30 Days Of Original Fiction

I’ll be honest, this year’s NaNoWriMo outline is kicking my ass. I am feeling the deadline somewhat. And in that confession I’m pretty sure I’m scared a few people who are already nervous of the whole concept of NaNo, so I kind of considered maybe letting anyone who doesn’t feel confident enough to do the whole “write An Book in a month” thing or who remains flummoxed by writing original fiction have a go at basically whipping up an outline over the course of that month instead, with this Helpful Selection of 30 exercises (one per day).

Days 1-10 are for exploration. This is when you begin to discover who you’re writing about. It might not stick, but that’s okay. You can always do it again if you need to.

1. Make your protagonist.

Or the person you think is going to be your protagonist. This can always change! Write about three paragraphs giving a vague idea of what they’re like – how they look, sort of, what they want, what they fear, where they’re from, what kind of person they are, really. This can and will be added to later.

2. Make a place.

Chuck down three paragraphs about a location, making it up as you go. Where is it, what kind of function does it have? How does it relate to the world? Is it a room, is it a business, is it a place in the wilderness? How do people get there?

3. Put your protagonist in the place.

Get them to explore. Maybe four paragraphs this time, or as much as you need; what emotions does the place arouse for them – have they been there before? What does it remind them of? What does it smell like? Feel like? Are they comfortable there or ill-at-ease? How do they move around the space?

4. Make a second character.

Same process as 1.

5. Put that character in the space, and have the two characters interact.

Give yourself a side of A4, and write their interaction. Pick whose point of view you want to represent, and try to consider how they’re going to convey the interaction – how do they perceive it in their own head, how much attention do they pay to what they’re doing vs what the other character is doing.

6. Write the same interaction from the perspective of the other character.

What is different? What is the same? How clear is it that their experience of the situation differs? What is suggested about their relationship as people? How does the other character’s narrative voice – their way of conveying themselves and the situation to the reader – differ?

7. Reflection.

Write a few paragraphs outlining the additional things you have learnt about the space, and each of the characters, based on their interactions with each other. Is there some hint of a struggle, quest, or unresolved issue that needs exploring? What is missing? What are they avoiding?

8. Create another location

You will want to write more than the first time you did this. This location is to be explored in the context of how it differs and relates to the first, and to your two characters. You will want to people it, and think about its use and function in a narrative: what kind of things might happen here? How would they effect your nascent characters?

9. One more character.

This character is hiding something from one or both of your characters, and wants something from one or both of them. When you write your description of this character you need to consider all of the previous days of writing: how do they relate to the two locations, and to the two characters, especially? What deeds have they committed in those locations, and how were the other characters – including the people you placed in the second location – involved?

10. Answers.

Today is for answering any questions that you have found arising in the Reflection section or any of the previous days of writing. Can you answer questions about your characters and locations that you couldn’t answer before?

Days 11-20 are for interlocking narrative and planning. Some people find it easier to write if they know where they are going; others find it easier to work out where they are going by writing. The following exercises should give you the opportunity to work out which you are by alternating between both.

Feel free to loop back round and do days 1-10 again if you were unsatisfied with the characters, before moving on. Strictly speaking, there isn’t actually a time limit on any of this.

11. Blind writing.

Take your two locations, your three characters, and all that you have learned about them in the ten days so far. Pick an object at random from the room you are writing in, and write a short scene – no more than 400 words, no less than 200 – with dialogue and descriptions of action/place, in which the item is a source of conflict or tension between the characters. This can be as silly or as trivial or as deep and meaningful as you like; trivial conflict can often be mined for much more profound plot and character development than you first realise.

12. Unpicking.

Today, draw a flow diagram or similar chart – whichever you find works best with your way of thinking – showing how the conflict over the random object evolved from the past interactions of the characters, however minor, and how you think it is likely to affect their future interactions and behaviour.

13. Planning.

Referring to your scene, and to your flow diagram, write three paragraphs about how the conflict might be resolved favourably, unfavourably, and to whom, and how likely you think each outcome is based on what you know of these characters.

14. Pathfinding.

Pick the most likely outcome and write a scene describing how it comes about. If the outcome is complex or takes a while to reach fruition, resist the temptation to try a different outcome or return to the drawing-board. Instead, write a series of one-to-two sentence snapshots of how you think the progression takes place. These will constitute an outline. You do not have to write these sentences in order if you get stuck. If you know where you think the scene is going but not how to get there, start at the end and work backwards.

And congratulations, you’ve made it a fortnight. You’re doing well!

15. Elaboration.

Look at the conflict and potential resolutions you’ve just described, and the one you chose to follow as most likely. What could happen next? Think about the situation as it has come about, and the world you’ve created (it’s often a good idea to do this thinking while you’re engaged in something else, like exercise or chores, sometimes that helps the brain tick over things differently), then write a list of the following circumstances:

A.  Something that could realistically happen which would improve the situation for the protagonist.

B. Something that could realistically happen which would improve the situation for the antagonist.

C. Something that could realistically happen which would cause a temporary collaboration between the antagonist and protagonist, or the foundations of a more lasting one.

16. Twists and turns.

Pick one of the circumstances above and, without a set limit on how long the piece should be, write it out as prose narrative. If this becomes unwieldy, or threatens to take up more of the day than you can reasonably afford, remember the outlining technique from Day 14.

17. Return to the start.

By now you have a reasonable understanding of your protagonist and antagonist, and a decent selection of characters who surround their conflict, interact with them. With this in mind, make a list of reasons that their opposition might have begun, and what formed the relationship between the protagonist and one of the other characters. Try to bear in mind that it’s rare in reality for a single, defining event to create a strong opposition without some kind of underlying pressure, be that pressure social (prejudice, disparity), historic (prior interactions, family feud), or psychological (own past, suppressed attraction).

18. Deprive your protagonist

This should reasonably form the beginning of a narrative. Bearing in mind what you know about your protagonist as a person and how they respond, prior to any developments you have explored following on from your introduction of the objective they are in conflict over, write at most one page of an outline, using the short, linked sentences approach, in which the protagonist has something taken away from them (this can be an item, a person, a state of being, social status, certainty…) which leads to their pursuit and conflict as previously described.

19. Map the power balance swings.

Look back over all the narrative and outlines you have of character interactions so far, including those between secondary and side characters. Make a list of all the characters who are present or mentioned in the story and outlines. Next to each character, write down a short summary of all the moments when things appear to be in their favour. You may also wish to write down what action of theirs or inaction of their led to them gaining or losing the upper hand.

This will help you to visualise the shift in power balance throughout the narrative; it is usually good for a story to take the protagonist through losing and gaining the upper hand in a situation, no matter how trivial, in order to keep the reader interested, and traditionally a protagonist (or indeed any character) should cause at least some of these power exchanges through their own actions.

However, like most narrative rules, this can be broken intelligently and to great effect!

20. Winning.

Write a short scene in which the balance of power between the protagonist and an antagonist – it doesn’t have to be the antagonist – starts out in favour of the antagonist and shifts to the protagonist. Read over it: how does the power shift occur? What does the protagonist do to make it happen? Remember that in a good story, the protagonist is active, and causes – if not always directly – the plot to progress through their behaviour and responses. Things can’t just keep happening to them.

Rewrite the scene to show the balance of power shifting through a different action of the protagonist. Can either version of the scene be placed within the narrative you are building?

Congratulations, you’re two-thirds of the way through this list!

Days 21 to 30 – the last stretch of these exercises – will be about refining your ideas and introducing subplots. Always remember, please, it’s okay to change your mind at any point, or decide to pursue a different part of the story. You’re exploring, all the way through this, and no “false start” is a waste of your time – it’s a valuable decision made, because you find out what it is you want to be writing.

At this point it’s worth making an overall note: share your ideas with people. Don’t get locked into the idea of the ivory-tower creator or feel that you must remain aloof until the finished work is available and perfect; that makes the business of writing unnecessarily difficult. Instead, describe your story and lament your blind spots to those willing to listen – even if they have no solution, you may find often that explaining it to other people helps you to straighten things out in your own head. Often, someone will ask a question you haven’t considered, and set the story off on a new course. Talk to people. Remember that writing is a communicative art!

21. Reflection: What unanswered questions and new characters and places have you acquired?

You don’t need to answer them! Just make a note of them when you think you’ve come up with all of them. If the answers and profiles for these new characters come up while you’re making a note of them, though, feel free to note them down. This would be a good time to talk about what you’re doing with someone else, to see if they have any questions you might not have considered before, too.

22. Take a side character for a walk.

Get the protagonist and antagonist to stop hogging the limelight. Take one of the side characters in any given scene you have so far, and write the interaction from their point of view. What are they thinking? How are they responding? How do they see what is going down? Is their interpretation radically different to those of the main actors? How important is it to them? What else is on their mind? Where did they come from? Where are they going?

23. Follow the thread

Review what you’ve written on day 22. Make a list, or mind-map, or whatever other method you like, of how you think this character’s story touches on the main story, and where it diverges. What are they likely to do in the same timespan as the main story which has an effect on the main story? What else are they doing? What questions about their life and their goals do you want to see answered?

24. Take another side character for a walk.

This character should be someone who both appears in a scene you have written previously, with the main characters (the protagonist and antagonist) and also someone who has a connection – personal, or professional, but quite strong – with the character you wrote about on day 22. In addition to sketching out how they see the scene they appear in, write about their prior/future interactions with Character From Day 22. How does this progress/impede either of their agendas?

25. Map your threads

Time to draw or write out how you think the two (or even three) plots you now have relate to each other. Pay special attention to how they drive each other: what would happen if one of the people involved wanted something different, or behaved differently? If it alters the entire way the story is going, do you prefer that direction? Is it still in keeping with what you would expect of that character?

26. Alright in the end.

Taking as long as you want and as many words as it needs, write the climatic scene. This is not the same as the final scene, as many stories close with a coda, or a rebalancing – a tying up of the remaining loose ends, a series of scenes dealing with some of the remaining consequences, or cementing what has already been hinted at. Quite frequently in a story with a romantic subplot, the conclusion of the romance occurs after the conclusion of the main plot. It’s up to you to decide (And re-decide) when the subplot will come to its conclusion, or whether its conclusion is bound up in the main plot’s end.

Today, though, take into account everything you have so far, everything you know about the story so far, and write the flashpoint, the part of the story in which evil is finally defeated/good finally defeated, or the goal achieved/irretrievably lost/judged to be not worth achieving.

27. How did we end up here?

Today, write the two short scenes immediately preceding that ending. It’s possible one may be part of the subplot; it’s also possible they may both be from the main plot, but whatever happens in them should see the characters and the narrative progress from the state they were in, driven by the events and their own actions, to the state in which the story reaches its climax, which you wrote on day 26. Remember that even if they are reacting to external events, the characters have to drive some part of the story themselves. Even people trying to survive an inevitable extinction-event-causing meteor impact still have other obstacles that can be altered or exacerbated aside from the incoming space rock, for example.

28. Reflection.

Take today out to look over all of your work so far. Arrange what you have, narratively, in a chronological order (when you come to write the story it needn’t be presented in that order, but it can help to get a grip on what’s going on). Read through it. Does anything leap out at you as unanswered? Is there a nagging question which has arisen as a result of what you’ve come up with? Are there conflicts which haven’t been resolved? Make notes of them. Don’t attempt to answer or resolve them, just note what they are.

29. Loose Ends #1

You saw this coming: pick one of the loose ends, and write about how it can be resolved. This can be done either exploratively – by jumping into the scene and following it to its conclusion – or descriptively – by sitting down and making notes on what a likely or desirable course of events within the narrative would be to see this thing resolved one way or another.

30. Loose Ends #2

What you wrote yesterday will almost certainly have created a cascade of new possibilities. As we are at the end! THE END! Of our planning, all you need to do now is make a note of these possibilities. Diagram out how you think they’re most likely to connect into what you have already, what you think they’re likely to change, and then put your pen down.

31. Put this in a drawer for six months and think about something else!

None of these techniques will magic a book into being. You still have to write it (yes, I know, how annoying). But hopefully these will provide you with an adequate selection of tools to get to grips with your own imagination and wrestle the narrative to the ground. Even if you’re tremendously experienced, there’s always some new method or problem left to tussle with.


If there’s an overall piece of advice I have, based on the questions I get asked a lot and the tension I see in people, it’s release your fear of fucking up.

You’re going to fuck up. It’s a necessary part of getting it right. You have to write wrongs before you can write right. That’s part of the process, and needs to be embraced that way. Charge in demanding to know which piece you’re going to end up throwing out the window. Produce too much. Fill the garden of words with gibberish and weed it until you’re left with glory.

When I was learning to stilt-walk – there are less weird examples from dancing and so on but it was stilt-walking that I learnt it in so I am giving you the advice from there – the first, first thing we learnt, after “how to put stilts on”, was how to fall. Not how to avoid falling, but how to fall safely. How to land on your padded knees, not your painful and underpadded butt. You had to unlearn putting your hands down to save yourself (this leads to fractured wrists); we practiced falling all day. Fall, fall, and fall again.

Artists fill sketchbook after sketchbook with pictures that aren’t quite right. Musicians play ten thousand scales, bum notes, and god alone knows what else. Imperfections, wrong directions, and a draft where you lob everything out of the window barring the secondary main villain and an interesting question about the role of animal passion in shaping fear or something are part of the process.

Henceforth address it as “whee, fucked that up” not “oh god this is terrible I have ruined this story and now the story can never be told properly”. They’re adaptable fuckers, and every story has a thousand iterations; you just have to find the one that works for you. Knock it back, pick a different cast, and try again.

Writing Advice: Pulling Answers From My Bum Part 2.

Another ask from the Website Where Askboxes Live:

what’s your advice on creating interesting, likable and realistic characters? And creating strong, emotional bonds between two or more characters?

And one long, windy, incoherent reply:

Realistic characters are super easy, you just have to know, y’know, people. Stalk people! — there is possibly a less creepy way of putting that but I still have the Weird Plague so I’m not searching for it right now. Listen to people. If you’re already the therapist/confidante for your group of friends this helps, because you will get to hear how people talk about themselves. Read people’s personal blogs. Read published diaries. Read email transcripts. Read published collections of letters, the more mundane the better. Eavesdrop on people in cafes, bars, on public transport. Sit silent in chat rooms. Wander onto forums as a guest. And talk to people, if you can stomach it and if you feel safe. Listen to how people talk about each other in their absence, too.

This fills you up with other people’s language and other people’s fears, desires, griefs, triumphs, and their facades (always worth remembering that everything people communicate consciously is something they choose, to a degree, to demonstrate, and sometimes/often it’s intended to give a specific effect).

Personally I also read a lot of (popular, since I’m not especially smart) books from the holy trinity of People Understanding Sciences: sociology, neurology, psychology. “Why the fuck do people do that” / “how do people work” (child development books are good for this too, imo). I like this because it’s easier to tweak things about a character if you have an idea of what life event is likely to result in what kind of variety of flaws or fears or so on & hopefully reduces the likelihood of getting repetitive. Also: blogs on How To Understand Neurotypicals written for people who are Neurodivervgent/ASD/etc are remarkably useful for Neurotypical writers because they will explain the why of things.

A strong, original character is one who lives as a person, basically. Either they are the centre of their own universe or the transference of a universal centre to an item, individual, or quest makes them fanatical, weird, comment-worthy by other characters. Secondary characters should always always always always have lives, concerns, and priorities outside of the protagonist. Antagonists need, again IMO, to have inner life. Assuming your antagonist is a character and not, say, “the concept of death”.

Uh… oh, right, bonds. Interactions create those. You can short-cut people to understanding that two people are very close by the way they interact; you can show the growth of a bond by the changes of interaction between characters (lazy: by using less and less formal language; by reducing the physical space between them; by increasing the humour and such in their conversations). A fun game to play in public is detective over what kind of relationship two strangers have to each other (I mean, strangers to you). Analyse what makes you reach your conclusions; transfer this to depictions in writing. Remember that cultural and subcultural mores play a role in this – teenage boys express affection by shoving and hitting each other, etc.

Try to avoid the temptation to demonstrate closeness by overshare of personal backstory – if your character is the kind who overshares personal backstory almost immediately it won’t be a show of affection but of disorder, if they turn it into a joke — ref. Deadpool and Vanessa flirting — it tells you about the character (less the backstory and more how they talk about it, how they use it as currency/recognition), but the intimacy isn’t formed then.

Short-cuts to bonds which are very popular in certain works (and uh, also in real life by people who are grooming someone) include “going through a traumatic event together”, which is often the basis of bringing together a disparate group of people – but it’s worth considering that the type of bond may not be intimate, long-lasting, positive, or even an attractor – some people who go through trauma with other people want nothing more than to be away from anyone or anything that reminds them of it.

Likeable is difficult, because obviously what appeals to one person will not appeal to another; I love Patty Tolan the best out of the recent Ghostbusters movie but many other people prefer Holtzmann or Abby etc… attempts to appeal to everyone all at once lead to Stubbly McQuiptits, Joss Whedon Syndrome, or everything Stephen King has ever done. I think in that respect the only real gauge you can rely on is yourself/test readers. Read their dialogue and interactions back to yourself or have it read back to you (to divorce it from your own voice), and try to think about whether this is someone you want to read about – not the same thing, obviously, as someone you want to hang out with! (I adore Miss Temple in Glass Books but I’m pretty sure I’d want to hit her with a tea tray if we had to socialise).

With likeability too I think realism is important; someone with a gamut of emotions and experiences and who has enough stacked against them that people can sympathise (as the majority of readers aren’t going to be bajillionaire superhots who effortlessly got their PhDs aged 7; part of the appeal for most of, say, Matt Fraction’s Clint Barton is that while he may have incredible skills in one area and be overall a good and heroic dude, he’s a dysfunctional shitmess in pretty much every other area).


I am, in theory, working towards a slightly less bombastic version of How Not To Write at the moment.

Writing advice.

On That Other Site I Spend Too Much Time On, I recently received the following question:

darknpretty asked: How do you get over the fear of writing and just plow through it?

Now, while I have been blocked all to fuck of late (struggling through a mere 1,100 words of three short scenes has been like wading through treacle), I know it’s not through the fear of writing. So there are a few words I can offer, and these are the ones I sent back:

hold two mutually contradictory ideas in your head:

  1. the thing you have to write is the most important thing that can ever be said and it has to be you that says it, because no one else will say it the same way (and when you have finished, you have made a thing exist in the world that never existed before, and that is powerful magic)
  2. writing is like taking a poop. it has to be done. the end result may be total fucking garbage but guess what? you get infinite other goes at it. you can do it as many times as you need to, to get what’s needed said. this applies whether you’re writing passionate rhetoric about the need for democratic reform in your country or whether you’re writing 100 words of teen wolf ovipositor fisting coffee shop au; you get as many goes as it takes. it doesn’t matter if you fuck it up. it doesn’t matter that it categorically will not be perfect. everyone needs to edit.

(basically do not fear the blank page. you are the boss of words, and you can fuck ‘em up as much as you like. just like drawing. start with a damn scribble; write the scene backwards; pretend everyone involved is farting all the way through their dialogue; wear a party hat while you write. it’s an amazing and incredible act of creation but you don’t have to take it seriously).

Now, if anyone has any advice on how to yank the remaining 4,000 words out of my ass and actually tell a coherent story, I’d welcome them.

Recipe: Whey-enhanced latte custard

My main criteria for choosing food at present are “will it keep me awake through the hell of night shift” and “how much protein is there in it”, because of the horrendous business of trying to reshape the measly human carcass and the apparent need for lots of human building material when building a human. This on occasion leads to some excellent discoveries, and this one was “it’s possible to make a latte custard or set purin/muhallebi dessert (depending on your weather and preferences) which is heavy on protein and also caffeinated”.

It’s enhanced with whey and made here with semi-skimmed milk, but there’s no actual reason why vegan readers shouldn’t just substitute pea or soya protein powder and almond or soya milk as they please, or coffee with prepared matcha for whatever spurious health beneath you believe matcha has (I drink it for the flavour, and I used matcha here because I couldn’t be fussed with making espresso), or the sucralose and vanilla with flavoured syrup, honey, or agave nectar. Really the key is in the combination & heating – the starch is essential but can be replaced with kuzu, or potato starch if you prefer.

So … think of this (as with most recipes really) as a template for creating whatever variety suits you best. I am definitely not the boss of your eating habits.

Ingredients

  • About a cup (small – 100ml to 150ml) of milk, whatever kind of milk it is you want. Slightly under a cup. But basically a cup.
  • One shot of cold espresso/matcha/tea/alcoholic or caffeinated (or both) substance of your choice.
  • One shot of syrup/sweetening agent/honey/date syrup/whatever. I usually use Monin chocolate cookie syrup to mitigate the bitterness of the coffee and because I’m disgusting, but for the photos I used sucralose and vanilla.
  • 1 tbsp of starch. I use corn, you can use… kuzu, potato starch, magic beans, who gives a fuck as long as it works. Have a Google for starches.
  • 1 tsp of xanthum gum. No biggie if you don’t have it, I just put it in most stuff at the moment. Delicious emulsifying agent is good for texture.
  • 1 scoop (will come with the stuff) or recommended measure of whey powder or other protein thing. For fewer calories: halve the amount of whey. Simples.
  • Any sort of garnish you fancy.

mis

Milk, Sucralose, Vanilla, Whey, Matcha (pre-water), Cornflour, Xanthum Gum, saucepan.

Equipment

  • Stove/hotplate/thing for heating up stuff which has controllable temperature.
  • Saucepan/milkpan/baked bean tin with a handle.
  • Bowl, for mixing and for setting.
  • Another bowl or a jug or something for mixing. A mug might do.
  • Fridge (assuming you intend to make the cold version)
  • Whisk
  • Milk frother thing with battery/whisk with electricity thing because you’re going to need serious arm strength to do this manually.
  • Spoon

hand whiskmilk frother

What do?

  1. Get your shot of thing. Both your shots of thing. The sweet thing and the caffeine thing. Let’s say espresso and cookie syrup for the sake of clarity. Put the cornstarch and xanthum gum in here and mix with the spoon until it’s thoroughly dissolved/evenly distributed.
  2. Do the same with the milk and the protein powder in a different vessel. Jug is probably best. Use the whisk for this.
  3. Put a bit – not much – of the milk in the shot of thing/cornstarch mixture. Put the rest in the bowl you intend to consume from/set with.
  4. Put the cornstarch mixture in the saucepan if it’s not in there already. Put that on the heat and, using a moderate heat, get that shit properly warmed. While it is heating you have to whisk the living shit out of it.
  5. Seriously you will need the ‘leccy whisk for this. You keep it going, on the heat, while constantly whisking/frothing, making sure nothing sticks, and eventually it will thicken.
  6. Once it looks like molten rock, take it off the heat.
  7. Your options are now: A) pour that into the milk and whey mix, whisk it a bit for good luck, and drink your latte custard immediately, or B) pour that into the milk and whey mix, whisk it a bit for good luck, and put it in the fridge to set.
I may have given up and used an electric whisk to properly blend it at the end. I'd advise doing the same.
I may have given up and used an electric whisk to properly blend it at the end. I’d advise doing the same.

Recipe: Protein Cake

Don’t worry, I won’t harp on too much about the fact that I’ve just released a book before I get down to the important business of boring everyone rigid with weird food concoctions. But I have and it’s dead good.

Followers of the blog will be startled to learn that this is not yet another Huel experiment. Nor is it further adventures in tiny food, weird inventions, foods for the cooking-incapable, or sneaky ways of smuggling more vegetables into the diet of the vegetable-phobic.

nutrition

This is a cake. The recipe I am about to provide is, as always, balls simple, and gives you one serving. What is unusual about this cake is that it contains almost fuck all carbohydrates and a lot of protein, which is not the usual nutritional profile for cake.

WHAT AM I PUTTING IN THIS CAKE?

  • 25 g, Diet Whey Strawberry by PHD (1 scoop)
  • 1 egg. In order to reduce the cholesterol and fat in this cake, it is likely (I haven’t tested this yet) that it can be made with a same-size portion of liquid egg whites.
  • 15 ml Skimmed Milk (1 tbsp)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp (3g) White Flour
  • 1/2 tsp xanthum gum
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

WHAT ELSE DO I FUCKING NEED?

  • Mixing spoon
  • Mixing bowl. I was a turd and used the same silicon baking receptacle I baked it in because washing up.
  • Scale, probably.
  • Oven

WHAT AM I DOING THEN?

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180C because that’s cake-cooking temperature.
  2. Mix the milk into the whey powder. It will get claggy.
  3. Mix the oil in. More claggy.
  4. Add the xanthum gum and baking powder.
  5. Slowly add the mixed egg until you have something more pastelike.
  6. Sift over the flour and keep mixing until you have a thick , stiff paste.
  7. Make some attempt to shape this as whatever you leave it as, it will bake into that shape.
  8. Put it in the oven for between 15 and 25 minutes.
  9. Enjoy your delicious, strawberry-flavoured bread-cake thing that contains an assload of protein.

Recipe: Huel and Daikon fritters

Correct! You have not, in fact, heard the last of this stuff. I am having less frequent fun with it because I’ve been (altogether now, children), “busy”, but I have had the chance to figure out this tasty addition to a meal.

Vegetable fritters are an old staple of mine, especially the kind that are literally just a flavoursome type of flour (besan, for example) and a grated fibrous, water-full vegetable, especially as my “grater” is a microplane which readily turns most things into paste. Like having a food processor but without using electricity and creating a mountain of washing up.

How do you make daikon fritters with Huel?

Like this (makes 2):

Ingredients

  • about 2 to three inches of daikon root, grated into a paste
  • 1 scoop (as provided in the bags) of Huel
  • A splash of soy sauce
  • Spices/salt/pepper to taste
  • Some cooking spray or oil.

Equipment

  • non-stick frying pan
  • spatula
  • mixing bowl
  • thing for making your pan hot (like, a hob, or a hot plate, or a primus stove, I am not the boss of you, if you have a tame dragon that is also fine).

THING YOU DO

Mix your Huel slowly into your daikon until it is a thick paste, and add the soy and spices etc at some point. It should look like this:

paste

Oil/spray your pan and make the pan hot.

Then spread out your paste on the hot oil with the spatula, and fry it on both sides, until it looks like this:

20160418_184734

Congratulations, you have fritters.

Sci Fi Nutriglop BakeFuture: Huel Experiments.

Before I begin explaining what the hell I’m talking about I just want to say that if anyone from Huel.com is reading this (give me free stuff), phrases like “orthorexic health filth”, “scific nutriglop”, etc, are just me making fun of my own preoccupations. As you’re about to find out, I’m very excited by this thing and the possibilities inherent in it, and so are a surprising number of my friends.

Health Filth

The deal with Huel appeals to be that it’s a powder that contains your entire nutritional needs which you mix up into shakes and then you don’t have to turn into a ball of neurosis about whether not eating fish for two days mean your eyes are going to implode or, if you’re me and work on night shift, if failing to eat eighty pieces of fruit and a thousand yogurts means you’re going to crumble into a scurvy-ridden bowl of osteoporophic dust.

The Story

A friend who engages in pastimes such as punching bears and running up hills recently alerted everyone in her internet vicinity to the existence of a miraculous substance. Quoth she: “The science fiction trope of a nutrient gruel so ubiquitous that it has its own TV Tropes page is now a reality”; and I, obsessive maker of increasingly tiny food and hopeless slave to new gadgetry, proceeded to shriek “I WANT THIS AND I’M EMBARRASSED” on every social media platform upon which I routinely reside.

To my surprise, instead of calling me a weenie and pointing out that just because something uses Helvetica does not make it true, several of my friends responded:

  • Oh yes I’ve got some of that it’s good for days when I can’t decide what I want to eat.
  • I’ve been meaning to buy this, I think it will help when I’m too exhausted from [list of horrifying chronic health conditions, full-time work, and child-rearing duties in various combinations] and don’t want to resort to eating crap.
  • Got some for when I have surgery to recover from and won’t be able to eat properly.
  • Would you like to go halves on some? My lunch breaks are too short for me to actually get to the shops and I think this might help me to actually eat lunch.

I dithered a bit. My house is already a museum to weird food fads, not least the unceasing tide of Paketsu, whatever delights TokyoTreat have sent me that I haven’t managed to actually eat yet, and currently about ten types of no-calorie energy drink, not to mention the array of bizarre flours, powders, and stock cubes I insist on collecting (look, it’s not hoarding if it’s not perishable).

“It’s sort of like liquid porridge,” quoth friend, “and you get a free t-shirt.”

Well, I thought, I really do not need any more t-shirts.

But I like porridge, and after a concerted reading session of the website when I probably should have been engaged in, say, work, or sleeping, or looking where the hell I was going while walking somewhere, I found that someone had already considered the possibility of baking with it.

The Games Begin

The fun starts with the drop. As in, I had to take two buses into deepest, darkest Tower Hamlets to get to the friend I’d gone halves with, and an exchange of a SACK of nutritionally complete dubious powder took place on a windswept, rainy corner in an inconspicuous carrier bag.

Then I brought home a Very Nicely Designed Sack with a scoop and a zip seal that hasn’t had as thorough engineering as the logo (I have resorted to rolling and pegging to keep it closed) and began the important work of finding out what I can do with this weird shit.

Doing It Properly

There are two types of people in this world when faced with a new concept they have to interact with/learn to use in some way. Those who decide they are going to follow the instructions and get it exactly right, thus achieving the peak of the on-label use of an item, and the people who see something and go “I wonder what entirely unrecommended use I can put this to, I must experiment with every single one of them immediately and never actually bother learning how to use it for the intended thing”.

I am the latter, which is why I made a cake in my rice-cooker the first time I used it.

However, occasionally this approach has led to, well, things going “bang” or catching fire (often those things are me)… sometimes one likes a guinea pig.

Fortunately someone among my friends had already guinea-pigged it just before I got my hands on the stuff.

“It’s watery,” he said, referring to the recommended 5:1 ratio of water to Huel, “and it doesn’t taste very nice.”

Shortly after this my purchasing co-conspirator noted that hers had been made “claggy” by the addition of peanut butter. Forewarned, forearmed, and adequately fireproofed, I fetched down my safety goggles, and went to work.

doing it properly 2

First, I decided to, in a departure from my wont, follow the instructions.

Well, sort of.

Instead of a 5:1 ratio of water and unadulterated Huel what I actually did was sift Huel through a dusting sieve and add two scoops of coconut “drink” (thanks, M&S, that’s not at all ominous) that happened to be lying around, and three scoops of hot water, producing a pleasantly warm glop which I then attacked with a hand blender. I rather imagine that if I hadn’t insisted on sifting into a milkshake glass I could just have put it in the knock-off Nutribullet thing and mixed it that way. At any rate, the end result wasn’t too watery, and thickened up fast enough, as my peanut-butter experimenting friend had promised.

In the interests of making it taste of something (it does, in actual fact, taste faintly of unsweetened, unsalted porridge, but I appreciate that’s quite unnerving for an entire milkshake’s worth of drink), I lobbed in two teaspoons of Walden Farms caramel dip, which is a boon to the calorie-obsessed as it contains nothing even slightly approaching food.

doing it properly

This is how it ended up looking. Breakfast with a cup of tea (spot the peg); accounting for the coconut milk it came in at 190 calories and kept me full until lunchtime. Texture: rather like a bircher had a baby with an anemic smoothie.

Then I went to town, in a limited way. Adding no flavours (well one, in a cheat you’ll see at the end), and experimenting solely with structural additions:

what i used

WATER!

HUEL!

BAKING POWDER!

ORGRAN NO EGG NATURAL EGG REPLACER

OLIVE OIL

The first order of business was to reduce the water to Huel ratio to even, and get something more malleable:

ratio of 1 to 1

This is a 1:1 ratio of Huel and water. It’s basically cake batter.

Fried in a pan with minimal cooking spray, it comes out a bit like a chapati:

chapati

I love a chapati, and I think with a little less water a more workable/rollable dough could be produced.

However, I also love a pancake, and I know from my socca experiments that you can make them with just flour and water. So I did. Well, with a small cheat.

pancake

2:1 Water/Huel
1/4 tsp Orgran egg replacer
Pan fried.

Apart from the slight oaty taste and the reduction in flexibility that comes from not including an egg this was not really noticeably different from yet standard pancake (British iteration, not American).

I also know from besan/socca experimentation that pancake batter on a sheet in the oven makes biscuit.

cookie2

1:1 Huel/water

185C fan oven 15 minutes (on silicon baking parchment).

Bit inchoate. I mean, it held together and everything but felt fragile. I thought I’d fortify it, so went with what I would call more cake batter next:
cookie

1:1 Huel/Water
1/4 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp Organ egg replacer
1/4 tsp water

185C fan oven 15 minutes.

And lo, a perfectly serviceable savoury cracker did appear.

But what I was really interested in was the noble, humble, neglected Savoury Cake:

cake

1:1 ratio of Huel and Water (tbsp)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp Orgran egg replacement
1/4 tsp water (for the Orgran)
1/4 tsp olive oil.

185C fan oven for 15 min.

In cake form – I suspect Orgran won’t cut it if you want something spongy, as this fragile and crumbly construction (not too fragile and with some integrity and bubbles, although definitely not a sproingy mattress of softness either) was the result of a standard amount of baking powder. Interestingly it puffed up immediately, producing a kind of foam-batter which was very light. Perhaps I’ll try frying that like a hot cake in future rounds, and certainly EGGSPERIMENTS are indicated in the cake line (I am so sorry, I blame Easter for turning me into Pun Dad). Perhaps gluten free bakers could suggest how to use xanthum gum here to achieve a more satisfactory bind, as I have never laid eyes on the stuff and have NO CLUE WHAT I’M DOING. As is probably evident.

I doubt bread is going to work with this but pfft, I don’t actually like bread very much…

Then I got full of myself, and made soup:

tomato soup

Well, sauce. Using the 5:1 ratio of Huel and water recommended for the shakes, plus a Kallo tomato stock cube, resulted in something quite intense and reasonably thick. Possibly a bigger batch to improve the stock to Huel ratio next time.

Final reckoning:

final reckoning

Chapati, two biscuits, a pancake/crepe, and a cake, plus soup.

I’m wondering if I can use this to make muhallabieh.

Sewing: “You look like partially-dressed LARPer”.

Title quote helpfully provided by Delightful Boyfriend, who has as much right to comment on my fashion choices as anyone who clothes himself ENTIRELY IN ROLLERDERBY MERCHANDISE and the same pair of jeans he has worn since we started dating twelve years ago

The item to which he was so politely referring was a recent addition to my wardrobe, as I power through a slew of projects I started an embarrassingly long time ago, abandoned due to the constraints of time and the demeaning fact that winter turns me into a slug. One of the side effects of having waited so long to finish some of these projects is that I am now a completely different shape and have to re-work everything, but using slightly less fabric.

I started on the idea a long time ago, trying to find a use for a very fetching top I’d picked up at a clothes swap, which was no longer equal to the task of restraining rolls of Me. Inspired by some sort of confluence of post-apocalyptic Rob Liefeld Pouch Hell and the kind of psy-trance gubbins favoured by Psylo, I started off trying to make a wrist wallet job, got as far as sewing together a lined pocket with a helpful zip in it, got very into pinning fabric to make the damn thing conform to the curves of my then rather chubby arms, and promptly forgot all about it.

But now I have beige grommet tape. And I have string! And a small amount of patience! And the knowledge that having something that laces up isn’t actually much more of a nuisance than something that zips up, as was the original intention.
underside

As you can see, it’s not a strife to lace it and the pinned-under folds I had before have just been sewn in as thicker lining.

pocket

The pocket holds quite a lot. I could easily fit my phone, travelcard, cash, debit card, etc – the essentials – in here. Also it can contain that most necessary of necessities – upwards of 200g of holographic glitter dust. For, you know. Emergencies. Gay emergencies.

top view

The only downside is that I have to get someone else to tie off the ends when I’m done lacing it up due to my inability to bend my arms into actual pretzels. But it is a fabulously useful bit of kit and allows me to leave the house ready to face whatever glitterless days lie ahead (or indeed to carry around money and transport-enablers and a phone while wearing, for example, Very Small Hotpants).

Solving the problems no one wants solved

So I dunno about anyone else but every so often I get dumb ideas stuck in my head, and cannot let go until I have solved whatever it is that’s bothering me. These ideas are almost never actual problems that real people in the world need solving or I’d be a hero to the masses and a millionnaire. Instead, they are bullshit like this:

“Can I make a drape cardigan out of scarves?”

“Can I do that without cutting/wasting the fabric at all?”

My explanation is this: I own a very, very nice yak wool scarf. I love it and I want to live in it. Technically, yes, it is actually a blanket. Happily big scarves are in, and if they weren’t in, they are fucking in with me when I have to travel home from work during peak “fuck you” temperatures and wait >20 minutes for a night bus (sort it out, London). 5am is no one’s friend. At some point while collecting a magnificent array of layers I contemplated the idea that one of my many, many, many cardigans could do with being made from yak wool too, but the idea of sewing one made me blanch as the woven material is expensive and wasteage is inevitable.

Or is it?

sketches

As you can see, my ferocious and entirely coherent 4am drawing skills handled this idea quickly. What can you do with three scarves?

Make a Y shape with two straight lengths, then add a U shape made from another straight length, and sew together as clumsily shown? Shouldn’t work. I mean, things that I come up with in my head at an obscene hour in the morning and which seem like they’d be cheap and easy to make with the 100% viscose £1.50 pashminas I just accidentally ordered from Amazon never turn out as intended…

back

Wait

hood

It worked?

cross

And it took at most half an hour to make?

loose

Three scarves, two buttons (for the crossovers), a bit of string (for the crossover loops), and a bit of sewing in straight lines (with a little foldover in the sides to take in armpit excess)… no cutting. No marking. Barely any pinning? And a serviceable, nay, elegant dressing-gown-cum cardigan at the end?

WHAT IS THIS WITCHCRAFT?

(Also: Happy Birthday, mother.)

Accidental Genius: Vegan Okonomiyaki Recipe

There’s nothing quite like flinging together a meal (be quiet I will blog about writing again soon and you will wish to God I hadn’t) and having it turn out far, far better than you expected, especially when typically your attempts to fling together a meal end in swearing and pans full of hot fat flinging themselves off the gas hob with the express intention of murdering you.

The crux of this, very simple and delicious main piece is that besan/gram flour (chickpea flour) is possibly the most wonderful thing the world has ever produced, and turns into a thick, extremely adhesive paste the minute it touches something moist. It starts pretty much the same as the besan/courgette two-ingredient pancake, but is rather more tasty.

Vegan okonomiyaki, rice paper steamed veg and mushroom balls, steamed kale and soy-fried turnip crisps, and a matcha mochi daifuku from the Japan Centre

You will need:

5 tsbp sieved besan/gram flour
50g of finely grated courgette/zucchini
100g Tesco Vegetable Base Mix (or just… look at the ingredients in that and blender your own)
1 tsp of whatever spice mix most appeals to you. I tend to make my own and then leave them in unlabelled jars because common sense, what is that, so I can’t really tell you what I just used, only that it was delicious
1/2 tsp baking powder
salt
pepper
cooking spray/a tiny amount of oil
1 non-stick saucepan or wok or whatever as long as it’s non-stick, has deep sides and a lid.
Spatula
Something for mixing in
A thing to make your pan hot (hot plate, hob, paraffin stove).

What you do:

  1. Mix everything (except the oil) together in a bowl with the spatula until you have a thick paste.
  2. Make your pan hot.
  3. Put the paste in the bottom of the pan and spread it out until it is flat.
  4. Put the lid back on the pan and turn down the heat and leave it for a while.
  5. When the thing is firm, flip it over with the spatula and turn the heat up a little to cook the other side for a while.
  6. Lob this thing on a plate and adorn however you want. Congrat, you have a vegan okonomiyaki. My guess is that if you’re more of a fan of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, it’s possible to chuck in the mandatory layer of yakisoba.

BONUS: waist-watchers and calorie-counters will be pleased to hear that this whole reasonably large centrepiece clocks in at a whopping 145 calories.