out there to know they can write and feel the need to be validated in this, to hear people say, oh yes that was good. Of course all writers want to be published but there are maybe more subtle ways to advertise this? I dunno, maybe I'm the weird one who doesn't let anyone read anything?
The only thing i didn't really like about the workshop was that it didn't seem to have a strong structure and consisted mostly of people asking questions - some very good ones of course, but it felt a bit like we (or rather the people who actually asked questions) were leading it rather than the guest speaker.

After this, I spent a lovely hour in a cupcake cafe, eating a cupcake of course, and also having a read of my newly purchased book of the day. Following this, I went to the talk of the Myths of Ancient Egypt, which was definitely my favourite talk of them all and I really enjoyed it, it was fascinating and I considered buying her book also, but it was £25!!! and was convinced I could probably find it cheaper online and a quick search on Amazon proved me right-  it was £14.49 on there; bit of a difference! The speaker was a lady who teaches the subject of Ancient Egypt in Manchester University and she chose just a few myths but they were all very interesting and I'd like to read more on the subject.

My final talk of the day wasn't until 9pm, so I took myself to Bella Italia for dinner, which was a slightly odd experience on my own, but I've eaten alone in restaurants before, it's not so bad and I didn't really have time to feel alone as they brought my food very quickly.
This final talk of the day was called Horror Stories and there were 2 horror authors there talking generally about the appeal of horror stories and obviously spoke about their own books they'd written and both read a piece from their latest book. Strangely enough, when they said who the authors were, I recognised one of them as being the author of my book, How to write science fiction and fantasy so that was an interesting plot twist :-) so I got her to sign it for me.

Cheltenham Festival - Day One (well my day one anyway!)

Hello all

I went to the Cheltenham Literature Festival last week - well part of it. I drove down on Wednesday and spent 2 nights there at Central Hotel.

I had prebooked everything I wanted to do - well not everything, I could have done so much more and stayed the whole week - when I win the lottery that's one of my plans :) I hadn't booked to see oads of things due to cost, which for each individual talk, wasn't that expensive. but when you add it all up, including the hotel stay, it amounts to more than you'd think/

So on Wednesday I had booked to see The History of Magic books - looking at Grimoires throughout history. which was at 2pm. I'd arrive in Cheltenham just before 12pm and was too early to check in but they let me keep my car in the car park. So I just left my stuff and wandered around Cheltenham, getting my bearings and I picked up a few tickets from the Box Office that I'd bought too late for them to be posted to me.
I found where I needed to be - the HSBC Book It! tent which was a small marquee at the back of the Town Hall, but I was still too early, so I went and had a look around the Waterstones tent they had up, selling books from the author's and actors and comedians who were there during the week. It was here as well that you could get your book signed after an event, should you so wish to purchase it :-)

I went and had my lunch on a bench in the park, which was unfortunately a little chilly but there was nothing to be done about that! Finally it was time for the talk. The tent wasn't very full, maybe about 25 people. The talk itself was very interesting and was looking at magic books throughout the ages and explaining the power various peoples gave to these books. The guest speaker also told of how these books, mostly he mentioned the sixth and seventh books of Moses, were banned, yet still managed to spread throughout cuontries. I did buy this guy's book at the end and got him to sign it - I think it may be helpful with my bigger story idea I have as it involves magic and magic books, so that should help with my research.

My next talk wasn't until 8:45pm that night, so I decided to make my way slowly back to the hotel to check in, stopping in a variety of shops along the way, and not being able to help myself in buying things :) but they had pretty shops! And one thing was a very important purchase - a cupcake Christmas tree decoration. I also stopped in Caffe Nero for a hot chocolate and a bit of a relax and a write - I love coffee shops, they're definitely a place of their own brand of magic - I've yet to figure out what that is though.

The downside togoing somewhere alone is you spend more time in the hotel than you would were you with someone. So having checked in, I made dinner and ate it my room and just watched a bit of TV and played Professor Layton until it was time to leave to go to the Playhouse Theatre. Unfortunately I didn't know how to get there, though I knew it wasn't far but since it was dark and I was on my own, I called for a taxi. This talk was more of a comedy act and was called Fruitcake: the ten commandments of the psych ward. it was a one man show and the guy was telling tales of things he'd experienced while he was a psych nurse (while obviously maintaining confidentiality). It was very good and I'm glad I went although I'm sorry it was at the expense of the Vampires Bite Back talk I'd originally booked to go and see, yet was cancelled :-( that would have been very interesting!

Ah well - on to Day 2...

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Film Review - Buried

The synopsis for Buried is:
"Paul is a U.S. contractor working in Iraq. After an attack by a group of Iraqis he wakes to find he is buried alive inside a coffin. With only a lighter and a cell phone it's a race against time to escape this claustrophobic death trap."

I hadn't realised before seeing the film that the whole film was shot just inside the coffin and the only other people in it were voives on the other end of the phone. uite a brave move for Hollywood to make - could have gone either way; a success or a dismal failure.
Just to slightly contradict the above synopsis, Paul (played by Ryan Reynolds) has also been left with a pencil, a torch, 2 glow sticks and his hip flask. It's quite interesting how the film makers managed to make good use of all these items throughout the film.

The cell phone was of course the most important item he had and it was used to try and contact his family, the American police, the FBI and eventually hostage people working in Iraq, who try to rescue American citizens who have been taken. It is also used to communicate with the kidnapper himself, who gives Paul a variety of demands and promises his release if he complies

There were slow moments of the film, which was to be expecred when there's essentially only one person in the cast but I think the film was very good and there were a few different ways they could have ended the film but I think they chose the best option.

Overall I enjoyed the film and give it a 7 out of 10

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Book Review - The Passage

I finished this book at the weekend - all 784 pages of it - and that's only book 1 in an intended triology. I will also forewarn you that should you decide you like this review and wish to purchase the book, but in paperback form, it won't be out until 12th May 2011 and will be 944 pages!

So anyway, the synopsis of the book, written by Justin Cronin, is
"Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she’s the most important person in the whole world. She is. Anthony Carter doesn’t think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row. He’s wrong. FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming. It is. THE PASSAGE…"

This synopsis and various others on the internet don't really give much away about what you will find in the book. I think there are about 10 "parts" to the book, but 2 major ones. The first 200 pages or so are set in the near future where experiments are taking place on death row inmates. Following on from this, the book jumps ahead approx 100 years and examines the outcome of these experiments. The experiments created a group of "virals" which could be, and are occasionally, described as vampires. They are humans injected with a virus and appear to have longer than normal life and feed on blood and can infect others.

From reading reviews on Amazon, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this book and you will find that each star rating has attracted a large number of people to it. Many of those giving it a low score felt more engaged in the first half of the book, which admittedly did have more action in it, and it was shame to lose the characters you'd gotten to know over those 200 pages. The second half I would say would be most similar to The Stand by Stephen King in style - form what I've read anyhow, and also The Host by Stephenie Meyer. The story revolves around "survivors" and how a group of people live in this new time, when there are very few people still alive who remember the "Time Before". The story follows this group of misfit people throughout the rest of the book as they try to survive in a world of "virals".

I really loved the book and wanted to read it all the time and just wished of a morning I could get the train all the way to Southport instead of getting off at Moorfields, just so I could keep reading! I enjoyed both parts of the book, although I understand some people's frustration with the second part. It's a particular type of storytelling that I think only appeals to some people, whereas I can imagine some people want the virals to have a much more active role, thereby creating more action.

Highest so far, I give this book 9 out of 10