May begins the summer season here, but I’m still trying to process that June is next week, and after that we’ll be nearer to next Christmas than the last one. How did that happen? Time just seems to be whizzing past, but I do have one item of good news: I’ve been selected as a finalist in the Beau Monde Royal Ascot contest for the second time. It’s such a surprise, but I am pleased and feel a sense of encouragement that has perhaps eluded me for a little while.
In other news I’ve attended an RNA lunch in Edinburgh and booked for the RNA Conference at Harper Adams University in July. I’ve also booked my train ticket, which was about half the cost of the Conference! I do enjoy train journeys, though; the only civilised way to travel. I can get my books and papers out and be distracted by the passing scenery. Harper Adams is a lovely venue – I was there before in 2014 and enjoyed it very much. It’s an agricultural college so there were surreal moments such as walking to a lecture on romance writing and passing a sign saying ‘Pig Unit’.
This month’s charity knitting is some 8 inch squares for Knit for Peace. The Big Woolly Weekend is being organised by Bergere de France, a French yarn company, and they’re asking for knitted squares. The idea is that these will make bunting for the Jo Cox Foundation, which is organising street parties in June, and then be turned into blankets by Knit for Peace. I don’t imagine I’ll be able to make a very long length of bunting, but anything I – or anyone – can do, will be a help. And it’s good to feel I’m doing something positive.
These were sent off earlier this month; two 12 inch knitted squares. A charity called Woolly Hugs makes them into blankets for children from Chernobyl, who come to the UK for a holiday over the summer months. Besides enjoying some fun by the beach, a stay here can improve their immunity against childhood cancers, which run at around 75% in the area surrounding Chernobyl. Woolly Hugs also collects small gifts, of the sorts teenagers teenagers would like, and a little money for ice-cream, which I sent along with the squares.
After a winter when not much was achieved, I hoped to kickstart my creativity by booking myself on to The Write Stuff, an afternoon about writing and publishing arranged by Literary Dundee at the university there. There were around 150 people in attendance; many of them students, as Dundee runs an M Litt in Writing Practice and Study.
Three of their recent graduates were there. Oliver Landmead, Claire MacLeary and Sandra Ireland all read extracts from their works. They all said that reading work aloud was key; initial discomfort at reading to fellow students was excellent training for doing readings from their books at festivals, and reading your work out loud to yourself could make you aware of areas needing improvement. Claire added a query letter should have three paragraphs; what it’s about, whom it will appeal to, and a little about yourself. Jenny Niven spoke about her career organising literary festivals, which has taken her all over the world, ending back at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
David Stenhouse’s talk about the BBC and the written word was fascinating; I hadn’t thought before of how much work it would be to fill all those hours of radio. As he said, if you can be an answer to someone else’s problems, you’re halfway there already. 404Ink were inspiring; their story of how ‘Nasty Women’ came to be published showed just how much they were willing to take on to make it and their publishing venture a success. The last two speakers were Laura Waddell, a writer and children’s publishing manager, and Claire Wingfield, a literary consultant and editor. Both had some great advice and suggestions which I need to follow up on.
There’s going to be another Write Stuff event next year. Would I go? Absolutely. At £3, the tickets were a bargain and the goodie bag was great!
I don’t know why, but since October I seem to have had less time than ever, and it’s whizzing past far too quickly. Nearly the end of March now, and I haven’t managed to post anything except this month’s charity knit. It’s a neck-warmer for the Warm Hands Network, which sends warm clothing to children in the far north of Canada. I thought it was an excellent idea, and I’m trying to choose different places to send things to. I stumbled across the pattern on Ravelry and felt it was a very ingenious design, providing warmth without too much weight. So that’s this month’s achievement – oh, and I also entered the Beau Monde’s Royal Ascot contest with the start of another novel. I finaled last year, which was very exciting, but I don’t know I can expect that twice in two years. Wish me luck!
Just in time, here’s a photo of my charity knitting project for February. I made two chicks, which will each hide a chocolate egg inside for Easter. They were made for Francis House, a children’s hospice in Manchester. For the last few years, knitters have produced thousands of chicks to raise funds; in 2016 over £27,000 was raised. If you fancy trying your hand at these, these is a knitting and a crochet pattern available here.
The instructions for the chicks use double knitting wool, but as I didn’t have any in yellow I used two strands of four ply instead. I dyed the wool myself using food colouring, which is great fun and very easy. There’s a great article here about how to do it. That suggests Kool Aid, but any type of food colouring will work, as long as your wool is made from, or is blended with, animal fibre; so silk, cashmere, angora will all work, but not cotton or linen. A tiny piece of felt for a beak and a couple of black eyes, and they’re ready. The 13th of March is the last date to send chicks in, but they don’t take long to knit if you wanted to try one for yourself.
I was given a book on Cool Layer Cakes last year (find it on Amazon here and the Tiger Cake was the one which really captured my imagination, not least because the stripes in it go up and down. I couldn’t see how this could be achieved in cake but it turns out not to be so difficult after all.
All you have to do is mix up some different colours of cake mix and drop it, spoonful by spoonful, into the centre of a cake tin. As each new layer presses down on what’s underneath, the batter is slowly pushed to the sides to rise up in stripes. A soft batter is the key; mine wasn’t quite as soft as I had hoped and it took a bit of effort to ease it off the spoon. I used cocoa powder to flavour the brown batter and orange zest and juice for the orange one, leaving a small amount plain.
I used this youtube video as inspiration for the icing but instead of black buttercream I used cut pieces of black fondant icing. These were layered over a buttercream base in shades of cream and orange. The real test, of course, was cutting into it, and I was so pleased when I realised it had actually worked! Baking isn’t really my thing but I may be making this one again…
Today, apparently, is ‘Ditch Your New Year’s Resolutions’ day – which is a little sad, since it’s only January 17th. I may be about to buck the trend, though, as I spent the weekend working on what I hope may become my 2017 resolution; to knit something for charity every month. I made a couple of projects for charity last summer, and I want to see if I can manage one each month this year.
The weekend was spent knitting tiny hats for Innocent smoothie bottles. When people buy the cosy little bottles, 25p is donated to Help the Aged. There are lots of patterns and tips at http://www.thebigknit.co.uk, if you want to try making your own. Mine are the stripy ones on the lower row; the others were knitted by my friend Jane, who came for the weekend and insisted on borrowing a pair of knitting needles. The bobbles are made by winding wool around the tines of a fork, then tying the little bundle in the middle and cutting the loops.
Let me know if you see one of these on your supermarket shelf!