Monday, December 5, 2016

Awkwardly British?

Tonight my daughter looked up from her homework and remarked, 'Mom, you sounded awkwardly British just then.' I can't actually remember what I said, but it was definitely not an American expression. And the longer we live in England, it seems the more 'awkwardly British' I become--saying bin instead of trash can, car park instead of parking lot, biscuit instead of cookie. And not just using different words but different constructions--my three-year-old asked me earlier if the biscuit (yes, biscuit!) I was handing her had 'raisins in'. In the US you would say 'raisins in it'. Another one is using 'quite' rather than 'very'. There are myriad different words and expressions, of course, and I could hardly begin to catalogue them all, although as a family we have tried. One child made it a school project!

But in any case my daughter's phrase 'awkwardly British' rattled around in my head for awhile. How can I be awkwardly British while living in Britain? And the more I write the word awkward, the more awkward a word it seems! But anyway...

My children are quite ruthless when it comes to ferreting out British expressions and pouring disdain upon them. If I ever dared to say truly quintessentially British words such as 'bloke', 'loo', or call a friend 'mate', they would roar with laughter, gasp in horror, or probably both. But those three examples mentioned above are actually British words I can't bring myself to say, along with loo, naff, cheers or ta for thanks, or quid, to name a few. It's not that I have a problem with these words, it's merely that I don't think I can pull them off. I feel like either I'd burst out laughing while saying (or attempting to say) the word, or else the person I was talking to burst out laughing. Probably both.

It's inevitable, though, that we will adopt some Britishisms while living here, and I have noticed when I return to America, people mistake me for being British (cue incredulous laughter from every Brit who has ever met me). In fact, on a plane to a writers' conference in Texas, a very Texan woman exclaimed, 'Oh, you're British!' I laughed and said that no, of course I wasn't, I didn't have a British accent! She gave me a sympathetic look and said, her own accent as thick as treacle (see how British that is?!), 'Bless your heart, honey, you do.'

I've mused more than once that since we are settled here permanently, my children will most likely marry British people (assuming they marry) and have children who will sound QUITE British, because I've noticed that children with one American parent and one British parent living in Britain--guess what? They sound completely British. So eventually I will have grandchildren who will shrug their shoulders, roll their eyes, and say something like, 'Oh yeah, my mum's parents are from America and we have some cousins over there but, you know, whatever.' Or something like that. And then, perhaps, we will seem awkwardly American.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fabulous contest to win 22 books!!

I'm so excited to be part of bestselling author Susan Mallery's Christmas contest. All you have to do to enter is go to the contest page on Susan's website here . It's under the Members tab and you can join for free.

It's a great opportunity to try a whole load of new authors, so please do enter. And in the meantime, stay warm! It's cold and frosty here. I'll be back tomorrow with some photos from my wintry walk :)

Monday, November 7, 2016

What I'm Reading and Writing

A few years ago I read Ann Voskamp's excellent and inspiring book, 1000 Gifts. It really challenged me to be thankful for the small and everyday things in my life, and I recommended it to many people. I was thrilled, therefore, to see that she'd written another book--and one that seemed to speak directly into my life. It's called The Broken Way and its subtitle is 'A Daring Path to the Abundant Life'. The essential theme is that we need to be emptied to be filled, we need to give to receive, we need to lose ourselves in order to be found. It's thought-provoking and poetic--Ann Voskamp's style takes some getting used to, as it is more stream of consciousness than straight narrative. But I'd highly recommend this book!

As for what I'm writing... well, I've already written it, but the second book in my Willoughby Close series is available for preorder. It's called Meet Me At Willoughby Close and it's about a Manchester single mum and an Oxford professor and their unlikely, funny, and heartwarming romance. You can preorder it here.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Holiday to the Highlands

This last week was school half-term and so the eight of us (my mum included) and our dog headed off to the Scottish Highlands. It was a trip down memory lane as well as up north,  as my mother organized a three week trip to the Highlands when I was thirteen. I have loads of great memories from that trip, and I wanted to recreate a bit of it for my mum, especially after my dad's death last year.

So we packed up and drove to Benderloch, a tiny hamlet outside of Oban, where we had a self-catering cottage.

We climbed the gentle but beautiful Ben Lora, took walks around the loch,

and then headed to Ardnamurchan, the westernmost point in the United Kingdom, to visit Mingary Castle, my family's home about two hundred years ago.

View on the way to Ardnamurchan
Sunlight gilding the mountains

Loch on the way to Benderloch

The trip to Ardnamurchan was gorgeous but slightly harrowing--thirty miles of single track road winding through barren mountains. I felt as if we were traveling to the end of the earth!

The next day we went to Glencoe and learned all about the massacre and then the next day went to Fort William and enjoyed several hours at the West Highlands Museum before taking a gondola up the Nevis Range (the youngest and oldest in our party were not up to a hike--well, in all honesty, none of us were!)

It was a lovely trip, and one I'm really glad we were able to take with my mum.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wednesday's Bake: Personalized Chocolate Chip Cookies

As a mother of five I have made A LOT of chocolate chip cookies. They're the go-to cookie in our house, the after school staple, as well as the usual thing I bake for my husband's weekly visits to school boarding houses. I started with the recipe on the back of the bag of Tollhouse chocolate chips--most people probably know it. But the more cookies I made, the more I tweaked it just a little to fit my own preferences. So today I'm sharing what is essentially a standard recipe... tweaked!

Here it is:

1 cup (2 American sticks, or roughly 225 grams) of salted butter (lots of recipes call for unsalted butter, but I find unsalted butter makes everything taste disgusting. So.)

1/2 cup golden caster sugar (calls for white granulated--this is what I prefer)
1 cup light brown sugar (The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of each sugar, but I prefer my cookies to have a slightly carmelly taste to offset the chocolate chips)

2 and 1/4 cup flour (I err on having slightly more flour than slightly less)
1 tsp baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt (I used to make the cookies without salt, but I do find they need the slightest edge of saltiness for flavour)

2 eggs
2 tsps vanilla (that's double the recommended vanilla--I like the taste!)

1 and 1/2 cups chocolate chips (recommended 2 cups, but I prefer a bit less)

The Method:

Cream butter with sugars, add eggs and vanilla, and then add flour, salt, bicarb, and finally chips! Bake on an ungreased tray for 10 minutes in a 350/160 oven.

Simple, really, but I do find the little changes make a difference. What about you? Have you 'tweaked' a recipe in some way to suit your preferences? I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Release Day of A Cotswold Christmas!

I'm excited that the release day of my novella, the start of a new series set in the beautiful Cotswolds, is today! To celebrate I'm hosting a mini-party on my Facebook page, with giveaways, recipes, excerpts, and more. You can find it here. And you can buy A Cotswold Christmas here.

As I wrote this book I found out I would be moving from the Cotswolds, and so it is extra-special and poignant to me, a bit of a homage to a beautiful place that I loved. And there are five more books set in the not-too-quaint village of Wychwood-on-Lea, so plenty of more scope to enjoy this corner of England.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sprinting through the Days

The last few days have been, for a reason I can't quite put my finger on, a little bit manic. Maybe it's all the harvest services I've had to attend--I definitely don't need to hear a rendition of 'Harvest Samba' again anytime soon. But if you feel like listening to it, you can here. I have listened to primary school children sing this song for 5 years. I'm kind of done with it.

The other day my twelve-year-old son asked me, quite seriously, 'What do you DO all day?' I'm sure many stay-at-home mums can relate to this question, and the desperate need to answer it with a laundry list (literally!) of all the things you do all day. Midway into my explanation of what I did--laundry, housework, errands, cooking, oh--and the full-time job writing I'm supposed to have--my son's expression glazed over. Actually, it was more like two seconds into my vehement description. Still I persevered. When I finished he came to, shook his head, and said, 'That sounds so boring.' Well, sort of, yes.

People these days are talking about mindfulness a lot, and I admit I roll my eyes a bit at the concept. And yet some days I get to bed and I feel like I've barely breathed. Every moment of the day has been relentlessly timetabled--and I don't even have that much to complain about, because my kids aren't in endless activities, I can work from home, and my husband's schedule is somewhat flexible. Yet it still feels BUSY.

I think we all tend towards busy-ness; in some ways it is easier to be busy and not have time than to be relaxed and 'in the moment'. Easier not to have to think about things too deeply or spare too much for impromptu conversations. I am trying to be less busy, or at least more flexible. Trying to look for opportunities to chat to neighbors or other parents at the school gate, to meet people's eyes in the street and smile. Little things, but I think they're important.

And meanwhile I am trying to get the Harvest Samba out of my head. Any tips?