Indietracks

A few years ago, we went to Indietracks, a unique festival combining heritage trains and indiepop music. Taking place at the Midland Railway Butterley amid the rolling hills of the Derbyshire countryside, it has a capacity of only 2000 and is a really lovely place to hang out of a weekend. You can play on the steam trains and drink real ale. You get to see bands performing on the trains, in a giant shed and even in a corrugated church. You may also get to meet the bands, who sell their wares themselves in the merchandise tent.

For such a small festival, I’m always really impressed at the calibre of bands playing. In 2009 we saw The Lovely Eggs, Camera Obscura and Au Revoir Simone, so I was super-excited to be invited back this year in my official capacity as Cameraman for Salle Pierre Lamy. We weren’t disappointed band-wise, being treated to the likes of Allo Darlin’, The Vaselines and Tigercats. We had a great weekend: ate our weight in chips and gravy, rode up and down on the trains, met owls, donkeys, superheroes and made some new friends, including the seven lovely bands interviewed by Salle Pierre Lamy.

Here are some highlights from the weekend…


You can see more photos over on Flickr.

Jim, co-founder of Salle Pierre Lamy, put together a brilliant short film of edgar and Bryce frolicking around the festival interviewing bands. It turns my shaky camerawork into something really special, and is well worth a look. You can watch it below or here on YouTube. Pour yourself a glass of risky, sit back and enjoy!

The doily cake

A few weeks ago, I had a real craving for a chocolate cake. A chocolate Victoria sponge cake, to be exact. One with a lovely deep chocolate flavour and delicious creamy filling. Once again, Mary Berry came to the rescue. Her Baking Bible has helped me out many a time – it has a whole chapter dedicated to chocolate cakes, for goodness’ sake! If you don’t already have it, I would heartily recommend making it a permanent fixture on your kitchen shelves. My copy has many a dogeared and lemon-stained page, and I love it all the more for that.

Anyway, enough about Mary. Let’s get to the CAKE. I followed the recipe for Mary’s Very Best Chocolate Fudge Cake (p.105), at the beginning of which Mary claims that it “will become your favourite chocolate cake recipe – it is the best!” A grand claim, perhaps, but if the reactions of my knitting buddies were anything to go by, Mary is right. She says it has a grown-up chocolate flavour, and that’s true, but more than that, it was light, crumbly and incredibly moist. We polished it off within two days.

Instead of Mary’s fudge filling, I used the Hummingbird Bakery’s chocolate frosting for the middle of the cake. I left the top naked, but for a lovely doily decoration. I’ve tried this before on icing, and as the icing melts and wobbles about slightly the pretty pattern tends to move about, spoiling it a little. But on plain cake, it looks GREAT. Simply cover your cake with a doily and shake icing sugar over the top, making sure to get it as even as possible. Then remove very carefully…and your doily cake is done! I loved the effect of the white sugar on brown cake, it looked so pretty! My final cake reminded me of a giant Oreo, which could never be a bad thing. Except if you’re not into chocolate, in which case you can get the heck outta my kitchen.

Chocolate doily cake

Ingredients:
50g (2oz) sifted cocoa powder
6 tbsps boiling water
3 eggs
50ml (2fl oz) milk
175g (6oz) self-raising flour
1 rounded tsp baking powder
100g (4oz) softened butter
275g (10oz) caster sugar

For the filling:
150g (5oz) sifted icing sugar
100g (3.5oz) softened butter
40g (1.5oz) sifted cocoa powder
1 tbsp whole milk

– Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4. Grease two 20cm (8inch) sandwich tins and line the base of each with baking parchment.

– Blend the cocoa and boiling water in a large bowl then add the remaining cake ingredients and beat until the mixture has become a smooth, thickish batter. Divide the cake mix equally between the prepared tins and level the surfaces.

– Bake in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes or until well risen and the tops of the cakes spring back when lightly pressed. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes then turn out, peel off the parchment and finish cooling on a wire rack.

– To make the icing, beat the icing sugar, butter and cocoa powder together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Turn the mixture down to slow speed. Add the milk to the butter mixture and turn the mixer up to high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Then longer the frosting is beaten, the fluffier and lighter it becomes.

– Spread the frosting on top of one of the cakes and sandwich them together. Then do your doily thing, admire, and EAT!

Lately

Getting: a bit over-excited about the arrival of our first poppy of the season. It is summer after all!



Experimenting
: with doilies…and cake!



Re-arranging:
 furniture to create the perfect knitting corner



Taking
: advantage of the recent rainy spell to stomp about in my Doc Martens…but I am also pining for these beauties!

Enjoying: A weekend at Indietracks; trains, great bands, donkeys, and of course, corrugated churches

‘Animal Stew’

After graduating from University, I went on to do an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. I had a great time, studying part-time alongside my job and through the MA I met some really lovely people. One of these lovely people, Iris Feindt, contacted me late last year to ask if I wanted to contribute to an anthology of stories being published by MMU. The anthology was the idea of Sherry Ashworth, author of teenage books and one of our tutors on the MA. The stories would be all be about animals, and were to showcase not only writers from the MA course, but also illustrators from around the UK, such as my very talented friend Suz Hughes. Of course I said YES!

I had a think about which animal I wanted to write about, for maybe about a minute, because it was obvious that I should write a tribute to the cutest chicken I know: Pearl. If you’ve read this post you’ll know how much I love our chickens, and Pearl is an especially sweet example. I mean, come on!


So I set to work writing a story about how Pearl has a crisis of confidence and goes on a journey to make herself more beautiful. I sent the story, entitled ‘A Precious Pearl’, off to Iris and Helen, the anthology organisers, and happily they paired me with the delightful Gwen Shackleton, artist extraordinaire. I knew she would draw me a wonderful Pearl.

A couple of months went by, and we were asked to edit and format our stories, and to submit author biographies and photographs. None of it seemed real until a couple of months after that, when we finally got to see the front cover of the anthology. And then soon after that, I got my copy in the post. Very exciting!


Animal Stew was launched on Saturday 30th June at the Family Fun Day at Manchester Children’s Book Festival 2012. It was lovely to meet the other writers and illustrators who had contributed to the book, and to chat to them about their work. My family and friends showed up in force, and we rallied round handing out flyers and publicising the anthology.

Each of the writers read an extract from their story out throughout the day, and I was on in the final 3pm slot of the day, with Iris and Helen. Although we clashed with Steve Cole, we still had an excellent turnout! I was nervous at first but once I was reading it was all fine. I even enjoyed myself! Most of my audience completed the Pearl-themed colouring-in sheets which I handed out. I did have some props with me which seemed to help…


It was a wonderful day, full of laughter and fun. Iris, Helen and Sherry worked extremely hard to make the anthology happen and I’m very grateful to have been included! Here are some photos from the day…


Our stall for Animal Stew


Me and the lovely Iris…oh, and Pearl!


Me reading an extract from ‘A Precious Pearl’


Me with Gwen Shackleton, my brilliant Pearl-illustrator


“Decorate Pearl” colouring-in activity…


You can see more photos from the day here.

I am so proud of our little book, which is full of humorous, touching stories about tap-dancing turtles, very clean pigs, time-travelling cats and letter-writing dogs, to name but a few. And if you would like to know what happens to Pearl, the anthology is available to buy on Amazon right here. My friends, family and work colleagues have been extremely supportive about the anthology, and it feels great to say that I am a published author!

I was very flattered to find that I was also featured in local press: wrexham.com, on the Wrexham council website, in the Wrexham Leader and on librarywales.org. I was invited onto Wrexham’s community radio staion, Calon FM, to talk about Animal Stew and the creative writing group I run in the library, which was lots of fun. You can listen to my interview right here.

Phew! It’s been a crazy time, but thanks to Iris and Helen, a thoroughly enjoyable one. I couldn’t have wished for two more organised editors! And it was lovely to be a part of this year’s Manchester Children’s Book Festival. Do hop on over to the website for more information – it’s on until 8th July and there are loads of exciting events taking place.

In the meantime, I have been inspired to return to the full-length children’s novel I wrote for my MA. And maybe Pearl will crop up again in the future. I think she might just be my little, feathery, adorable muse.