Monday, October 13, 2014

Books Are My Bag: A Challenge

October 11th was Books are my Bag day: a nationwide campaign to celebrate book shops.

Yet, if I am honest, I don't really shop in book shops.  Yes, I will browse the book section of charity shops (and inevitably buy a couple) but when I want to buy a book the first place I look is online.  I have become so accustomed to being dependent on a certain website for books that it wouldn't occur to me to go to a bookshop first. 

I haven't always been like this, though.  I grew up with several book shops around me and every Saturday I would go and treat myself to a new one.  I would spend ages, knowing I only had my little pocket money to spend, debating which book to choose.  One week it all got too much and I ended up persuading my dad to increase my pocket money to allow me to buy two a week - one just wasn't enough anymore.  Yet, slowly these book shops closed, I became more and more dependent on sites like Amazon, and I forgot about the art of browsing book shops (for hours on end...)  Now, the nearest book shops to me are supermarkets full of commerical fiction and celebrity autobiographies.

I have gotten so used to depending on Amazon for my books that I have forgotten the art of browsing in a good book shop.  It never even occurred to me when I would get frustrated at not being able to find something suitable on Amazon to get up, leave the house, and find a book shop.  And yes, as a book blogger, I am feeling very ashamed right now.  But I don't think I am alone in this.  I don't think I am the only person who doesn't even really know where to begin on Amazon's vast database; it really just doesn't compare to having the books in front of you and being able to consult a friendly faced expert when you're stuck.

A much more successful #BAMB attempt last year

So, this is my challenge.  I am going to attempt to incorporate more bookshops into my life.  Which means going out of my way to find them; probably spending more once I have found one; and avoiding a certain website I have mentioned several times already, so won't again.  I will be writing monthly feature posts on the latest book shop I have found; so that by the next Books are my Bag day I can safely say I have discovered at least twelve new bookshops! AND I would also like to invite you all to join me!

Wherever you are in the world, go go go and visit those book stores, and report back!  I would love to have some guest posts from you guys about your favourite book shops and eventually, together, we can build a little community of bookshop gems and hopefully encourage anyone thinking of opening a book shop but scared that they'll be unsuccessful.  I will add a tab to the top of the page with info about how you can get involved - in the mean time, get out there and start looking for amazing bookshops!


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Recipe: Sablé Biscuits


Sablé biscuits are derived from the French term for 'breadcrumbs'.  They are so versatile; if you're looking for a simple biscuit to accompany a more complex dessert these can work well when cut into rectangles and kept plain. They can also be flavoured, I've recommended Vanilla essence but I think an almond essence would also work well; most importantly - they are very delicious!

If you attempt this recipe - let me know how you get on in the comments or tag me in a picture of them on Instagram; as ever, if you have any pearls of wisdom from your own baking attempts - be sure to share those too!


250g plain flour (plus some more for rolling)
200g butter
200g icing sugar
2 free range egg yolks
4 tbsp jam
Vanilla essence (optional)


Step One:

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/ Gas Mark 3

Step Two:

Mix the very cold butter (100g) and the sugar (100g) together; then add the egg yolks

Step Three:

Slowly mix in your flour; adding a pinch of salt

Step Four:

Leave the dough to harden in the fridge for a minimum of an hour (some recommend leaving it overnight so the longer in the fridge, the better!)

Step Five:

Roll out the dough in between two floured sheets of cling film until it is quite thin (approx 0.5cm)

Step Six:

Cut out the biscuit shapes and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.

Step Seven:

Cut out a hole in the middle of half of your biscuits.  Do this once they’re on the tray!  The dough is really delicate so it’s impossible to successfully transport a thin biscuit with a hole in the middle (trust me, I tried…)

Step Eight:

Bake for roughly 10-12mins until your biscuits are golden.  They’ll be very soft when they come out of the oven, so be careful when removing them from the baking tray.

Step Nine:

Leave the biscuits to cool for a bit.  Take a small amount of jam and spread on to the non-holey biscuit; place the holey biscuit on top. 

Step Ten:

Dust with icing sugar; make a cup of tea, and enjoy!


PSSST: As I approach the 10,000 follower mark (truly crazy, I know!) I am gathering a wonderful selection of goodies to giveaway to my lovely readers; I will be announcing the giveaway on twitter + instagram shortly so start getting excited!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

National Poetry Day: Warming Her Pearls

Today is National Poetry Day. I have decided to share a poem which I was taught in school. I am inclined to think that the poets and poems we come across in school are more likely to affect us than those we encounter later on in life. Whether that’s because they’re specifically chosen because of their vivid imagery and memorable themes or because you remember English lessons more fondly once you’ve left them behind, I don’t know… I know that my mum still remembers all the words to the poems she learned in school (I think that was more to the nuns making her chant them repeatedly, though...) and to an extent I still remember mine, do you?
I would love to hear about the poets you learned about at school: the poems which made an impact on your younger self. Or perhaps your current self if you’re still at school! 
Warming Her Pearls 

 Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when I’ll brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I think of her,

resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.

She’s beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.

I dust her shoulders with a rabbit’s foot, 
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.

Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head….Undressing,
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way

she always does…And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.

C A R O L  A N N  D U F F Y

Saturday, September 27, 2014

I would like to be the air


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Tony Webster had always wanted to lead a quiet and uneventful life. Recently retired, he is puzzled when he is bequeathed £500 from the mother of a girl he dated in his early twenties. Yes, her mother seemed to like them when they dated, but it was over thirty years ago and the relationship ended badly. In a bid to determine why she has left him this money he gets back in touch with his ex-girlfriend Veronica; finding her uncooperative and evasive when he asks the pertinent questions. Tony reasons that he will find the answers to these questions by looking back on his time at University, his relationship with Veronica, and her subsequent relationship with one of his school friends.

Tony remembers his relationship with Veronica to be one-sided; ending acrimoniously she left him and soon moved on to one of his school friends, Adrian, whom Tony had introduced her to. Within their friendship group Adrian had been the intellectual and the boys struggled to stay in touch with him past his education. He remembers Adrian committing suicide shortly after sending Tony sent him a letter warning him off Veronica. He remembers Veronica being selfish and manipulative; so it makes sense that she’s withholding information from him. It doesn’t, however, make sense for Veronica’s mother to bequeath him money and some pages from Adrian’s journal. Tony is determined to find out why his present doesn’t match his memory of past events. Why did Veronica’s mother leave him money and Adrian’s diary? Why did Veronica leave him for Adrian? In other words, he’s seeking the sense of an ending.

I think that you can enjoy this book on two levels: an intellectual treaty into the trustworthiness of the memories which ground our sense of self and a thrilling mystery with twists and turns as Tony uncovers long buried secrets and surprises. Either way, it is extraordinarily well written with twists and turns in the plot to keep the reader interested. I know people are usually put off by the ‘Booker Prize’ label as this usually indicates a dense and hard to follow plot but this was genuinely unputdownable. So much so that I was stood in the kitchen reading it whilst attempting to prepare dinner…!

The Sense of an Ending is available on Amazon for £3.87 and $8.44 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Recipe: Basic Pizza Dough


I've wanted to try and make my own pizza for some time now but have always been put off by the fancy recipes I've seen online.  Some require a granite slab, others for you to be making the dough on your counter, to pre-heat your baking tray, to own a specialist pizza oven, the list goes on..... They all seemed so complicated and trying to one-up one another.  I have tried to keep things basic here; the key thing here is learning how to make the dough.  It's pretty easy once you get the hang of it and you can make it in a big batch, freeze it, and use it later on.  Practice is key - so if, like me, you're a beginner I recommend you also ignore the fancy chef recipes and try this one and remember to let me know how you get on!  

If you're an experienced pizza chef feel free to share some pearls of wisdom in the comments!

To make two medium pizzas, you will need:

for the base:
- 300g strong white flour
- 1 tsp salt
as well as the yeast mixture:
- 7g dried yeast (these come pre-weighed in sachets)
- 300ml lukewarm water
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 1.5 tbsp olive oil

- lashings of mozzarella (I used one 125g ball between two and would've preferred two if I'm honest)
- tomato paste
- whatever toppings your heart desires! 

mix together the dried yeast with the sugar, olive oil, and the lukewarm water; let this rest for a few minutes.

sift 300g of strong white flour into your bowl; add the tea spoon of salt; create a well in the centre of the bowl

gradually pour the yeast mixture into the well; using a fork bring the flour into the mixture; keep adding the mixture and stirring until a dough-like consistency has formed

turn out this dough onto a floured surface; knead the mixture for a few (four or five) minutes; when the mixture is smooth put it back into the bowl and cover with a damp cloth; if you want a thicker crust let the dough prove for a while, after the dough has risen you will need to knead it some more.

on a floured or olive oil surface (depending on your preference) roll out the dough into two rounds.  the dough should be quite thin as it will rise in the oven. place onto a baking sheet with some tin foil and a dash of oil (if you like your base crispy!)

add your toppings! start with the tomato sauce, add some mozzarella, and whatever your heart desires!

heat your oven to 240'C / 220 fan / gas 8.  bake for 8-11 mins until golden and crispy.



Thursday, September 4, 2014

Read in order to Live

Don't read like children, for diversion, nor for instruction, like ambitious persons; no, read in order to live.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Bird came down the Walk....

A bird came down the walk:
He did not know I saw;
He bit an angle-worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw.

And then he drank a dew
From a convenient grass,
And then hopped sidewise to the wall
To let a beetle pass.

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all abroad,-
They looked like frightened beads, I thought;
He stirred his velvet head

Like one in danger; cautious,
I offered him a crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home

Than oars divide the ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or butterflies, off banks of noon,
Leap, plashless, as they swim.

E M I L Y  D I C K I N S O N

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

Written in six months, unpublished for almost ten years, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing has been taking the literary world by storm lately.  Picked up by a newly formed independent publisher in Norwich the untouched manuscript has gone on to garner international prizes such as the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction as well as garnering rave reviews from many critics.  It has been heralded as a new narrative form, mimicking Joyce’s Ulysses, with a broken syntax and weaving narrative leaving the reader unsure of the certainties and very insecure as they begin to read this startling debut novel.

It is difficult to read.  If you are used to narrators talking you slowly through their lives: pointing out the important people, what he said and what she said, this will be difficult for you to wrap your head around.  Personally, I found that by around page 20 my own thoughts had begun to be formed in the same manner as the novel: short, succinct, the bare minimum.  And for something which everybody will tell you is difficult to read it isn’t difficult to read because it is boring, obtuse, or longwinded it is difficult to read purely because we, as readers, are so used to narratives being easy to follow and all of the necessary information being neatly and helpfully presented to us when we begin reading.

McBride sought to mimic the pattern of thought, the speed, the brevity of words rushing through a girl’s mind as she grows up in tragic circumstances.  Her father is absent, she later learns that he died when she was growing up, and her brother has a scar, for reasons nobody is truthful about, and severe learning difficulties which mean she’s ostracised at school.  She seeks comfort in sex, in the physical sensation, not the emotional connection and you read what she thinks, in the jumbled and messy order she thinks them.  She’ll spot something and the narrative will jump from a to b and back to a again but I think once you’re used to the style it becomes quite natural and as McBride has said herself: reader’s want to be challenged.  And you will be challenged with this read: it deals with heavy emotional issues in an appropriately complicated format but it leaves you deeply connected with this girl, despite never learning her name.

If you’re dubious over whether this novel deserves the hype it has been receiving recently I, personally, believe the answer is yes. I am also well aware that I am a fan of stream-of-consciousness narrative style which others find deeply off-putting.  I would say though – don’t give up on it immediately.  Keep reading, and if you’re at page 50 and still don’t really know what’s going on, you probably won’t find much enjoyment from the rest of the novel as it continues in the same vein.  I hope you will persevere though and come to appreciate the wonderful work which McBride has done.

If nothing else, this is a novel which has shown-up the big name publishers, and hopefully given them something to think about the next time they come across a difficult manuscript.  Some readers DO want to be challenged and don’t just want another rip-off of 50 shades of grey, thanks.

A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is available on kindle for £4.20
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