The Write Stuff in Dundee

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!

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March already!

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!

February Charity Knit

knitted-chicksJust 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.

Tiger cake

tiger-cakeI 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…

New Year’s Resolutions

innocent-hatsToday, 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!

Loch Ness Knit Fest

knitted-nessieI was at the Loch Ness Knit Fest at the weekend; a chance to inspire myself anew regarding one of my favourite hobbies. Some of the work was amazing; the knitted garments designed by Christel Seyfarth, for example, were awe-inspiring, but I don’t think I could keep up my concentration long enough to work one of them now.  Scattered around the venue, Eden Court Theatre, was a wide variety of knitted Nessie, including this splendid example in the entrance hall. There was an even bigger one in the vestibule, but I couldn’t get far enough away to photograph it in its entirety.

One of the displays I really enjoyed seeing was on the Moray Firth Gansey Project. Ganseys, sometimes better known as Guernseys, are knitted sweaters made for fishermen. There are all sorts of stories about what the different patterns mean; zig zags are called ‘marriage lines’ and a double cable makes ‘horseshoes’. They’re rather like Aran sweaters, but traditionally knitted in dark blue wool rather than the natural Aran colour. The Project website has lots of examples and some patterns to knit yourself, so do take a look: I rather fancy trying the knitted teddy with his own gansey.

inverness-castleI could only manage to go on the Sunday, when the show closed at 2pm, so I spent the afternoon wandering around Inverness. I haven’t visited it since I was a child and I’d forgotten what an attractive town it is – although since the year 2000 it’s been a ‘city’. The river Ness runs right through the town, and there are lovely walks along its banks. The weather was perfect – clear skies with a little autumnal nip in the air. My second photo shows Inverness Castle on its little hill. It’s quite modern (1836, which is modern for historians!). It houses the local Sheriff Court and isn’t open to the public, although its grounds are. Should you ever find yourself holding a Royal Bank of Scotland note for 50 pounds sterling, turn it over and you’ll see Inverness Castle.

I really enjoyed my little trip and it reminded me I should get out more instead of spending my time inside gazing at a computer. I must get a few walks in, scuffing through the leaves, before winter arrives.

Order from Chaos

Woolly drawersI had a real treat last weekend. It might not sound like much, but I spent most of the day sorting out my knitting wool. It had been piling up all over the place for years, much of it in boxes that I never got to the bottom of, so I had no real idea of what I had. The sight of some well-priced plastic drawers in The Range decided me, and I was off.

Really, I should have taken a ‘before’ picture, but I didn’t want your opinion of me to be too low. Here instead is an ‘after’ shot of neatly labelled drawers containing (mostly) everything knitting-related. I had bought just two sets of drawers but reluctantly concluded, with balls of DK swelling around my feet, that I was going to have to buy another one. Fortunately they all fitted in one corner of the room, and it makes my heart soar to see them standing there so neatly.

Novelty YarnsThere may be added refinements coming along: the large labels are very easy to read but rather block the view of what’s actually inside, so I may have to make them smaller. And if I printed them, they’d be neater than my handwriting. And really, I should sort the DK into wool or synthetic fibres. And…

But just look! Here is a view of the drawer of ‘novelty yarn’ (bottom) and ‘Mohair (on top). Isn’t it inspiring to see all the different yarns, and think what could be made with them? The bright pink one on the right has sequins! The autumnal one on the left is all fluffy! I have so many ideas buzzing round my head now – I wonder how many I’ll get done before the end of the year?