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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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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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Gratitude

LIVE EVERY DAY AS IF IT IS YOUR LAST

            When gratitude has to have a hashtag and the Twitterati behave as if it’s an amazing new invention, I have to wonder what philosophy of life people are buying into. There’s a difference between wanting something from life and seeking something rewarding out of it. The former links to the material successes and comforts, the latter a sense of a life well lived.

            Gratitude lists have become the new affirmations or the latest ‘must-have’, ‘must-do’:- something else to mark off as completed on life’s ever-growing checklist of achievement. Surely there’s something wrong with this thinking.

            The Stoics suggested we should never underestimate or overlook the small things in life and paying attention to the micro details benefits our wellbeing; morning dew on a rose, tea warming in a beautiful pot, colouring with a child.

 I’ve talked to many people suffering from mental ill health who assured me that by reconnecting with the simplest of things and performing day to day actions with care and attention helped their recovery.

Gratitude for being in the world, for the experiences we’ve had so far, without putting a value or judgement on them – good or bad – reminds us that the world will keep spinning when we’ve gone, like the billions before and after us. Those fields we tramped with the dog in the pouring rain, moaning about sodden socks and miserable fellow walkers, will still be there. Maybe it’s time to enjoy sodden socks and wet dogs before the chance trickles down the drain to join the stream of all past lives.

If we release control and treat each day as it comes as a gift, accepting that all experience is beneficial even if it’s not what we want – in fact, it’s those negative experiences that help us grow -  we free ourselves from a craving for more that can never be satisfied.

I’m sometimes criticised for being a pessimist when in fact I’m a realist.  Planning for the worst possible scenario is good business practice as I found during my career. Today this translates into accepting whatever comes my way and knowing that it doesn’t really matter either way. Accept the worst and move on. If you lose your job, you’ll be in good company and if your relationship breaks down – ditto.

There’s an old saying, What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. That’s not universally true. Many people are broken by tragedy and bad luck but the strength comes from accepting that this is how things are until death, the great leveller, brings release from the suffering. It amazes me how many people behave as if they are going to go on forever -  as if death doesn’t have their card marked. 

I am drawn to the philosophy of Seneca.  We get caught up in the inessentials, the stuff that doesn’t matter and in so doing, spend no time in exploring our minds and hearts, ( instead of watching Love Island J )  He said,

‘It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile, they take no account of time that will never more return.’

The future is uncertain and always has been. That’s the nature of it so living in the now is the way to keep a sense of perspective.

Letting go of all expectations is not the mark of a loser or a failure. On the contrary, when we reach this point of releasing the ego and merging into the true self, we gain awareness of what we want from life. It maybe acceptance that you did your best, that you find joy in day to day things or if you’re like me, you found a calm spot under an oak tree from where you could watch the birds, simply being.

For a short read on Seneca, this book is worthwhile.

https://amzn.to/2vytquZ

My new novel, Edna’s Death Café is out with Matador on September 8th 2018

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

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Cheating Death

Would you pay $200,000 to have your dead body preserved in liquid nitrogen and hung upside down in a sleeping bag, until medicine advances far enough to cure the disease that killed you? Cryonics might promise you immortality or at least offer to add years onto your life at some point in the future. No guarantees, mind.

A growing number of people are buying into this hope of a physical resurrection. But why? How will these ex-dead fit into a world that has moved on or maybe has experienced a nuclear war? I would never want to live back in my home town again, not because I don’t love it but because we no longer fit together, so why on earth would I want to come back to life. Done that, the T shirts are in the charity shop.

With the world’s population expected to break the 8 billion barrier by 2030, this will put even more pressure on the planet to provide resources for a world already struggling to feed its people.  I have to question what lies behind this greed. After all, it’s pure luck that any of us have been given the gift of life in the first place.

Never one to believe in unnecessary end-of-life intervention at the expense of the quality of life,, I think it’s the responsibility of the death industry to talk more about what it means to let go of life as we know it and embrace the end with equanimity and gratitude.

Religion used to give us permission to leave this world anticipating some sort of life eternal providing we behaved according to divine law. Now we look to holding back the tide with cosmetic surgery, dietary fads which promise to add years to your life and super technology to promise a new physical life in maybe a hundred years’ time.  It’s nonsense. It’s a denial of death which to my mind is triggered by fear- of nothingness, non-existence, the grave, of being forgotten, for not having made the most of the opportunities, doing what we came here to do ( if we can ever work that out), for making mistakes, hurting people but most of all of not being able to turn back the clock or hold back the tide. As time marches on we feel powerless and out of control.  A sense of doom pervades our later years when we could be feeling joyous. We made it that far.

We plead with the doctors, mumble through a half-remembered prayer from childhood to quell the panic. It becomes all about us, me, unaware that over 100 billion human beings have trod this path before us and have returned to specks of stardust.  They’re just fine.

We fight the inevitable and in our anguish and exhaustion we fail to soak up the intensity of that moment – the lilac tree blossom outside our window, a fluttering red admiral butterfly, the squeeze of a loved one’s hand.

In his deeply moving book, Waiting For The Last Bus,  Richard Holloway reminds us that instead of there being sorrow for what death will take from us, we can choose to let it reveal the beauty of the world. https://amzn.to/2JFwA55

Those promoting Mindfulness are onto something.

We groan under the towering boulders of regret, knowing that one day we will be a distant memory handed down in the sketchy narrative to our descendants who might wonder for a moment or two about our life before returning greedily back to theirs.

Dylan Thomas said, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night….. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’

I don’t agree with this. There’s no point in fighting the inevitable. Death was always part of the plan.  A calm and gracious acceptance is what I hope for my final goodbye. I am mentally prepared and that gives meaning to everything I say and do.

If just one person remembers me for doing my best and will forgive me for straying from that, on the grounds that I’m human, then what more could I want?

Being able to die in peace, is knowing when enough is enough. That peace comes from being able to forgive yourself.

My new novel  Edna’s Death Café, Talking about death, celebrating life. Out Sept 2018   

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

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A Chat with Anne Coates - author of the popular Hannah Weybridge crime novels

I’m not a book blogger as such, but when an interesting author with an exciting new approach to their genre comes along, I’d like to help get their titles out there because you, voracious readers, might miss something.

If you haven't heard of  Hannah Weybridge,  you’re in for a treat. She is the lead in Anne Coates’ pacey thrillers. Single mother, investigative journalist with a dogged determination to get to the truth whatever the risks, Hannah Weybridge takes the star role in Anne’s three novels, details of which can be found below.

I’m going to focus on Anne’s latest book, ‘Songs of Innocence’ as I think this is her best and most socially sensitive book to date. Why do I say that? These are not your average murder scenes or crimes. They involve several young women from ethnic communities in South London but the police don’t seem to be taking the crimes seriously enough.

The book is set in the nineties and I can't help thinking that we are facing similar themes of  racism and protests against immigration while Asian and African women are still battling against cultural mores and equal rights within their own communities, such as forced marriage, domestic abuse and trafficking as well as battling on going discrimination in the UK. The author does an excellent job of giving us a realistic insight into these issues which, let’s face it, we would rather pretend didn’t exist.

It’s gritty, it’s real, and if you’re looking for something that carries you along, Songs of Innocence’ is a must read.

As always I am keen to know the story behind a popular author so I asked Anne a few searching questions. Anne, author of seven non-fiction books and short story writer who has been published in magazines such as Bella and Caris,   really knows what she is talking about.

Hannah Weybridge has developed into a strong, identifiable character. What gave you the idea for her and in particular her role as a journalist as opposed to an investigating police officer? 
Hannah Weybridge first appears in ‘Dancers in the Wind’, a novel which was inspired by my own journalism. I had interviewed a prostitute and a police officer at King’s Cross for a national newspaper. It was to link to a documentary that was just about to be aired. My article was spiked as it was too harrowing… Sometime later I started thinking “what if” and fictionalised the interview to set off the events for the novel. Hannah Weybridge was born… there was never any thought of her being a police officer.

 

As someone who does not know London outside of the areas visited by tourists, why did you choose Peckham for the setting on Songs of Innocence? I must add that you present a strong sense of place with minimal description. 
Peckham is only one location in the book. Dulwich also features plus the action takes place throughout the borough of Southwark, plus other areas. Peckham Park pond is where the first body is discovered – the park is where William Blake had his vision of angels in an oak tree, hence the link to the title of the book. South-east London is Hannah’s home patch – and mine.


I ask this question as someone whose life has been enriched by diversity since 1979, yet has found it challenging writing about mixed communities from the outside, have you had similar experiences when writing Songs of Innocence and what advice would you give to other writers when tackling similar themes? 
The area where I have lived for many years is a melting pot of cultures and residents come from all walks of life. I love it. When I first moved into my house, my neighbours on one side were Indian and Caribbean on the other, plus a Turkish family a few doors down. There was also an elderly lady who had been born in her house before WW2 and a middle-aged man still living with his father in the flat he’d also been born in. My work as an editor introduced me to books written by Asian women plus I have visited India. However I would stress that Songs of Innocence is written from Hannah’s perspective as an investigating journalist. Advice to other writers would be to go to primary sources and always at least three – the magic number we were given when fact checking as a journalist. 


What appeals to you about crime writing? Would you consider other genres for future books?
Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven series have a lot to answer for! I find crime really satisfying to write – I love the clues characters whisper to me as we get to know each other. Previously I have written short stories for women’s magazines and many of these centred on a “crime” although others were more about family relationships. Another project I’m working on is a stand-alone, first person narrative but I’m not sure where it’s heading at the moment… Although I have translated an erotic novel written in French, I wouldn’t dream of writing in that genre nor would I attempt science fiction and I don’t think I’m romantic enough to write a love story.


You have told me that most of your life has been in publishing related industries so you must have seen many changes. How do you see publishing in the future and what do new authors need to understand before they embark on what is certainly a tough career?

I’d love to have a crystal ball to predict the future path of publishing! The changes that the digital age has made are phenomenal and now everyone can be a publisher, which is exciting and (sometimes) disastrous. For anyone considering writing books I’d say write because you love writing. It’s not a “career” as such – no entry qualifications or clear “continuing professional development” – it’s a way of life and you will probably need another career to support yourself financially.

How do you think social media helps sell books (or not)? 

Well, I certainly buy books that I’ve discovered via social media and if I am “friends” with an author, I’m likely to buy and read their books. However it’s a double-edged sword for an author as you mustn’t be seen to be trying to sell your books. Nevertheless, I have seen one author recently do nothing but self-promote and it seems to have worked judging by her “bestseller” listings.


What's your view of the current wave of fiction writing in the first person/present tense? 
First person narratives have been around forever. One of my all time favourites is The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne which was first published in the 18th century and is so funny. Books written in the first person lend an intimacy to the reading process which is very powerful. The book I’ve just read in the first person is Rowan Colman’s The Summer of Impossible Things and it’s practically perfect. I love first person narratives when they are well executed but it’s a skill not everyone has.

Will we see more of Hannah? 
I am currently writing the fourth book in the Hannah Weybridge series so that’s a resounding yes!

You can buy 'Songs of Innocence from amazon.co.uk https://amzn.to/2LoTAa8

Death's Silent Judgement                                             https://amzn.to/2L4qIrw

Dancers in the Wind                                                      https://amzn.to/2Ldjotb

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