Maximalist Christmas

Well, it’s been a bit of a rotter of a year, hasn’t it? So this year I’ve decided that the only way to round off this bin-fire of a year has to be with a maximalist, super-luxe, mucho fun Christmas and New Year.

This year I am stealing my sister’s idea of a homemade hamper of goodies specially created for each household, which can be dropped off at the door. Over the years I have accumulated many, many wicker hampers. Not sure why… I guess I just have a hamper kind of face so I get sent a lot of them. So this year I am repurposing them with delights for each person.

One of my favourite brands at this time of year is Opies. I mean I am a maraschino cherry kind of girl at any time of the year, but the brand comes into its own at Christmas. From those tiny pickled onions that can be popped onto cocktail sticks with a decent cheddar to mini gherkins that can be sliced finely to enliven a Boxing Day sammich.

However, the jewel in the crown of this producer is the boozy fruits. In previous years I have enjoyed peaches in Courvoisier and this year there are apricots in Famous Grouse. There’s a hamper or two that will benefit from the inclusion of these bad boys.

In fact, the only thing I find hard to use from the range is the stem ginger since Gary is anti-ginger in all its forms. I have decided to really look after myself this year though and make things that only I will eat as if I were an honoured guest in my own home. So I got this recipe from the Opies chaps, which I will make at some point during the festive season. Gary can have a sammich that night…

Salmon, Ginger and Tarragon Parcels

serves 4

4 pieces Opies Stem Ginger in Syrup, drained and chopped
4 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 lemon, zest and juice
270g pack of filo pastry
50g unsalted butter, melted
4 salmon fillets, skinned
salt and pepper to season

Pre-heat oven to 180 ℃.
Mix together the Opies Stem Ginger, spring onions, tarragon and lemon in a small bowl.
Cut the filo sheets in half and divide into 4 piles. Allow 2/3 layers for each parcel.
Build each parcel individually brushing with butter between layers: place a salmon fillet in the centre of each square. Top each fillet with the ginger mixture, dividing it equally between each one. Season.
Wrap remaining pastry loosely around the salmon, brush with butter.
Place on a lined baking tray and bake for approximately 20 minutes until golden.
Serve with seasonal greens and new potatoes.

Note: I was sent a hamper of Opies products to try… I told you I have the sort of face that makes people send me hampers. It’s an affliction. It was a press sample of this year’s products so not sure what it was worth, but it’d take more than a hamper of goodies to buy my good opinion so you can rest assured that I recommend the company’s products not because I’ve been bought by a few jars of boozy fruits, but because they are truly ace. YUM.


Sleep in a time of Perimenopause

So this year has been odd. No, not that pandemic nonsense, my body deciding to kick off against me. At least that’s what the perimenopause feels like. Things that I knew to be true about myself no longer are so. For example, my incredibly good memory is shot to hell and I am now finding it hard to remember how I wanted to finish a sentence, much less what I walked into a room to get. My skin used to be so good that I barely needed to remember to moisturise, but now it is like kindling dry and needs vast amounts of cream slathered on it for daily comfort. Worst of all, I – the girl who once fell asleep on top of speakers at a nightclub – often can’t get to sleep.

Anyone who has suffered from insomnia knows how awful it is. You’re exhausted, but sleep won’t come. You don’t know whether to get up and do something to make yourself even more tired or if you should stay put and at least rest your physical body if not your racing mind. So it was with some relief that I received a sleep bundle from Health & Her. This is a company specialising in supplements and aids for women going through ‘The Change’. By the way I feel like we should bring back this old-fashioned way of referring to the menopause as it brings to mind a sort of terrifying idea of a women turning into a winged serpent, eating her mate for sustenance, and then flying up through the night sky to cackle at the moon (which is definitely on my to do list for the menopause proper).

However, I have tried sleep supplements before and didn’t hold out much hope. I felt like they were psychological placebos mostly and thought only scary pharmaceuticals worked. I find pills to sleep, wake or not feel bad, scary; not because I am anti-medicine by any means, but because I prefer prevention to cure. So I am always looking for more natural interventions on health stuff.

Anyhoo, this bundle was the bomb. (Can you tell I’m middle-aged by my use of awesome slang? Can you?) It comprises a sleep supplement in capsule form, some self-heating eye masks and a sleep balm. It’s also currently on special offer of £26.99 and even cheaper if you sign up to a monthly subscription. The best thing in the bundle was the self-heating sleep masks. You unwrap it and put it over your eyes and it releases this lovely lavender-y smell (though not heavily lavender, more gentle spa smell). It then through some sort of science/magick combo heats up and feels lovely on your eyes. It’s very relaxing, especially so for someone who strains their eyes all day long on a computer screen. I put it on, let it relax my eyes for a few minutes and then removed it for a restful sleep.

That spa scent is also there on the sleep balm, which you rub on your pressure points to get you off to sleep. I tried it on both myself and the winged serpent food aka my husband and we both nodded off almost immediately. Full disclosure, the masks and the balm worked so well that I have not yet had call to use the supplement extensively. I did once just to try it out and I slept fine, but I haven’t used it regularly enough to say whether it was the supplement or just my own body giving me a break that got me to sleep.

So, the tl;dr review is that the self-heating sleep masks are great and will get you off to sleep if you’re struggling. The balm is very pleasant too. No idea if the supplement works. Done. I’m off to practise cackling at the moon…

Note: I was sent a sleep bundle by Health & Her to review. This is valued at £31.99. I received no other payment and my review is a fair and independent opinion on the efficacy of the products. 

Remembering your first loves

So I am 46 today. It’s weird being middle-aged and awesome-super-cool because you have to keep reminding people that you are all that. (Well, not my husband. He knows.) It is just weird because when you’re young, you’re expected to be dynamic and thrusting (ahem) and all that. But if you’re as sharp as a tack and totally badass but look like a middle-aged auntiji, it can be hard to get past your image.

This year I have decided that the way to get past my image is to remember who I am in a more profound way. I am returning to painting. I was exceptionally good at art in my yoof. My art teacher was gutted when I had to drop my art A level due to our school’s inability to offer 4 A levels at that time. He had hoped I would go to art college and become a full-time artist. A few years back I drew a naked man as part of someone’s hen party and the model (who was also an artist) asked if I had had art training. Which was quite gratifying (if distracting due to my eye level).

I think remembering what you enjoyed as a child or teenager is a good way to begin bringing youthful exuberance back into your life when you hit middle age. Today think about what you really loved doing when you were younger and maybe give it a go again. Peace out!

Join Bookmachine for wisdom a-go-go

Last month I did a wee talk online for Bookmachine, a group for publishing professionals. If you’re not already a member, I would highly recommend joining up. There is masses on there from connecting with industry pros to learning more about how to progress in publishing, the founder Laura Summers has created a wonderful resource.

My talk was on public speaking for their Wednesday Wisdom lunchtime sessions. It was amended slightly to include presenting online since it may be a bit of time before we’re back to public speaking. I realised, watching it back, that I am incapable of finishing a complete sentence. I must be a nightmare to transcribe. However, the encouraging thing was that if someone as scatter-brained as me can do a significant amount of public speaking, then so can anyone.

Here are a few top tips for presenting online (to watch the complete talk, you’ll have to join Bookmachine):

  1. Turn off your phone and the phones of anyone who will be within earshot of the mic.
  2. Close any windows in case of car alarms, children playing, neighbours yelling.
  3. Ensure the light is in front of you and not behind you.
  4. Keep water and tissues close by so you don’t have to go get them if you need them.
  5. Tell everyone in your household what you’re doing so they can answer the house phone or the doorbell and keep the door locked in case of younger children wandering in.
  6. Check what is behind you and within shot – but don’t over-style your background as that is as distracting as a messy one. Best to stick to as plain as you can manage so that your audience keeps their attention on what you’re saying.
  7. If it goes badly, do another one. And another one. Until nerves and bad sessions are things of the past.

Turning to Keto

A couple of months ago I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I won’t lie; it was huge blow. I read medical websites about the disease and discovered what a terrible effect it has on your life expectancy, what uncontrolled diabetes can do to your eyesight, your limbs and your organs. You literally risk life and limb if you ignore your diabetes diagnosis and continue with your previous lifestyle.

I have never felt so obsessed with sorting out my health. I had gone to the doctor because I felt generally unwell. I wasn’t sleeping well. I got out of breath doing basic things such as putting my trousers on. I was tired all the time.

He sent me for blood tests. They came back with elevated sugar readings. He then sent me for a second blood test to confirm his diagnosis and it came back high again. I have type 2 diabetes. He wanted me to have some tablets to begin with, but I insisted he give me three months to try to change my lifestyle instead. That’s the thing with type 2 diabetes; you can make a difference through your own behaviour. Eat well, exercise, and stop stress-inducing actions. I was determined to do this. I had read the websites before my second phone appointment with the doc and they suggested a low carb, Mediterranean diet so I told him I would do that one and put it into remission over the three months.

I then had a conversation that changed my life. I called my friend Marion who is type 1 diabetic. That’s the one that can’t be changed by lifestyle because your body does not produce insulin and requires injections. You will always need insulin, no matter how well you eat or how much you exercise. However, Marion told me something utterly fascinating – she suggested the Keto diet, saying that her blood sugars had levelled out and so it meant she could manage her diabetes much better.

Then my incredible pal, Alex, who had been in on the conversation kindly sent me a mind-blowingly brilliant book called The Keto Diet by Josh Axe. I practically read it in one sitting. In this book I learned that there is a good keto and bad keto. You can put yourself into ketosis (the process whereby your body learns to use fat as fuel instead of sugar from carbs) by eating healthy fats such as avocados and coconut oil or you can put yourself into ketosis by eating unhealthy fats such as butter and processed meats. The distinction is that the first will give you energy, good skin, great health while the latter will not get rid of fatigue or breakouts or any of the other things that you don’t want.

So, to be clear, I am not following this diet to lose weight, but to reverse my diabetes. The food is really good and I can eat like this for the rest of my life. Below are some photos of what I’ve been eating. I will put up some recipes/thoughts/results from this new way of eating for me on this blog as I would like to record my journey here. I’m at the start, but I can see advantages already. I am sleeping well. The fatigue has gone. My clothes fit looser (a benefit in this heat!).

Here are a couple of things I eat now:

Crab, avocado, lime and seasoning in lettuce wraps.
Bone broth with steak strips, mushrooms and lettuce.

The only PR book you’ll ever need

Throughout my career I’ve had this fantasy that one day I’d be walking to work and some incredible Svengali character would leap from the shadows, declare “kid, I’m gonna make you a star!”, and then proceed to ensure I had stratospheric success. I know, I know, Svengali was a villain, but the lad got shit done.

Alas, that is not the way of the world. You have to work at your PR and marketing as much as you your actual work. No-one can ride in and do it for you – even if you can afford PR representation, you will still need to brief that person or company about the outcomes you want. Now, thankfully, there is a book to help you with that. A couple of weeks ago, my dear friend Sangeeta Waldron launched her book The PR Knowledge Book at the Taj hotel in town.

As part of the night I interviewed her about how she came to write the book and what readers could expect from it. With humour and good grace, she put up with my attempts to derail her insistence that companies have to engage with social media in this day and age. As you know, I am very ambivalent about the whole thing and currently I only do Linkedin in a very desultory way. Sangeeta indicated her gorgeous, clever son Rory who is wise beyond his years and who she said is a complete digital native. As his generation become adults, they will not trust companies that don’t engage properly with their audiences and part of that is social media. I bow to her greater knowledge on this, but won’t be returning to Twitley or Duckface any time soon.

The book does have things for dinosaurs like me though as there are brilliant bits on personal branding, on crisis management and putting together documents such as a press release. It is a very comprehensive read. I highly recommend companies and entrepreneurs – big and small – get a copy and get going on PR. Then, when that Svengali character leaps from the shadows, you can say ‘chill, bruv, I already got this’.

“Gryffindor is the most hetero-normative of all the Hogwart houses”

Last night I popped my BAME in Publishing cherry and went along to the rather swish HarperCollins building for an event hosted by HC’s new employee BAME group Elevate. It was a fantastic way to meet other colleagues in publishing and everyone was just so nice (although how is it that everyone in book publishing now appears to be 25 and a supermodel?).
The highlight of the night – unexpected for me as I don’t remember being told it would be happening – was the appearance of Amrou Al-Kadhi or Glamrou to give them their most apt name. The ever-awesome Sarah Shaffi interviewed Glamrou, journalist and Muslim drag queen, about their new book Unicorn. What they were wearing was just spectacular (see image above). But, before I get too Daily Mail and start talking just about a person’s dress, it was a funny, candid conversation about navigating the intersectionality of their experience. Amrou did a regular column for The Independent and said they found that it was often the case that left-leaning folks want Muslim writers to write on accepted Muslim stereotypes rather than permitting us to write whatever the hell we want. That part really resonated with me as I had that issue too. The only folks who really acknowledged how odd it is to only commission people of colour with reference to their background was regrettably (and weirdly) the right wing press but my own political sensibilities wouldn’t allow me to write for them (although it could be argued that Metro is owned by the most right wing of all the news organisations and I did plenty for them). I can’t unpack now why the left seem to ghettoise people of colour into talking only about their race or religious experience (plus that’s a massive generalisation based on my narrow experience), but I will say that the Q&A was terrific and I found myself nodding along throughout.
Most hilarious quote: “Gryffindor is definitely the most hereto-normative house.” This was in answer to Sarah’s question of “which house would you be in?” after revealing that they are a huge Harry Potter fan. They are Slytherin in case you were wondering.
Afterwards I bought a copy of the book (it is out on Thursday and I have begun reading it and must say it is great so far) and got Amrou to sign it for me.
Afterwards I was speaking to someone and, of course, like a nan from the 1950s, forgot the ‘they’ pronoun for this wonderful non-binary person. “He’s fabulous!” I said. But then I saw that this was how they’d signed my book. No, no Glamrou, YOU’re fabulous.

PLR Party Party Party

So last night I attended the party for PLR’s 40th anniversary. It was schmazing (I know from TV trailers that this is a word the yoot now use so strap yourselves in for more of my slangtastic stuff). PLR stands for Public Lending Right and was a law that was put on the statues 40 years ago requiring the government to make funds available to pay authors a dividend whenever one of their books is loaned out. It has recently been extended to audio and e-books as well. Each year, as an author, I get a modest sum of money deposited into my account, which is both very welcome for its own sake and also a wonderful boost to know that people are loaning out my books.

While at the party, I did a bit of author celeb spotting. For example, Joanne Harris was there. Like right there. In front of me. I could have stolen a canapé from her hand (and then had a story to tell my grandkids about the time that Joanne Harris decked me at a party). Instead, I just did lots of “I’m not worthy” staring. 

I missed out on getting a wee drawing of myself by Chris Riddell because I wasn’t sharp-elbowed enough. But I gave him a hard, admiring look from a distance. He kept his head down drawing so he did not notice my glares of approval. 

There was a truly brilliant Q&A session in which ALCS’s deputy chief executive Barbara Hayes interviewed the author and activist Maureen Duffy on the fight to get PLR into law. Maureen really hit home how librarians and authors need to work together to ensure governments properly remunerate authors. I did get my shit together enough to thank her before I left. But only because someone had foolishly left her alone for five minutes so I could sidle up with my creepy admiration and accost her with who I was and why I was so grateful to her. She squeezed my hand and nodded amicably, which may have been a coded signal to security to move me the fuck on but I was on the move anyway. 

One day I will attend a PLR event and leave my imposter syndrome self at home. Last night was not that night. Many thanks to Sade Fadipe, the lovely children’s author who kept me company, and to the glamorous woman from South Africa who told me about their campaign to have it set up in their country.

If you are an author – and I cannot say this emphatically enough – please, please, please sign up for PLR and also ALCS. It’s your right and it is money that you earned by writing your book. Don’t miss out on it!

I am also a member of Society of Authors, who gave the card that we members signed to the folks there and I can also say that it is a great organisation for checking your contracts and connecting with other authors. 

Thanks PLR for a great night and for the rather spiffing commemorative pen given at the end of the night as a gift to all who attended. I shall treasure it, but not as much as I treasure your ongoing work.