Medieval Cookery: Roo Broth

Andromeda

Originally published at Book of Lost Nights. You can comment here or there.

Roo broth – I know, right? Was is it, some kind of medieval kangaroo soup?

Well, no. Roo broth is more of a bruet – a kind of thickly sauced meat dish – a bit like a stew. The roo is not for kangaroos but roe deer, and this is the venison dish I cooked alongside the frumenty last week. Like last week’s recipe, it is from A Forme of Cury as translated in Pleyn Delit by Hieatt and Butler, and it goes like this:

Take the lire of the Deer oþer of the Roo parboile it on smale peces. seeþ it wel half in water and half in wyne. take brede and bray it wiþ the self broth and drawe blode þer to and lat it seeth to gedre with powdour fort of gynger oþer of canell. and macys. with a grete porcioun of vineger with Raysouns of Coraunte.

As far as I can make out, this means:

Take the liver and other meats of the roe deer. Cut it in small pieces and parboil it. Cook it well in a half water/half wine mixture. Take bread and soak it with broth and add a little blood to it. Let it all simmer together with ginger, cinnamon, and mace, and a large measure of vinegar with added currants.

Actually, if you’d like to see how the recipe looks in its true original format, the Rylands Medieval Collection has scanned the page here.

You’ll note here that the recipe mentions liver. I don’t have access to venison liver, so I just used stewing venison from Waitrose, which comes in at 300g for a fiver, so this proved to be an expensive experiment. Goodness, I hope it works!

Hieatt and Butler talk a little about the evolution of roo broth in their book, observing that later versions add onions and herbs but lose the currants and vinegar, which they retain. The sweetness of onions and currants is to counterbalance the vinegar used. Vinegar was frequently part of venison recipes in medieval times, and I don’t know but am guessing it is because it is an acid and game can be tough – it’s a way of pre-cooking meat. To this end, you might want to marinade the meat first, as Hieatt and Butler suggest.

Ingredients

You’ll need:

  • 600g of stewing venison
  • 300ml red wine
  • 75ml red wine vinegar
  • 60ml olive oil
  • 2 chopped onions
  • 3 or 4 branches of fresh thyme
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Scant 1/4 tsp of ground mace (more of a dash of mace, really)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 slices granary bread
  • 200ml of water (more if looking a bit thin)
  • 100g raisins
  • 2-3 tbsp of chopped parsley.
  • (Optional) Get your full medieval on by serving it with frumenty, which is what venison was always traditionally accompanied with.

This looks like a lot of stuff, and the following looks like a lot of instructions, but really, it’s all very simple. Most of the chopping and adding happens in the marinade stage. Actually cooking it is a doddle.

The first step is to marinade the venison – this is a suggestion from Hieatt and Butler, and as I had never cooked venison before, this appealed to me as I had always heard the great danger in it would be that it would be tough. Then you’ll brown it. Then you’ll simmer it. And then, all going well, there will be something worth eating at the end.

Let’s kick off.

Marinading the venison

So, get your venison out:

Raw venison

YUM

 

Like I say, I’d never cooked venison before, and when it came out of the plastic packaging it looked revolting – dark red like it was rotten, and liberally sauced in maroon blood that smelled like… a lot of cold, sluggish blood. This picture makes it look much more attractive than it really was.

But never mind. I am committed now. Add your wine, vinegar, and olive oil:

Adding wine, water, and vinegar to marinade

 

Then add your onions, thyme, seasonings and spices (but not the parsley):

Marinading roo broth

 

Give that a stir, pop a lid on it and leave it in your fridge for a day, or on your counter for a couple of hours if you’re really pushed.

Making the sauce base

Once time’s unstoppable flow has moved inescapably onwards by one day, take the meat out of the fridge, open the lid and inspect the contents.

This is where everything was very different from the Pies de Parys, which were something that smelled awful while being parboiled but ended up being delicious. In this instance, I took the marinading meat out of the fridge after 24 hours and gingerly popped the lid off.

And guess what?

It smelled AMAZING.

Very hard to describe that moment, but there was this fruity, warmly spiced but rich and savoury thing going on, and I can safely say I’ve never smelled anything like it, but I knew that whatever happened next was going to be A-OK.

So I made the sauce base, which involved tearing up two slices of granary bread and then pouring about 50 to 75mls of rich purple sauce over them (Pleyn Delit recommends using a blender, but to be honest, the bread will break up fine in the cooking process and why bother with the extra washing up?).

Bread is frequently used as a thickener in medieval cookery – see the blaunched porray I made. Here’s me pouring the juices on the sauce base:

Preparing the bread

 

Next, mash the bread up with the juices so it becomes this fabulous maroon paste:

Sauce paste

 

Now it’s all on. Time to brown the meat.

Cooking roo broth

So, the next step is to brown the venison with the rest of the olive oil to seal it before you set it on to stew.

Put a big skillet or frying pan on, turn the heat up medium high, and add the olive oil.

Tease your venison chunks out of the marinade mixture with a slotted spoon and put it on kitchen paper to drain  (DO NOT THROW THE REST OF THE MARINADE AWAY… don’t look at me like that. Somebody might do it. I remember years ago following a recipe for some chicken I marinaded in soy sauce and I chucked it down the sink before reaching the next line in the recipe book. Not my finest hour.)

Ahem, anyway – here’s the venison draining on kitchen paper:

Venison Chunks ready for browning

 

Gently sear the venison in batches so it takes a plump, taut shape:

Browning the venison

 

Put it in a big stewing pan with the rest of the marinade, the scrapings of your browning pan, the soaked bread paste, and add the water to get everything nice and moist:

Cooking the roo broth

 

Bring this to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for one hour, covered. Add more liquid if you think it’s looking a bit dry, but remember you’re after something quite thick, not runny.

Next, add the raisins and parsley, and then carry on cooking for another half an hour.

Adding parsley and raisins to roo broth

 

Taste it for seasoning, then “messe forth” with your frumenty:

Roo broth and frumenty

YUM YUM

 

Was it nice?

I’m not sure anything could have been as nice as that smell when I first opened the tupperware box. But it had a go. The venison was something I’d never eaten as whole meat – I’d had venison meatballs and venison grillsteaks (and other things where the venison is frequently admixed with another meat, like beef), but the flesh itself was a revelation – a dark, rich taste, almost like liver in places, and very dense (but tender) in texture. The sauce was piquant and sweet, and married up perfectly with the frumenty I’d made to go with it. It didn’t taste at all vinegary, but had this deep, slightly sour fragrance of red wine, caramelised onion, and warm spice and fruit. Very unusual, but very good.

I now have tupperware servings of roo broth and frumenty made up in the freezer for when I fancy a very quick microwaved dinner that could be cheerfully served to ancient royalty.

 

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Medieval Cookery: Frumenty

OrkneyBoots

Originally published at Book of Lost Nights. You can comment here or there.

So, for a while I’ve been promising myself I’d have a go at making frumenty. For a start, it’s easy, and also, it’s ubiquitous. It was a very common thing to serve in medieval times. Potages, or simple meals of grain or vegetables, were something all levels of society took part in. It’s a more rewarding research project to cook commoner food than the dishes that would have gone on to feed the elite, as you’re exploring a more universal experience of what it was like to live in those times.

Anyway, as for frumenty itself, it is a kind of cracked wheat or barley porridge, the savoury kind being made with stock and sometimes mixed with milk (cow or almond, depending on whether it was to be served on a fast day or not), coloured with a dab of saffron and bound with an egg. Frumenty is derived from frumentum, the Latin for wheat. It is served with most meats, but especially with venison – to medieval people, venison and frumenty are like fish and chips and sausage and mash.

This particular version included saffron, though Wikipedia claims that a sweet version of this, with currants, is still made in Devizes on Mothering Sunday. Another sweet version, called “furmity” and served with a slug of rum, is referred to in Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge.

However, this time I’m going to be making a savoury frumenty with beef stock and milk, and serving it with its good buddy of old – venison (I’ll talk more about the venison next post).

The recipe is another one from the Forme of Cury, dated about 1390:

Nym clene wete & bray it in a morter wel, that the holys gon al of, & seyt yt till yt breste; & nym yt up & lat it keel. And nym fayre fresch broth & swete mylk of almandys or swete mylk of kyne and temper yt al. & nym the yolkys of eyryn & saffron & do therto. Boyle it a lily & set yt adorn, & messe yt forthe with fat venysoun & fresch motoun.

Take clean wheat and break it up in a mortar, so the hulls come off, and cook it till it plumps up and bursts and then drain it and let it cool. Make fresh broth and sweet milk (either cow or almond) and mix everything together, and then add egg yolks and saffron. Boil it a little and serve it with fat venison or fresh mutton.

Fat venison, I got you covered.

But to make the frumenty, I did this:

Ingredients

  • 200g bulgur wheat
  • 500ml stock
  • 200ml milk
  • pinch saffron
  • 1 egg, beaten

It’s dead easy, particularly since you don’t have to spend hours mortar and pestle-ing your wheat and then boiling it in our modern age – you just buy a bag of bulgar wheat.

First, mix your stock and milk together in a saucepan:

Stock and milk

So. Not. Kosher.

I used the Heston Blumenthal stock from Waitrose, which was lovely and came in a jelly form. I went with dairy milk for this, but you could use almond milk, or even replace the milk with more stock. The final effect is this very rich, eggy, porridgey thing though, so the milk felt right ultimately, weird as it was to cook.

Anyway, bring it to the boil, and then chuck your bulgur wheat in:

Bulgar added to stock and milk

 

Add a tiny pinch of saffron – about five strands. You’re after the colouring rather than the flavour.

Once it’s boiling again turn the heat way, way down and cover it, and let it not so much simmer as settle for about 30 – 50 minutes (well, Hiatt and Butler recommended this, but I found it was done in about twenty-five minutes). Make sure to top up the liquid with water or stock if it looks like it’s getting too dry. You are not looking for bite, like in pasta, but for it to be soft but not completely squishy. I was serving this with a meat dish that had its own sauce, so I didn’t want it to be too moist.

Next, add your beaten egg:

Adding egg to frumenty

 

Pop it back on the low heat and mix the egg through it. You’re not looking to cook the egg, I don’t think (so this dish is neither pasteurised nor Kosher. Sorry.) so much as add a kind of yolky richness to the texture, so the egg can’t be solid or crumbly.

And you’re done:

Finished frumenty

 

You’ll have noticed during the tasting no doubt that there’s no seasoning. That’s okay, because all this is is a foil to the highly seasoned thing I will be serving with it. More on that anon…

Is it nice?

On its own? It’s tough to describe without spoilers, but yeah, it’s all right. More than pasta, bread, or rice, it’s something that exists to support other food – the extra things, like stock and milk and egg, all tend to come into their own when counter-balanced with the highly flavoured sour, sweet sauces and gamey meats that medieval cookery seems to love. It has a yolky, buttery, soft texture and when you put it on your tongue, you have this distinct sense it’s a matrix crying out for other flavourings (the meat juice was not particularly strong-tasting, but that could have been the absence of any salt being added).

That said, you wouldn’t need to cook expensive meat to go with it to make this a nice sturdy tea. It would take any flavour and be a tasty filling dish – you could add boiled eggs, or cut up sausage or bacon, or veg and herbs, especially if you added some crucial salt and a bit of pepper to it. It put me in mind of those couscous dishes I ate while digging in Tunisia, which came dry and had various added ingredients like chicken legs semi-submerged in it. Anything you had spare in the fridge would do, and you’d end up with a good, rib-sticking meal.

It would also work well in the sweet form, with currants and sweet spices and possibly cream, though in that case I would serve a much wetter version, more like a pudding.

So basically… yeah. Yeah. But it needs something to complete it. And that’s the story of the next post.

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Review: The Colour Black by Maia Wolczak

OrkneyBoots

Originally published at Book of Lost Nights. You can comment here or there.

This last week, now my own book has gone off, I have been catching up with those other diversions I’ve been forced to postpone. At the moment I’m reading six books and watching three movies and two box sets on iTunes. I am mainlining entertainment.

So, most recently I finished The Colour Black by Maia Wolczak.

The Colour Black by Maia Walczak

Closed-off Silvia draws and paints live nudes in her sterile San Diego penthouse, engaging every so often in purely physical sex with her models. Silvia is chased by her own demons, and after the horrific murder of her mother is incapable of reaching out and forming connections.

When, at the last minute, Jack – a human rights lawyer – is substituted for one of her usual models, she finds herself breaking free of her reserve, and confessing her danger-ridden past. But very quickly, it appears that Silvia’s ghosts are moving to silence her. She and Jack go on the run…

Despite the set-up, the book is not a thriller, in any meaningful sense – rather it’s a very beautifully written, esoteric but not annoyingly New Age Californian romance and road trip exploring the opening up of a woman who has lived her life locked in tragedy and secrecy, and that is handled very poignantly.

The writing is lovely – the description of place, texture, and sense is exquisitely rendered, and it is a book that comes alive most when it is describing wild places and wilderness, which immediately made me warm to it. The author is also an artist and the book is illustrated, which was a lovely surprise.

I’d recommend it because it has that peculiar quality of inviting the reader wholly into its own world on its own terms, and its grace and atmosphere made it a wholly involving, immersive experience – thanks so much to Jazzmine at Jacaranda Books Art Music for sending it to me!

My first review

OrkneyBoots

Originally published at Book of Lost Nights. You can comment here or there.

So, rather wonderfully, I&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8217;ve been mentioned in a review for &http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8220;Sex and the Single Hive Mind&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8221;, the SF/horror story published in the Mind Seed anthology, over at SF Crowsnest.

Mind Seed ed. David Gullen and Gary CouzensFor my part it&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8217;s the first time I&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8217;ve seen my fiction mentioned in print, so I couldn&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8217;t be happier. I&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8217;ve always been very fond of Susannah and her unpleasant adventures, and I&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8217;m thrilled they found a good home.

A review, by jiminy. I feel all growed up&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8230;

Update: Alas, the review seems to be down at the moment, will try to find the new URL and post it when it reappears&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8230;

Update on update: But happily, Pete Sutton over on his BRSKBLOG has reviewed the anthology too!

That First Draft Feeling…

Joanna and the Raven

Originally published at Book of Lost Nights. You can comment here or there.

The first draft of the new Bethan Avery went off to my agent yesterday, and I am having a little breather to try and catch up with books, computer games, and TV box sets.

Believe it or not, this is the only time I really get to do any box sets, and at some point I have to get up to speed with Games of Thrones before my colleagues and friends work out that I’m not even half way through the first season and are forced to stone me to death in the village square.

Game of Thrones 4

I am criminally behind on breasts and treachery.

I’m also going to be reviewing The Colour Black by Maia Walczak, which I’m really enjoying at the moment, so that is something to look forward to.

So, I’d better get on with it…

Review: Medea

OrkneyBoots

Originally published at Book of Lost Nights. You can comment here or there.

Medea (2014)

So, a friend of mine mentioned that she was off to see Medea at the cinema, in a live broadcast from the its last night at the NT, which reminded me I’d not seen it despite having really wanted to. So, tonight I drove out to the Cineworld in Haverhill to watch it.

It was so powerful, so intense. And the sympathetic new version by Ben Power opened new windows into the driven, divinely insane, reckless world of Greek tragedy.

Directed by Carrie Cracknell, the play stars Helen McCrory as Medea, a woman with a desperate, violent past who has sacrificed all for love and is in the process of losing everything. There’s this sense that she’s hating what she’s doing even while she’s doing it, but she cannot stop herself.

On a set that inverts the traditional female domestic spaces of home and wilderness, the outer stage is a house, and yet the central space, where most of the action is framed, is a dark, shadowy forest. Medea is a witch, a devotee of Hecate and her inner world is that of the night and the Moon – she internalises the Wild. She draws her knives and poisons out of a trapdoor beneath her patterned carpet. She is barbarous and foreign to the royalty of Corinth, who want her husband Jason to marry Kreusa, the king’s daughter. Medea and her sons are to be banished.

In the gallery above, the picture-perfect and silent bride Kreusa and her father exist behind a blue veil, in a tableau of exquisite wedding preparations and stylised joy, contrasting with Medea’s combat-trousered, relentless and disordered misery. We see Kreusa not as she is but how Medea in her jealous rage imagines her.

The Chorus is composed of the women of Corinth, who, initially sympathetic to her as a woman, in their floral dresses, become increasingly horrified and unnatural as Medea’s terrible vengeance takes shape. Their floral patterns look increasingly like bloodstains, their coiffed hair growing wilder and their dresses more ripped the more the action rockets to its conclusion. Their twitching movements and spasming dances put one almost in mind of Silent Hill monsters by the end – the world has become monstrous, and all of the news is bad. At the denouement, they surround Jason like a forest of zombies.

The framing of the final scenes, where Medea staggers off into exile, carrying the bodies of her dead children, after Jason’s horrified rejection and denial, was also unbearably moving.

Yet McCrory’s Medea is also faintly, horribly admirable, in her absolute failure to accept any kind of soft-pedalling or compromise. She is suffering, and she will not go along with any plan to minimise or play down her own internal agony to make anyone else feel better, no matter who they are. She will do terrible things to herself rather than make terms with any of her torturers, even in the face of reasonable offers, or disinterested friends. She raises many more questions than she answers.

It’s also worth mentioning that I loved the music, composed by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp, which in its sombre strings and plangent passages perfectly complements the dark, disintegrating world of the central character.

All in all I thought it was a work of perfectly focused genius, never for a moment less than completely and utterly compelling. I am so sorry I caught it on the last night, as there are a thousand details in it I would have loved to have seen again. I can only hope they replay it in the cinema again at some point, as they do with the Danny Boyle Frankenstein.

OrkneyBoots

Originally published at Book of Lost Nights. You can comment here or there.

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick NessOn a world colonised by humans, Todd has been raised in a town inhabited solely by men. In Prentisstown, everyone is cursed with a kind of a telepathy called Noise which renders their thoughts and presence audible to others. This curse, considered a disease, has apparently killed all of the women. However, about a month before the birthday that will make him into a full-grown man according to the customs of Prentisstown, Todd meets someone whose ship has crashed in the swamp, and everything he knows will be turned on its head…

I was captivated by this visceral YA sci-fi book that explores the relationship between the sexes and the dilemma of telepathy in a new and intriguing way. The novel describes a chase, as Todd and the crash survivor flee across their world, relentlessly pursued by men of Prentisstown, and finding uncertain welcome wherever they go. Breathlessly paced and sharply imagined, I tore through this in days.

However, I was tempted into taking a star off as there are instances where I felt Todd (and therefore the reader) was being deprived of plot and character information to artificially create tension – for instance, what with the telepathy and notebooks and all Todd should have worked out the reality of Prentisstown within a couple of days of leaving, never mind having to wait till the end of the book (this isn’t a spoiler, as we know from the get-go that Todd has been deceived all his life).

On the other hand, the tension, even when I don’t believe in it, is undeniably there, and I’ve already downloaded the sample for the next one in the series, The Ask and the Answer.

Andromeda

Originally published at Book of Lost Nights. You can comment here or there.

Prohibited Area

So, this weekend I did something a little different. I’ve been thinking ahead to my future projects, and wondering which crime project will follow Bethan Avery, the first draft of which is nearly complete.

With this in mind, on Saturday I went out to Orford Ness.

Orford Ness is a nature reserve and historical site only accessible by boat from Orford Quay. It is composed of two parts – ancient artificial freshwater marshes that have cultivated since the eleventh century, and which are separated from the sea by giant dykes, and ridges of vegetated shingle on the North Sea side. Both sides, being fragile habitats and almost completely barred to human beings apart from very set, narrow signposted routes, host a lot of rare birds and wildlife.

Which is cool and all, but not why I went:

AWRE ruins, Orford Ness

You keep to the paths not just because of the habitat, but also, despite the best efforts of the Bomb Disposal Squad stationed here, to avoid exploding yourself by stepping on any live ordnance they might have missed:

Danger of Splodey

The island, or strictly speaking the peninsula, has been owned by the military for seventy years – from 1913 through to 1993, before it was bought by the National Trust. Throughout this period the activity on Orford Ness has been of a Top Secret experimental character - parachutes were tested hereit was an important site in the discovery of radar, and planes were lined up and shot to pieces in lethality and vulnerability testing to find out what kind of punishment they could take.

But the most interesting thing on the island, at least to my mind, is the way it teems with Cold War military archaeology – both the abandoned Cobra Mist complex and in particular the ruins of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment site:

The main business of the Orford Ness site was not to test the nuclear warheads themselves, but their explosive firing and triggering mechanisms. If you think about it, there is huge mileage in making absolutely sure that a nuclear bomb doesn’t go off in mid-air before you get it to wherever you, ahem, hope to apply it.

Equally, when you do apply it, you need to be sure that it will go off on impact, ideally when it hits the ground and not before.

The AWRE buildings take two main forms – the early labs, with their thick walls and thin aluminium roofs, now decayed away to skeletons:

AWRE Laboratory, Orford Ness

They’re built that way to absorb the shock in case of catastrophic explosion – the shape is to funnel the blast upwards, towards the aluminium roof which would just be blown off.

Inside, the bomb is placed in an underground chamber, where air conditioning, vibrators, etc are applied to test how stable the device is in response to vibrations, temperature variation, G forces, etc.

The later, more imposing form the labs take are the “pagodas” which you can see from miles away (which is fortunate, because if you’re not on one of the Trust’s special guided tours you can’t get near them):

The "pagodas" in the distance

The spaces between the pillars were lined with thick Perspex (apparently glass was proved to be a very bad idea).

In addition, there is also the remains of the “Hard Target” – a reinforced concrete wall mounted with cine cameras, which bombs were fired at to test their impact capability:

The Hard Target

A rocket-fuelled sled powered the warheads into the wall to mimic the correct impact conditions.

All of these ruined concrete structures lie surrounded by swathes of shingle – and vegetated or not, it does not inspire one with visions of rampant plant fertility:

The Shingle

The only life is inside the labs, where weeds run rampant inside the experimental cells:

Interior of the AWRE Lab

You couldn’t wish for a more post-apocalyptic landscape in many ways. It is a science fiction landscape, like the triggering scene from some fictional dystopia.

And this is where the intrigue lies, because of course this is a scene from a dystopia – the one we all lived through while the Cold War raged. It’s a world you look back on when you reach the minimum safe distance and realise, wow, how profoundly screwed up all that was. Remember when we all thought we were going to perish in nuclear armageddon? Remember Protect and Survive and Greenham Common and When The Wind Blows?

It’s strange to consider now, but really, that world is only a few political accidents away again. Things once learned cannot be unlearned. And perhaps it’s worth considering that we may well be living out another dystopia now, one we cannot yet understand completely, because we’re not far enough away from its blast radius.

Sex and the Single Hive Mind – the Podcast!

OrkneyBoots

Originally published at Book of Lost Nights. You can comment here or there.

Yay! Rejoice!

</p>

So, wonder of wonders, Sex and the Single Hive Mind, my black comedy from the Mind Seed anthology, is featured as the podcast over at Crime City Central! (NSFW, I’m afraid, due to strong horror, exceptionally rude language, and adult themes – like you couldn’t guess that from the title).

The story was read by Josie Babin, a biologist by day, which is just so super-apropos I may die of satisfaction, and book-ended by Jack Calverley’s introduction, which I also loved. Very strange to hear my bio read out – like listening to the description of a different person.

There is something deeply peculiar about hearing another voice reading your own work. My initial feeling was that it sounded slow, and then I realised, no, it’s not slow, it’s just that you know these words by heart, and in your head, they race by. Kind of like Inception in reverse. Or maybe not in reverse, because if dream time runs faster and seems longer, and a story being read it in may… ooh, ow, brain is sprained. Need to lie down.

Very strange to hear someone else add their interpretation to your work, and kind of awe-inspiring. It had not occurred to me that Mark would be the most fast-talking, upbeat character as read, but then, of course he would. And those little pauses and inflections where Susannah’s bitterness is made manifest. It was just great. I couldn’t be happier. So glad Susannah is getting her out finally!

P.S. If you’re interested in the unfortunate Susannah and how I came to write the story, I wrote a guest blog feature over at my writing buddy KD Grace’s website (KD writes erotic romance and blogs about erotica, so again be warned if you are visiting from work!)

LonCon 3 – Reaping the Whirlwind

OrkneyBoots

Originally published at Book of Lost Nights. You can comment here or there.

Back from LonCon 3, which I only attended on Sunday – though have still managed to pick up some kind of bug!

Absolutely packed day, but looking back I didn’t do that much, compared to some.

I turned up and almost immediately ran into Dave Gullen and Sarah Ellender who were running the Pirate Program that morning.

Pirate programming is something that started up last year, and it is basically a way to run alternative readings and events at cons who don’t or won’t support amateur readings. It works like this – you turn up, you sign on the list, and then you read 10 minutes or 1500 words worth of your work. Everyone claps. Then it’s someone else’s turn. That’s it.

There’s something rather wonderful about the grab-bag nature of it all, since despite it being a con on science fiction, there was a wild variation in both the form and the content of the readings. Some read from their novels or works in progress (everyone in the afternoon sesh got a dose of Sleepwalker, for instance), some read verse, some read their short stories. One lady, a Japanese writer, read a beautiful, very short ghost story in her own language, while handing out printed translations. T Party bods Francis Knight showed up and read from Shellshocked, Martin Owton read from Shadows of Faerie. You never know what you’re going to get.

While there I ran into Gaie and Martin. Martin was running the T Party Writing critiques sessions, which appear to have been very well-attended. They’re on for Eastercon next year again after a year’s hiatus, which is great news for the group.

Then I tried to get into the gallery – part of what I’d wanted to do while there was look at the art, and maybe source an artist for the Sleepwalker covers – but it was shut. It was shut at noon as well, so that aspect of it was quite disappointing.

However, I got it together to wolf down a surprisingly good steak pasty (this con food can be terrible – I remember having an open sandwich at Fantasycon in Brighton a couple of years ago that nearly killed me and certainly put the end to my con) and then joined Sarah and Gaie’s workshop on character over in the South Galleries.

Gaie and Sarah ran several workshops over the con under their Plot Medics umbrella – but this was the only one on Sunday and since I have been wrestling with a character in Bethan Avery who I feel isn’t quite there, this worked for me. It was an interesting insight into how all the stuff I engage with on a daily basis – POV, show don’t tell, etc. sounds like to the uninitiated. Loads of the people there – it was booked out.

After that I manned the Pirate Programming and was Pirate Queen for an afternoon. Some guys showed up and read short stories and poetry (whimsical comedy poetry, fun and well-done and well-delivered). It was all good. And I read too, so that was also good, and interesting to see Sleepwalker’s opening effect on a mostly male audience. Gary Couzens ambled over, and it was lovely to see him.

Then we shut shop and I went to the launch for Mind Seed, an anthology celebrating the life of Denni Schnapp, T Party member and scientist who died last year. It was great, very well attended, and I signed a ton of books. Francis Knight, Peter Colley, Ian Whates, Deborah Walker and Rosanne Rabinowitz showed up – as well as all my other T Party buds. Fredericke Schanpp, Denni’s sister, was there with her partner, as well as John Holroyd, Denni’s husband, and I got quite emotional remembering Denni, who always backed my work with unfailing honesty and generosity.

(Also ran into Tom Pollock passing through, who had had his first-ever Kaffeklatsch, which apparently went really well).

Anyway, it was a lovely end to the day, and the launch felt like a success. Hopefully it will do well for Next Generation Nepal, the charity the anthology’s proceeds are being donated to, so if you fancy dreadful stories about man-eating drugs and body-snatching (as well as other, better put-together and less histrionic works) then you could do worse than support the Mind Seed anthology.

Just sayin’.

 

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