#AtoZchallenge 2016 results – reflection post

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]

I’ve only been blogging since August 2015 so this is my first attempt at the #AtoZchallenge. I was interested to see how blogging everyday except Sunday’s has impacted my blog. Here are some of the April stats and March in brackets to compare.

New Followers = 60 (in March 15)

April views = 1458 ( in March 336)

April visitors = 479 (in March 151)

Visitors from = 38 countries (in March 14 countries)

Likes = 748 (in March 184)

Post most viewed = A Amber’s method: Top 5 writing tips 70 views (in March Book Review of Girl in the Ice, Plus Visions of Zarua giveaway and sites that review = 17 views each)

Posts published = April 32 (in March 21)

My most viewed and liked posts were writing related – Amber’s Method, Proof reading checklist, Beta readers and Hampton Court and Warwick Castle.

(Here’s the link to my A-Z challenge page. There are links to each letter if you missed any.)

My view on the AtoZchallenge

Pros – It’s a real confidence boost receiving such nice comments and likes. I made new blogging friends and got to share my favourite photos, recipes and my flash fiction story.

Cons – No time to write. It was hard to keep track of all the blogs I wanted to. My family were driven crazy by the daily obsession.

Final word – I joined in the challenge to show myself I could blog everyday. I also wanted to get more involved in the blogging community and find like minded people to follow.

Would I recommend the A-Z Challenge?  – Yes, it’s a great way to discover new blogs and bloggers and build your own platform. However, be warned that you won’t get much else done during April. Be prepared for that so you won’t spend the whole month feeling guilty.

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Thanks to everyone who followed my April Challenge, I hope you continue to enjoy my posts in the future.

I am taking a rest from blogging as my WIP needs finishing if I hope to publish it this year. I’ll still be posting book reviews, photos and the occasional guest posts. I hope you can join me.

#AtoZchallenge Z – Zucchini Cake – #glutenfree #dairyfree

On the last day of the AtoZ challenge, I am really pleased to share my recipe for Zucchini cake. It’s my favourite cake of all time, and it’s almost healthy!

Think about the vitamins and minerals from those fresh ingredients, and it’s gluten/dairy free as well.

Cake Ingredients

I’ve tweaked this recipe over the years and think I’ve finally found the perfect mix of ingredients. Recently both my kids have used this cake for homework assignments. Here is my daughter’s instructions on how to cook it.

Ingredients

3 eggs

400g of self-raising gluten free flour

100g of ground almonds

1tsp of salt

1tsp of ginger powder

150g of raisins

250g of brown sugar

150g of rapeseed oil

50g of caster sugar

Zest of a large orange

500g of grated carrot and courgette

3cm piece of ginger grated

 Instructions

  1. First you need to get a bowl and scales. Put the bowl on the scales and measure 400g of self-raising flour.
  2. Secondly add the rest of the dry ingredients which are ground almonds, salt, ginger powder and raisins.
  3. Now get another bowl and put in the wet ingredients which are the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Next tip a quarter of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients bowl and stir. Then repeat until there is no more dry mixture left.
  5. Now line and grease 2 cake moulds and share the mixture between both.
  6. Next put in the oven at 170 degrees fan oven and cook for an hour.
  7. Lastly leave it to cool then enjoy.

(Do I have the new Delia on my hands?)

 

The kids love this cake and ask for it every birthday. They also love to help with the making; cracking eggs, grating, weighing ingredients, mixing, and eating it still warm from the oven.

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It’s a wonderful cake for any time of year, especially in the summer when there are plenty of Zucchinis / courgettes to spare. It works for breakfast, lunch or tea, and is surprisingly good with custard. (I’m actually making this cake to take to a family BBQ tomorrow. Because it’s not too sweet, it goes perfectly as a dessert with alcohol!)

The cake freezes well, and fresh it last for a few days, but it does become drier the longer you keep it. No chance of that in this house.

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Thanks for joining me on  my A-Z Challenge. It’s been fun, but I need a rest. Now to switch off the internet, flick on the kettle and resume editing my WIP.

Cake anyone?

Find links to all my other atoz posts here.

#AtoZChallenge Y – Yummy bird seed toast

I wasn’t looking forward to finding a subject for Y in the A-Z challenge, so I went for something fun. This yummy bird seed toast is fun to do with the kids, a good way to feed the birds as well as using up old bread. Also, I hope Bill Oddie will approve of this better use of bread which has no nutritional value to birds.

Instructions

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Toast old bread. Poke a hole through it, not too close to the edge, and thread with string.

Spread it with lard or fat.

Sprinkle on seeds and press down.

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Put in the fridge. This helps the fat set and the seeds will stick better.

Hang outside in a secluded spot and watch the birds queue up to enjoy.

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In my case, we had other visitors, but we don’t mind.

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Neither does Poppy.

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Since making this bird seed toast, I noticed a neighbour had made a similar feeder using a pine cone smeared with fat and seeds. This method really would make Bill Oddie happy I’m sure.

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And finally, tomorrow a very special treat for Z…

For links to all my other A-Z blog posts, please click here.

#AtoZChallenge X – Xtremely Healthy Lunch

One of the perks of working from home is homemade, warm and healthy lunches. I still want it to be fast and easy to prepare, I can’t stand to waste my precious writing hours cooking.

A stir fry is quick and easy, and can use up whatever’s in the fridge. The small amount of oil needed must surely be countered by the lovely fresh vegetables. I prefer to use olive oil or rapeseed oil

I like a combo of coloured peppers, courgettes, onions or leek, mushrooms, tomato puree and whatever else needs using. You could even use cabbage or broccoli. I also like to add some tinned and or fresh tomatoes and fresh herbs towards the end of cooking. You just chop it all up and chuck it in the frying pan. Easy.

Top with a few cubes of crumbled feta cheese (available low fat), a couple of handfuls of tortilla chips (available gluten free) and it’s a healthy delight.

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You could finish the meal with a slice of Gluten free Carrot cake or the Ultimate Flapjack.

Of course you may want to keep it healthy and have an Orange Vitamin Shake or a hot cup of Elderberry syrup instead.

But I recommend waiting until Z… That’s a real winner.

Now you’re all set for an afternoon of writing, editing or proofreading (check posts on E & P if you need a helping hand). Good luck.

Do you have any Xtremely healthy lunch ideas?

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Tomorrow a little something for the birds….

Check out the rest of my a to z posts here.

#AtoZChallenge W – Warwick Castle and re-enactments

Warwick Castle is a wonderful place for a writer to wander, soaking up the atmosphere and reliving history through the re-enactments. I’ve captured many images of Warwick Castle over the years and its been hard to narrow down my selection of photos to a few. I decided to share a few of the castle itself, but to mainly focus on the re-enactments which are lots of fun to watch.

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And now for my favourites…

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A bit more re-enactment with horses!

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Another fight…

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Add a little fire…

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Finally, a little horsing around.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip into the past.

Have you been to Warwick Castle, what did you think?

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Tomorrow how about an Xtremely healthy lunch?

Check out other A-Z blog posts here.

#AtoZchallenge V – Vitamin A & C Syrup (make your own)

This syrup is a great way to use these lovely vitamin rich Elderberries after a foraging trip. The syrup is quick and simple to make, it lasts for months in the fridge and has been used traditionally as a cold & flu remedy. Plus it tastes delicious.

Beware – the stalks and leaves of the Elder are toxic, so be careful with the preparation. And it is not recommended to eat them raw.

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Ingredients

A bowlful of delicious berries stripped from the stalks.

Water to cover the berries in the pan.

450g of sugar for each pint of juice that is produced.

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Instructions

  1. Wash the berries.
  2. Add to a pan and cover with water.
  3. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Put the mixture through a sieve and discard the seeds and pulp.
  5. Add 450g of sugar for each pint of juice.
  6. Boil this down for about 10 minutes, to thicken the juice.
  7. Bottle and store in the fridge once cooled.

I’ve made this for the last few years, and we’ve used it when we feel sniffy or need a vitamin hit. It’s also very tasty if you just want a spoonful of goodness. Last time I forgot to reduce the mixture over the heat for very long and ended up with a thin syrup. It hasn’t affected the flavour and I’ve found it’s delicious adding a few spoonfuls to hot water. It makes a nice alternative to tea, and it’s hopefully doing a bit of good at the same time.

You can also use it as a Coulis and trickle it over ice cream. Yum!

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Next time W for Warwick Castle.

Check out other AtoZ posts here.

 

 

#AtoZChallenge U – Ultimate Flapjacks

Although not gluten free, these Ultimate Flapjacks are wheat free. And although full of sugar and syrup, they are a delicious treat. They are so easy to make, and the kids can easily get involved with the measuring and preparation.

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Ingredients

250g oats

100g raisins

125g butter

60g demerara sugar

4 tbsp. golden syrup

pinch of salt

(you can add other dried fruit, chopped nuts, seeds etc)

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan on a low heat setting.
  2. When melted and the sugar dissolved, turn off the heat. Add the oats, raisins and salt and mix well.
  3. Pour the mixture into loaf tins or a high-sided baking tray and press down.
  4. Cook in the over 180c for about 20mins until brown and crispy.
  5. Cut into squares, allow to cool and enjoy.

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You could be munching on these Ultimate Flapjacks in less than an hour, start to finish. Just don’t burn your tongue on the hot raisins!

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Tomorrow – Vitamin rich syrup

Check out my other AtoZ Posts here.

#AtoZChallenge T – Title Trouble & a poll

I have a terrible writer’s affliction called Title Trouble.

book-307524_1280It’s getting serious. How can I get my cover art ordered if I don’t have a title?

We all know titles must catch the reader’s eye. Next to the cover image, I’d say it was the most important draw to make the reader want to check out your book. Then the blurb and opening lines have to finish the job.

Sometimes titles are easy. ‘Visions of Zarua’ wrote itself and encompasses what the book is about.

The title Spirit Song, yesterday’s flash fiction story, came from the story itself.

When titles are hard to think up, I use a working title. The trouble with this method is those titles becomes so engrained, it’s almost impossible to see beyond them.

Now I need your help;

I hope to publish my second fantasy novel this year. It will be the first book of a trilogy. The pesky working title has stuck and I can’t see beyond it. Maybe I don’t really want to change it and that is the reason for my Title Trouble.

What do you think?

Bloodlines Trilogy

Book 1 – Search for the Sentinel

 

Would you pick up this book purely on its title? Would you be intrigued?

Does the title matter to you as a reader? If you’re a writer, how do you come up with your titles?

I look forward to your comments and seeing what the vote will be.

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Next time its back to some cooking with Ultimate Flapjacks.

Check out other A-Z posts here.

#AtoZchallenge S – Spirit Song #flashfiction

For S in the AtoZChallenge I’m so happy to be sharing this flash fiction story that came third in the flash500 comp in 2013.

Judge Steph Patterson – Senior editor of Crooked Cat Publishing stated,

‘Unusual, emotional, warm, surprising — a warm, unusual story. It moved me when I read it. It has an air of esoteric.’

Have a read and let me know your thoughts…

Spirit Song

Cecilia no longer saw the faces of the dying. They were merely shells cast off at the last to free the soul within. But, in the moments before death, she often wondered what happened to their spirits.
Sensing the man’s time was drawing near, she picked up her lute. Her fingers plucked the strings, dancing like raindrops over the notes, filling the room with fluid harmony. Slowly, the man in the bed responded. The music rose to a crescendo as he took his final breath, and she wept as his spirit lifted clear of its bonds to embrace the light. Cecilia let her fingers fall from the strings, while the haunting resonance of the song echoed around her. She cradled the lute in her frail hands and allowed the stale sickly air in the room to dry her tears. The intrusion of another broke the spell, and she opened her eyes to blackness.
‘He’s gone, Cecilia. But he died with a smile on his face,’ the nurse told her softly. ‘Come on, let’s get you back to your room.’
Cecilia shook her head. ‘There’s another down the hall…’ She rose on unsteady legs, clutching the lute possessively against her body.
‘At least let me help.’ The nurse took hold of her arm, but Cecilia recoiled from the touch and the strength of life flowing through the younger woman.
‘I can do it myself.’ She felt her way to the door and shuffled along the corridor with her hand trailing along the wall. Finally she reached the right room and slipped inside. She plucked the familiar notes of the spirit song until the dying woman floated away into the healing light.
Cecilia slumped to the floor, hugging the lute to her chest. Exhaustion tugged her towards sleep and she dreamt of the place beyond death.
She awoke in bed and sensed the nurse at her side. A warm hand squeezed her cold bony flesh.
‘My lute…’ she croaked and felt feebly for her beloved instrument.
‘Have a drink first.’
A straw prodded her lips and she sucked at the water, choking as its coldness flooded her constricted throat. The covers shifted under the weight of the lute and her hand scrabbled to lay across its neck. She stroked the strings with her fingertips, too weak to pluck a note.
Cecilia drifted back to sleep. The music swelled inside her, its poignant melody leading her spirit away from its dying shell. She travelled through a tunnel feeling weightless and pain-free, and cocooned by warmth. Bright light blinded her and cold air caressed her naked body. The shrill cry of a new-born filled her ears. Cecilia forced open her eyes and stared up into a stranger’s face.
Before the memories of her old life faded away, she finally had her answer.

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The story behind the story;

Spirit Song holds a very special place in my heart. I wrote it when my Grandad was admitted into a hospice. At the time I was attending creative writing classes and the prompt for that week was Cecilia, the patroness of musicians.

I sat in bed with my notebook and closed my eyes to think. When I started to write this piece seemed to flow onto the page almost fully formed and I instantly fell in love with the character.

I entered it into the Flash500 comp. The critique stated it was a lovely character study, but not a story.

I couldn’t let Spirit Song go, or maybe it wouldn’t let go of me. I rewrote the end and gave it a starting point that tied in with the conclusion. Then I re-entered and this second attempt was placed 3rd in the Flash500 comp. I felt like that was a turning point for me, a time when I could really start to believe in myself as a writer. Two years later, I self published my first novel.

Did you have a defining moment when you realised you were a writer?

(If you want to find out more about the Flash 500 Quarterly competition, click here. It’s well worth paying for the critique, my story would never have been placed without that important feedback.)

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Tomorrow T for Titles.

Check out some other AtoZ posts here

#AtoZChallenge R – Reviewers

This is my chance to say a big thank you to all those who review books.

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Indie Authors rely on you to help our books stand out from the masses. You give us your time, and post about us on your blogs.

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I would like to give a special thanks to those I have connected with and who have been kind enough to review my book, or interview me over the last few months. These are links to their homepages if you want to check them out.

Nyareads

Happymeerkatreviews

Pooled Ink

Book Savvy Reviews

Into another world (hosts author interviews and novel excerpts).

Also let me say thanks to all those book purchasers out there who take chances on unknown authors and post their reviews on Goodreads and Amazon etc. Indie authors wouldn’t get noticed without your help.

Indie authors have you thought of the benefits of reviewing? It’s good to give something back, good to understand books from a readers perspective and good to get involved in the book reviewing community. Plus the more you get involved, the more great books you will discover.

I’ve actually taken my first steps into reviewing, but I am only doing it on a very small scale. I find it hard enough fitting in reading, writing, blogging, and all the boring stuff of every day life. As well as reviewing the books I’ve enjoyed on my own TBR pile, I’ve also joined Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team #RBRT. They are a supportive bunch of writers / reviewers, and I know that Rosie puts in a lot of effort to help authors get reviews. So thanks very much for all your hard work Rosie, and for allowing me to join you.

 

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Have you got any reviewers you’d like to thank?

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Tomorrow S for something special I’d like to share.

Previous A-Z challenge posts can be accessed here