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July 2015

Writing tips from a bestselling author
23rd July 2015 - 12 Midnight Jane Green

Jane Green published her first novel, Straight Talking, in 1997 and she's been a regular in the bestseller lists ever since, with Jemima J her most widely recognised novel.

Her new book is Summer Secrets, is a gripping tale of recovery and redemption. For journalist Cat Coombs, the drama of discovering the father leads to a spiral into alcoholism that destroys the new friendships she has made in London. Years later, now a mother herself, she travels to Nantucket to meet her father's other daughters. But they turn out to have complicated pasts of their own.

Here Jane shares her top five writing tips, to help all budding authors with dreams of topping the bestseller lists themselves.



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Sweet dreams are made of...
17th July 2015 - 12 Midnight Kate Doran

Star baker Kate Doran has been recreating childhood favourites with a twist on The Little Loaf blog since 2011. You can now learn to create homemade treats such as  Jaffa cakes, marshmallows and 100 more nostalgic treats with her new book, Homemade Memories. Here she shares one of her favourites, Cinnamon Breadcrumb Ice Cream.



Brown bread ice cream is one of the first ice cream recipes I learned to make as a child. Here, caramelised nuggets of breadcrumb snuggle down in brown sugar and cinnamon custard to make a comforting autumnal treat. First crunchy and praline-like, this ice cream develops a softer texture in the freezer not a million miles from cookies and cream.


Makes 6–8 generous scoops


For the breadcrumbs

  • 100g slightly stale brown bread, homemade
  • 90g light muscovado sugar
  • Generous pinch salt


For the ice cream

  • 350ml double cream
  • 300ml milk
  • 75g light muscovado sugar
  • 4 small cinnamon sticks
  • Pinch salt
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 45g caster sugar
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon


Cinnamon breadcrumb ice creamStart by making the breadcrumbs. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas mark 4 and line a baking tray with baking parchment.


In a small bowl, rub together the bread, sugar and salt to create coarse breadcrumbs, then scatter in an even layer over the tray. Bake for 12–15 minutes until golden and caramelised, then remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely.


In a medium saucepan, gently warm the cream, milk, muscovado sugar, cinnamon sticks and salt for about 3 minutes or until the sugar crystals have completely dissolved. Take care not to bring the mixture to the boil. Remove from the heat, cover and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.


In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, caster sugar and ground cinnamon until pale and slightly thickened.


Remove the cinnamon sticks from the milk then gently reheat to just below a simmer. Pour the warmed liquid over the egg yolks, whisking constantly until combined.


Pour the contents of the bowl back into the saucepan and return to a low heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a heat-proof spatula, for about 8 minutes until smooth, glossy and slightly thicker. Do not allow to boil. When the custard is ready, it should coat the back of the spatula.


Remove the saucepan from the heat and strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Leave to cool completely at room temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin forming then cover, transfer to the fridge and chill for at least 5 hours or until really cold.


Once chilled, churn the ice cream in a machine according to your manufacturer’s instructions or freeze by hand following the instructions on page 149. When frozen but still soft, crumble in the breadcrumbs, fold to combine then transfer to a container and freeze until firm. The ice cream will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.


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Living on the edge
14th July 2015 - 12 Midnight Malachy Tallack


The 60th parallel marks a borderland between the northern and southern worlds. Wrapping itself around the lower reaches of Finland, Sweden and Norway, it crosses the tip of Greenland and the southern coast of Alaska, and slices the great expanses of Russia and Canada in half.

60 Degrees North is Malachy Tallack's absorbing account of his travels along a route that took him through some of the world's remotest frozen wildernesses and isolated communities. Here he explains why he felt drawn to exploring this region of the planet, as well as sharing his five favourite travel books.



60 Degrees NorthGrowing up in Shetland, at the very top of the British Isles, there’s really only one way your thoughts will take you. South is where cities are; south is where warmth can be found; and south, unsurprisingly, is where many of the islands’ young people end up.


Writing this book, I took a very different direction: west, along the sixtieth parallel. From the wave-scarred shores of Shetland I went first to Greenland, where ice encroaches from both land and sea. It feels like another world entirely, but is closer to home, as the gull flies, than Lisbon or Athens.


In Canada, I took a 24-hour bus ride north to Fort Smith, a little town hundreds of miles from the sea and yet an island nonetheless, marooned in an ocean of trees. In another forest, in Alaska, I was caught in the clutches of fear, hunted by a bear I may only have imagined.


It was not all wilderness on this journey though. My circumnavigation took in the strange, wonderful city of St Petersburg, as well as Uppsala in Sweden and Oslo in Norway. And it was there in the Nordic countries that I completed my travels, before making my way back across the North Sea towards home.


There was much that divided these locations, much that was different and unfamiliar about each of them. But they shared, nevertheless, something important. These are places where landscape and climate still shape the ways that people can live; and they are places, therefore, where landscape and climate still shape the ways that people think. Those who live in these northern regions have a strong sense of what connects them to their home, and of why – often against the odds – they choose to stay there.


A journey across a hostile landscape of ice, freezing oceans and dazzling skyscapes, home to millions of diverse animals and people

An investigation into loss, losing and being lost, combining memoir, history and philosophy

Chatwin travels the invisible pathways that criss-cross Australia, ancient tracks connecting communities

A journey on foot through coastal East Anglia encapsulating the transience of all things human

Guided by Wilfred Thesiger, Maxwell encounters the isolated Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq



Setting a scene
7th July 2015 - 12 Midnight Tasha Kavanagh


Tasha Kavanagh, who wrote ten books for children under her maiden name, Tasha Pym, has just published her debut novel for adults, Things We Have in Common, a tale of loneliness and teenage obsession that should appeal to fans of Sophie Hannah and Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl.


Here Tasha explains how her previous work in film editing turned out to be extremely useful in learning in how to build a scene on the page and why being an author gives her far more creative control than she'd experienced before.



Twelve MonkeysBefore I wrote my first novel, Things We Have in Common, I wrote picture books for young children (under my maiden name Tasha Pym) and worked as a freelance editor on feature films with credits including Twelve Monkeys, Seven Years in Tibet and The Talented Mr Ripley.


I have frequently been asked how working in these mediums led me to write a novel. In truth, they didn’t - I’d always wanted to write a novel. But there is no doubt that the experience gained in both has greatly influenced the way I approach writing and the writing itself. It’s difficult, of course, to know exactly how, in the same way it’s difficult to know how books you’ve read or films you’ve seen influence you. Certainly, though, film editing gave me a feel for the process. It is slow, disciplined work that requires patience and focus. I was editing in the days of celluloid, so the practice of putting a scene together was tactile – a physical experience: make a new cut, watch the scene again; put two of the six frames you just cut back in and cut two off the front of the following shot; watch again; repeat until you love what you have. This is much like writing.


Another meticulous editorial job I spent many hours at is lip-synching. When shots are too wide to incorporate microphones, for example, the actors come to the post-production unit to record the dialogue whilst watching themselves onscreen (known as ADR: Automatic Dialogue Replacement). The re-spoken words never exactly fit the lips so must be made to do so by an editor who also chooses the words from different recording takes. I always felt a strange intimacy with a character performing this painstaking task, which I felt again when writing Yasmin in Things We Have in Common. Giving Yasmin the right words to think and speak – words that ‘fit’ her character and mood - was not unlike the process of choosing and fitting Matt Damon’s ADR in The Talented Mr Ripley. Doing both, I felt a similar connection to the character.


I’m told I write visually – that it’s easy to ‘see’ each scene. That must come from both my film and picture book experience. I certainly see in my mind’s eye what I’m writing, what it looks like, even what kind of shot I’m watching my character through if I’m not looking out through the character’s eyes.


In terms of story, writing and editing picture books has been hugely instructive. I always think of picture books as more like animations than other kinds of written stories. They are all about the momentum, the forward action, the page turn. The page turns are intrinsic to the experience of reading a picture book, so working in this medium has honed my instinct for pace, as well as (since so much story in a picture book must exist within just a few hundred words) a sense of economy in choosing what to show. Likewise from working in editing, I have developed a feel for when to effectively and economically enter and exit scenes. A variety of pace and tension is crucial to all storytelling, and from my work on films and picture books I’m sure I fostered this sixth sense, perhaps moreso than if I had only watched and read stories. Words in novels do an equivalent job to the illustration-word combination in a picture book, or to wide-shots, pans or edits in a film. A film made up entirely of wide-shots or entirely of close-ups (unless a deliberate artistic decision) would leave viewers feeling respectively too distanced from and overwhelmed by the action to care. The same goes for shots of similar lengths or illustrations of similar colour, design or size. Like music, stories need space and time to breathe between the more exciting crescendos and accelerandos. Picture books change tempo from spread to spread too, a series of spot illustrations and short sentences, for example, can encourage fast page turns leading to an expansive and wordless double page spread on which the reader will instinctively want to linger.


Things We Have In CommonWhen I began editing I was amazed by how, with cuts alone, entirely different meanings could be given to a scene. Staying with a shot of a character that is listening to another character speak rather than cutting away, for example, lends a significance to that character that otherwise might not exist. The cuts alone, then, add a layer of meaning to a scene beyond the dialogue, acting, music etc. I’m not sure how this translates into writing, but that idea of multi-layered meaning is definitely something I try to tune into when I work.


One aspect of picture books that I find really fascinating is the way the illustrations and the words join hands to deliver the story, rather than simply re-iterating each other. I think the experience of writing picture books (I would imagine the illustrations in my head and add illustration notes as I went) subconsciously informed the writing of my unreliable narrator in Things We Have in Common. What Yasmin tells the reader isn’t the whole story, it’s only her view of it, but the reader can sense the greater and rather different story surrounding her. If you’ve ever read the classic picture book Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins, you’ll know what I’m saying!


Working on films and picture books has influenced my storytelling in more ways than I’m probably aware of. I love words – how they can conjure meaning on so many levels. I love how, when writing, everything belongs to me - how I get to be the illustrator/cameraman, the soundtrack, the actors, and everything else besides. This responsibility often feels overwhelming, but at the same time compelling and thrilling. Not to mention, since all the equipment you need is inside your mind, no more than the cost of a notebook and a pen!


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1st July 2015 - 12 Midnight Sunny Singh

The experience of reading a book in the country where it was set was a surprisingly immersive experience for writer Sunny Singh. So when she published her own novel, Hotel Arcadia, this year, she encouraged her readers to send her pictures of the book in the place where they had read it, with gratifying consequences.



Egypt’s summer of 2013 was scorching in more ways than one. As the sun beat down relentlessly, the military regime began its brutal crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood.  State repression was accompanied by street clashes and sporadic mob violence.  Political instability had long emptied the country of tourists.  Perhaps it was not the best time to be travelling the length of the Nile, yet there I was…listening, watching, trying to make sense of the beginning of one of the most brutal regimes the country has known.



In my bag, I carried a book that I had bought the year before: Paul Sussman’s The Labyrinth of Osiris.  I had pre-ordered it and jokingly threatened that he’d have to sign my copy when it arrived, relishing his embarrassment. Paul had gracefully but firmly refused to sign my copies of all his other books too, although I never discovered whether this was out of misplaced embarrassment or pure collegiality. Then just before the publication date, he suddenly passed away.  I was so shocked that when the book arrived not too long afterwards, I could not bear to open it.  For over a year, it sat on my shelf, reproaching and enticing me all at the same time. 


I thought I would read it in Egypt. After all that was the country of Paul’s imagination, and fiction. Yet from Alexandria, to Cairo, then further south, the book remained unopened, at the bottom of my bag.  Then, one morning while I was in the desert, the army began to crack down on the protesters of Rabaa Square, a brutal massacre that probably left over a thousand dead, and many more injured, imprisoned and worse.


#wherebooksgoWhen I returned that Friday to Luxor, the city was eerily quiet. After Friday prayers, some people had raged through the souk, ransacking and burning shops. A few doors down from my guesthouse, someone had tried to torch – unsuccessfully – another hotel and from my rooftop terrace, I could smell the faint traces of char and smoke.  A curfew had been declared, which meant I was stuck – in my hotel. 


The hotel’s Salafi owners were deeply apologetic for the inconvenience although I could see they were more that slightly relieved that there weren’t many guests to worry about.  It wasn’t all bad though: the kitchen staff whipped up eclectic meals from leftovers and whatever they found, and there was plenty of shisha to be smoked.  As the sun sank beyond the Nile, into the Valley of Kings, the Luxor temple turned ghostly.  Few of its lights would be turned on, and none of the locals who habitually visited it in the cooler hours ventured out into the streets. 


During the curfew, on that rooftop, with sounds of occasional gunshots from somewhere beyond the souk, I smoked endless shishas, and finally read Paul’s book.  It was appropriate, I think, given that his novel seems a eulogy for much that he loved.  I could look out over the rooftops and imagine Khalifa, the protagonist and a son of Luxor, weave his way home from another terrible day of crime-solving.  I watched the ruins of Luxor temple change colours from dawn to dusk, and then turn darkly spectral in the night, and had to occasionally pinch myself to differentiate the book from reality.


I wished then that I could email Paul. I wished I could send him a photograph of his book with the temple as its backdrop.  That I could have told him how I had alarmed the diligent waiter with my tears as I read the final pages.  I am sure Paul would have understood because books are not only about the stories they contain or even their writers.


As a reader, I have long believed that it isn’t only what we read that forms us, but also where and when we read. Sometimes the greatest of words leave little impact, while at others, the simplest prose cuts through to our soul.  As a writer, I am always curious to know where readers take my work to read, to think about, and hopefully to love.


With Hotel Arcadia, I decided to find out.  I am asking readers to send in photographs of the novel wherever they choose to read it.  They can send in the photographs by email, or post them to my Facebook page, or on Twitter or Instagram, with the hashtag #wherebooksgo.   I use the hashtag too, to post photographs of books I am reading.   It is both a way to recommend books I love and to thank the writers for the magic they create with their words.


On my website, there is a growing archive of #wherebooksgo photographs, from near and far. Some of the photographs are from places on my travel bucket list and remind me of how many breath-taking places I have still to discover.  But more than that, the photographs are little reminders that reading is a step into a magical experience that can transform - temporarily or permanently - how we see and live in the world. 


For me as a writer, the #wherebooksgo photographs are a glimpse of that magic that my readers experience. And that is both an extraordinary privilege and an immense joy.



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Latest Blog
Writing tips from a bestselling author

Bestelling author Jane Green, whose latest novel Summer Secrets, has just been published, shares her top five writing tips for would-be authors.

Sweet dreams are made of...

Star baker Kate Doran has been recreating childhood favourites with a twist on The Little Loaf blog since 2011. You can now learn to create homemade treats such as homemade Jaffa cakes, marshmallows and 100 more nostalgic treats with her new book, Homemade Memories. Here she shares one of her favourites, Cinnamon Breadcrumb Ice Cream.

Living on the edge

Malachy Tallack, author of 60 Degrees North, explains what drew him to travel through the world's remotest frozen wildernesses and isolated communities, as well as sharing his five favourite travel books.

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