Sunday, April 6, 2014

Reaching a peek of despair

Here's the latest instalment in my "just because the spell check is OK doesn't mean it's the right word" series.

"sneak peak"

Which one can only assume is a particularly untrustworthy Alp.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Writing, My Ass

I’m not a good dieter. I don’t like tracking calories or eating from restrictive food lists or ingesting lab-created zero-calorie chemicals. But nor do I care for the way mindlessly inhaling chips (brain food, you know) while writing has dramatically increased the size of my ass. Dilemma.

That’s why I’m drawn to the 5:2 Diet. Unlike conventional weight loss plans, the 5:2 requires dieting commitment only 2 days per week. Yep, just 2 days. And on those 2 days one can eat absolutely anything one wants – chips, chocolate, champagne* – as long as the total calories for the day is less than 500 (600 for men). So there is some measure of calorie counting, but it’s minimal compared to most diets. Plus, following this sort of intermittent fasting can potentially forestall all sorts of age-related diseases.

Calorie counting twice weekly I can cope with, but “diet foods,” I cannot. Partly because they’re gross, but also because I’m trying desperately to shed my role as a short order cook in which I prepare a different meal for each member of the family. Having at least some of us all enjoying the same foods for at least some of our meals clears up a tremendous amount of time. (All of you who regularly partake of the same meal, well, bully for you.)

Buy from Amazon: Only $.99
So with these thoughts swirling in mind – the size of my ass, writing, brain food, cooking – Nik and I took a short break from our novels and put together a cookbook of 5:2 Diet friendly recipes. The focus is on real ingredients and tasty meals, the type of recipes that don’t feel like diet foods. Muffins, waffles, breakfast casseroles, and my absolute favorites, eggs benedict and huevos rancheros. Stuff that at least one of my sons will eat (both of them if it’s muffins).

We’ve got plans for another handful of cookbooks, too. Writing up the recipes is a nice mental diversion for when my characters start wandering about aimlessly, waiting for me to give them direction (they’re as bad as children, I swear) when I’m mired down with other things. And although I have some ways to go, developing healthy, low calorie recipes has really helped to focus on better nutrition during the writing process.

So stay tuned for book two, we’re hoping to release it by the end of May.

In the meantime, here’s a bonus recipe that I’m betting will bring even my youngest to the family breakfast table:

Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Makes: 8 pancakes
Calories: 140 calories in 2 pancakes (about 88 g per serving**)

The key to keeping these pancakes light and airy is the beaten egg white. Use an electric mixer and whip until stiff peaks form.

2/3 cup flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ Tbsp. sugar
2 egg whites
2/3 cup milk, fat-free
1/8 cup mini chocolate chips
Spray oil

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar, then add the milk and whisk until very smooth. In a separate bowl, sprinkle the egg whites with a pinch of salt and whip into peaks. Fold the egg whites gently into the batter, stirring until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spray a griddle with cooking spray and heat to medium. Pour a scant ¼ cup of batter per pancake and cook.

* If you want to blow your calorie allotment on chips, chocolate, and champagne, here's what you get for 500 calories:
  - Chocolate: About 3-1/3 ounces
  - Chips: About 3-1/3 ounces
  - Champagne: About 23 ounces (5.5 flutes)

** How much is 88 grams? Well, one serving of frozen waffles (2 waffles) is about 70 grams and 180 calories. So two of these pancakes are about 25% more food, but with about 20% less calories. And way tastier!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hornblower and the Monsters from Space

Well, no, that's not really the title of a book (though it probably should be). I'm actually looking for a bit of help here.

A few years ago I was in a bookshop, a very good one in the UK that's now sadly been eaten up, digested and ejected by a bigger chain. It had little notes scattered around the shelves where staff had their current picks and favourites. One of the recent releases was about a man-of-war sailing ship in the 19th century, but mixed up with fantasy elements: sorry, can't remember the details, just that it sounded really good. I love both naval historical fiction and fantasy books, so this worked for me.

I didn't buy it.

"Why?" you ask, incredulously. "Blowed if I know", I reply.

Anyway, if you happen to have read this book, please, please drop a note in the comments to let me know what it is. The correct answer wins a signed copy of our first physical book, when and if we get one finished and published.

Over to you...

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Island of the Sequined Love Nun

Buy here from Amazon
How does Christopher Moore do it, do you think? Does he get blind drunk on industrial chemicals, chew dictionaries, spit out the words and see how they've landed the next morning? Does he have a madcap Nutty Book Title Generator app for his iPhone? Which came first, the book title or the plot?!

Having loved a couple of the Christopher Moore books earlier this year, this one came to me via Jay, who'd had a bad reaction to one of his vampire novels and was feeling disillusioned. I packed it in my case for a recent trip, and once I'd started reading I was completely hooked: to the extent of ploughing through it whilst I really should have been sleeping off the jet lag.

Without giving away the whole plot, the book revolves around a failed pilot who gets an apparent dream job flying a top-of-the-range Learjet on hops to Japan for a mysterious couple on a Polynesian island, complete with armed guards, a minefield, state-of-the-art medical facilities and a resident cannibal. Go on, work out the plot from that lot, I dare you.

I raved about it to Jay, and I think I may have converted her.

Try it yourself, too.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

One book you can judge by its cover!

5:2 fast diet, intermittent fasting
The 5:2 Fast Diet: Breakfast Recipes (buy here for only $0.99!)

When we launched our cookbook a few months ago, Jay turned her artistic efforts to the production of a cover. It was OK, but real didn’t stack up against the professionally-designed covers that pop up in an Amazon results list: and let’s face it, there is the temptation to assume that a book with a substandard cover will have substandard content….

So for the princely sum of $10, Jay commissioned a designer somewhere in Eastern Europe to come up with an alternative. In our poll of cover designs last month, it came out top of the choices that we threw into the mix.

And here it is! Our spanking new cover, which offsets the book to perfection. We’re already storming up the sales rankings on the Amazon UK store, and hopefully this will give us a boost in the US. The book sells almost 50 times faster in the UK than in the US at present!

As ever, all feedback gratefully appreciated.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The best fiction of the Twentieth Century?

The Folio Society Edition
Over the last three years, I've been re-reading the Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian. The Folio Society reissued them as a beautiful run of illustrated hardbacks, and despite owning the set already (twice...), the new editions were too good to miss. The books have sustained me through many a long-haul flight. Coincidentally, I stumbled across some first editions of the books recently, and had to restrain myself from bankruptcy. 

These are astonishingly good books: fantastic works of prose, meticulous in the detail of the period, and simply some of the best works of fiction ever written. Don't just take my word for it.

The books are set in the British Navy during the Napoleonic wars, and follow the fortunes of Jack Aubrey, a naval Captain, and his friend Stephen Maturin, a surgeon and spy. The range of storytelling that O'Brian wraps into that framework is amazing, from the obligatory naval battles to prison breaks in Paris to a trial for Stock Exchange fraud. Many of the stories are based on or set around historical events.

O'Brian published 20 Aubrey/Maturin books in his life. The twenty-first, untitled and unfinished book was published after his death: three Chapters that he had typewritten, and some pages of handwritten drafts. Because the books have a continuous narrative running through each of the individual tales, it's better to have these pages than not at all, though it makes for a greater poignancy than if book 20 had been the end of the story.

Buy from Amazon: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey
One of the things about the presentation of the two versions of the text in the volume I have of 21 is seeing O'Brian at work as a writer. The words change from his handwritten draft to the typewritten version (and it's observed that he would almost certainly have revised and re-revised even further), always for the better. It's a real lesson to budding writers about the need to rewrite and revise and polish and polish and polish in order to make a text the best it can be.

O'Brian's works will outlive most of the fiction of the last century, because it's as near to perfection as he could make it. If you haven't experienced one of his books, now is the time to change that.

For me, it's back to the start with Master and Commander for my next trip away. Can't wait!

Buy from Amazon: The Complete Aubrey/Maturin Novels

Monday, February 10, 2014

More on judging a book by its cover: We need your help! #52Diet #Cooking

We need your help!

We’ve recently published our first book - yay! It’s not one of the almost half-dozen of novels we have in the works (see the sidebar to the right for progress on some of these), but a collection of breakfast recipes for followers of the 5:2 Diet, or anyone looking for low-calorie meal ideas. (See our announcement here: How to lose weight whilst drinking champagne and eating cakes.)

Formatting was a nightmare and we made our share of newbie e-publishing blunders, but we persevered, stumbling our way through the process, and ended up with something that reads well and looks okay.

Well, looks okay as long as you bypass the cover.

And therein lies the problem. Our cover is crap

But luckily, I had some time on my hands over winter break to consider alternate designs.  At the end of this post is an array of new cover concepts that we're considering. Some are professionally-designed (more on this experience in a future post) while others were put together with Gimp (and a healthy dose of cursing). Ignore the watermarks on the photos – once we select a final design we'll replace with high res.

Please use the voting buttons at the end of the post to select the design (or designs) that appeals most to you, and those that turn you off. For marketing purposes, please indicate which Amazon you shop at most regularly. If you have any suggestions or other thoughts to share, please leave a comment.

Thank you and happy voting!