Further Adventures In Not Dying Of Cooking

For an introduction, please see here.

Today I’m going to teach you how to make three – THREE – whole things. Two of them can even be put together to make a meal, if you’re so inclined. Although remember, anything you combine to eat in one sitting is technically a meal and is 100% allowed.

How to make MASHED POTATOES!

With Interrim Stage: You Have Boiled Potatoes You Can Totally Just Eat Those.

YOU WILL NEED:

Some butter! Milk will do in a pinch but it will taste better with butter. Or coconut oil I guess, if you’re rich and vegan.
Some potatoes! This part is pretty important. Big potatoes are better. New potatoes – the little round waxy ones – don’t mash well.
Salt and pepper! You’re a fucking chef now. You can also add herbs and spices or garlic power/paste if you want to be a funky boy.
OPTIONAL: Why not get some grated cheese or something as well?

1 saucepan! That’s the kind with the tall sides. It will need a lid.
1 knife, sharp, for cutting up your potato, and a thing to cut your potato on, which could be a chopping board or a kitchen surface (clean) or your ex’s face (they probably deserve it)
1 potato masher. Or a fork, but a masher will do this a lot more easily:

Image result for potato masher

The downside is they’re not exactly versatile.
You’re going to need a colander as well. Remember those from making pasta?

You can get a fork and bowl for eating out of or just eat it out of the pan, no one’s judging you.

Make sure your potatoes are clean, by washing them until any mud comes off.

Okay, fill your pan up about halfway with water. Put it on the hot thing, put the lid on it, and make the hot thing hot.

While the water’s getting a bit hotter, cut the potato up into chunks. Like, roughly the size of your thumb? The smaller they are the easier this will be, but don’t go mental.

Put your chunks in the water and put the lid back on.

Play several phone games. If the water starts to boil over, turn the heat down. If the pan starts to get dry, add more water. Do not grab the pan lid or the handle without something insulating wrapped around your hand, like a teatowel, because it is standing on a hot thing, and heat travels, because Physics.

…I’m an arts graduate.

Check on your potato lumps. Are they starting to look a bit disintegratey? If you poke them with your fork are they pretty soft? They’re probably done. When they get to that stage you want to turn the heat off.

A word on the skins: I didn’t tell you to peel the potatoes because that is an unconscionable nuisance. Peeling potatoes is basically an invitation to the kitchen Gods to draw blood from your knuckles, and it’s a waste of time as mash with skins in is doubly good for you and also pretty tasty.

So you have a pan full of cooling water and fluffy potato lumps. Go drain the potatoes in the colander, over the sink.

When the pan’s not full of water any more, put the lumps back in it, let the colander sit in the sink, and fetch your Tools. The fun is about to begin.

Unless you just want to like, put salt and butter on them now and eat them as is.

Salt! A pinch or two! Pepper! About the same amount! Spices, if you’re feeling that! Butter! A big ol’ lump. I usually go with a lump the same size as one of the potato chunks. All of this goes in the pan on your potatoes.

Get your masher.

Hold it like you’re in a painting of the assassination of Caesar, which means with the fun part pointing down out of your fist. Now. Stamp down on your spuds with it, over and over, and over, and over. Pretend they are the toes of the last person who gave you a shitty grade. Or that ex I mentioned earlier. Totally fuck that person with your masher.

Every so often you’re going to want to scrape the mash from the sides of the pan towards the middle then start mashing again.

Keep going until the butter’s dissolved and spread about and the mash has about the consistency you want. If you’re mashing with a fork this is going to take a lot longer and you’ll want to hold it differently – pointing forwards, like you’re trying to stab someone in the stomach instead of the back.

Anyway, you now have DELICIOUS POTATOES so you’re probably feeling less like murder, and that, my friend, can only be a good thing.

Get in losers, we’re scrambling some fucking eggs.

AKA: What To Do When Your Omelette Doesn’t Cohere.

Remember how you made an omelette?

Okay it’s like that, but like, you need to continue to do things to the mixture when it’s in the pan. Namely, stirring it up constantly. You can use a spatula or a fork, but if you use the fork, you have to not use a non-stick pan, because your fork will fuck that shit up.

I usually use a saucepan. And a whisk. The whisk because it’s fun and the saucepan because if you’re using a whisk you need to limit the amount you get, say, egg on your ceiling and walls.

The deal is, you keep fluffing that shit up by moving it around the pan more or less constantly with your shovel/fork/wizened monkey paw, and then just before you serve it – DID YOU TURN THE HEAT OFF? PLEASE CHECK – stick some butter and black pepper on it. And then it tastes Really Really Good.

.If it doesn’t, put ketchup on it until it just tastes of tomatoes. You’re welcome.

Those Bastards Haven’t Even Given Me A Microwave

How to make yourself a rounded meal when the scumsucker in charge of accommodation stuffs you in a Travelodge and shrugs when you ask about this mythical “student hall” thing.

Here’s your ingredients list:

Princes Tuna Chunks Spring Water 3X80g

(or other tinned fish; if you don’t like fish a jar of mini hotdogs might do it but be careful about how fast they go off; alternatives also include pre-wrapped pepperoni but now you’re getting expensive).

Tesco Everyday Value Sweetcorn In Saltwater 325G

(see also peas, carrots, mixed veg – as long as it’s a single-serving tin you can get into with what you have – check for a ringpull if you don’t have a tin-opener, although tin-openers are usually only a quid).

Tesco Everyday Value Chicken Flavour Instant Noodles 65G

Or whatever flavour.

Your equipment list runs:

Kettle, for making water hot in.
Fork, for making food go into your face
Bowl, for placing food in
Possibly some sort of lid for keeping the heat in the bowl, although a large book will also work.

Here goes: put about half a bowl of water in your kettle. Boil the kettle.

While the kettle is heating up, put your noodles, tin of veg, tuna, and flavour sachet contents in a bowl.

Pour boiling water over it. Put the book over the top.

Play a phone game for about 3 minutes.

Take the book off and give everything a stir with the fork. Put the book back on for another minute.

Congratulations you’ve just made a meal that contains at least 1 of your 5 a day, protein, carbs, and A Flavour.

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How To Make Food And Not Die If You’re Really Bad At It

Hello, it’s summer. Soon it will be autumn again, because time moves in a linear direction, dragging us all on towards our deaths with inexorable inevitability, except David Attenborough, who is definitely never going to die. Even if the weather doesn’t acknowledge the seasons, time will pass.

So a bunch of people will in all probability be leaving for university and possibly having to cook for themselves for the first time. Or maybe you’re just… in a position now where you’re like, yeah, I should probably learn how to do the thing. I have also been there! And then I learnt how to make food and not die, which is a skill I feel I should pass on.

FIRST THINGS FIRST:

What shit do you absolutely definitely need?

2 x pans. Probably a frying pan and a saucepan. Get something that won’t stick to things if you can. Stainless steel if you can’t. If you don’t have a hot plate/stove because where you’re living is fucking deranged, skip that. You will be making a lot of things in mugs.
1 x not-metal spatula. Silicon is good. Wood is also good.
Some forks and shit
MAYBE a blender if you wanna get crazy about it
Mugs. Good for measuring and drinking out of.
Bowl. Maybe a plate.
Spoons. Get ones in actual measuring sizes and you won’t then need to buy measuring spoons as well. Although it’s worth remembering that if you’re not baking, amounts are pretty much a matter of personal preference.
Sharp knife, for cutting stuff. Big. But controllable. Make sure it STAYS sharp.

What do the fuckin’ words mean?

BAKE = I put this shit into a hot box and made it hot and now it is cooked.
ROAST = as above, but with fats (usually oil, sometimes animal fats)
BOIL = I put this shit in water and the water was making bubbles and then it was cooked
SIMMER = I put this shit in water that had been making bubbles but is now just constantly hot
FRY = I put this in a pan on a heat source with some fats probably
SAUTE = (pronounced Soh-tay because it’s French) frying, but quickly, and with a little bit of fats specifically
GRILL = I put this shit underneath a heat source on a thing that allows the fat/moisture to drain out from it without it sitting in it (rack, grill tray, whatever thing)
STEAM = I put this thing in a thing with a bit of water and raised it out of the water, then made the water hot so the steam cooked it
BROIL = Literally no idea, this is an American thing
BARBECUE = grill but the heat source is underneath and it’s probably outside

CHOP = cut it up, probably fairly small
SLICE = cut it up into thin regular bits
DICE = cut it into cubes
GRIND = you’re a beginner, don’t do this, just buy it pre-ground
WHISK = you don’t actually necessarily need a whisk for this, you can usually do it with a fork if it’s like, an omelette. circular motions around the bowl full of liquid, fast
STIR = like whisk, but a lot slower, and with a spoon or spatula
BLEND = usually involves a blender
PULSE = always involves a blender, and means stop-start blending at very short intervals
FOLD = this one’s a pain in the ass. You usually only do it with things that have been whisked up, to keep the air in them. Call it an Intermediate or Beginner 2 skill, and move on.
KNEAD = advanced, don’t bother yet

What do I do if it catches fire?

Shut off the heat source immediately. Now, what’s on fire?

Oil? Cover the thing the oil is in with a pan lid then leave the pan lid on it. The lack of oxygen should extinguish the flame. If it doesn’t – after like, 45 seconds? – dump a whole canister of baking soda on it.

Things which are not oil? You are okay to throw water on these, but it might still be more effective to cover them with a pan or pan lid.

What happens if I fuck up my meal?

There are different parameters of “fucked up”. Whichever happens, make a note of what you did so that it doesn’t happen the same way again. That’s science.

  1. Not as intended but still safe and probably not-disgusting to eat = eat it.
  2. Safe to eat but probably gross to eat = try a bit, if it’s actually gross bin it or cover it in ketchup and eat it anyway.
  3. Undercooked? Just cook it a bit longer. Throw it in the microwave and zap it for 5 minutes. NB: If you are doing this with an egg, break the shell off first or it will detonate like a tiny chicken bomb in the microwave and scare the living shit out of you.
  4. Overcooked? If it’s a cinder, in the bin. If it’s just A Bit Crispy, scrape that off and see what the middle’s like. No one is judging you on this shit; you just have to feed yourself.

SECOND THINGS PROBABLY COME SECOND

Budget

Are you broke as fuck? Yeah, me too, pretty much constantly. Here are some things which are cheap and useful to keep in your kitchen and won’t go off. This list presumes that you don’t really have access to a working freezer; if you do, here’s some shit you can freeze, please feel free to go absolutely ham in the marked-down food section.

  • A massive quantity of cooking oil, whichever kind is cheapest
  • A huge bag of rice. My local supermarket went bananas around Ramadan and started selling 10kg bags for £4. This is an excellent way to definitely not starve.
  • Tins of beans, baked or red kidney are usually the cheapest (savers/own brand, etc). Of all the things you can buy in tins, these are the most useful. Baked beans come with their own sauce so you can just throw them in cooked rice and pretend it is a meal. You can in theory buy big bags of dried lentils and dried beans and that’s cheaper, but requires Forward Planning and you are a not ready for that shit yet.
  • Dried pasta. I hate pasta like the devil but it’s a staple food for a reason.
  • Spices/dried herbs. NOT in those infuriating little Schwartz pots in the seasoning aisle. Go to the World Foods Aisle or your local Asian supermarket / Turkish supermarket and buy a big ol’ sack for like, 59p, then dump it in a screw-top jar.
  • Salt. This is incredibly cheap and will prevent your food from tasting of sorrow.
  • Tins of tomatoes also good, as are Squeezy Tube of Concentrated Tomato.
  • Ketchup. To conceal your cooking sins.
  • Onions, carrots, potatoes, and often swede are usually cheap as balls and take a long time to go off. With the potatoes, do not leave them in direct light or in a sealed plastic bag (buy them loose, not in a sack, if you can) or they will go liquid and gross and make your dwelling place stink and people will accuse you of trying to make vodka; I speak from very specific personal experience here, don’t do Thing.
  • Eggs are pretty good and last a long time out of the fridge.
  • Sardines are usually cheaper than tuna if you’re a fish person. I mean, a person who likes fish; if you’re a fish person I assume you live in the sea and don’t have a cupboard.
  • Bag of peanuts, if you’re not allergic. The main purpose of these is to make food magically seem fancy, but the secret purpose is so that so that when you get in and you’re ravenous and confused and about to make BAD BUDGET/FOOD CHOICES, you can put peanuts in your face and your body will stop freaking out and you can then make a GOOD food decision, like “I will not spend my rent money on seven pizzas”. If you are allergic, try dried fruit or something instead.
  • Emergency Vegetables. Tinned vegetables are disgusting but sometimes your fridge will die and you will need them.
  • Sugar. Even if you don’t really have a sweet tooth, putting this in savoury dishes a tiny bit makes them taste miraculously good-er.
  • Flour. DON’T PANIC. You’re not going to be baking cakes or bread or Advanced Level Shit. This is for making Pancakes (British/French style) which are very easy to make regardless of what Shrove Tuesday Propaganda has led people to think and fear.
  • OPTIONAL: if your kitchen suffers from a fridge with a mind of its own, or you don’t drink milk fast enough to stop it going off before you’re finished, or you have a bad case of Thieving Shitheads in your dwelling-place, powdered milk is not a bad option at all and is usually in the baking or breakfast foods aisle.

Probably don’t buy all of that at once because it’s heavy. DO make a habit of stealing condiment and sugar/sweetener sachets whenever you’re within breathing distance of somewhere that has them.

Rules

Here are the important things:

  1. Don’t give yourself food poisoning
  2. Mild food poisoning is okay and isn’t a sign that you’re a terrible person
  3. Literally any items that you combine in the same sitting are a meal
  4. You are not making dinner to please Betty-Jo’s Italian Nona back in her ancestral homeland, you are making it for you. Go with what’s easiest and tastiest and if anyone utters the word “authentic” or “diet” around you, punch them.
  5. Try to eat regularly.
  6. If you eat it when you wake up it’s breakfast. Doesn’t matter what it is or when that is.
  7. Don’t panic.

ALRIGHT WE’RE READY

It’s time to make an omelette.

Stop panicking.

Get your frying pan. That’s the one with the low sides and the flat bottom.

Image result for frying pan

Get a spatula. Basically a stick with a flat bit at the end. For moving your omelette with.

Image result for spatula

Get a spoon. Cereal spoon is fine. This is for measuring oil and milk. When you get the hang of this you can just eyeball it. If you want, you can also use butter.

Bowl. For mixing in.

Fork. For mixing with.

Plate for eating off later.

Milk, like 2 eggs, some salt.

You can add spices when you know which ones you like, or herbs, or both. You can also get stuff to put in your omelette. But first: Omelette: The Basics.

Okay. Deep breath! One thing at a time.

Break the eggs into the bowl. Try to tap them on the edge of the bowl with the middle of the longer side of the egg, then put your thumbs in the crack and pull it open. (VIDEO)

Fish out the bits of shell. No one has to know.

Drop in a pinch of salt. Literally just pinch some of the salt from between your thumb and forefinger and that’s it. Self-explanatory measurement.

Get your milk and your spoon. Pour out like 2, 3 spoons of milk. (Put the milk back in the fridge)

Get your fork. Hold onto the bowl, and with the fork, give the eggs and milk a good violent stir – this is called “beating” if you want an indication of what kind of level of violent. You’re aiming to break the yolk (yellow bit in the middle) and mix it up with the clear stuff and the milk. Keep going until the whole lot is mostly opaque light yellow.

Image result for beaten egg

Put that to one side, and wash your fork.

Okay cool. Go to your hot plate or stove burner or whatever. Put the pan on a ring/plate/thingy. Turn that on to a high heat.

Measure out one spoon of oil into the pan and tip the pan about until the oil has spread out. When the air above the pan feels worryingly hot, turn the heat down and right away tip your eggy mixture into the pan.

Tip the pan about like you did with the oil so the eggy mixture covers the whole thing evenly. This may be when you discover how badly your kitchen slopes. Congratulations, you have subsidence! Me too!

Let that sit there on the heat. (If you have extra bits, this is when you add them. Grated cheese is a good one.) The top will start to look more solid in a bit. When it does, give it a gentle prod with the spatula.

Is it still liquid? Leave it longer.

Image result for cooked omelette

(This is okay)

Pretty much not liquid?

Time to put the edge of the spatula under the omelette and unstick it from the bottom. If the omelette is cooked, this should be easy. If it tears, no big, you just have a torn omelette. It’s still edible.

With the spatula, fold the omelette in half, then press down on the top. If you want, you can also turn it over from underneath at this point.

Count to like, twenty.

Turn off the heat, make sure the stove/burner is definitely off.

Tip out your omelette onto the plate! Go put your mixing bowl in the sink with some soapy water. You can also do that with the frying pan but to be honest, if you’ve only cooked the omelette it won’t actually need cleaning yet. Done?

EAT YOUR OMELETTE, YOU OMELETTE-MAKING CHAMPION.

BOILING SHIT

Not shit. Pasta. We’re going to make pasta. I’m not going to talk to you about time and making pasta, because time is an illusion and you are legally prohibited from leaving boiling water alone until you’re at least Basic 3, and you have a phone, just look at your phone while you’re standing next to the pot of water waiting for it to boil.

Okay. We’re also going to make a sauce with it. Get some stuff.

If you have a colander get that. It’s a sort of bowl full of holes. You can also use a sieve. I normally crack open a pan lid a fraction to drain stuff but that’s because I’m like, Intermediate 1 and I’m allowed to.

Image result for colander

Pan! Deep one. For boiling.

Image result for saucepan

Wooden spoon or spatula.

Cereal spoon for measuring, fork for eating. Bowl for mixing stuff in and eating out of.

Salt, pepper, onion – you can buy this frozen and pre-chopped. Or fresh and pre-chopped. I’m not going to try to make you chop an onion yet. 1 carrot. 1 stick of celery. 1 tin or carton of chopped tomatoes. This is going to make a lot of sauce, btw, so you can save some. Paprika if you like it, and garlic powder. I’m also not going to make you deal with the pain in the arse that is peeling and pressing garlic cloves. You can alternatively buy a tube of garlic paste. If you have and like dried oregano you can put that in, same goes for black pepper.

Big handful of dried pasta, two if you want to eat the same thing tomorrow and just microwave that shit.

Cut up the carrot and celery into lumps. Smallish ones.

Put water in your pan. Put the pan on the heat source. A hob or hotplate or whatever. Make it as hot as it will go, and put the lid on.

Play a phone game until the pan is boiling and terrifying. Turn the heat down a little bit, and wrap something heatproof around your hand before take the lid off. Fling your pasta in, with some salt probably. Turn the heat up a bit until the pan is raging again, then turn it down a little so you’re not actively terrified.

Image result for boiling water

Play another phone game.

Fish out a bit of pasta with the spatula or spoon, and bite it. Blow on it first, idiot.

Is it the way you like pasta? Cool, turn off the heat and drain the pan over the sink. If it isn’t, keep cooking and checking until it is.

When the pasta’s definitely how you like it, drain it in the colander (over the sink), then put the pan back on the heat source and put the pasta in a bowl with the pan lid over the top to keep the heat in. You’re going to make sauce.

First, check your pan is dry-ish. Then put in about a spoonful of your oil – cereal spoon is fine – and turn up the heat.

Image result for spoonful of oil

Remember the way you tested the air over the pan for the omelette? Do that again. If it’s hot, put the chopped onions in. If you got garlic paste put that in too; if you got powder, wait until later.

Turn the heat down a wee bit so it’s not hellish and shove that shit around with your spatula/wooden spoon so it doesn’t stick. Smells nice, doesn’t it? Put the carrot and celery in and turn the heat down more. You can play another phone game now but make sure the stuff doesn’t stick.

Finished your game? Are the onions looking a different colour now?

Image result for fried onions

Stick all that tomato in. Fling in the salt and pepper and spice and herbs and whatever you have there. Turn the heat up a bit until the tomato goes bubble bubble.

Now just phone game and stir – so it doesn’t stick – until it gets thicker and less watery.

Image result for pasta sauce

And when it does? Congrat! You have sauce! You can do this with chopped mushrooms or aubergine and stuff in, but probably don’t try mince yet. If you eat meat, and you want to put bacon in this sauce, you put chopped up little pieces in at the same time as the onion.

Take that pasta, put it in the pan and mess it around a bit for like, a minute. NOW you can turn off the heat and put your pasta and sauce in the bowl. You did it!

you’ve made two whole things

I’ll come back and tell you how to make more stuff later.

Images not mine.

FOCUS ON FICTION: As Simple As Hunger

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A novel again today, because I’m out of individual shorts.

AS SIMPLE AS HUNGER

FOCUS ON FICTION
I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available. If anyone’s read any of them and wants to add their impressions or things they think people...

Non-occult engineer Hajar Al-Fihri is about to find herself dragged into a world of intrigue, mystery, exploding ornithopters, intelligent parasites, and some Very Large Arthropods. Right now her only problem is that her colleague and friend Benjon is, in all probability, about to swear on the wireless again, but that happy state of affairs cannot last. This is, quite simply, the fantasy fiction saxonpunk universe with giant bugs and zeppelin cities to end all fantasy fiction saxonpunk universes with giant bugs and zeppelin cities.

Somewhat undermining my insistence that I was definitely not ever going to write fantasy because (list of reasons including horses), this is solidly in that category. It’s got: oil rigs, universities, trains, zeppelins, and a radio system but it’s still fantasy. Or Saxonpunk. Or we’re not really sure what the logic is here but there’s a massive quantity of enormous bugs and some unresolved mysteries, some political wrangling, some bad mother/daughter relationships, some highly protective friends, some unconventional romance, and a lot of world-building.

There’s even horses.

I need everyone to know that I read a huge quantity of entries for the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle while doing preliminary research for this, and then just manfully flung all my research out of the window while bellowing “well what if helicopters”.

I think you can, if you squint, see elements in this novel which got further development in Heavy; I’m not going to tell you what they are, only that there’s a degree to which old fixations cycle through works in different forms even with the best of us.

I think this is the only story I’ve written that has a character who is unequivocally, incontestably A Hero, meaning someone who does what is right and what is brave and all the rest. That the character happens to perhaps not be the one anyone might expect is part of the fun.

FOCUS ON FICTION: The Breaking of M

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A Melissa Snowdon novel today.

THE BREAKING OF M

The Breaking of M by [Snowdon, Melissa]

Matimeo Calvisia, spy and rake, finds himself in 16th-century Venice and faced with an apparently insurmountable challenge: the widely-read but narrowly-lived Padre Vito Bonifatigo is calling his credentials into question. The prickings of Matimeo’s pride lead him through a moral maze and dog him all the way across the Atlantic, but sooner or later something has to give…

This factually inaccurate tire fire gay sex Venetian Orgy Piracy Colonialism – I hesitate to say “romp” but it probably is one – started as a series of jokes. It features two priests (TWO), an ex-pirate spy conman, and more drama and sodomy than you can shake a stick at. There’s also bad horse-riding and torture because, IDK, that’s how I rolled when I wrote this. That’s still how I roll now. For added fun, know that the three main characters are to be imagined as a largely unknown male model, and Lee Pace and Ezra Miller, both of whom have since come out as queer. Evidently, I am very psychic.

Notable not least because this, being an m/m (m/m/m) romance novel, has attracted more angry reviews than anything else I’ve published, although The Next Big One did get a brilliantly cross review about it being “a philosophical book” (what a great praise by faint blame situation?) – but also had an oil-painted fanart of the protagonist. So, swings and roundabouts, really.

I didn’t plot this. I usually do, but this time I just let Mat kind of do whatever he wanted and then whenever it seemed like his actions should have consequences, they did, and he had to deal with them. It’s the G W Dahlquist route of “throw things at your characters and force them to keep dealing with the problems until there are no more problems left”, and while I wouldn’t recommend it for every genre this seemed to bear it fairly well. It definitely works best with a journey format.

Despite having a headcast for it, I’ve always pictured it more as an animated feature. I think it’s because it’s so ludicrous, so lush in its colours, and so ridiculously cartoonish in all of its emotional strokes. I think it’s a fun time, at any rate – and like all Melissa Snowdon books it has a guaranteed happy ending.

 

FOCUS ON FICTION: In the Trenches

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A short story today, and my most recent independent release.

IN THE TRENCHES

Deep sea exploration engineer Euan navigates the various tensions aboard a vessel which houses both those interested in the future of the oceans’ wildlife and those only interested in profiting from it, and on dipping below the waves discovers that they’re not the only ones with an interest in the contents of the abyss.

I was going to write this as a novel. I was also going to make it into a romance, but sometimes stories don’t cooperate, and you have to cut your losses, and take the monster horror and environmental message as it comes. Much like the horror itself, it swims up from the abyss and kind of takes you by surprise.

You can, incidentally, take it as read that this is the same species as that in Pick Your Poison‘s contribution from me, “The Krake-Hunter”; as with my space stories now adhering to the self-imposed rule that all space travel stories must be undertaken by Africans, so I’m apparently operating on the self-imposed rule that all protagonists in sea monster stories have to be deaf or HoH. Why?

Well, that – and the next paragraph after this one – is because of my exciting approach to casting, implemented in 2014 when I was writing The Next Big One. My exciting approach is the world’s laziest “how to increase representation and diversity in fiction with zero (0) cost to yourself” mantra; flip “why should this character be [underrepresented group]” to “why shouldn’t they?”. What plot-related reason prevents it? What privilege do they need to still have access to for the story to continue working? The sneaky part is that, once you’ve done that, the character expands. Plot-related reasons FOR them to be [X] start cropping up as you’re writing.

Mostly. While I have other works in progress where the protagonist is transgender, this definitely marks the first one I’ve actually published. And there isn’t any plot-related reason for Euan to be trans, other than I wanted him to be. Much as I said when I wrote Luke, sometimes you have to be the noisy fictional trans representation you want to see in literature. And you know – there wasn’t a plot-related reason for him not to be, either.

This story is heavily – HEAVILY – influenced by the books I loved in my tweens. The horribly dated, patronisingly racist, homosocial natural history lectures with a bit of action thrown in that were the Willard Price-penned “____________ Adventure” books. Please don’t read them on my recommendation; they’re unbelievably bad and I’m not overstating the racism / imperialism. If anything, I’m underselling it by a long chalk. But I was obsessed with wildlife and travelogue and my Achilles’ Heel is perpetually Boys’ Own Adventures (if you can get them Solving A Crime as well I’m in Shit Writing Heaven). But I gobbled those things down repeatedly as a kid and the luscious, vivid descriptions of the undersea world stuck in my mind; they got overwritten a bit by avid watching and rewatching of Blue Planet and Blue Planet II, but the origins remain and I hope I’ve brought some of the terror and alien wonder effectively, considering you couldn’t actually pay me enough to get me to dive anywhere, ever.

Suspense is something I absolutely revel in writing. I’m never sure if I’m getting it right – if I draw things out too much, or not enough – pacing is such a fine art that even when other writers are appalling at everything else I always feel somewhat envious of them when they can pull off a good fluctuating pace, playing the reader (me) like fiddle. Maybe that’s just their editors, though!

Anyway, here’s a book with sea monsters/mermaids in it, and a strong environmental message for these increasingly terrifyingly polluted times, from someone who has been worried about this shit since about 1987: please stop shitting up the ocean because we’ll all die if you don’t. Thank you!

FOCUS ON FICTION

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A novel today.

BROWN BREAD, BOYS

The King is dead: long live the King. Or so the echoes suggest. But Craig Williamson has barely murdered his way to total dominance of his London crime family when already his lieutenants are plotting against him: not greedy, just concerned. Or so they say.

One thing is for sure: whoever wins, it’s bad news for the police, who still don’t know how to prosecute or even properly investigate the gruesome, ancient blood magic used by the gang…

…even the gang themselves don’t fully understand it.

I lecture people a lot about different ways of approaching how to plot and populate a novel, and I think one of the reasons I’m qualified to do that is, apart from knowing everything, I have kind of come at the process from a lot of different angles by now. Sometimes you run at a book with a vague idea of a story and a vague idea of some characters and then as you build a bit more of the plot and the world the necessary characters crop up (which is what’s currently happening to me, and what happened recently with a couple of other novels I’ve drafted and am now editing). Sometimes you have a really great stable of characters and relationships already and some cool mental images and you don’t really know how to structure a plot yet and so you say, “Okay then I will just steal from Shakespeare.”

I’ve done it before – The Other Daughter is, to all intents and purposes, a mutant form of Titus Andronicus which I had to fight to keep on course – and learnt one important lesson: when the story wants to go somewhere other than the Shakespeare-approved plot, you let it. Don’t drag it somewhere it doesn’t want to go. If what’s in character for your character dictates a specific chain of events, follow them.

So that’s what I did this time. I have my stable of characters: this is the cast that I had the clearest mental image of before I started writing, what people refer to as a “headcast” for almost all of them. I shoved them into Julius Caesar. I watched the story mutate around the characters and the characters around the story.

This is also the first time since writing Pass The Parcel that I returned to my geographical comfort zone, and dropped face-first in London. Not the alterna-London of that world, either, but the real London – or as real as it was going to be with this network of ancient, stored blood magic steeped into the brick-and-bone of the world. I think that shows in the story, too. I’m never really able to hold off getting into the bursts of detail, usually about how inordinately smelly this place is in the height of summer. Which it is! Right now! So if you want an accurate atmospheric description of the stank of North London right at this minute, this is definitely the book you want to read.

As usual – and which I am still grappling with in more recent novels – there is a lot happening under the surface, things which I wanted to bring up but didn’t have the time or opportunity for, and which move like shadowy fish beneath the narrative. I am never sure if this frustrating to readers or how much they can extrapolate from what’s given. Judging by editorial feedback, it varies enormous depending on who they are and when they’re reading it!

This represents a meeting point of several different personal obsessions – London history, the idea of buildings holding power, organised crime structures, London in general, complex relationships, and Shakespeare’s Roman Plays. So hopefully it’s also fairly decent.

FOCUS ON FICTION

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A short story – and the only prequel/sequel/companion story I’ve completed – today.

THE TRAITOR

Twenty years after the Revolution, the journalist Shukach Istynyya is permitted to speak with the Revolutionary Republic’s number one enemy, in a once-in-a-lifetime interview. “It might be any man within the cell that I am brought to face, but the Party is honest, and the Party is just, and the man in the cell is called Lubach Zahradnik, and he is The Traitor.”

In The Renaka Device, a nameless state’s post-Revolutionary present was unveiled by a narrator dogged by the unraveling suspicion that the systems they believed in wholeheartedly were actually corrupt and meaningless, and that all of the words they were producing in the pursuit of truth and justice were simply being turned to lies before they reached anyone.

In The Traitor, another seeker after the truth who is full of pride both for their country and their honesty is confronted with a founding myth whose veracity is placed in question – or is it just a test?

If you wanted to rephrase this entire story into a sentence, you’d probably say: a believer meets Judas.

This is a story about myth-making, a subject which consistently interests me (I’ve written, way back in 2012, on my blog, about the startling position of T E Lawrence as the archiect of his own myth who was then consumed by it, after it outgrew him; only a fool thinks he can control a story once it’s been released into the wild); it’s about prisons, because where else do you put things you want to forget but can’t let yourself kill? And it’s about difficult decisions, which all stories are.

I don’t think there’s a pat answer to the questions I’ve posed in this story – one of the reasons it was so much harder to write than The Renaka Device – and I don’t think that, despite setting out to write it to find out what I thought, I am actually any closer to knowing what I think about revolutions and their cost.

FOCUS ON FICTION: Tame

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A Melissa Snowdon novel today! One of my favourites.

TAME

This time the photographer is the model, ooh la la.

Lesbian rom-com/chick lit. Julie Holms has it all, if “all” means living in the shadow of her beautiful best friend, her obnoxious sister, and her bewilderingly-obsessed-with-wheatgerm Mummy. She’s got an eBay habit, a wardrobe that occupies dimensions bigger than her flat, and a coat everyone in Marketing thinks is very Last Year, but her life is about to become far too exciting by way of mysterious strangers on rooftops, That Cute One From Marketing, and possibly one or two things she thought only happened in the movies.

“Tame pleases and satisfies like diet-breaking chocolate,” quoth Mina Kelly.

“Snappy, honest, funny and touching. [Tame] turns the chick lit genre on its head then gives it a proper kicking while it’s down. A brilliant read,” quoth Melanie Clegg.

I am not going to beat around the bush. There are two things you need to know about this book up front.

1. It’s very different from pretty much everything else I’ve published, so you’re either going to love it or hate it.

2. I love it a lot.

This was written as a challenge to myself, partially instituted by someone whose name escapes me: Alright, Des Anges (publishing as Snowdon for this), you write a lot of dire, grim, and drear. You’re good at mortal peril and high adventure, probably. You’re rought with your characters.

Can you write chick lit, though?

Reader, I researched. I read Bridget Jones’s Diary and liked it. I already liked Jane Austen and as BJD is basically Pride and Prejudice, I enjoyed that take – also Helen Fielding is, or was in the first book, a very funny writer.

But I’m me, you see. And I really fucking like werewolves. And I hadn’t encountered any mainstream lesbian romance when I started writing – back in 2007 I think – and I wanted some to happen.

This book is very of its time in terms of my writing. It can be a little meandering, a little too suffused with the voice of the first-person narrator, the lovely and hapless Julie, to get to the point as fast as everyone reading it as wanted her to. But I think it’s charming, and I’m infinitely charmed by Julie’s friends and her heart, and of course by her Mysterious Stranger.

All as intended, but still effective, even if I’d have written it a lot differently now.

FOCUS ON FICTION: Il Pompinaro’s Apprentice and the Witchcraft of Instant Paint

FOCUS ON FICTION

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

A Melissa Snowdon Short Story today!

IL POMPINARO’S APPRENTICE AND THE WITCHCRAFT OF INSTANT PAINT

Il Pompinaro's Apprentice and the Witchcraft of Instant Paint by [Snowdon, Melissa]

Inspired by a contemporary art world scuffle, this erotica/romance short story tells the tale of a Florentine painter and his young apprentice and lover who fall out over a special type of paint…

If you haven’t seen the art world scuffle in question, you’ve missed out on a treat. In brief summary: A very very famous British artist bought the UK rights to using Vantablack, a method of making things as black as humanly possible, and banned anyone else from using it for art. A little-known (at the time) pigment-maker thought this was unfair and childish, and made a pigment of a different hue which was THE MOST HUE OF THIS HUE EVER AND EVERYONE CAN HAVE IT *EXCEPT* THIS ARTIST. Said artist responded with their middle finger covered in the exact product; an extremely silly social media war broke out and everyone got a brief break from the horror of the real world watching two men exchange conceptual fisticuffs over paint.

Why is there a story about this set in Renaissance Florence?

I’m a jerk, basically; also, my art historian friend made me do it.

And I’d just been reading a very fun and good history book which was partially set in Renaissance Florence, and if there is one thing artists of the Italian peninsula in general during that period did a LOT, it was have pointless and incredibly temperamental feuds about almost everything, complete with public hate notices and rumour-spreading and, if even a fraction of the rumours are to be believed, a lot of sodomy.

The name of the titular artist is, of course, a reference to the artist responsible for the cover work, Il Sodoma. A nickname which I am sure is… relatively easy to understand regardless of your grasp of various Italian dialects. As to Il Pompinaro, well… have fun with Google or make a new Italian friend; if you already speak Italian don’t spoil this for everyone else.

I think I’d describe this one as “enjoyable” both to read and to write. There’s a certain kind of joy from writing pastiche in poetry and… I suppose this constitutes satire, in prose. It’s a little like playing or watching a game: every time you successfully hit a beat in the real life inspiration in the fictionalised version, you score a point (or take a shot of booze, given the kind of games I’m used to playing). It’s even more fun when you’re simultaneously trying to match a real-life set of events against a specific imaginary set.

FOCUS ON FICTION: The Circle

I’m going to be doing one of these a day (hopefully) to give people a bit more background & insight about the stories I’ve got out/available, to help anyone make a decision about what they want to read next, or just to give background if you’re already familiar with the story.

THE CIRCLE

The year is 1900. An Earl, an engineer, a suburban philosopher, and an enigma meet at University and make a pact to learn the art of conjuring.

But nothing among the friends is quite as it seems, and soon the happy four are plunged into worlds of political activism, crime, despair, sordid trysts, and a Faustian compact which seems set to threaten their very lives, one by one…

This book has the unique distinction of being the only full-length novel I have ever written that was inspired, cultivated, and dedicated to one person in particular. Although other people have encouraged the development of this story and certainly helped to shape it, of all the books I’ve written it’s the one with the clearest single genesis: a typo.

Back in 2007 or 2008 I was in the habit of texting little stories to my friends on my ancient, cheap mobile phone as I tried desperately to alleviate the boredom of a very monotonous and emotionally taxing job. In one of them, for reasons unknown, the precursor to autocorrect took a relatively well-known name and turned it into a bizarre one without me noticing. My friend, on receiving the message, remarked that it sounded like a stage magic act.

Amused, I started to send her snippets of the presumed adventures of the magician and his deeply sarcastic assistant. A little later, I recalled a trailer I’d seen for a film that looked as if it was going to be about one thing, and turned out to be something rather different instead. Annoyed, I set out to write the story I thought I’d been going to get: a Faustian compact with a particular spin on it.

This is also a story about stories. It is a story about lies, deceptions, and illusions, because it is a story about stage magic, and you absolutely cannot talk about conjuring without talking about lying. It’s a criticism of the pre-war conditions of the British Empire; the biggest lie of all, but I wouldn’t call it “worthy”. It’s a love story about people who hate each other, both in the framing and in the narrative itself. It’s a story about toxic masculinity, toxic class issues, and about how, deep down, everyone is kind of a dick; it’s just a question of how much of a dick they are on the surface, too.

I have enormous affection for all of the characters in this novel – perhaps moreso than any other I’ve written, because in this I couldn’t come up with any clearcut villains, only different shades and flavours of people just doing their best – or worst – to make themselves happy. I think in that regard it’s the most realistic.

The moral of the story is that not everyone gets what they deserve; but I hope at least that the person who got a whole book written for her isn’t too desperately annoyed that it took me so long to do it.