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Leah's blog

December 2013

12 JOYS OF CHRISTMAS

  1. Leah and Christmas CakeThe sale of handmade crafts sold in aid of NSPCC early in November that kicks off my Christmas shopping. Thousands have been raised over the years thanks to Barbara Thornton’s hard work and creativity plus a band of crafty helpers.
  2.  My annual attempt to create the perfect Christmas cake, half of which always ends up in the freezer for a summer treat in Crete. It’s the icing that challenges me every time but some years it’s not too bad.
  3.  The Annual candlelit Carol concert in the chapel of Giggleswick school before the end of term. I never tire of those harmonies soaring into the domed roof especially: “The Infant King”  And if I’m lucky I’ll catch a glimpse of my granddaughter.
  4. Watching the pile of shopping bags full of gifts growing apace in my study but knowing it has all got to be wrapped, remembering the year when Santa forgot to label them and chaos ensued.
  5. Lantern SmallCarolling round the village for fun by lantern light, fuelled by house stops where we’re primed with port and brandy, sausage rolls, wine, minced pies . As the hospitality flows so the carols ring out getting louder and more incoherent?

 

  1. Surprise presentSurprise deliveries from our Postie, often unexpected, like last year’s superb hamper from Fortnum and Mason. It made me recall the  James Herriot series and Mrs Pumphrey’s gifts from Trickey Woo…

 

  1. Christmas Joy - Number 7 The Book group Christmas Jacob’s Join round our fire mid December which makes me clean the house, get out the first of the decorations and start to trim up for the festive season but not quite up to Chatsworth’s grand standard...
  2. Choosing cards to suit the recipients, some religious, some secular or local scenes. I always mean to add personal letters (abhorring “ round robins”) but somehow it always ends up a scribbled note but at least it’s handwritten.
  3. Our Christmas tree is never put up before the 15th December, my daughter’s birthday. Then it is smothered in baubles collected and made over the years with a helping hand from our grandchildren and the stories of each one have to be retold to the background of  Hely- Hutchinson’s Carol Symphony.
  4. HollyAt some point, it’s on with the wellies and into the garden and hedgerows to pick holly, ivy and enough greenery to “deck the hall” No use looking for berries in our garden though, our birds scoff the lot by the end of November.
  5. Driving to Manchester airport early in the morning to pick up our son and his partner from the USA. Now our family gathering is complete.
  6. Then it’s Open House on Christmas Eve, having no idea how many villagers will turn up and if the fancy finger food will hold out, Midnight service and then a glass of fine port by the bedroom fire remembering, with love, all those who aren’t with us anymore but who made Christmas time so special for us as children.

It’s an early start on the big day to sing carols round the village tree at 9.30 am as is the local tradition here. Only then can the festivities really begin.

What are your Christmas joys? I’d love to know.

Happy New Year

Leah

 

 

 


November 2013

STIR-UP SUNDAY - CHRISTMAS PUDDING RECIPE

Our family favourite: no sugar, no suet, no flours…rich but light textured. No greasy after taste…

Christmas Pudding Recipe (Gluten Free)225g of whole sultanas

225g of sultanas minced

225g of large raisins minced

75g of whole seeded raisins

16  stoned juicy prunes minced

PLACE ALL IN A BOWL COVER AND SOAK OVERNIGHT  WITH YOUR FAVOURITE TIPPLE ( I USE DARK RUM)

Add 100g of chopped walnuts and/or almonds

225ml of fruit juice, plus rind and juice of organic unwaxed orange

225g of ground almonds or ground hazelnuts or a bit of both

2 beaten eggs

1 teaspoon of mixed spice and a little ground nutmeg

METHOD.

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, make a wish and stir.
  2. Grease 2 and1/4 pint pudding bowl and press mixture into the bowl.
  3. Cover the top with greaseproof paper and a layer of foil. Make sure it is sealed tight.
  4. Steam for one hour. ( I place it on an up turned saucer at bottom of boiling pan to lift bowl up.)
  5. This is not a keeping pud so can be frozen for 6 weeks or done close to Christmas Day and kept in fridge.
  6. To re heat, thaw  if necessary and steam for 45 minutes.

Enjoy!

 


Wednesday 16 July 2013

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Helene Wiggin to Leah Fleming

The latest brouhaha concerning J K Rowling’s revelation of her pseudonym: Robert Galbraith has set the publishing dovecote in a flutter. What’s all the fuss about an author changing her name to mark a new chapter in her writing? It’s been done many times before. Becoming Leah Fleming has been one of my best publishing decisions although I was nervous at the time.

Ration BookI was asked to use my married name by my first publishers and wrote seven books as Helene Wiggin but it never sat easily, good old English name as it is. It was never mine and who ever found W on a bookshelf; usually round the corner on the floor? Then there‘s Helene often mispronounced or romanticised. Actually it’s only a version of my mother’s name with an e on the end to distinguish our Ration Cards. That’s me dated.

Alexander Flemin

So when Harper Collins asked me to choose another pen name for their new imprint Avon, I was more than happy to oblige. Time to go back to my Scots roots: Fleming. It has a literary provenance (My father was Alexander and my uncle, Ian - but not the inventors of penicillin or James Bond) Plus it sits mid shelf and easy to spot next to Katie Fforde and Katy Flynn.

As for Leah she was a gift from one of the directors in honour of a favourite aunt. It’s a name both old fashioned and yet popular today and easy on the tongue. I love it but I was fascinated how publishers like to pass off published authors as debutantes. I found it hard to be “a virgin” knowing I had seven kids in tow. But at last I have screen to hide behind, a professional existence as well as my private identity.

So long live Leah Fleming. After all it’s not just the name that matters in the end. Surely it’s the quality of writing and stories that must shine through?

Leah Fleming

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June 2013

BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE GIRL UNDER THE OLIVE TREE (PART 2)

Here’s a big thank you to some of the friends in Crete who helped me find material, guided me with useful information, pointed me in the direction of good books and sites sharing their own knowledge with me so freely.

Reg and daphneTo Reg and Daphne Fairfoot who related anecdotes about the Battle of Crete gleaned from war veterans who attend the annual memorial service in the Commonwealth War Graves in Souda Bay. Chania. (Introducing us to the magnificent fish restaurant at Souda)

 

 

 

Nikos and AlexTo Nikos Stavroulakis Director of Etz Hayyim Synagogue Chania and his assistant Alex. Phoundulakis who welcomed us into their community and shared its history (We’ve enjoyed some memorable suppers under the stars with them at Ela, Chania.)

 

 

To Susana Kokotsaki  for her translation into English and her  family for their wonderful Cretan evenings at Cretan Corner Taverna, Aptera and her sister in law, Olympia for allowing me to use her prize winning poem.

Susana and OlympiaSusana and Olympia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trisha and Mike

To Trisha and Mike Scott of Kaina, for all their encouragement, (who introduced us to the panoramic views of The Eagle’s Nest Taverna. Samonas)

 

 

 

BrendaTo Brenda Thompson for her friendship and hospitality remembering those girly lunches at Portes taverna,  Chania.

 

 

 

And not least, Manolis, Sofia and Marialena Tsompanakis whose “little suppers” are legendary and Christoula from The Aptera Taverna who always gives a cheery welcome.

Manolis and SofiaChristoula

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manolis and Sofia

As you can see many of my researches were done to the accompaniment of plates of  meze and village wine contemplating the next scene as I gaze over the Bay.

Leah

Miss Part 1 of this blog.... click here

 


Tuesday 7 May 2013

KEEP CALM AND EAT CAKE

Village InstituteIt’s that time of year when the village hall opens its doors each Sunday afternoon until the end of September to host afternoon tea. This great institution began here twenty years ago and despite rain, hail and thunder has become a weekly ritual amongst locals and visitors alike.

 

 

Village Institute CakesWe can rustle up our own batch of bakers and servers for a few of those weeks but then other charities and local societies to fill in the gaps with their own staff to boost their funds, hire the hall and give a crumb of comfort to the Institute committee coffers.

 

 

Institute Village TeasCake in the community provides a meeting point for older natives to return to their roots, a welcome stop off for walkers in need of a tea and a pee station and those of us working in the garden to down tools and put back the calories we’ve just spent.

 

 

Village churchIf the weather is kind we can take tables out onto the village green to admire the dramatic scenery or huddle inside on wet days and console ourselves with chocolate cream sponge, lemon meringue pie, clarty fruit cake, freshly baked scones with jam and cream, wonderful!

 

 

CupcakesAnother attraction inside are the wool tapestries depicting the history of the village from Doomday or the old photos of past times. If you‘re lucky someone will be tinkling the ivories for the Palm Court effect. You never know who you’ll meet there, from famous soap stars to folk singers and always there’s a chance to catch up with a bit of “calleting” (gossiping).

Whatever your favourite nibble, someone will have baked it so come and join us if you can or start up something yourself. There’s talk of a winter rival in another village where they plan Concerts and Cake in the autumn, a chance to hear young musicians for free and then partake in a slice of goodness: Time to get baking then?

Leah


Saturday 18 January 2013

BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE GIRL UNDER THE OLIVE TREE ( part 1)

HERE’S SOME OF THE TRUE FACTS ABOUT THE LOCATIONS IN THE STORY.

Suda BayThe best way to arrive in NW Crete is at sunrise on the overnight ferry. Before the battle began ship loads of weary British soldiers retreating from the mainland ,arrived in Suda Bay.

 

 

 

Crete CavesDuring the battle for Crete. Nurse Johanna Stavridi hid her wounded patients in these caves until they were overrun. Galatas beach was a hospital camp caught up in the firing line. It looks peaceful now.

 

 

Chania HarbourChania Harbour was bombed into ruins. Here is where you can sit with your ouzo and meze and watch the world go by in peace.

 

 

 

Commonwealth War Cemetry CretteThe Commonwealth War Cemetery plays an important part in the story. Here I am at the grave of one of the heroes of the war: John Pendlebury, curator of the British School of Archaeology based at the Villa Ariadne, Knossos.

 

 

 

 

Etz Hayyim SynagogueIn the little synagogue of Etz Hayyim you will find the memorial to the lost Jewish community

 

 

 

War Museum CreteHidden among the hills near Kares is the strange War Museum full of the detritus of war. It hold s a collection of rusting guns, helmets many shaped into sculptures.

 

 

Olive Groves Crete

Everywhere are the beautiful olive groves and the White Mountains home of the Cretan resistance and British evaders.

 

 

 

Cretan HospitalityThen and now there’s always wonderful hospitality and an abundance of fruit and flowers to be enjoyed

 

 

 

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Tuesday 8 January 2013

IN PRAISE OF NOTE BOOKS and other obsessions...

New Year’s a good time of year for making changes. Many years ago in a bookshop in Ohio, a book fell out of the shelf onto me. Never one to miss such happenstance I picked it up with interest. It changed my writing life.

The Artist's WayJulia Cameron’s  “The Artist’s Way”  is the first of her series of writing workshops full of exercises and challenges but the one that changed my writing life was her use of  a daily morning journal to use as you please in a free and easy sort of way.

It is not a new idea. Think of all the famous authors who have kept journals. Most of us have been using diaries and note pads and journals for ages too but there is a discipline akin to meditation in these morning pages that really works. Dreams can be recorded, moans and grumps, confessions, ideas for stories, a to do list for the day. There are no rules as to how you work it, just the promise to do about 3 pages every day and not to re read or edit them for months if ever.

Somehow it gets rid of the fluff bunnies in your mind, takes them out of the way before you focus on the creative task in hand. Artists, musicians, actors, whatever creative talent is yours can benefit from such a discipline.

I have other notebooks for researching facts, outlines and ideas and I always date these just in case…It was the proof of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca notebooks, dated and written in Cairo that convinced a jury that she had not plagiarised some other author’s work.

Making lists of wishes and dreams for the future is another private journal to own. Invest in something special to write up your poems, thoughts and ideas. If all else fails when you’re feeling jaded and a bit stuck writing your pages will help stir up the juices again.

Of course, don’t forget the humble pocket diary and purse note pad. You never know what gems you’ll overhear on the bus, train or in the doctor’s waiting room. If you don’t write them down there and then, they flit away forgotten. Here’s one I heard at my writer’s group when: Angela said,

“Finishing a novel is like squeezing the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube!” I’m just about opening the cap on my new novel...Good luck with your writing in 2013

Happy New Year!

Leah

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