The Unexpected

One of the most frustrating things about creative writing, in my opinion, is that it’s annoyingly easy to write yourself into a corner. I’m talking about those sentences that suddenly become dead ends or those events that suddenly seem to have no purpose in the middle of the story/paragraph.

That slow slide to a stop when you sit back from the keyboard and your mind is left with a bunch of question marks and the overwhelming feeling that you’ve dug down and you can’t climb back out.

Alright, so maybe that got a teeny-tiny dramatic towards the end of that description but, can you see my point?

Just the other day I had a character leave the house and return hours later with no information about what he did in the hours he was gone. Why did he leave in the first place? What did he do while he was out? Why did he come home? Well, if I’m the writer and I don’t know the answer to those questions (I still don’t know) then I don’t think that the reader has a chance of figuring it out.

That’s one of the main areas where editing thrives because taking out dead ends tends to make a piece of writing flow much better.

Yet, I always want to be better at avoiding these dead ends in the first place.

Avoiding boring sentences is usually the first step to this. I’m talking about sentences that aren’t necessary. If I’m asking myself, “Do I need to describe him putting milk on his cereal?” The answer is (almost) always no. When you’re following a character around, the day-to-day business of their lives is really only relevant if it furthers the plot. Yet, sometimes it’s tempting to get caught up in the small details as a writer.

Let’s be honest, working with original characters is like trying to build a person from nothing. Basically, all you have is small details. As you write, it’s inevitable that you need more and more details to stop you’re character from falling completely flat. People are really, really complicated but, just as you don’t need to know every single second about your best friend’s day, you can skip the boring stuff in favour of the rest when it comes to your character. It’s okay if we don’t know what kind of cereal they’re eating but, as readers we should know why they’re leaving the house.

Writing carries a weird sense of purpose. There’s a reason why we bother to scribbles words on a page so it shouldn’t be surprising that characters require reason for action as well.

A dead end means that you’ve come to a complete stop. These instances tend to be really uninspiring. So, the last time I wrote myself into a corner I skipped a couple of days in the narrative and started from there. New page, new day, new events.

The popular rule of improvisation is that every answer is “yes, and…” in order to keep the narrative going. Nothing stops a story more than a resounding, definite “no”. So, this rule isn’t a bad thing to apply to creative writing. If your sentence doesn’t have something about it that you can expand on then, maybe you should take a second look at whether it should be there in the first place.

Another way of moving things along, as well as giving your character something to say yes to or skipping to a new small beginning, is to throw something unexpected at your character (not always literally). It’s an immensely popular short story writing exercise to present your character with a situation, other character, etc. that changes the pace and guarantees that your character will have to interact with the situation to progress. Realising that there is nothing but yourself stopping you from putting whatever you want in your character’s path is kind of a weird moment of power in my experience. Your character sees a llama in the middle of the road? Great. Your character suddenly decides that they’re going to travel the world via boat? Awesome. An alien shows up in their bathtub? Well, okay then.

It’s a weird gig.

The point I’m trying to make is this. Dead ends are only permanent if you fail to carry on. So, keep writing and good luck.

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The Legend Of Korra – Turf Wars: Part One

The Legend of Korra Turf Wars Part One

The Legend Of Korra – Turf Wars: Part One by Michael Dante DiMartino, with art by Irene Koh was first published in 2017

Turf Wars: Part One is the official continuation of The Legend of Korra and it’s also another one of the graphic novels I was lucky enough to get for Christmas and there is no way that I’m going to wait until the next Christmas to get Part Two.

Both the writer and the artist were involved in the production of The Legend of Korra TV series shown on the Nickelodeon channel and the graphic novel series follows on from the events of the final episode, ‘The Last Stand’. With several people involved in the creation of the novel I think that the bright colours and the continuation of the plot is true to the series that started it all but, I wouldn’t worry about reading it if you don’t have a lot of foreknowledge. The novel does lead off from events that happened in the TV series but, the graphic novel is very good at including any vital information you need so that you can follow the story.

However, if you really don’t know The Legend of Korra then I’m about to share a spoiler but, I have to say it: Korra and Asami make such a cute couple 🙂

I love that they were so excited about the start of their relationship and the novel really showed that. The TV series ended right where they became a romantic couple, holding hands as they walked into the spirit world together (it sounds like an amazing holiday) and it was so lovely to see more of that new element to their relationship.

Seeing Korra and Asami deal with issues such as who they should tell about their new relationship was a very realistic (and relatable) element of the story. It was great to see the happy reactions of their closest friends and relatives even if it was couched in short messages of caution about how other people could potentially react, which revealed a little bit about the way LGBTQ+ individuals might be treated in the Avatar universe. The people closest to them want Korra and Asami to be safe and happy and there’s a lot of love there and that was wonderful.

The graphic novel starts with Korra and Asami enjoying their time in the spirit world together which is beautifully illustrated. However, they soon end up back in the human world where they meet up with old friends, including Mako and Bolin, and find that there is a growing animosity between the spirits and humans who want to use the spirit portal for their own ends. Of course Korra, Asami and their friends are in favour of protecting the spirts and their portal. Amongst all of this exciting plot, Korra and Asami recognise that they need to work better as a team even as they vow to look out for each other.

Part One is great at setting up a story that promises to have a lot of conflict with new bad guys such as Tokuga but, there’s also a lot of lovely acceptance and team work as well. Korra and Asami’s conversation with Kya is a great example of this acceptance and adds a little bit more to her character story that I think is really sweet.

There’s a lot of great panels in the graphic novel just like this one before Kya approaches them:

The Legend Of Korra page.jpg

Good plot? Bad plot?

Right at the very beginning it can be pretty difficult to tell if your idea is a good one or not. The truth is, there really is no way of telling yourself for sure that you have a 100% chance of success or failure. All creative writing requires a leap of faith.

That’s no reason not to try.

The good thing about starting a new project that’s just yours is that you don’t have to talk to anyone about it if you don’t want to. That way, if something’s not working out when you’re developing your plot then you can just scrap the bad bits and keep the good. If you’re ambitious then someone will eventually see it but, they don’t need to see all of the torn pages and scribbled out lines that all writer’s toss to one side.

Don’t be afraid to say no if it’s not working out.

Everyone wants to have a unique idea and I know some people who get a little disheartened when they talk about an idea that they’re really excited about only to be told in reply, “Oh, that sounds like…”

Here’s a little tip: publishers like new stories that “sound like…” because if they’ve sold that type of book before then they know that they can do it again.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you should be aiming for a new spin on an old idea all of the time. New ideas are what keeps creative writing fresh and exciting and moving forward like it should. That’s why all writers should remember, if you believe that your story has potential then you should try and see it through. Even if your initial idea isn’t completely unique, the writing and plot will be because it will be yours.

So, how do you specifically make your plot hit the good points and miss the bad?

Let me know if you figure it out. Haha, I’m joking (mostly). Writing a book is a trial because you’re trying to hit an impressive word count without boring your eventual readers and plot is pretty much what’s holding your characters, settings, etc. in place so, dropping the ball there doesn’t give you much of a book.

My main piece of advice is to keep the balance. No story needs big conflicts on every page and it’s okay if your idea drifts from place to place once you’re thousands of words into the tale. As a writer it’s not really your job to agonize over the genre you’re writing in – that’s for marketing and P.R. departments to consider because book selling boils down to ‘who is going to be interested?’ – but, it is your job to make sure that your plot makes sense. Reason has a big place in creative writing because if a major plot point occurs with absolutely no foundation then the reader’s going to be left thinking ??? when it doesn’t make sense and they may even put down the book – something I have done before and it honestly doesn’t bother me in those cases.

If one plot point follows another in your mind then great, you just have to make sure that your characters follow the path that you’re creating for them. I’d say that you’re doing pretty well if they are but, if you’re struggling a little bit that doesn’t immediately mean that you’ve got a ‘bad’ plot on your hands. It might just mean that it isn’t as smooth as you’d like it to be or you could do with taking a couple of steps back to see if you went in the right direction after all.

Readers will judge whether they think that the plot of a book is good or not but, as a writer it’s your job to make sure that it can be read at all.

As a writer you should be proud because the plot isn’t just the journey of the story, it’s the work, time and heart that you put into it.

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepperd

The Living Mountain front cover

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepperd was first published in 1977.

I read The Living Mountain partly because it was recommended by my dad but, I was also the one who bought him the book in the first place.

I knew very little about the author (I didn’t even know that her full first name is Anna) but I caught a snippet of something about her and her writing about the Scottish Highlands on TV. We were both watching and we were both intrigued which is why I thought that it would make a good gift for my dad.

The version of the book I bought was published in 2011 and it was first published in 1977 but, I was interested to find that she actually wrote the book during the 1930’s while the Second World War was taking place. The 2011 copy has an introduction by Robert Macfarlane which I skipped – also a recommendation by my dad. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against introductions written by someone other than the primary author and I may take a look at it in the future but it was Nan Shepperd’s words that I was looking for.

Nan Shepperd captures the sensation of mountain hiking beautifully. It’s a feeling I’ve always struggled to put into words myself (I’ve been hiking since I was a kid) and it’s captivating to read about her experiences in the Cairngorms.

The Cairngorms are a mountain range in the Eastern Highlands of Scotland. I’ve been there, once, but my half-remembered memories of turning back from our goal of scaling Ben Macdhui because the weather was bad, are no match for the eloquent and beautiful, yet sometimes terrible, picture that Nan Shepperd paints about the hours she’s spent in those wild places.

It was amazing, to me, to read about her watching Second World War training planes moving amongst the mountain valleys as she looked down on them from the peaks above. It gave the book a strong sense of ‘time’ as well as ‘place’ but, rather unusually, it didn’t prompt a sense of a distance too much for my imagination to reach between me, as the reader, and the narrator. As Nan Shepperd points out the changes made to the mountain by the people who walk there (especially in her foreword) there’s still a sense of steadiness and ancient history as she describes the mountain. From the smallest, clinging plant on the mountainside to the quickly changing sky in all seasons she writes about it all in small fragments and, in her own words (Page 1),

However often I walk on them, these hills hold astonishment for me. 

In particular, I must admit that Chapter 5 Frost and Snow was utterly captivating for me. I was doubly delighted that, as I read this chapter, it was snowing outside which is a rather rare sight where I live. She writes the truth – snow is a serious business as it shouldn’t be underestimated for it’s ability to do harm if it’s met by the unsuspecting but there is so much beauty in the phenomenon. She also writes about the snow revealing a closer connection to other denizens on the mountainside (Page 30),

The animals had fared as we did: sometimes we stepped buoyantly over the surface of drifts, sometimes sank in well above the knees.

Her stories of the animals she’s come across in her adventures may be some of her best anecdotes as my dad and I both agree that the stories of the ptarmigans (Page 66) and the owl (Page 97) are two of that really stood out.

There are a few more moments that I could happily pick out but I’ll keep it at two.

She tells a tale of her first climb up to the summit of Ben MacDhui and the sensation of being inside a cloud (Page 17). I know that I would’ve fallen short of describing such a phenomenon because there’s nothing quite like it in my experience but, she captured it wonderfully.

The second is her story of when she was wading in a loch and saw something unexpected (Page 12-13). It’s a small moment but there’s a wealth of meaning that she takes from it and it’s fascinating. It’s not all beautiful, positive moments in The Living Mountain as she doesn’t shy away from the darker consequences that can befall any unlucky hiker but, even that honesty is appreciated.

There are some people who you can listen to when they tell the stories of their lives and you hope that you will be able to tell stories as interesting as theirs one day. To me, that’s what this book felt like. It was a book of amazing stories from an interesting life told by a rare kind of person.

Where is the end?

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been in that ‘hey, that’d make an interesting story’ kind of mood.

This usually means that I write a couple of pages of what could potentially be the beginning of a story and then it’s put to one side or saved as a vaguely titled document (I’m trying to be better about titling).

I know that writing nothing except from the beginning of a story is not the best way to write if you have an intent to finish anything but, honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve been this interested in more than one or two ideas at a time. It feels strangely normal to me to think of a few ideas without intending to write pages and pages about every single thing. The better ideas tend to continue on without hours of agonizing over the tiny details and the worse ideas tend to fizzle out before I get past the initial plotting stages.

The endings of my stories might not be numerous when they’re compared to all of the ideas I’ve had in the past but, starting something and then putting it to one side is how I tended to write for quite a while. It worked for me at the time.

Not finishing a story doesn’t happen because there is a lack of interest or will. Sometimes it just doesn’t flow right or the idea dries up. I’d rather not tear my hair out or spend hours looking at an empty screen when I could be more productive elsewhere. Going back and picking up where I left off was always tricky though.

It sincerely hope that everything I’ve written lately won’t end up gathering dust or never be seen again. Of course, the responsibility of doing something with the scraps of stories lies solely with me.

In my opinion, it’s pretty promising that my 200 words a day project has been successful so far. That’s seventeen days of consecutive writing and 3,400 words in total so far. If I’ve ever written every day like that before, it’s been quite a while and I think that it’s definitely a good thing.

I want to be writing but, I also like to feel positive about it and at the moment that’s working together and resulting in some promising words. I’m finding it interesting that writing one particular story has also put me in a better frame of mind for tackling some of my other projects because I know that I’m being productive.

I’m still not entirely sure where the overall story plot is going  but, I’m glad that I’m not having too much trouble in finding 200 words to write on a daily basis. It’s been pleasantly surprising so far but there’s a long way to go before the end of the year.

 

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

the phantom tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is a children’s adventure novel first published in 1961.

This was another book I received for Christmas (pretty much every book on my wish list related to the fantasy genre in one way or another) and it was never a story I knew personally as a child. I actually only saw the book referenced for the first time a few months ago in something else I was reading. If I’d heard about it before then it had never stuck in my mind. I was completely unfamiliar with the story but the reference was interesting enough that I looked up The Phantom Tollbooth online.

Since then I’ve been told that it’s actually quite a popular story – it was made into a film in 1970 – but even as I put it on my Christmas wish list I still didn’t know a lot about it. I’d only really looked enough to know that it sounded interesting but not enough to know a lot about that plot.

I was very pleased to get the 50th anniversary edition for Christmas which includes a lovely, positive extract in the front of the book from the renowned children’s author Dianne Wynne Jones which says how much she loved reading the book to her children when they were small. Another thing I was happy about was that the text of the book included the original, quirky illustrations created by Norton Juster’s friend (and flatmate at the time he was writing) Jules Feiffer.

It was a joy to read in Norton Juster’s ‘Note From The Author’ at the back of the book how he and Jules would turn it into a little game as Jules would draw things the way he wanted and Norton would suggest things that were impossible to sketch. This included the Triple Demons of Compromise—one short and fat, one tall and thin, and the third exactly like the first two who appear in chapter nineteen. Feiffer got his revenge by depicting the author as the Whether Man, clad in a toga (page 22 in my copy of the book).

So, first impressions?

I thought that The Phantom Tollbooth was delightfully absurd in a slightly confusing sort of way. Quite quirky.

As I tried to get into the rhythm of the book there was a fair bit of repetition and wordplay in the writing that wasn’t the easiest style to follow when I was so tired. However, I did get into the swing of things after a short while and I use the word delightful for a reason. I found the book rather charming and endearing overall.

Oddly enough, it reminded me a little bit of the first time I read Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy in that I had no idea where the story was going and it was vaguely absurd but, I was enjoying all of the little stops and developments along the way.

The Phantom Tollbooth is about a boy called Milo who is extremely bored and doesn’t really see the point in anything but, he receives a toy tollbooth in the post and playing along results in an adventure in the Kingdom of Wisdom.

Admittedly, as someone who studied English all of the way up to an undergraduate degree level I don’t think that it’s much of a surprise to find that I found the city of Dictionopolis, where words are everything, less confusing than the city of Digitopolis, where maths is considered to be the best thing ever. Although, I’m not sure that everyone would be as calm as Milo was in Dictionopolis if they met a giant bee that could talk and spelled – s-p-e-l-l-e-d – out every other word. At the very least, I’ve got to say that the book is wonderfully imaginative which is exactly what you want from a children’s story.

In particular, I really liked the section beginning on page 121 about Chroma the Great, conductor of colour, maestro of pigment, and director of the entire spectrum. I found the concept of colour being played by an orchestra and the creation of the sunsets and sunrises, etc. coming from instruments to be a rather beautiful and enchanting idea.

After reading the book I took a look and there is a lot out of information proposing that the book is about learning, the purpose of education, the importance of common sense and other themes and you can definitely see that in the book itself but, it doesn’t stop anyone from simply reading the book as a charming adventure story.

It certainly made me giggle more than once at the characters antics and I thought that it was lovely to read.

I personally found that a lot of the book is rather quotable, but I settled on choosing a small section at the end of page 46.

“I never knew words could be so confusing,” Milo said to Tock as he bent down to scratch the dog’s ear.

“Only when you use a lot to say a little,” answered Tock.

Milo thought that this was quite the wisest thing he’d heard all day.

New Stories/Old Stories

I hope that you all had a lovely time over the last couple of weeks – whether you had big celebrations going on or not – and if you received any lovely books in the process then that’s great.

Personally, I did receive a lovely, small collection of books and graphic novels for Christmas (I reviewed one of the graphic novels in last week’s blog post) and I’m looking forward to reading all of them.

I’d like to mention that this time of year is good for book sales and although I haven’t found any I wanted, so far, I did have someone tell me as I was browsing the other day that they felt a little guilty for paying so much less for a book. Please don’t.

As readers we all want to support authors because we know that writing can be a tough gig to succeed in but, it really is okay if you buy it at a cheaper price from a legit bookshop. They’re the ones who’ve lowered the price. You’re just the person who is having a lucky day when you find it.

I love to read (you might’ve noticed) and if I didn’t buy books in sales as well as buying them at full price there is no way that my bookshelves would be as full as they are (no, that would not be a good thing). Plus, if you know me in person, you know that I love to save my money and books are one of my only indulgences. Quality and quantity please.

As for my writing, a part of me thinks that I might be crazy but I’m attempting to write one book by writing 200 words for 365 days. That’s 200 words written every day during 2018 – approximately two paragraphs to half a page every single day.

It doesn’t seem like a lot at first but that adds up to 73,000 words at the end of the year which is a pretty decent length for a novel.

I’m positive that the challenge will be in sticking to one plotline but, if I’m particularly inspired I do tend to just keep writing so, making myself stop at 200 words per day is going to be a challenge. If I kept going past 200 words while attempting to write this novel I suspect that I wouldn’t leave myself with a whole lot of time for other projects. Still, I think it’ll be interesting to see if I can possibly rise to the occasion.

Plus, I have a habit of doing shorter bursts of intense work and I’m curious to see if a different method of writing is going to appeal to me in the long run.

As for what the book is going to be about – I honestly don’t have any idea.

For all of you ‘planners’ out there, tracking down a wild idea in the middle of nowhere with no compass or map probably doesn’t sound like the best (or the most sensible) way to write a novel but I’ve not been put off by not knowing. I own pretty good hiking boots and I’ve picked up the beginning of the trail. To be honest, even if I had a plan at these early stages I can’t imagine that the story will resemble any plan by the time the middle of summer hits us.

Right now I have 600 words, a couple of characters and a low-key excitement about writing something original.

It’ll be interesting at the very least.

As for what else I’m hoping to write this year, I’m definitely going to finish the NaNo project I started in November and I’m looking forward to crafting the last two stories of the set.

I also said a little while ago that a new friend of mine has encouraged me to take a look back at my final project from university. I’m still interested in the characters from the short excerpt, as well as other characters that I couldn’t feature because there was simply not enough words. However, I’m feeling a bit wobbly over the plot. I haven’t read over my original submission yet but, I already know that I’d want to make a couple of medium-size changes to the structure of events. I’ve reached a stage now where I’ve had some space from it (the project was submitted about a year and a half ago) and I can make those changes without clinging to the original too tightly.

Sometimes a bit of space can be a great thing, especially when you’re moving from the headspace of being a writer to being an editor.

 

On a completely personal note we had a decent snowfall the other day (a rare thing these past few years) so in the spirit of trying to get better/do more photography I grabbed my camera and took a few shots.

 

IMG_0016
This was the best (a.k.a. least blurry) photo I could capture of our cat in the snow because she was running about and playing 🙂

 

Pirates of Pangaea by Daniel Hartwell and Neill Cameron

Pirates of Pangaea

Pirates of Pangaea by Daniel Hartwell and Neill Cameron is a graphic novel first published in 2014.

This book was put on my Christmas wish list in early December after I saw it in my local bookstore. To be completely honest I was convinced to want it mostly by the front cover which combines pirates with dinosaurs and looks cool (and a little bit ridiculous). I read the book today and I agree with my initial reaction that it was cool (and a little bit ridiculous).

The story is set in 1717 (very specific) and based on the idea that there is a newly discovered landmass where dinosaurs are still alive and the ‘civilised’ people are threatened by pirates. Also, most of the drama takes place on ships which are hoisted onto the backs of some of the largest (and most easily tamed/drugged into being calm with ‘snuff’) dinosaurs which is inventive at the very least. Sophie Delacourt (the main character) pretty much has to have everything explained to her along the way because no one had thought to tell her previously that dinosaurs were real and she was going to live on an island with them because her uncle was governor there and he was pretty much her only living family member left. It’s convenient for the reader but Sophie seems to catch up with events miraculously well.

It definitely stretches the bounds of reality in many ways (Sophie claims that she’s only twelve but I think that she looks older). There are moments of blatant cliches and humour that are actually funny and the close escapes and hijinks were pretty much what I expected so, I wasn’t disappointed to see them there although they never really stopped happening at any point.

As for the other characters, I can’t say that there were any real surprises. The reluctant, kidnapped cabin boy Kelsey wasn’t happy, a pirate called Ten Guns was stealing from one captain for the benefit of another (plus, everyone seemed to genuinely believe that he only had ten guns) and both of the pirate captain’s were greedy and selfish. I was a little disappointed but not surprised to see the character Master Bosun killed close to the beginning, if only because he was the best at keeping Sophie (and the reader) in the loop about what was going on.

I did enjoy the short ‘information’ pages inserted between each section, supposedly written by the background character Dr Shaw who is only ever mentioned and not seen, about the various dinosaurs that were on Pangaea. The scribbled notes by Kelsey were pretty amusing and they were eventually joined by Sophie’s scribbles as well. I must admit though that I’m still not sure how I feel about Sophie’s insistence on naming the T-Rex “Cornflower” (the dinosaur shown in the forefront of the front cover). Quirky or just plain weird?

The art by Neill Cameron was quite expressive and colourful which I liked. Instead of picking out a line or two like I usually do in my reviews I thought I’d share a picture of a set of panels that made me chuckle.

IMG_20171227_200047

Gingerbread

It’s Christmas day on Monday and I’m sure that I’m not the only one who is hoping for a couple of books underneath the tree.

I’ve been drinking gingerbread hot chocolate, making Christmas baubles and my Christmas cards have been sent and received via the post (cards to be handed out in person are a different matter but ssssh).

So, I may not have had time to write these past couple of weeks due to work etc, but I have been considering projects that I’d like to look at next year. Thanks to some lovely enthusiasm from a friend I’m considering taking a look at my final project from uni that I’ve not touched since I handed it in for evaluation. I’m also looking forward to continuing my NaNo project and maybe I’ll write a little more poetry as well.

I’ve also been inspired by my Christmas job at a chocolate shop to consider a new character with an interesting job because I’d never considered a travelling confectioner to be a real job before but it is and it sounds like an awesome story could be spun from that starting point. So, here’s a little short story in time for Christmas introducing a character I’ve not yet written about anywhere else at this point other than here in this post.

 

Gingerbread

For some people Christmas was one of the most productive time of the year for trading.

For others it was a more inspirational time of year.

That’s why Jo was practically in the middle of nowhere rather than at home behind the counter of the shop that she’d left in the capable hands of her son and daughter.

The snow was thick beneath her feet and she trudged her way up, following the smell of spices but making her way through the thick snowfall was worth it when the door opened and Harriet greeted her with a smile and the offer of a drink.

“Jo, we’re so glad that you managed to make it.”

“I wouldn’t miss your Christmas party Harriet, you know that. Now, hand me that glass of champagne and let’s head to the kitchen. I’m hungry”

There were coloured lights and tinsel everywhere in the cabin. The brightness surrounded photographs hung on the wall as they walked down the corridor and emerged into a bright white-and-chrome kitchen that was full of familiar people who were chatting merrily.

“Jo!”

Jo stepped forward to hug Harriet’s grinning husband, “Gino, how are you?”

“Fine. What did you bring?”

Harriet took his glass of sherry off him, “You have a goose to baste. Go.”

Jo laughed as Gino rolled his eyes and squeezed past two top chefs so that he could reach the oven.

Happily enjoying the small party were no less than seven of the top head chefs in the world as well as five maître pâtissier, three confectioners, including herself, and one particularly talented bartender. The rest of the people were a mix of critics, general food lovers and good friends. Nobody was rushing to leave the kitchen but, the only people tending to the food were Gino and Harriet, the hosts of the party.

Harriet and her husband Gino were not master chefs and they’d not earned any official food-related titles. They were, instead, simply good friends who knew a lot of people due to their love of travel and good food. They also loved to spend time with their friends.

Every year their Christmas party was for the people who usually worked behind the scenes of a good time. It was a tradition started long before Jo had first been invited to join in on the festivities after meeting the outspoken couple in a market in Germany but, making the trip out to the mountains had proved to be more than worth it every year.

It wasn’t just because she’d created a new recipe every time shortly after she’d left the cabin but she did find that the cheer sparked creativity.

She never knew what the inspiration would be but her daughter had reported that plum and cinnamon spiced dark chocolate truffles had proved to be popular (much to her son’s surprise) the year before. However, she doubted that she would be drinking the mulled wine this year for inspiration after the headache it had left behind.

Robert was watching warily as Jo drifted towards the desserts that were already set up on the side table. She kept reaching out to pick at what was on offer because she’d not been joking when she told Harriet that she was hungry upon arrival.

Thea elbowed Robert in the stomach when she caught him frowning at Jo. She might’ve been the only grandmother in the room but Thea was practically baking royalty. Both feared and revered, Thea’s sharp gaze had Robert cowering more than her sharp elbow but he was stuck in the corner so he couldn’t escape.

She waited for Jo to reach them but before she could say anything Jo was grabbing Robert by his festive red tie and demanding, “What did you do to this gingerbread?”

“What?”

“I know that it’s yours – It’s the smallest portions in offer – so what did you do?”

“The last time…”

Jo let go of his tie and stepped away with a smirk, “Robert, it’s Christmas. Let it go and tell me what you did to make this gingerbread melt in my mouth or I’ll tell your grandmother what you told me when we were seven years old!”

Robert looked at his grandmother with nothing short of fear.

“Fine, but only because it’s Christmas.”

Harriet popped into the conversation with a beaming grin, “Robert and Jo are exchanging recipes, it’s a Christmas miracle.”

“A miracle that will have to wait.” Gino announced, “The goose is ready. Let’s eat.”

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