Archives June 2020

Pasta al Vomito

Let’s say you’re writing a novel. You fall into one of two camps. You’re a plotter – or a pantser.

You either plot it all out beforehand, or you fly by the seat of your pants.

Isn’t cooking just the same? You either plot it out – follow Delia’s recipe and do as you’re told – or you make it up as you go along.

If I’m writing, I’m a plotter. I don’t want to re-write Chapter 2 because I’ve reached Chapter 22 and realised that the shifty, ne’er-do-well nephew did it after all.

But when I’m in the kitchen – no, not with the candlestick or the lead piping – plotting goes out of the window.

Recipe? Who’s got time for that?

5g of chilli powder? Nah… That looks about right. Maybe a bit more.

Lightly simmer for ten minutes? Sorry, Delia, it looks done to me…

Sometimes this approach works.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

And sometimes it serves up Pasta with Cat Puke.

Let me explain. I stumbled across a recipe. Chorizo and Prawn Salad. The aforementioned Delia? Joe Wicks? Lean in 15? Yes, an easy assumption to make, given my toned physique and rippling six pack…

Nope, this was from the chef for Wolverhampton Wanderers. Who said I was desperate for news of football…

‘That looks nice,’ thinks I. ‘Could adapt it to go with pasta.’

So I do. Chorizo, prawns, a few spring onions, some cherry toms. We all think it tastes fine. “Maybe it needs a sauce,” my wife murmurs.

We all think it needs a sauce. “I’ll do it again in a few days,” I say confidently. “And I’ll make a sauce.”

Now at this stage a plotter would have done the sensible thing. Consulted Google. How to make a prawn sauce for pasta. Thirty million results. One of them might work…

But no, I’ve got my pants on.

Pants on, brains off.

‘Well, if I just fry off some of the prawns, chorizo etc first and then blitz them that’ll make a sauce…’

No, it didn’t. It did make a fine mess on my t-shirt as the hand-blitzer cheerfully sprayed tomato around the kitchen. But yep, eventually the ingredients were reduced to a liquid.

And now let’s talk about your cat. She throws up. You inspect the result. There are two possible trains of thought.

‘Hmmm… That looks pretty solid. I could pretend not to have noticed it.’

‘Oh crap, that’s going to soak into the carpet.’

The blitzer had produced option B. Prawns and tomatoes. Pale pink cat puke.

Maybe you could describe it as pink porridge. Which sounds worryingly like a euphemism for something found in the darkest depths of the dark web.

My wife and youngest son peered dubiously at their bowls.

“I’ve made a sauce,” I said helpfully.

They continued to stare into their bowls. “Try it then,” I said.

They did, with some reluctance.

“Transmogrification,” Beverley said.

“What’s that then?” I said smugly. “When Harry Potter turns someone into a cat?”

“Changing something into a different form,” she said, tapping it into Google and forcing me to have a slice of humble pie as a starter. “All you’ve done is ‘Chorizo and Prawns Two Ways.’ And one of the ways is vomit.”

“It’s a sauce,” I repeated.

“Dearest, it is not a sauce. Neither is it a reduction or an emulsion or a jus or any of those other up-your-own-arse words off MasterChef. It’s cat puke.”

She tapped away on her phone again. “There,” she said triumphantly. “I’ve given it an Italian name. Pasta al Vomito di Gatto.”

I hate that about my wife. Sitting on the fence. Never telling me what she really thinks…

Future Writing Plans

With the exception of 2017 – when Alex was doing his A-levels and the First Serious Girlfriend was on the scene – we’ve done a walk, followed by my book about the walk, every year since 2016.

This year we’d planned to go to Italy and walk the Via degli Dei from Bologna to Florence. Like so many ‘best laid plans’ made in early 2020, it fell victim to Coronavirus.

At the time of writing – May 2020 – it seems unlikely that we’ll do a walk this year. But we’ll certainly be lacing up our boots again next year. Italy is still on the agenda: then again, the people, the scenery and the history of Ireland may prove irresistible. Either way, there’ll be another Father/Son book out in 2021.

What is certain is that Salt in the Wounds will be out before the end of summer. And if you’d like to read the first few chapters just click this link.

Writing your first novel is a tricky business. In some ways you’re teaching yourself to write a novel as you go along. You can read as many books on plotting as you like, but – a bit like learning any new skill – you have to find a method that works for you.

The big debate between writers is the plotters vs. pantsers debate. ‘Plotters,’ as you might guess, like to plot the whole novel before they start. ‘Pantsers’ simply start writing and fly by the seat of their pants. For Salt in the Wounds I’ve probably been a 75% plotter.

There have been times when I’ve let the characters wander off and been quite surprised by what happens, but I’m increasingly finding myself in the plotting camp.

Salt in the Wounds will be the first in a six-book series so, as soon as it’s finished, I’ll be starting work on the second one. I’m also planning to write a short novella – of around 25,000 words – before Christmas, telling the story leading up to the death of Michael Brady’s wife.