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OATCAKES TO DIE FOR!

As a Derbyshire lass, my favourite Saturday treat was an oatcake with bacon and eggs for breakfast. Sometimes, lunch and even tea.  It’s a cross between a pancake and a crumpet and you wouldn’t think that something so humble could cause rivalry across boundary lines. That’s because they make them in Staffordshire too, a bit different, but I’m not going to get into debate here about which are best. Remember though, I’m Derbyshire born and bred.

My Mum made them by mixing ground oatmeal with yeast and water, setting it aside to activate, I think is the term. She added flour, salt and sugar to the batter before pouring some of the mixture into a frying pan to make neat round circles – except hers came out looking like Iceland a lot of the time. 

They are nutritious and so versatile you can fry or grill them and have them with any filling of your choice.  These days my husband makes them for me with gluten free flour, equally as delicious but I’ve always thought there was something missing.

A well -known maker of oatcakes are the folks out at Owlgreave Farm in Comb, a tiny village in the heart of the High Peak. (near Chapel en le Frith and Castleton).  They’ve been producing oatcakes using a recipe with a secret ingredient since 1949. So that’s it. I knew there was something special about the ones we used to buy in Bakewell. 

  In my new novel, Edna’s Death Café, eighty year old Edna runs a café called The Happy Oatcake. Her speciality is the oatcakes from her mother’s recipe. I wanted readers to discover this delicious product for themselves. She so happens to run meetings where locals can talk about the things in  life that make them happy, (oatcakes) and how they feel about their eventual demise. Set against the stunning backdrop of Castleton in a hard winter, the novel explores community, simple pleasures, good food and how to approach the end of life. They chat over tea and, of course, oatcakes. 

I spent a couple of weeks in Castleton in May 2017, staying at the quaint and utterly delightful Oatcake Cottage whilst polishing the book for publication. It was the time of the Garland Ceremony and this is plays a significant part in the novel.  Here’s a link for those of you interested in English history.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castleton_Garland_Day

It was wonderful revisiting old haunts – Hope, Hathersage where I used to swim in the outdoor Lido, Surprise View where I climbed onto the granite boulders with my grandad and ice-creams by the river in Bakewell. I may have travelled round the world since I left Derbyshire in 1974, but my heart belongs in the Peak District which is why I wanted to bring this new book and a little bit of me to my loyal readers and hopefully some new ones this year.

Edna’s Death Café is available from September 5th 2018 from all on-line retailers. The paperback is planned for early next year. 

https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/ednas-death-cafe/

Why not get yourself a copy. Put on the kettle and where ever you are in the world, pop an oatcake under the grill and load with your favourite filling. Enjoy.

http://www.derbyshireoatcakes.co.uk/

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Talking About Death, Celebrating Life

YODO! No, it’s not a new greeting. It’s shorthand for You Only Die Once, so why not make it a good death? There has never been a better time to get talking about those “face behind a cushion” topics we’d all rather pretend weren’t going to happen. At least, not to us.

The international Death Cafe movement has been encouraging us to share what’s on our mind about death, dying and bereavement since 2011 when Jon Underwood set up the first Death Cafe meeting in Hackney, washed down with tea and sweetened with a bit of cake. Over 6000 meetings in 56 countries have been held to date but you won’t find negativity on the menu.

It’s a safe space run with no agenda, no aim to convert to a belief or sign up to a philosophy of life (or death). No one is under pressure to do or say anything. No long lectures or guest speakers pontificating, no funeral services representatives trying to sell you a plan. Just you, others like you and the facilitator wanting to share what’s on their mind. To find out about a meeting in your area or to see what’s involved should you want to set one up, visit www.deathcafe.org Follow them on Twitter @DeathCafe

Let’s get back to YODO. Being near Birmingham, I shall be attending A Matter of Life and Death Festival (May 10th – 26th), an arts of cultural programme of events with death as a core theme. BrumYODO is a local collective set up with the aim of helping the people of Birmingham have more open and honest conversations about death and dying. The collective describes themselves as “a growing group of artists, undertakers, food artists, hospices, palliative care professionals and generally all-round interesting folk. http://brumyodo.org.uk/matter-life-death/

So why am I so passionate about the need to talk about all things mortal?

As someone who has suffered from death anxiety (thanatophobia) ever since my Grandad died when I was ten (fifty years ago), I discovered that I wasn’t alone. Part of any fear is driven by not owning it. Bringing it out into the open is one way of disempowering that fear and empowering ourselves. In doing so, we add more value and quality into our daily lives by making every moment count.

            I’ve attended a number of Death Cafe meetings which have provided the inspiration for my latest novel, EDNA’S DEATH CAFE, set in the Derbyshire Peak District, my childhood stomping ground. Fiction can often reach parts that other communication channels cannot. We can be alone with a book, argue with the characters, ponder on their words and reflect on their lives, hopefully to find resonance with ours.

            I’ll be writing more about the book, about bereavement and my work as a newly trained funeral celebrant. I’ll leave you with my favourite bit of philosophy. Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside is while we live. Norman Cousins.

Edna’s Death Cafe will be published by Matador in September 2018. Keep up to date with the news on Twitter. Follow @Angelena Boden @matadorbooks

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Time for a Reality Check

Every year, before my birthday, I do a reality check. Being a mid-winter baby, I am prone to melancholy and need to ground myself for the coming year. It’s a salutary exercise as it means stripping away fantasies and unrealistic expectations. It’s akin to severely pruning your favourite rose bush in the hope of a more abundant crop of blooms.

Facing the truth about yourself and your circumstances doesn’t come easy to everyone. There’s a need to be conscious about what is happening in your life which doesn’t involve media influence or the rampant competition to be more special than the next. It’s hard enough maintaining being you without the exhausting mirror- gazing to seek out the next flaw that you feel needs fixing.

With so much so called fake news around, it’s difficult to know what to believe about the world, but so much easier to know what to believe about yourself since you are your best and only authority.

I am not part of that bold generation who like the laser beam to be shining on me all the time. In truth, it makes me feel slightly uneasy. However, I’m going to share with you my ten point reality check which will guide my sixty second year beginning with the least talked about. I’m not self-pitying or looking for sympathy, in case you think I am. These are the facts.

  • I am a year older than I claim. I mean, my birthday marks the end of my 62nd year on Planet Earth and the beginning of my 63rd. Same for all of us.
  • There are many things I can no longer do comfortably. One of my birthday gifts is a walking pole. Call it Nordic, Martian, what you will, but the reality is that I need support when climbing the mountain sides in my beloved Peak District.
  • My weakened eyesight and poor spatial awareness means I am a danger on the road. I can no longer fantasise about driving again. My optician doesn’t recommend it.
  • I miss going out to work. Writing at home is a lonely business. I am lonely. That’s the truth.
  • No longer as confident as I once was, I rely more on other people for validation. This year I won’t look for it from social media. Only from people whose opinions I trust.
  • For those of you who’ve ever  listened to Garrison Keillor on the radio and the tales of Lake Wobegon, “where the children are above average”, - that’s me.  I wanted to be able to hold clever conversations, be an eloquent writer, an artist… all sorts of things but the truth is… I sit at 6.5/10. Even my fitness level hovers around that.
  • I’m a decent person. I try to help people where I can and don’t expect anything back.
  • I’ve learned to accept what I can’t change and I’ve let go of controlling outcomes but I overthink. I am my harshest critic.
  • I try to listen more than I talk and I don’t offer opinions unless I am asked for them.  These days I think more about “Other” than Me. I also think about death. A lot.

My list is much longer than this, but I appreciate stuff like this can become monotonous. Reality checks are important if we are to find a level of acceptance about our limitations at any given time. This way we can clear the decks of the pressures we put on ourselves and move along our individual path, one step at a time.

It’s Blue Monday. My birthday is tomorrow. January 16th. According to the astrologers, there’s a mega planetary line up on that day. A stellium of six planets. It’s supposed to bring positive changes. That’s good. It might lift the melancholy that sits on my shoulders every winter, like a damp tea-towel.

Happy birthday to all Capricorns reading this. Keep climbing that mountain but settle where it feels the most comfortable.

Angelena  

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A setting for your novel

So many books I read are set in major cities, especially London, so when I decided to set The Cruelty of Lambs in Birmingham (UK), some people were really surprised.  ‘Birmingham? What on earth for? There’s nothing there!’ Or worse, ‘Nobody’s going to want to read a book set in Birmingham.’

  In my thinking aloud this week, I’ve decided to talk a little bit about choosing a setting for your novel, although I could have a rant about how Birmingham is as good as anywhere for a book and the fact that the city has got over a hundred green spaces including 2,400 acres of parkland in Sutton Park on the north side of the city. The Future Can’t Wait, my new novel coming out this September, features this treasure of a woodland complete with ponies and deer.

  Right now I am writing this from the village of Olden in Nordfjord, with snow -capped mountains in the background, a mixed hillside of conifers and birch trees and multi-coloured wooden houses nestled into the clearings, a sliver of a road connecting them to the village. Already this is giving me some ideas of a possible short story. Check out my new 1 min video Where to Set your Novel which shows the scenery I’m describing.

  Choosing an unfamiliar backdrop can be fun as it means you can travel to do some research. I tend to visit a place to write in the atmosphere which you can’t get from secondary resources. It’s the sounds, the smells and the chatter of the locals that provide the depth to a story although many people have successful written about places they’ve never visited, the danger being you can make major errors that are picked up by people with local knowledge.

   Try being a tourist in your home town and see it through the eyes of a stranger. Look above the shop fronts at the architectural gems or study a cluster a trees at the end of your road and see what makes them a bit special.  Focus on anything that you might take for granted but that a visitor to your story might find fascinating. A medieval building tucked behind a factory of block of  60s flats might go unnoticed by people passing on the bus to work but you can throw a light onto these hidden gems and write a whole story around them. Consider the different periods of time and the changes in everyday life and work. What are the connections between then and now?  One of the best ways to do this is by taking a walk with a local guide or talking to the staff at the tourist information centre.

  I’ve lived overseas, including Iran which I prefer to call Persia and could write several novels set in different time periods which would now doubt fascinate and appal some people. For my third novel, I chose to return to my Peak District roots which still requires going ‘home’ to get a renewed feel of the place and check up on what’s changed over the passage of time.

  My holiday reading has included The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanne Cannon, a fellow Derbyshire writer. She could have set her story anywhere but the mere mention of some places I know gave me a cosy feeling. I felt we could have gone to school together in the sweltering summer of 1976 which is one of the key time period for her debut. What I really liked was that all the characters live in the same street.

I guess my message is this. Don’t think you have to make a setting exotic or dangerous or that you should write like a travelogue. Leave that to the tourism marketers. Write a good story even if it’s about life at the end of your road.

   

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