Genre Pacing: A question from Goodreads

On Goodreads, a nice person called Xena WP asked me

Jo, after finishing Transcription by K. Atkinson I wished for a few paragraphs at least of Juliet’s happy discovery of Italy and enjoyment of motherhood, things you describe movingly in My Real Children. I read My Real Children shortly after reading Life After Life and I thought they enriched each other. Have you read Life After Life and do you think it is a work of SFF? (If MRC is, then LAL is IMO.)

And my response was:

After I’d written My Real Children but before it was published, an editor told me people would compare it to Life After Life. I then read LAL. I thought it was great, beautifully written, great characters, but after I’d finished it I felt unsatisfied and that it was slightly lacking in resolution. I have not yet read the sequel, and I hope it has the resolution I was craving.

MRC was my attempt to meld the genres of women’s fiction and SF, and the hardest thing about that was getting the pacing right. (Not sure I did completely.) It’s a crossover book. It was therefore very interesting to me to see Atkinson trying to cross over in the other direction. I’m not sure how much SFF she read before deciding to write some. All the genres I’ve mixed up into my work are ones I read a lot normally — cosy mysteries, women’s fiction. Victorian sentimental novels, historical fiction. Atkinson clearly wasn’t interested in blending SF pacing into LAL, and I sometimes got the feeling (as with Doris Lessing’s SF) that she was trying to reinvent the wheel. But it was a very absorbing read, full of wonderful imagery. Great book.

And reading it was very influential not on MRC which was completely finished beyond any tweaking by the time I read LAL, but on my next novel Lent. You wait until you read that and then let’s talk about this again. 🙂

Then Xena commented on this response:

What is the question/issue you have with Life After Life? I’ve read the sequel, A God In Ruins and even without knowing your issue with LAL I doubt very much AGIR will answer your question because it is not SFF. I read it and enjoyed it because I loved Teddy in LAL.

You’ve mentioned before that some “main stream”authors don’t have sff pacing. I don’t quite understand or recognize that. Do you mean SFF tends to be more plot driven than Lit Fic?

I was already looking forward to reading Lent after your reading at WorkdCon 76 and am intriqued by LAL’s influence on it.

And I wanted to reply but Goodreads only gives you a teeny tiny box to write in, and it’s a long complex answer so I am replying here. And it might be of interest to other people anyway.

So imagine a book as a necklace with beads on a string. It could be a string of matched pearls, or it could be like one of Elise Mathessen’s creations like  this, OK? And the spacing of the beads and the expectation of how far apart they’ll be and what size they’ll be and everything like that is genre, and it’s also pacing. So there’s a great A.S. Byatt story where a woman finds a bottle with a genie in it, a hundred pages into a hundred and fifty page novella. If that were a genre story, she’d have found the bottle on the first page, because you can’t pace a fantasy story that way. I’m not talking about “more plot driven” or anything like that (MRC is one of the least plot driven books in the world, far less plot driven than LAL) I’m talking about shapes of stories, where you expect to find what. If one of those perfect pearls appeared in that Elise piece, it would mess it all up, just as much as if one of those gorgeous blue glass things was in the pearl string. Our expectations would choke.

So what is a genre? There are lots of fascinating answers to this, but there are also two standard answers. One is that it’s a marketing category that lets publishers put mating signals on the book so that people who will love it will find it. And the other is that it’s the furniture of the genre — rocket ships in SF, couples in romances, horses in Westerns, wizards in fantasy, etc.

Now the marketing category definition is of practical use. There’s no point putting a romance cover on Starship Troopers and trying to sell it to romance readers with a blurb like “Johnny Rico loves Carmen Garcia secretly, silently, and desperately. But everything in the galaxy is conspiring to keep them apart. Can they find each other and declare their love despite battle and interstellar war?” You can’t do that because the answer is a resounding “No!” and also because it so isn’t what the book is about. I think everyone will be with me here. But you can’t do it (much more fairly) with The Forever War either, even though The Forever War actually is a love story where the happy ending is a sappy reuniting of lovers. Now a romance reader might enjoy The Forever War and even enjoy the romance in it, but they won’t enjoy it if they’re told it’s a genre romance, because it isn’t, and they know what a genre romance is, and it isn’t a story with a couple in it any more than SF is a story with a spaceship in it. The Forever War doesn’t have romance pacing and it isn’t interested in the questions romance novels are interested in exploring and it’s not in dialogue with romance — which are some of the actually interesting answers about what genre is,

So it’s possible by the furniture definition of genre to think that Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life is SF because it has a device in it that comes from the workshop of SF. I think that’s a fair way of putting it. Life After Life focuses on a woman who repeatedly dies and starts again, getting a bit further each time, and learning and remembering some things from her previous lives. This is a device from SF, certainly. But SF isn’t its devices. Life After Life isn’t looking to Ken Grimwood’s Replay or to Heinlein’s All You Zombies or to George R.R. Martin’s “Unsound Variations” or Alfred Bester’s “The Men Who Murdered Mohammed” and it isn’t usefully part of the same conversation. My Real Children is, though it’s also part of another conversation with Marge Piercy and Margaret Atwood and Marion Engel and A.S. Byatt and Joanna Trollope and Gail Godwin and Margaret Forster — because it’s deliberately and specifically written into both genres.

Anyway.

In science fiction, the world is a character, and characters have to change and so the world has to change, or at the very least be interrogated and examined and seen all around the way a character would be. The author has to have thought about why things work that way. The reader doesn’t have to be given the answers, but the answers, the world answers, need to have been in the author’s mind, and it’s quite clear when they are not, because the world will not be consistent in a way that would fit with their being an explanation. And really, we SF readers expect an actual explanation at some point. Sometimes the explanation is deeply disappointing. There are a lot of books out there with questions that are much more interesting than their answers — a whole lot of Sheri Tepper, for instance, or Dan Simmons’s Hyperion series. But we expect these questions to be answered.

Whereas in genre LitFic, those world questions are just scenery, and the whole structure of what Atkinson is doing isn’t for anything, or it’s for creating emotional resonance in the reader — which it does really well. Having resolved the emotional plot, she thinks the reader will be happy — and she’s right, the reader of women’s fiction and of LitFic will be happy, but the SF reader will be asking “Wait, what was this all about? What was the point? Why was she going through all these versions of her life? Did I just read a whole book and you’re not even going to give me the answer? What was it all for?”

And My Real Children doesn’t give you that answer either, but it examines the question, and it comes to a resolution, and it leaves the reader firmly looking at the question and into the potential answer space. There are things I may not have succeeded at with that book but that isn’t one of them, you can look at the reviews and even the people who don’t like it are writing about how we live and what difference we make and looking into the answer space I gave them there.

Now, pacing is a whole lot of what makes genre work. And we learn genre pacing when we read genre, and something having the right pacing for the genre is a lot of what makes us recognise genre. This is why Dan Simmons mainstream novel about a retured astronaut Phases of Gravity feels like SF, not because it has a retired astronaut — Terms of Endearment has a retired astronaut! — but because Simmons used SF pacing. And it’s why Jack Womack’s brilliant novels in the Ambient universe don’t feel like SF even though they are set in the future and have alternate world travel, because their concerns are not the concerns of SF and they are paced like mainstream novels. And because genre as a marketing category gets in the way here, if you look at the blurb on Elvissey it’s as bad as the romance blurb for Starship Troopers I wrote above, because it says something like “A mission into an alternate world to rescue Elvis and bring him back to a world where he is worshipped as a God” and — look, if you haven’t read Elvissey but you are familiar with how SF works, and you read that line, how far, roughly, into the book would you imagine the “mission” returns with Elvis? You know, you have definite opinions on the shape the story would be as an SF story, even if you’re not a writer and you never thought about this before, you could draw a curve that was the shape of the story any normal person would have written instead of Elvissey.

But all we can say is “it feels like SF” or “it doesn’t feel like SF” because we don’t have good ways of talking about these things, especially pacing. And because outside the SF ghetto lots of lit people don’t want to take SF seriously (and while this attitude is vanishing like summer snow it’s still cold if you get stuck out in it) and inside the SF ghetto lots of people refuse to take any literary theory seriously or even think about it, AND because SF really is different in fascinating ways, this gets very hard to talk about.

Above, in my answer to Xena as posted on Goodreads, you can see me politely weaseling. Life After Life is a literary novel and it is deeply unsatisfactory as science fiction because it grabs a shiny tool from science fiction’s toolbox and waves it around as if it were meaningful and then just drops it. But it’s a wonderful novel with a level of characterisation and literary excitement that you only see in the very best SF. There’s a thing it does — OK, in Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt there’s a structural thing he’s doing with reincarnation so he can have a set of novellas taking place across a huge span of time with sort of the same characters. And there are interludes in the ‘Bardo”, the chamber between life and death, which is sometimes a kind of hell. And then there’s a point where the characters are fighting and they don’t know whether they’ve died and gone to the Bardo, and neither do we, the readers, because the book has set us up so that we cannot know. This is an incredible reading experience. Life After Life does this with its repeating structure where the character keeps dying and starting again over and over, and there’s one point where something horrible happens and she’s dying and you want her to die and you’re ready for her to start again and get out of this iteration of her life which is horrible, and dying and starting again will be a relief — but she pulls through and has to keep living that life, no new start. That’s brilliant. I loved that. That’s the kind of reading experience I read for and so seldom get.

But still in the end I felt cheated because she just dropped it with no possibility of explanation. And this is what I feel about Lessing’s Canopus series — that there are moments of writing in there that are better than anything, but that the whole thing fails at things that even the worst SF writer accomplishes easily. It’s like somebody who can make a souffle but can’t boil water.

So I read Never Let Me Go and even though it has stupid science mistakes in it such that I want to beg Mr Ishiguro to have dinner with me and some friends at a con so we can fix those things easily in five minutes, I still was very excited because it got the pacing right. The pacing works in both its genres, in the same way I try to do when I write something that is using two genres. And the same was true of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, to which, incidentally, we gave a Hugo. Some mainstream writers also read SF and when they want to write it they know how to do it.

So the thing about pacing. Try this. Read half a book, in any genre you frequently read. Put the book down. Look at the page number, and look how many pages are in the whole book. Think about what’s left to happen in the second half, what still has to be resolved, what questions need to be answered. Then guess what page each thing will happen on. (Don’t do this with a book you’re really enjoying, because it will ruin reading the second half.) You might not be right about what happens, but the better you know the genre the more you will be able to predict where the beats will fall. (If you’re using a Kindle, do it by predicting the % through the book instead of page numbers.) This will teach you a lot about how pacing works and how it is different in different genres. We’re not talking about plot at all, just the shape the story will take, the distance between scenes, the rhythm the book falls into. You can see that from half way and extend it out.

When you’ve done that, try doing it from another genre you read a lot of. Then try seeing how the second half of the first one would be different if it had the pacing — not the plot, the pacing — of the second.

Then read Elvissey.

After this, I recommend reading fifteen things with your twelve year old head on, or else something long and brilliant and unpredictable, because this exerciset can really mess up your enjoyment of reading fiction.

I don’t know if this answered your question, or if you even care this much, but that’s what I talk about when I talk about genre pacing.

Posted in Books, My Books, My Real Children, Writing

SF Books for Adults

This is the list I read out at LTUE today:

Ada Palmer Too Like the Lightning (2016) and sequels

C.J. Cherryh Cyteen (1987)

Samuel R. Delany Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1986)

Ursula K. Le Guin The Dispossessed (1974)

Gene Wolfe The Shadow of the Torturer (1980) and sequels

Robert Charles Wilson Spin (2006)

Karl Schroeder Lady of Mazes (2003)

John Brunner Stand on Zanzibar (1968)

Greg Egan Permutation City (1994)

Octavia Butler Xenogenesis (1987)

Kim Stanley Robinson Icehenge (1984)

Andreas Eschbach The Carpet Makers

Vernor Vinge A Fire Upon the Deep (1993)

Candas Jane Dorsay Black Wine (1997)

Raphael Carter The Fortunate Fall (1999)

Ken MacLeod The Star Fraction (1995) and sequels

Posted in Books, Fandom

Starlings

My short story collection, Starlings, is out now, in trade paperback and e-book, from Tachyon Press. It contains every short story I’ve ever written, the play Three Shouts On a Hill, and a bunch of poems, including Three Bears Norse and the Godzilla sonnets.

Ken MacLeod said “Jo Walton’s short writings have for decades been among the things that make the Internet worthwhile. She makes science fiction illuminate life. This collection lives up to its title: iridescent, dark, gregarious, talkative and ever ready to fly up.”

Sherwood Smith said “One of the things I love about Walton’s work is her range of human possibility, from laughter to horror, but above all a reveling in profligate beauty. This collection celebrates the best in the human spirit.”

Cory Doctorow said “Stephen King once wrote that ‘a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger’―that is, sudden, pleasant, mysterious, dangerous and exciting―and the collected short fiction of Jo Walton is exemplary of the principle.”

Incidentally, that’s seems to me like a very male way of thinking about a kiss in the dark from a stranger. I don’t think “pleasant” or “exciting” would be how I’d describe that, and “terrifying” would be. Reading that quote, I was reminded that King is a horror writer.

Posted in My Books

The Dark is Reading 1: Tonight will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond all imagining

I think if I were to read The Dark is Rising for the first time now, it would be a very different book. I was thirteen when I first read it on the beach in Hastings. Hastings is a town in south-east England, about as east as you can get and still be on the south coast, in Elizabeth I’s map of Britain as a woman, it would be the tip of the toe of the drawn in leg, while Cornwall is the leg that kicks out. The first book in Cooper’s sequence, Over Sea, Under Stone, is set in Cornwall. None of the books are set in Hastings, that’s just where I happened to have washed up in the summer of 1978, when I was thirteen. It was the summer after my grandfather had had a stroke and was in hospital trying to recover, and I was in Hastings staying with his sister, my Auntie Flo, who was my great-aunt really. I was there because she offered to have me, and to get away from my mother. My whole life for years was all about getting away from my mother. If this sounds familiar, well there you go.

My Auntie Flo lived in a tall narrow Victorian house full of stairs, and so far so comforting, that’s what I was used to at home. She lived in it with her husband, one grown son and his wife and little kids, and one grown daughter and her husband and middle sized kids. They were all as friendly and welcoming as was in their natures to the prickly teenager that was me, who wanted — well, I wanted people who were dead to be alive again, and I wanted to be a child with a home, or failing that a grown up with a home. As I couldn’t get what I wanted, I settled for being left in peace to read my book. This was not the weirdest thing any of them had ever heard of. John, one of Auntie Flo’s seven kids had been the same. I was told so many times I was just like John that I developed a great affinity for him without ever having met him.

By that time I’d read everything in the house. I hate it when people think I’m boasting about my reading speed, because why would I? It was 1978. There wasn’t any internet. There were only varyingly kind varyingly weird semi-stranger relations to talk to, who had nothing in common with me. Lack of things to read was like an ache. If I could have read slower and still been able to be absorbed in the book while the book lasts, don’t you think I would have?

Hastings has a beach, which is all pebbles, and utterly inferior to the sandy coves of South Wales, or for that matter Cornwall. It also has little steep streets of shops that always reminded me a bit of Roke in the Earthsea books, because it was easy to get twisted around and lost. It had a place that printed t-shirts. It had a place that sold belgian waffles. I was given a small amount of pocket money so I could sometimes buy a waffle but didn’t have enough for books. I was allowed out on my own, as long as I was on time for meals, and spent a lot of time wandering around, and also on the inadequate beach.

I had read every single book in the house, including books much too young for me and the soft porn Emmanuelle, which I found hidden, and replaced back into hiding when I’d finished it. I had borrowed a library card from a cousin two years younger and read everything in the children’s section of the library. They were not going to let me read things from the grown-up section with a card with a date-of-birth that said eleven, and they strongly discouraged me sitting in the library reading all of grown up books, though I often did it anyway on wet days until chased out. Non-fiction was safer than fiction from that point of view, and I read a lot of anthropology and folklore. (This was after I’d read the SF section of Aberdare library in alphabetical order, Poul Anderson to Roger Zelazny.)

I’ve just remembered the most peculiar thing. It has nothing to do with this story, to which I was about to get to the point, but I’ve thought about it for a long time because it makes no sense. Auntie Flo’s daughter, my cousin Judy, who was mostly looking after me and seeing I ate and wore clean clothes on Sundays, offered me a book by Malcolm Saville belonging to her son. Later she asked me if I liked it. I said I hadn’t much, and that I didn’t like Saville generally. Then she said “We don’t pay any attention to author’s names in this house,” as if I was at fault to do so. This remains as inexplicable a remark to me now as it did then.

Anyway, one of the books I read from the library there was Over Sea, Under Stone. I liked it. It’s a pretty good childrens book.

Then John came to visit with his wife and kids, and his brother, sister, nieces and nephews, father, and mother, all told him I was a bookworm. He had kids of his own, older than me. He wasn’t as interested in me as I was in him — of course he wasn’t — but he did take me to a little bookshop and say he would buy me any three books I wanted. The three books I bought were Mary Renault’s The Bull From the Sea, Heinlein’s The Past Through Tomorrow and The Dark is Rising. It was a remarkably kind thing to do. I have always been grateful, and I remain grateful to this day. I don’t know if I could possibly have sufficiently expressed my gratitude. I hope I wasn’t just surly. (Losing my home and everyone I cared about coincided so specifically with adolescence that I had no idea until my son was that age how much of my misery was due to my age and how much to circumstances. The circumstances sucked, but also, I was thirteen.)

I still have the first two of those books I bought that day in Hastings, the actual copies. But when my first husband and I merged out book collections I had to admit that his copy of The Dark is Rising was in much better condition than mine so we got rid of mine, and the one I have now is his. (When we de-merged our book collections, I got all the childrens books because I was also keeping the child.) But it’s the same edition, the one whose cover I’ve put in this post, so it feels like the same book.

As you can probably imagine, I’ve re-read The Dark is Rising a bunch. I read it a large number of times that summer, and I’ve read it aloud to my son, and I’ve read with the series, and without the series, and at Christmas as a standalone. I am extremely fond of it.

The first chapter does a wonderful job of introducing Will, and Will’s slightly worried point of view. It introduces his family without ever stopping to introduce them, and it shows us the way he is rooted among the forest of the others, both seen and unseen. It shows us and begins to characterise James, Mary, and Paul, and gives us the beginnings of shape on Steven and Max. It shows us the Dawson farm, with Maggie Barnes, Old George, and Farmer Dawson — two Old Ones and a recruit of the Dark, though we don’t know that yet. It shows us the Walker, and does the splendid unease of the animals and the radio reacting weirdly to Will on the eve of his birthday. And Will gets given the first sign. The uncanny blends into the everyday perfectly, the rooks, James forgetting the attack, the fear in the night. It’s a perfect first chapter, setting up a whole lot of things that will be important, setting up the atmosphere, not wasting any time or any words.

I read it sitting on the pebbles in watery sunshine. I started it after going out after breakfast — I’d finished The Bull From the Sea the evening before. I didn’t notice it was a chapter because I certainly kept turning the page. I read the whole book twice that day. I think I spent about a paragraph sad that it had a different character from Over Sea Under Stone, and then I just went into it and wasn’t thinking and wasn’t me and wasn’t sitting on a pebble beach in August but was utterly caught up in being Will.

If I read it for the first time now, I think I’d still like it and still notice these things about it. But it would be a different book, and not only that, but I’d be a different me.

Posted in Among Others, Books, Fandom, Human culture, Life as it blossoms out in a jar or a face

Scintillation: New goals, maybe better goals, and plenty

Very very exciting. Scintillation has reached it’s $15,000 stretch goal, and will be happening in 2018, 2019 and 2020. With 40 hours left on the Kickstarter, I have added some more stretch goals. Now people who support us at the $15 level, if we get all these funded will be getting 3 ebooks and a bunch of recorded Norse poetry.

Here are the new goals:

At $16,000, we will have a new e-book for 2020, for everyone at Supporter level and above! It will be edited by Alter S. Reiss and called “False Starts”. It will contain the beginnings of novels that were started and for some reason couldn’t be completed, by me, Alter, and other writers, along with some commentary about them. Then there will be a panel about this from the contributors at the 2020 Scintillation. This will include Those Who Favor Fire the unfinished sequel to Tooth and Claw and the fragments of Beside Ourselves the unfinished sequel to Among Others as well as work by other people. This will be sent out in advance of the 2020 Scintillation.

At $17,000, I will share with all backers the recordings of me reading my Norse poetry from Sassafrass’s Secret Album — previously available only to backers of Sassafrass’s Kickstarter.

At $18,000 we will have more great stuff for Scintillation in 2020, a readings track and a con suite and everything that at that point seems like a good idea.

At $19,000 I will make a new recording of me reading Mountain Doors my Loki poem, and Not in This Town, my Bacchae poem and share them with all backers.

And at $20,000, my new “we could never possibly reach that, but I said that before” goal we will have a new ebook for the 2019 Scintillation, called Better Dreams, for which we will pay the contributors professional rates. It will contain new work by wonderful Scintillation guests, and be edited by Alter Reiss. We’ll produce it before the 2019 convention, and send it to everyone who backed at Supporter or above.

Posted in Books, Fandom

Images

I just realised that the things I know about my books before I write them, the thematic image bits, are very like the things I remember about books I have only read once a long time ago and almost forgotten.

There are a bunch of Mary Stewart’s old romantic suspense books available as ebooks for $1.99 or $2.99 right now, and so I naturally grabbed them. Some of them I haven’t read in a long time. I was just reading Madam, Will You Talk which my library didn’t have when I was reading these a lot and which wasn’t in print. I bought it maybe fifteen years ago and read it on a plane. What I remembered about it was that it was set in France and that there was a car ride with an emotional atmosphere of chasing but the heroine not sure whether or not the man she’s with is hero or villain, and an omelette. (It’s one of those books written during or not long after rationing, and food is rather lingered over.)

But the kind of images, like driving through the dark in a rush not sure of the person beside you, are exactly the kinds of things I know will be coming up in a novel I’m writing, even if I don’t know how or when I’m going to get to them. Like with My Real Children I knew she had to look out of a window at the moon not knowing which world (or which moon) it was, and I knew that right away, as soon as I had the idea for the book at all.

I just thought that was an interesting observation.

Posted in Books, Writing

Scintillation

I am running a Kickstarter to fund a convention called Scintillation. If it’s funded, it will happen on Canadian Thanksgiving 2018, that is 5-7th October 2018, in Montreal. It’ll be a fun small convention I’ll be running with some friends. The Kickstarter is here, please support us and come if you can.

Posted in Fandom

How to make dinner for three days

You need a chicken, half a pound of lamb mince (or beef if no lamb), raisins, two onions, a leek, a container of mushrooms, a handful of pancetta or lardons (or 3 slices of bacon if no pancetta or lardons), olive oil, apple juice, herbs, salt, pepper, honey, a small amount of dried porcini (or nothing if no porcini), flour, an egg, and lots of rice.

I’m assuming two people, but if you’re just one person it would make dinner for six days. If you are four people, get two chickens and a pound of mince and just double everything.

If you are a busy person who works and comes in wanting dinner, you could do all the work on Sunday.

First Dinner: Roast Chicken

3 hours before dinner: Take the chicken out of the fridge, make a cup of basmati saffron rice with a handful of raisins in the rice cooker. You make saffron rice by boiling a pint of water and adding a few shreds of saffron and a smidge of honey, and then pouring that over the rice and raisins in the rice cooker. (It’s fine to do this the day before and eat half of it then and use the rest cold.)

2.5 hours before dinner: Chop an onion and a third of a leek and saute them in olive oil until clear. Add half your lardons/pancetta/bacon. Then add the rice, stir, turn off heat, add two spoonfuls of Greek or Italian herbs, or whatever herbs you like, and a slosh of apple juice.

Pre-heat oven to 180 C.

Take the rice mix, which is now definted as “stuffing”, and open the chicken up and stuff it in, using a metal spoon and brute force. It won’t all fit, and that’s fine, pack it as tight as you can and let the rest sit in front of the chicken in the pan.

Pour a slosh of olive oil over the chicken. Pour a slosh of apple juice over the olive oil. Sprinkle with herbs (as above) and salt and pepper. Take a teaspoon of honey and drizzle it over the chicken. With an ordinary fork, stab the breast twice on each side and each leg once.

Put into the oven

Dinner time: take out, eat with any vegetables or salad you want. Scoop out all the rice stuffing. Carve so that you eat one breast and one leg and as many wings as you want. (I eat a leg, and E eats a breast, and I have the wings cold for breakfast, but that’s up to you. If you are one person, then half the rice stuffing and a leg or more are for another day’s dinner.)

After dinner: strip whatever is left off the chicken. There’ll be a whole breast, a leg, and some other bits of meat. Take all the meat off the leg, Put the meat in a tupperware in the fridge.

Take the carcase and the leg bones and whatever juice/jelly is left in the dish. Put it all into a saucepan, and add 2 pints of cold water and a big teaspoon of herbs salee. (If no herbs salee, then salt, pepper, herbs, a little bit of leek. But herbs salee is totally worth it). Bring to the boil, turn down and simmer for an hour. Cool, put in tupperware in the fridge.

Second Dinner: Meatballs!

Three hours before dinner, put about a teaspoon of porcini to soak in about a quarter of a pint of water. If you don’t have it, consider a trip to Italy to get some. You know it makes sense.

An hour and a half before dinner, chop half an onion and a third of a leek and saute them in olive oil until clear.

While they’re doing, finely chop the other half of the onion and the last third of the leek. Put them in a bowl.

Add the rest of the pancetta or lardons (or chopped bacon) to the saute pan.

In the bowl with the finely chopped stuff, add the ground lamb (or beef), 2 ounces of flour, herbs, salt, pepper, a slosh of apple juice, and an egg. If you have it, you can add a tablespoon of apple jelly.

Add some flour to the saute pan, stir. Add the porcini and liquid if you have it. (You could add a splash of soy sauce if not, maybe?) Add the tupperware of chicken stock from yesterday. Stir. Turn heat off. Put oven on to 180 C. (It’s 350 F, actually.)

Look at the minced meat and etc in the bowl. Get an oven dish the right size to hold 16 meatballs and put it on the counter nearby. Wash your hands thoroughly. Take a deep breath and put both hands into the stuff. There, that wasn’t as bad as you thought. Using all your fingers, mix it thoroughly, with a twisting motion that mixes it together. When it is all mixed, squidge it into sixteen equally sized meatballs, using techniques you remember learning in kindergarten. Put each meatball into the oven dish when done. When all sixteen are done, wash your hands again. (If you’re doing this on Sunday night, stop at this point and refrigerate everything until you’re ready to be 45 minutes before dinner.) Then pour all the liquid from the saute pan over the meatballs. You think there’s too much? There isn’t. (If it really won’t fit in the pan, save some in a tupperware.) Optionally, sprinkle them with pizza mozzarella or other cheese. Put the dish in the oven. Put some rice in the rice cooker. (This is also good with pasta, if you prefer.)

Eat dinner in 45 mins. Eat 6 meatballs each, with whatever salad or vegetables, this is really great with green beans or peas. Put the remaining meatballs and all the remaining liquid in a tupperware and in the fridge.

Third Dinner: Leftovers Supreme

Well, you’ve got to call things something. This is the whole point of the exercise.

30 minutes before dinner put rice in the rice cooker. Put the oven to heat 180 C. (I suspect you could also microwave this. I haven’t tried, as I don’t have a microwave, but it seems plausible that you could.)

Then cut up the leftover chicken and put it in an oven dish. Take the leftover meatballs and, with a spoon, break them up into the sauce. Then put them and the sauce over the chicken. Put them in the oven for 20 minutes.

Eat with rice and whatever vegetables or salad. You think now that it will be disgusting, but it is really so delicious. And you literally cannot have it except by doing this for days and making it from leftovers. The first time I did it as improvisation, and since then I have been doing it on purpose because it’s great.

(If you are one person, you’re going to have this for two days, and you’re going to have meatballs for two days. But if you want, you can do something else with the other day’s portion of chicken.)

 

 

Posted in Life as it blossoms out in a jar or a face, Whimsy

Lent

Lent is finished. 103565 words as of now, sent it out to beta readers, waiting for response. Kind of done, yay!

Posted in Lent, My Books, Writing

I’m home

This has been a truly epic trip. I’m home to Emmet and my rice cooker and my Damascus steel kitchen knife and my bathrobe and drawers full of clothes I’d forgotten I owned, as I’ve been wearing the same nine shirts for the last three months. My packing light and only taking the little pack really worked. I’d do that again. I’d do the whole thing again, really.

Highlights of the trip — Ada winning the Campbell, writing in Florence (I got about 40,000 words written in about a month, clearly I didn’t make Thud posts), seeing twelve plays in the Edinburgh Fringe, and the Viking restaurant in Stockholm.

I wrote a bunch of poems which I didn’t individually post here, sorry, but which you can see on Patreon, and incidentally Patreon pretty much paid for this trip and especially all the theatre. Patreon is great and life enhancing.

My plan now I am home is to settle down and finish Lent, and then we’ll see.

Posted in Life as it blossoms out in a jar or a face