My serial killer project. Not me, a story. Just to clear that up.

I’ve so far written 2 full length novels and a short story in the young adult science fiction genre, the novels need an editor, and the sort story is on this page: Acid Plains – a short story. Short stories and novellas are smaller bites to chew, and an opportunity to try new things, and that’s what I’ve been up to. First I did a horror novella The Face of Khatagh, and then I had an idea for a serial killer novella, which is almost ready. It’s graphic, it’s gritty, and it’s definitely not for kids! I’ve finished a draft and I’m getting some friend feedback on it, once that’s done I’ll make changes and publish it.

Pandemic Writing Update

On New Years Day I messaged a friend that I hoped 2021 was going to be calmer than 2020. Hah! It was, until a bunch of extremists stormed the US Capitol building and 5 people died as a result. Since my last post months ago there have been so many ups and downs, and the pandemic has changed my life substantially. I suspect I got covid early on in March, which was huge fun except the breathing problems and wondering how bad it had to get before I called an ambulance, fortunately it never got there!

Working from home, helping to home school my children, and huge changes in the system of life meant I didn’t write for awhile. I don’t know what people are doing with the palates of canned tomatoes, toilet paper and flour they bought. Maybe they built emergency covid-protection bunkers to hide in, anyway I hope it came in useful because they certainly prevented me from finding them for awhile. Let me give you a hint, if you suspect there’s going to be widespread interruptions in the food supply and utilities like power and gas don’t buy something you need to cook!

One surprising thing about the pandemic was that I found my commute to be a critical part of my creative process, and without it my writing ground to a halt! I’ve been a NYC subway and now a London Underground user for most of my life, and I’ve long since developed the ability to zone out and pretend I’m not part of a human sardine performance art exhibition. It used to be I’d read, but when I started writing I’d spend the time to and from the office thinking about what comes next.

My method was to write an outline, then the scenes, decide the rudiments of what was going to happen, then I’d spend my commute working out the details. What had I just written, what issues it may have introduced, and who was going to do what next and how. I’d look at keeping tension and making sure I was fulfilling the wider story goals. It meant that when I sat down to write I’d know what to put down, and I’d make progress.

Losing my commute meant that all went, I’d sit down after a long day of mixed work and home schooling and have to work things out, which was slow and frustrating. I had to make changes, carve out time to think about the story. I’ve been finding ways to make it work, and things are starting to flow again, which is when I really enjoy it. Please 2021, please please please just chill!

Going Coronuts, and the Patience War concept.

We are weeks into social distancing and lockdown in London, and overall I’m handling it fine. I’m fortunate to still have a job and a family for company, yet despite that my nature is to crave social contact, and I miss it. I miss flying, I miss going to pubs and restaurants, I don’t miss getting on the underground but I do miss what is at the other end of the trip! This is a 3 day weekend due to a public holiday, but it doesn’t feel like it.

Writing is a hobby and passion, you’d think lockdown would be a perfect opportunity to bang our a few stories or even a novel, after all I’m not going out am I? Yet, for some reason that hasn’t happened, the effort of figuring out how to keep the family supplied when basics couldn’t be found in the store, the work in setting up new social networks and figuring out ways of communicating has drained time away. I don’t know what the toilet paper hoarding was about, people are worried about a respiratory virus so they enough of the stuff to keep their rear end comfy for at least the next decade! Baby wipes too for some reason, why you need those if you’re going to be stuck in your house I don’t know. If I was going to hoard I would have gone for stuff with calories, personally. “They starved to death but their butts were clean” sounds like the beginning of a comic story, maybe. Some other time, perhaps, when I’m out of all other ideas.

So now the “novelty” is over. Skype, Zoom, and other tools have become part of the daily family routine, the kids are getting virtual lessons from school and I can find actual yeast in the store! I’m keeping up with friends online, going running or biking almost every day, and everything is firing on all cylinders. Except it isn’t. I’m finding it getting harder to keep this up, and getting edgy. I’ve invented a new portmanteau to go along with covidiot and quarantini, which is Coronuts. I’m sure I will survive and not be found running naked with flaming hoarded toilet paper wrapped around my head, but I can’t promise not to get grouchy.

I’m going to remember how this feels, the groundhog day, same as yesterday and will be tomorrow grind. I feel like I’m living in a Philip Glass piece, one key repeated over and over until I’m desperate for it to change. It may be strange, but it’s useful.

For years I’ve had a novel series idea in my head, I call it “The Patience War”. It’s in the near future and the Earth is under attack (isn’t it always?) by an unknown assailant. In order to protect itself, humanity must send some of its very best on years long patrol missions. 6 years in a ship with not much more space than the ISS, eating algae grown from your own waste products, breathing recycled air, and talking to the same 4 people under the ever-present threat of the enemy or spacecraft failure millions of miles from any possible help.

What would it feel like to be part of that crew? How can I convey the isolation, loneliness or boredom? I’m getting a taste of it now, not remotely the same level, but something to work with – a small image I can magnify and explore.

Maybe I can turn a negative into a positive, at least in one small way. Maybe it’s inspiration.

Acid Plains – a short story

When I started my first real writing project I was planning a short story, thinking I wouldn’t have everything I needed for a book. After a thorough outline I realized I had more than enough for a full length novel, 120 thousand words later it was done and far too long. Something had to go, so whole subplots disappeared. There was one cut part I saved, a self-contained short story embedded in the larger tale. Acid Plain as I’m calling it was fun to write, so I dusted it off, capped it off beginning and end and here it is!

If you like this story there’s more to be had on this site.

Ouch!

In the UK Easter Monday is a public holiday and I decided to use the time to put new tires on my mountain bike, a new thing for me, usually I’d pay some hippy in flip-flops more than the bike is worth to do it for me. The previous owner in his less than infinite wisdom put slick road tires on it, and at times it would skate around gravel tracks like Ice Capades. I hate Ice Capades worse than raw octopus, so I went onto Chain Reaction Cycles and found that there are more tire options for my bike than my car, fortunately they have some handy guides and I virtually plonked my credit card down on tires, tubes and, I admit, bar ends. I know many proper bike people sniff at them but I like them.

A couple of useful youtube videos and I was ready, and after a fair amount of prying and swearing the new tires and tubes were on, but my front wheel didn’t spin. I fixed that and was proudly spinning my now freed front wheel when my finger got caught and it ripped part of my fingernail off, which put a damper on celebrations a bit.

It’s one of my primary typing fingers, and it’s going to be out of commission for a couple of weeks, but it hasn’t stopped me from finishing my website! In the end I opted for a simpler design, and concentrated on getting the content organized. I’ll be using it to keep you updated on my writing and other hopefully less painful aspects of my life! I’ll be migrating some of my old posts from a previous website onto here in the next few days, then I can get back to writing!

Must…get…website…done!

It’s a beautiful Easter weekend here in London and the family and I are on lockdown because of coronavirus, the perfect time to buckle down and finish that website I’ve been meaning to do for such a long time! Except it isn’t. I’m discovering that no time is ever a good time, because I want to be writing! But, without a website I can’t reach out to you, dear reader, so I’m going to buckle down and get this thing done if it kills me! Actually, I may stop before then, if it’s killing me I’m obviously doing it wrong…

Anyway, this site is all about me. I like to cook, I like to fly airplanes, fix cars and mess around with stuff. I knock up steps out of old palates when the need arises, and I want to tell you all about this. But mostly I want to show you my writing! I’ve had ideas for novels and worlds going back for decades, and I finally got around to putting them down on the page, now I want to show them to you. If you like them, share them, and tell me what you think! I’ll be listening, if I can ever get this website finished!

Low and slow chicken curry casserole

I made this tonight and it’s all kind of awesome! It’s pretty quick to prepare and the longer you cook it the better it gets. It’s rich, and the chicken melts in your mouth! I didn’t even need my knife, it went back in the drawer clean!

Equipment: medium size dutch oven or le creuset style pot, oven, knife, hands, eyes, the usual
Ingredients:
1.5 kg chicken pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp flour
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
.5 tsp chili powder (adjust to fit your tastes, I used hot)
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar (can use regular)
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp chicken bullion powder
300ml water (or so)
oil (I used olive)

Preparation:
Preheat your oven to 130C, about 250F. Heat up your dutch oven and put a bit of oil on the bottom. Pull the skin off your chicken, and fry half in the hot oil for 4-5 minutes, discarding the rest. When brown remove the cooked chicken skin and discard. The reason for pulling the skin off is that I don’t like how the skins get soggy after a long slow cook, I like to fry them off like this to get a fried chicken flavor into the dish. You can leave them on if you like, if you do then fry the chicken skin down to brown and them remove them before the next step.

Next put your chopped onion into the casserole and saute on medium heat until they start to soften, then add the garlic and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add the flour and stir for a minute to get the flour cooked, if you don’t cook it you can get an uncooked flour taste in the dish. Add the tomatoes and cook for a minute or two until they start to get mushy, then add the ground spices and brown them off for a minute. Add the chicken in and stir to coat. Add enough water to come almost to the top of the chicken, probably about 300ml. Don’t overdo the water or your sauce will be diluted. Add the fish sauce, palm sugar, vinegar, and bullion powder, stir in, then cover and put it in the oven.

How long to bake depends on how much time you have. This could be ready in 45 minutes on a high oven, but I cooked this low and slow because I had the time, over 2 and a half hours with 30 minutes resting at the end. Taste it halfway through and see if it needs anything. When done take the cover off and let it rest for a bit. Serve over rice.

East Wittering Sausage and Chicken Curry Casserole

Months ago my wife started talking about going for a summer holiday. As we now have a two year old and a 5 month old the idea of packing the whole family up and flying somewhere didn’t really appeal, especially since we’d have to spend so much time tending to a baby that we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of being wherever we’d gone. So going somewhere within easy driving distance was definitely the plan. Claire did some research and we decided that we’d do a real family holiday with Claire’s parents, brother and his girlfriend and their 8 month old daughter. So it was going to be 6 adults and three small children in a house by the beach in East Wittering on the south coast of England for a week of sun and sand castles!
It was a really good idea, the only problem with it was that the weather hasn’t cooperated. We arrived Friday in gale force winds and rain, the next day was beautiful except for winds gusting up to 45mph which sandblasted us nicely. Then on Sunday nature in her infinite wisdom saw fit to dump an entire month’s worth of rain in 24 hours. Yesterday (Monday) we woke up to the sound of rain drumming on the roof, which was pretty familiar to us by then, it was the sheet volume of it which amazed. It was is a giant hose was spraying a constant stream of ocean onto our house. Not knowing that the local area was experiencing serious flooding I decided to take my son to a big store in Chichester in order to buy him a raincoat and umbrella which we hadn’t anticipated him needing. Swimsuit yes, bucket yes, sun cream yes, rain gear no, so I set about to rectify the situation so my little guy could at least leave the house once in the week.
Once we were in the car a few minutes the impact that the rain was having on the local area started to become apparent and I began to think that perhaps I would be better off getting my son a floatation device rather than a rain slicker. The fire department was out in force, busy pumping water out of the local homes and businesses. One of the roads out of town was closed and the other was passable with some massive ponds to cross. Nevertheless I soldiered on, determined to bring home the bacon (literally, as bacon was on the shopping list). I had successfully navigated the enormous lake that the road had become and I had an immense sense of satisfaction from it.
Two things stopped me. One, the A27 was backed up 12 miles and getting the last mile to the store would have taken hours. Second, the snoring from the back seat notified me that my son was fast asleep and he was having an early nap. Quitter! Still, we weren’t getting there anyway because of the massive traffic problems, it took me 20 minutes just to get into a position to turn around. Anyway, unable to get to a big store we fell back on the small local ones which were remarkably well stocked considering the natural disaster taking place around us and we were able to get enough for me to make the concoction I’m about to tell. This was completely ad-libbed, I ‘ve never seen any recipe like this, it was all completely improvised. I wanted to make a rich, hearty dish to warm the insides that can serve a bunch of big eaters and came up with this, my Sausage and Chicken Curry Casserole:
7 chicken thighs
14 sausages (meaty ones like italian or solid pork sausages)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 carrots, sliced
1 head of brocolli, florets separated from the stem. Chop the stem in the same size pieces as the carrots
2 cups peas, thawed
900ml chicken stock (about 4 cups)
2 tbsp sweet soy sauce (or 1 1/2 tsp soy sauce and 2 tsp sugar)
150ml low fat plain yogurt
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup corn meal (polenta)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp curry powder
oil

Preheat the oven to 180c, 375f. First we want to get color on the meats, so grill or fry the sausages to brown them. Don’t worry about cooking them the whole way through, we want the color. Next heat oil in a frying pan to medium-hot and mix the flour, corn meal, and salt in a bowl. Coat the chicken thighs in the flour mixture and brown both sides in the frying pan. Again, don’t cook them through, just get the color on them. Make your chicken stock and let it cool to room temperature, then add the yogurt to it. If you add the yogurt to hot liquid it will probably split. Transfer some of the oil from the frying pan into another pan (don’t get all the burnt gritty bits through, they don’t taste good) on medium heat. Add the carrots and brocolli stem pieces and saute for 3-4 minutes. This is because the carrots and brocolli stems take much longer to cook, without this step they will be tough when the rest is done. Add the onion and saute another couple of minutes, add the garlic and saute another minute. Add the curry powder and one tablespoon of the flour mixture and fry a couple of minutes. The flour will thicken the sauce, and frying it will keep it from tasting uncooked. Frying the curry powder will help release its flavor and frying it will keep it from tasting powdery, especially in hard-water areas.
Next add your liquid mixture. If you didn’t add your yogurt to the cooled stock before then add the stock and take it off the heat, then add the yogurt a spoon at a time, then put it back on the heat. Add the sweet soy or soy and sugar, then taste. You want the sweetness of the sweet soy or sugar to balance out the sourness of the yogurt, with just enough salt to taste. You want it to be thickened a bit but not too much, don’t worry it will thicken more later. In a casserole dish (don’t ask me how big, this is cookware in a rented house, if you can fit it all in, then it’s just right 😉 put the chicken on the bottom, then the brocolli, then the sausage. Pour the liquid in, then put it in the oven uncovered. Make sure all the brocolli is submerged, don’t worry about the sausages. Bake for 20 minutes after the mixture starts to bubble. 5 minutes before the end put the peas on top. Once it is done let it cool for about 15 minutes before serving over rice.

This fed 6 but could stretch to 8 if you had some bread and/or salad on the side. Variation-wise you could add some ginger, or put in some fish, or try other vegetables, it’s very flexible.

The best meatloaf I’ve ever had, and it’s mine!

Meatloaf is one of those unsung crowd-pleasing dishes that nobody ever seems to write about. There are some recipes but many times they try to make it fancier than the simplicity of a block of cooked ground meat can sustain. Meat loaf should be simple, comfort food, but there’s still zillions of variations on it. Tonight I decided I wanted a turkey meat loaf and I decided to wing it, no recipe. I had an idea what I wanted to make but it was pretty much unformed until I started.

The thing with ground chicken or turkey is that it has little flavor on its own but it’s great as sucking up and enhancing whatever flavors you add to it. Get it right and it’s delicious, under-season it and it’s gonna be bland bland bland! Also, it’s very lean which is why its so healthy, but a small amount of strategic fat adds a bit of richness and depth. This came out so well that I just had to write it down before I forgot what I did!

Ingredients:
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1kg (2 lbs) ground turkey or chicken (aka turkey mince)
1 egg
2 inches worth crackers or saltines (unsalted). I used table water crackers but any plain cracker will do. If you don’t have them use breadcrumbs. Stale is fine!
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
120g (4 oz) grated cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp ground savory
1/2 tsp ground sage
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp chili powder
a couple of twists of black pepper
1/3 cup ketchup

for the glaze:
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup sweet soy syrup (or use teriyaki sauce)
Alternatively use a can of condensed tomato soup and add plain soy sauce and a bit of sugar.

Method:
Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F, 210 degrees C. In a small frying pan put some olive oil and saute the onion on medium heat until it begins to soften, then add the garlic and saute for 2 minutes before removing from the heat. We don’t want them cooked, just have the edge taken off of them. Add them to the rest of the ingredients in a big bowl and mix well. Don’t add any extra salt, you won’t need it. There’s salt in the cheese, soy, and ketchup and that’s enough. Once combined well put a spoon of the mix on a plate and microwave it for a minute, then let cool and taste. There should be a bit of richness from the cheese, saltiness and umami from the soy, and umami, sweet, sour, and saltiness from the ketchup. If you want more richness add cheese, if it needs more zing add a bit more ketchup, and if it needs salt add more soy. Keep microwaving and testing until the balance is right. If you can’t taste the herbs that doesn’t mean you need to add more, this is because the herbs need more cooking time for the flavors to come out. You want the consistency to be thick enough to hold it’s shape, if it’s a bit too loose add some more crushed crackers or breadcrumbs. The crackers and breadcrumbs have 2 functions: one is to make it hold together, the other is to absorb the juices and keep the flavor from running out.
I prefer to put the mix into a bread tin although any dish will you. You can mold this into any shape you want or just lump it into a blob, just make sure whatever you cook it in has sides as there’s going to be some juice! It’s not huge amounts as this dish is pretty lean but there will be some. Don’t pour it away, it’s delicious! Once in the oven this will need to cook 45 minute to an hour depending on the shape you make it. As for the glaze if you want to get fancy you can brush it on halfway through cooking or if you’re pressed for time add it at the beginning, it’s just going to be a bit more crispy. Don’t be sparing, slather it on! Make sure that you get the meat up to 160F/70C as this will kill any salmonella or other bugs, and underdone chicken is horrible tasting anyway. Serve with your choice of starch and veggies.
Everyone loved this at my dinner table tonight. I gave my 2 year old son a big chunk and it all went down the hatch. I’ve been told that we will be having this again.

Pasta with sausages, spinach, and beans

I often cook without a recipe, throwing something together for dinner using a new ingredient or something special I’ve found. Yesterday I picked up some really good sausages from this market that comes once a month to Wanstead. I’ve had them before and they’re outstanding just grilled on their own but I wanted to do something with them that was more interesting. I also found some good spinach as well. So much of the spinach you get in the supermarket is pre-bagged baby spinach and while it is convenient in that you can just open the bag and throw it into dishes or salads it doesn’t actually taste like anything, and if it doesn’t taste like much it probably isn’t that nutritious either. The spinach I got was real big leaf spinach with real flavor.

The reason I talk about the ingrediants so much is that this italian-style recipe is so simple that the quality of the ingredients hugely affects the end result. If you use flavorless sausages and spinach then the dish will be flavorless too. Whenever you make any italian style dishes, or any simple dish, that’s the most important thing to remember. The ingredients below are what I used, you can change the balance to whatever you like, use greens or kale instead of spinach, or put in brocolli or beans, it’s all up to you.
ingredients:
6-8 sausages, whole
1 medium onion chopped
3-4 cloves garlic chopped
2 big bunches spinach, washed and roughly chopped
600ml water
1 knorr chicken stockpot or chicken stock cube
2 tsp dry italian herbs
1 can cannelinni beans, washed
1 tbsp cornstarch or flour
2 tbsp cream (optional)
half a box pasta shells, penne, or whatever you’ve got.
olive oil
vegetable oil

Method:
in a large saute or casserole pan (with a lid ) on high heat add a few tbsp of vegetable oil, not olive oil as olive oil geta bitter and can burn on high heat. We are going to brown the sausages without cooking them through. You can skip this step if you like but the browning causes caramelization and adds great flavor, so brown 2 sides of the sausages and remove them to a plate to cool. Discard the oil in the pan and let it cool to medium heat. Start boiling your pasta now. Add olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add your onion. Saute until soft, add your garlic and flour and saute another minute or two. The flour is going to thicken the sauce and you want to cook it a bit. Add the water, stockpot or cube, herbs, and bring to a simmer. Don’t add any extra salt, there’s salt in the sausages, stock cube, spinach, and on the outside of the pasta from the salt in the water, and that’s plenty! Add your spinach and cover. Stir your pasta, make sure it doesn’t stick together. Slice your sausages up. After 5 minutes of simmering add your beans and sliced sausages, stir in, and cover turning the heat down to low. Cook your pasta until it is just a bit underdone and then scoop it out or drain it and put the pasta into the pan. If you do drain it save some of the pasta water, you can use it to add extra moisture to the dish if it gets dry. I use a big strainer I got at a chinese supermarket, they are great for scooping pasta.

Put the heat back up to medium-high with the lid off and add your cream and stir. The pasta is going to finish cooking in pan and so will soak up the flavors of the dish. Here’s where you may need to add some of that pasta water. You want there to be enough sauce to coat all the ingredients but not too much. Taste and season if necessary. Once the pasta is done (should be 1-2 minutes maximum) turn off the heat and serve as it is.

This was a real crowd-pleaser, my son even ate some of the spinach and that’s an achievement!