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.

Locked Down in Yoga Pants

As you know, I like a good rant from time to time.

When lockdown started it was EE. About 594 companies e-mailed to tell me how much they cared, but it was EE that sent me over the edge.

“Look at this. They’re putting the prices up. Using some special measure of inflation known only to them. And in order to ‘provide the best service’ they won’t answer my calls.”

My wife muttered something under her breath. It sounded like, ‘Can’t say I blame them.’ But obviously it couldn’t have been…

Eight weeks later and I’m off again. So what tipped me over the precipice this time?

“There’s not much to read in the paper,” my beloved said, putting down her iPad and picking up her gin.

“Pah! You can say that again. Every bloody article is the same. ‘How to work from home.’ ‘Mistakes to avoid when you’re working from home.’ ‘How to make a work from home space.’

A rant is like a stone rolling down a hill. There’s a split second when it can be stopped. But then it gathers momentum. All you can do is get out of the way…

Unfortunately for my wife she missed that split second. In the time it takes to sip your gin…

“I means seriously. Mistakes to make when you’re working from home. Forgetting to turn your internet on. People get paid to write this? Make sure your desk is large enough – well, once you’ve cleared away your children’s accumulated crap. Make sure your chair is comfy. No, mate, I thought I might be more productive on this foot square desk sitting on an iron chair suspended over an open fire. What about this – ”

“I’m trying to do some work,” Beverley said.

Saving the NHS? It was too late. The stone was rolling…

“ – This idiot? ‘How to make some work from home space.’ Well don’t have any children, pal, ’cos even when they’re gone every desk in the house is still covered in – ”

The pen hit me neatly and squarely in the middle of my forehead.

I blinked. “Are you trying to tell me something?”

“Yes,” my wife said. “Go away.” Or words to that effect…

I was back five minutes later. She’d stopped one stone. But it had clipped another on the way down…

“Look at this! Madness. Complete madness. ‘Best products for working from home.’ Ergonomic office chair. More than a thousand quid! My chair cost £54. Best laptop. MacBook Pro: thick end of three grand. Best Bluetooth speaker. Four hundred quid. Best weekly planner. Thirty-five quid. It’s a posh notebook for God’s sake. What’s the problem? Don’t they have Poundland in Notting Hill?”

My wife had run out of missiles. She was defenceless. A captive audience.

“Look! Look at this one. ‘Best work from home fitness equipment.’ Just in case you’ve got any cash left. Rowing machine. Another six hundred quid. Boxing gloves. Sixty quid.”

“Don’t tempt me…”

“What? Yoga mat. A hundred quid. Lie on the floor, you idiot. Oh…”

I’d spotted something else. Something which might… Well, you know.

“I could pay sixty-five quid for a pair of yoga pants,” I murmured seductively. “Not that we’d get much work done if I was strolling around in yoga pants…”

“You?” Beverley spluttered. “In yoga pants? With your stomach hanging over the top?”

She slid off her chair and onto the floor.

So much for the ‘A&E admissions slump’ during lockdown.

That’s well and truly over.

You can stop doing the crossword now, doctor. They’ve just brought a woman in. Paramedic says it’s the worst case he’s ever seen. Acute hysterics…