Belly Dance? What on earth should I wear?

Think of it like going to a fancy dress party, on a weekly basis, permission to dress up outlandishly in bright swishing colours and fabrics with rings, anklets, bracelets, and bells, and jingly coins – such fun, and that’s before the dancing. Oh, and if you think that this is normal for me, I need to explain that my usual wardrobe consists of, black (black and black) burgundy, cream and a little summer turquoise, jewellery: one wedding ring, one watch.

I know some dance groups are more focussed on a ‘look’ than ours, but the eclectic look we have suits us well All sorts of colours and a lots of ‘bling’ and everything from purpose made kit to the opportunistic find at a charity shop or a bric-a-brac stall at the village fair. And it’s ‘Oooo that’s lovely, where did you find it? Or. ‘You been hitting ebay again?’ Or ‘How did you make that?’ when new items turn up in our friends attire.just a few of my coin belts

For me, note – not for everyone, but for me the real essential is a coin belt, and for me, again, the jingle-jangly the better. I have amassed a fair number over the years, and my lovely daughter-in-law brought me a stunning range of new coin belts as a gift the last time they came over. Look for a belt that has plenty of overlapping coins on mesh-fabric or tassels that can move easily. Without the coin belt I am never sure of my shimmy, with it I know exactly how it is going!
two sarongs and a coin belt
These I usually wear over swishing long skirts or similar, with other layers of gauzy, sparkly or shiny materials tied around the hips. An interesting way to get a good look is to tie two sarongs (we all have those around don’t we?) one over the other in opposite directions, knotted on the hip (emphasising the hips is good!). Thus, movement on one sarong flashes the colour of the other and gives plenty of room for leg movement. Over this tie a gauzy layer, or just top with a coin-belt in contrasting colour.

Handkerchief style skirts, double layers with lots of points and in pretty fabrics can work well over black leggings, again topped with a contrasting belt.

My favourite, a two-tier silk skirt bought in a French street market, with contrasting coin belt, often with gauzy layer over too.silk skirt

I tend to wear simple black tee-shirts with ¾ sleeves and add bracelets and anklets for any further decoration. Others have finds of sparkly shrugs, tops, and tee-shirts, ear-rings, necklaces and hair-clips.

So, there you have my guide to what to you can wear… easy to put together stuff or specialist. If you are attending your first belly dance evening your teacher will probably have coin belts or even swishy scarves you can borrow, or other members of the group – their bags stuffed with their extras – may offer to lend you the basics for the evening. Beware, collecting interesting belly dance clothes and bits and pieces can get addictive!

Are you a belly dancer – what are your essentials?

FLY GOOGLE – an aid to authors?

In the Summer I was nearing the end of the first draft of my most recent book when one of my main characters had to deliver something to a prison facility in Louisiana. I had already researched the sort of place I wanted him to be going to and found one listed that seemed to fit. I could have winged it, making up the scenery he drove through, but if I was even to mention the name of the State I knew I had to get it right. Not yet being a writer who can just hop on a plane to go and visit the place for my research (and put it down as expenses) I flew Google!

I took in the aerial view, dropping lower and lower, noting the town to the north east of the prison, the expanse of empty fields around it. Google landed me on the stretch of road that led up to the prison gateway, I went as far as I could, peered left and right along the boundary fence, then turned around and drove back down Prison Road and on towards the town. I sped through the town until it petered out, then turned back and slowly, glancing left and right, drove back through, noting the types of houses, the few large red-brick buildings, the empty stretch of road before the Prison Road turning. I took in this road, its features to either side and its length. Finally I lifted off again, looking down on the whole scene. I had what I needed. I think the information from my Google street-view and satellite journey that I used will feel authentic enough, they describe the right type of countryside, the right type of town.

“After two hours drive I hit the small community that bore the same name as the jail, drove past the red-brick elementary school and library, through the streets lined with white painted clapboard homes and out the other side to the junction where Prison road joined the highway through town. I turned in, the fields stretched out bare and flat on either side between stumpy hedges that led off left and right in long straight lines, the ploughed soil red, the grass sparse. About a mile along the road was a dark clump of fir trees but after that nothing to give shelter or a hiding place for miles, only the gate to the prison way up ahead of me, blocking the road like a toll-booth, and as I neared, the miles of fencing which could be seen stretching away on either side.”

I already feel someone beginning to object, saying that there’s nothing like ‘being there’ to get the things right. I agree, if you need in-depth understanding and a verifiable atmosphere, but I think that for this background-filling work flying Google is a useful aid for the modern author, with back-up research needed if there are any queries in what you see.

On the other hand, I clearly remember reading a book in the 1980s by an American author who liked to set her stories in Britain, and who, the info claimed ‘spent a lot of time in Britain researching her novels’. She had set one on the edge of Dartmoor, an area I know well, in a key role it involved a Chalk quarry and a muffin shop. The muffins in question were cranberry, chocolate and carrot and orange, not the sort of muffin you would have found in the UK back then, and I can only assume she had seen the white china-clay pits on the edge of Dartmoor and thought they must be chalk but not completed her research. So ‘being there’ isn’t always foolproof either.

What do you think? Anyone else been flying to plot destinations by Google?

 

Belly Dancing – for fitness, friendship and fun – not to entertain men

Ok, so I love belly dancing! It always leaves me feeling so good. Your whole body gets a really good workout without you even realising, as you are just having fun.

Let’s put a few myths to bed, 1, Belly dance was not created to entertain men, nor is it lascivious or meant to be sexually alluring. It probably originated in the women’s tents, the women entertaining each other, dancing to express themselves in times of joy and in times of sorrow. There are traditional dances for the harvest safely gathered in, for the loved one leaving, or coming home, for any major happening in the community or life. There are those that believe that the dance actually originated as a fertility dance, the movements representing stages of giving birth. Whichever it was certainly a folk dance and as such, when it left the tents, it was a dance shared with the community, where men also danced and it wasn’t called ‘Belly Dance’ then, it was probably just ‘dancing’ known as Raqs Baladi (folk dance) it was probably thought of as about erotic as Barn Dancing or Morris Dancing in the UK (incidentally also believed to have started as a fertility dance). The ‘sexy belly dance’ (and its costume) it seems, we can blame, first on the romantic Victorians and then on Hollywood

2, Belly Dancing is not just shaking it all about. Belly dance is about control, about isolation. Isolation is where you focus on moving one part of the body but keeping the rest still, to circle hips and keep your whole top half still is no mean feat, but try circling your top half and keeping your hips still – so still that the coins on your coin belt don’t even shiver, that’s hard! To shimmy your hips and keep shoulders still, to circle one hip and keep the other leg still, the arms and upper body still… it all takes practice…but it is fun and strengthens core muscles in a weight bearing low impact exercise – so is good for you too.

So, every Thursday in term time you’ll find me, and a lovely group of women, all ages from teens to sixties being guided through our paces by the beautiful and graceful Jules in Gunnislake, where we take over the primary school hall for the evening, dressed in our finery with barely a belly on view (what to wear is a whole other blog) and having fun getting fit and flexible. I took a snap-shot of Jules for this blog .. but as I didn’t have the camera set to ‘sport’ it came out blurred… so I may add one later.

Obviously I am just a participant and an amateur at belly dancing, though I calculate that I have been learning it for ten years or so, what aspects would people like to know more about? Speak now or I shall just blog on in my own sweet way.

autumn-spiders-and-a-16th-century-house

Spiders (arachnophobes look away now)

It is November and the spiders making their annual autumn invasion of the house. Now you have to understand that our house is a spider’s heaven, having been built in stages from the 1500s onward to the late 1600s it has lots of beams, to make webs between and the ceiling, hundreds of nooks and crannies, nice places to sneak away into to hide, and a housekeeper (me) who, 1, quite likes spiders and doesn’t want to harm them and 2, likes important things to be clean (kitchen, bathroom) but is not overly anxious about a few cobwebs here and there – especially there.

Now when I say I like spiders I have to qualify that with I like some spiders more than others. I am not fond of the very dark short-legged varieties and on the infrequent occasions when they do arrive I arrange their safe and harmless transition to the great outdoors (clear plastic cup and sheet of paper work best for me)

My favourite house spider is the Tegenaria gigantea . (It maybe that the ones in my house are actually Tegenaria saeva which is very similar and found more often here in the SW of England) These are the large beasties with equally large legs and beautifully chevron marked abdomens. If it sat in a dessert-spoon its legs would reach or overlap the edges. It is often spotted as it makes a mad dash across the room, pauses, then runs on! The females are quite long lived and can live a number of years as adults and, as is usual in the spider-world are larger than the males. They make quite small webs (so not too much of a nuisance) We used to have one that lived behind a large larder cupboard, where the cupboard didn’t quite fit tight against the wall (not one of the walls in our house is straight). She would come out in the evenings, sitting boldly at the edge of her small web. The boys used to drop flies they’d swatted into this web during the day for her to find later. After about two years she just disappeared. tegenaria from my workshop
This one is fairly small and lives in the workshop, high up above the racks that hold the tools etc, for size reference the base of the jar she is sitting in is a good 3″ or 7cm across.

The next and the most prevalent spider in this house is a thin cylindrical bodied, long thin legged variety that I call the cobweb trembler. It makes annoying strandy cobwebs all over the place and hangs in this mess waiting, so while I tolerate these I am not keen on them.  If you disturb the cobwebs it trembles violently shaking back and forth over as much as ten centimetres, so that it is hard to catch (if I were a bird or something) If you touch the spider itself it drops, suddenly, to the ground…. and scurries off inefficiently on its spindly legs. These belong to the Pholcidae and are probably phalangioides but I am not sure. They manage to raise armies of young and so each year, twice a year, I brace myself and armed with the vacuum cleaner, try to remove as many as I can from the building.

I often wonder if they survive the vacuum treatment, I hope they do and immediately go and empty the cleaner out on the compost heap (it doesn’t have a bag so the dust and stuff doesn’t get compacted at all) – in the hope that if they have survived the suction and having landed in the body of the cleaner they have curled up and waited until release.

Along with many others I find beauty in the cobweb made by the orb spider and many orb spiders are beautiful in themselves with interesting colours (saw a bright lime green one this past Summer) and patterns. When these decide to make a web across an open window it is with great regret that I destroy the web just to close the window (making sure the spider is safely outside before closing) I really don’t like the thought of hurting them.. maybe growing up with the  ‘If you wish to live and thrive, let the spider run alive’ rhyme?

Spiders aren’t the only creepy crawlies that I have a soft spot for. Many, many years ago when at teacher training college I did my biology thesis on Lepisma saccharina (the small primitive insect known as the silverfish) A harmless creature (except if they get into old libraries in numbers – they eat the sizing and glues on books) I had always seen them around but could find very little out about them. After eighteen months keeping them, studying their life cycle, behaviour patterns, preferences for diet, humidity, light, temperature conditions and nearly four hundred pages later, which included sheet after sheet of hand-drawn and coloured graphs (pre-computers!), I think I knew more about them that most entomologists back then, but not now . I was particularly curious as to what the ones that live in the bathroom ate, (as the only information available at the time suggested they ate carbohydrates and sugars – not often found in bathrooms) and discovered that among other things, they eat up all the shed scales of skin we leave behind as we dress and undress. In fact, if they did not get certain levels of protein from this or moulds then they lost their shine. I was awarded a high grade for my research and hence, in this house, these creatures are always rescued from the bath.

Enough of creepy crawlies for now….. I think these have to go under Other passions. Anyone else like spiders and other creepy crawlies?

Inspiration and Some Kind of Synchrony

So I find have omitted to say that the third of my completed novels is now available online from annmade.co.uk and Amazon. Some Kind of Synchrony offers double value for money in a way, as within the novel the main character, Faith, tells another complete story to her friend as they travel everyday from their un-named town suburb up the motorway to the centre of a midlands city  to go to work and back. The story is told to while away the time but this story is a bit special and is integral in the events that follow.

I have dedicated this book to ‘my friends who inspire me’. One of those was a friend who, in passing, told me about a long journey she undertook with another friend and to while away the time they took it in turns to add to a crazy story in a Mills and Boon vein….I can’t even remember the details now, but the idea of telling stories on a car journey did stick in my mind. This, combined with some unusual co-incidences between characters that I had pinned my first (never to be published apprentice piece) novel on and what happened to the real life counterparts or how they went on to achieve in real life, somehow collided and became the germ of an idea for this book.

The story of ‘Some Kind of Synchrony’ borrows nothing from either of these true life scenarios but the ignition of the idea can be traced back to these inspirations, and the rest developed within my subconscious over a number of years, patiently waiting for me to write it all out.

You can read the first three chapters of Some Kind of Synchrony FREE at

http://www.annmade.co.uk/shop/books/novels/some_kind_of_synchrony__pdf_.ann

where it will appear as a PDF file if you click on the orange line that says ‘click here to read the first 3 chapters’

 

Some Kind of Synchrony is available in three eformats, for your kindle, for your Nook or Sony ereader and as aPDF.

What’s in a Name? Naming characters….

I was recently browsing a forum that asked how authors gave their characters names. There were a few great ideas there; choosing names from an atlas, from the census for the historical time your book is set in, ditto gravestones, even asking friends to nominate names.

I had used the atlas approach once, only to be asked by someone I knew whether I had manipulated their name to make a character’s name. I could see where he was coming from, but it hadn’t crossed my mind, it’s the one thing I would never do – use the name of someone I actually knew.

However, as an author you have to name your characters and it’s something that I have taken a mixture of great care and random luck over. My main characters, the lead characters and often other pivotal characters, I think long and hard over their names. Often I have a theme linking them, nothing too overt (I hope) but there may be literary or historical meaning attached to the names, or they may be suggestive of a type when you hear them. In my first, never to be published apprentice piece, my characters names had links to characters from Greek myths. In the book I am currently writing the names are basically biblical, though not all.

I kept a couple of babies’ name books from when we were selecting names for our own children. Thank goodness as an author I don’t have to compromise and agree with someone else. The process of choosing each of our own children’s names went something like this. We’d each choose 10 names we liked. Then compare lists. None would match, not one. Then we’d have to each make a second list of 10 names having none of our original ones on the second list. We would compare lists again. By this time we usually matched on two or three. These combined, we would then individually rank for favourites, and take the one with the highest score. Then do it all again for their second name. FOUR times, and each time for a girl or a boy!! That was time consuming I can tell you!

Anyway, it did result in me having this collection of ‘a name for your baby’ type books that I dip into on occasion – especially when I want the name to have a meaning behind it – to check the origin of the name. Similarly I have a dictionary of surnames which I occasionally use, however my most common way of finding names for my other characters, the odd people that pop up to interact with my main protagonists in their everyday life, well these are the random ones, often chosen from glancing along the books that line the places where I write and picking one first name from one author and the surname from another, avoiding names that are too recognisable as a stand alone name – like Dahl or Binchy. So I might take the first name of a female character of a certain age from Philippa Gregory and the second name from Richard North Patterson (could have easily been the other one James Patterson) and end up with a character called Philippa Patterson – and somehow instantly I feel I know what she’d look like and how she’d speak and behave. So it is a matter of matching name and character.

The male counterpart of this bookish pairing, of course, would be Richard Gregory, another good name for a character – or Gregory Richards… its quite fun too, as for me, each name combination calls up a slightly different face, age, colouring and behaviour.

So that, random or not, I am quite choosy about the actual name I end up with.

 

ps  Sorry the email alert doesn’t seem to be working at the moment…

Making Jam and writing this blog at the same time!

I am making Jam! Right now… while the bowl of fruit and sugar bubbles safely in the microwave I am using the eight minutes, until it is ready for a stir and to reset microwave time and power to simmer, to start this blog.

Jam making is one of my ‘other passions’, it takes hold of me when I find beautiful free or cheap fruit and I have a bit of time. I have my regular jams to make, the blackcurrant which is the staple jam on our table is made from fruit harvested from our garden and frozen, so this is often made as required, five jars at a time (this being the maximum quantity I can make in the microwave in the largest Pyrex bowl I have). I cannot resist making apricot jam when in France in the summer and boxes are being sold cheap in the markets and supermarkets, we eat apricots, make desserts out of apricots and then make jam from the rest – enough to take back to use at home for the rest of the year, each spoonful crammed full of the flavour of summer.

Right now, hang on… ok stirred and set to simmer for another 8mins…right now, I am making Bullace jam. This year the small semi-wild trees in our orchard hedge that bear these slightly smaller, slightly sharper, damson like fruit have been heavy with their glossy bloomed and black fruit, so I mused that I might try making some jam with them, perhaps just one batch of 5 jars as I haven’t made jam with these before and as I adapt my WI preserves book recipes (WI recipes are the best!) to make them suitable for the microwave as I go, I usually do a smaller sample first, however, M immediately went out and picked a box full – about 7lbs (yes I still work in imperial when cooking) which was enough for 15 jars!

So, problem… not enough sugar, in fact not enough even for the first batch (I was only musing remember) and it is Saturday afternoon. So, I hear you think, just go and buy some. Well, I always buy my sugar from my village post office and stores and that is closed on a Saturday afternoon – it’s part of my effort to support this shop in the hope that it will stay viable, so I don’t want to buy it elsewhere and elsewhere would also mean a drive into the nearest town, when I would prefer not to take a car journey for just one thing, part of an effort for the environment.

So the fruit goes into the cold room until Sunday morning, when I can pick up the sugar at the shop and take it into church with me (opposite the shop) and bring back after the service.

Ok…I’ve just put a small spoonful on a plate in the fridge to see if its ready to set and poured boiling water into recycled jam jars and put them in the microwave to boil away happily for a few minutes.

Already… the jars are done, I’ve put the jam back in the microwave to bring it to the boil again, the test shows a decent set…bullace are high in pectin and so I was on to a winner there.

 

Continued 2 days later…. it didn’t take 2 days to make… just 2 days to get back to my blog!

Fifteen jars of gorgeous looking jam now stand on the shelf in the cold room, alongside this year’s apricot. Yum!

 

My Microwave Recipe: makes about 5lb of jam.

2 ¼ lbs damsons or bullace – washed, stalks removed

3 tablespoons of water   (this is the main ingredient difference in using a microwave)

3lb sugar.

Butter – walnut sized piece (it really makes a difference to the finished product)

1, Place bullace and water in large* Pyrex or similarly heat proof microwave safe bowl, covered, 10 mins high power to soften fruit. (*large enough to hold at least twice the amount of fruit you are putting in it)

2, Stir and squash fruit to help release the stones, further 6 – 8 mins until stones come free of the flesh.

3, Using a slotted  spoon lift out as many of the stones as possible and drop into large-hole colander to squash off as much of fruit and skin as possible to return to the fruit pulp – discard the stones ( a few stones remaining in the pulp do not matter and adds to the home made feel of the jam)

4, Re-heat for about 3 mins to bring back up to simmer.

5, Add sugar and stir in well, add butter and make sure it melts.

6, Lid off, bring up to the boil again in MW – about 8 – 10 mins.

7, Stir well and put back into MW to simmer for 8 mins

8, Stir well, and put back into MW to simmer for 8 mins and check for set (place a teaspoon of jam mix on a cold plate – pop back in fridge – will show a set if the jam skin forms wrinkles and feels thick when finger is pushed though it when cool)

9, Into well washed jars pour about 1 cm (half an inch) of boiling water, place in microwave on full power for 3 – 4 mins until the water boils in the jars. Take care and tip them out well and stand to evaporate the last bit of water while you re-heat the jam mix

10, If a set is demonstrated by your test – return jam mix to microwave and heat until bubble appear then remove from microwave and ladle into hot jars. (if no set then simmer for another 3 mins and retest, continue until a set is demonstrated)

11, Cover with clear jam-covers as per instructions with the packet, and label.

12, Enjoy!

 

The Second Novel is now available on Annmade.co.uk!

Divining the Line was actually written before Nothing Ever Happens Here but is the second novel up on annmade.co.uk. It really doesn’t sit happily in the romance genre but I can’t find a genre that describes ‘divining’ without sounding too weird altogether – ‘paranormal’ and ‘supernatural’ have overtones (or is that undertones) of superheroes or vampires (or both) However, the aspect of Divining is quite strong in this novel, as Perran is a water diviner by trade. Sounds odd? Not when you can look up ‘Water Diviner’ in the yellow pages and find them… usually associated with borehole drilling water services. One of the most famous, certainly in the West Country, was Don the Diviner. His business was* based (if you can believe it) in Chacewater. [* still is though Don himself has passed away] They boasted that if they didn’t find significant water supply for you then you didn’t have to pay for the drilling. Watching him and his wife (who I was later told by another water diviner was actually a better diviner that Don) was so interesting, and yes, like Perran in the book, they offered to show us how it was done and it worked for us too and continues to work for us, the best amongst us being our eldest son who had a real flair for it.

In the book, however, it is not water that Perran sets out to find… there is a new and different power line that he has to follow….

Read the first three chapters free in PDF form here  http://www.annmade.co.uk/shop/books/novels.ann

Here’s the blurb…

Divining the Line

The first time it happened it felt like stumbling across another avenue to an ancient monument, but this one pulled at more than just his head, there was a tightness in his chest, the lights twinkled and flashed inside his mind, the intensity giving Perran a firework of a headache.

Following the line – years later in the early nineties – leads him into Liz Hawkey’s ordered life, and together they discover the source of the line.

A story of family, love and loss, Divining the Line brings the ordinary and the extraordinary together into everyday life.

 

(84,000 words in 20 chapters)

 

 

The first Novel now available on AnnMade.co.uk

Now you must understand that this isn’t my first novel, the first will probably never be distributed, but this is the first to be available to the public in many e forms, as Mobi for the Kindle users, in EPUB for the SONY readers and NOOK and as a PDF for anyone else – I guess.

The novel is called Nothing Ever Happens Here and would, (if it was forced to – see my blog about genres) be in the crime and possibly the romance sections. The blurb reads:

Living in London suddenly becomes too uncomfortable for the attractive Jo Smart and her sixteen year-old son, Alex, after he is beaten up, so when they are offered the chance to take an immediate holiday in a peaceful Cornish town they jump at it. But not all is as peaceful as it seems as they become involved in a murder enquiry, drug raid and abduction.

DI Rick Whittington has also escaped from London and the reminders of the death of his wife and child, and through his investigations finds himself meeting Jo and being drawn into the events surrounding her.

This is a love story set in the early 1990s which combines the historic Cornish love of the sea and smuggling with hard faced twentieth century crime and detection.

So take a look – you can read the first three chapters free as a pop-up PDF * HERE *

BTT sand sculptures – getting started

As I said in the last Blog – making sand-sculptures for my own children to play in was how it started. I guess most people make a boat in sand for their youngsters to play in but in my case it didn’t stop there – all sorts of vehicles were made and then the animals started, hippos, stegosauruses (the boys were very much into their dinosaurs at the time). It wasn’t long before the older boys started creating their own sand-sculptures, so we would hit the beach and soon a wide variety of sculptures would be created. A child as young as four can create an impressive starfish with a little guidance from an adult. Three year-olds can even collect shells and ‘make’ and decorate a simple tortoise.

There are a few simple steps for a basic sand sculpture like a starfish with a youngster – they can help at all stages, and, depending on age, may just need to be shown the first little bit of each stage and allowed to continue on their own..

1, Draw the outline on the sand then go round it again deeper.

2, D2ig from the outside into this line throwing the sand onto the shape within the outline, more where it will need to be higher, less where it needs to be lower.

3, When they have dug all round the shape assess whether there is enough sand to make the raised form… if not dig all round again.

 

4, Shape the sand in the outline. Knead it with your fingers to break down lumps, shuffle it with your hands into the rough form

5, When in the rough form pat the sand evenly, smearing loose sand up into dips and patting it smooth again.

6, Draw any lines required with the knife, making two lines near each other for each line you want. (not needed on this one)

7, Trim tidily all round the sculpture leaving a crisp edge between it andthe surrounding sand.

8, Using a brush sweep away loose sand and finger marks from the surface of the sculpture.

 

 

9, Draw loose sand back with the flat of the blade of the spade, to form a frame for their sculpture.

10, Don’t forget to pat a smooth place within the frame and get them to sign it – with their initials and the date – it is their sculpture!

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