Avon Van Hassel

Building Worlds and Filling Them With Magic

A few years ago, a friend of mine asked himself what one word he would use going forward in that year. The idea struck me as romantic, and I’ve been doing the same, ever since.

2020 was a shitshow, plain and simple. Some of it wasn’t our fault, a lot of it was, a lot wasn’t entirely our fault but we made it worse, and a lot of it seemed to come out of nowhere because we ignored the dire warnings. It felt like every day, there was a new catastrophe, from fires to murder hornets to protests against police brutality, spiralling through the gruelling non-stop news cycle pumping vitriol into our brains 24/7.

If you went a little crazy, I understand. I did, too.

I thought quarantine would be My Jam. No outside distractions, no errands to run, hell- no doctor appointments. Just me and my work and nothing to keep me from it.

I was SO wrong.

Ear infection, tooth infection, dad’s company closing and forcing him to work out of town during the week and come home on weekends, new mosquitos, multiple heat waves, a financial crisis caused by retail therapy, and under all of it the steady drip-drip-drip of the news cycle: rampant racism, cases spiking, anti-maskers, an attempted coup…

The wheels fell off pretty damn fast for me.

I published a book the day George Floyd was murdered. Like most of the country, I was overcome with outrage at the police and solidarity with the people of colour who have been screaming at their white allies for generations about injustice. To see it play out on screen was sadly, nothing new. But this year, this year, something snapped. Maybe it was the pandemic, maybe it was the fact that it was an election year, maybe it was the way the media handled it in the days following. Something felt different. I hope it’s real, and won’t fall prey to the news cycles like so many of 2020’s cataclysms

But it’s over, now. The year; not the racial inequality, the environmental crisis, the pandemic, or the sham of a presidency- though that, thankfully, will be the next to fall. But 2020 is squarely behind us.

So, what do we do when life knocks us down? We stand back up.

I always flag before the end of the year, that’s to be expected. I get tired, my best laid plans fall through, shit happens. But this year, I tapped out before the summer. No amount of swims in the pool or hours gardening or writing exercises or Nintendo games kept my feet solid under me. Every time I thought I could stand again, the sand shifted and I was on my ass.

But it’s 2021, and though the fights are not over, though the danger has not passed, we can take solace in the fact that 2020 is done and we’re standing in the doorway of 2021. We’re all a little battered, a little bruised, a little battle-weary, but we’re also warmed up and prepared. This is not a time for rest or for giving up and giving in. This is a time for battle positions. We know what can happen if we’re not paying attention, and our eyes are open, now.

Maybe you did what I did, and when you got knocked down, you stayed down for a little while. I hope you got more rest than I did. It’s time to get up, now. Dust yourself off, check in on yourself. Keep doing what you need to, but get back in there and keep fighting. We have so much left to do.

My word this year is REGROUP. I took my licks and I wallowed a bit. I’m not as strong as I was last year when I did everything ahead of time to make it easier.

And I did so much, y’all. I planned out every little detail: I wrote my blog posts in advance, I reworked my book club system, I made quizzes, I planned games and giveaways, I had schedules and automation and contingencies. And almost all of them failed.

There’s a post going around Facebook that says, ‘If all you did today was survive, that’s enough,’ and I feel that way about 2020. If all you did in 2020 was make it to 2021, you should be proud. A LOT of people didn’t. Don’t beat yourself up for not having accomplished more, we are living in unprecedented times- no one knows what to do, no one has the answers.

But don’t give up. Regroup and keep going. Gather your strength around you and keep pushing. If you’re strong enough to carry the weight for others, good. Go out there and fight in the streets. If you only have the strength to fight for yourself, then that’s fine, too. Keep the home fires burning. And if all you can do is make it to 2022, then at least you can say that you didn’t give up.

So, if you’ve read my free holiday story, Wintersufel, you’ll know all about Princess Rona and the rite-of-passage of a sumptuous dish symbolically served during the Midwinter feast.

If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s adorable. And there’s a lot of food in it.

So here, for the last blog post of this hellish year, I offer a recipe I’ve been obsessing over for 7 years, yet somehow just now actually attempted: Rona’s Wintersufel, a bread pudding with pears poached in mulled mead.

Behold!

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Ingredients:

(Pudding)

  • 8 eggs
  • 1 Loaf of bread, stale (light wheat or sturdy white)*
  • 1/2 cup Half and half
  • 1 1/2 cup + 1Tbl Heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup Honey
  • 2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1 tsp Ginger

(Pears)

  • 4 bartlett Pears
  • 1 Bottle of mead
  • 1Tbl Mulling spices 

Directions:

  • In advance, bring a whole bottle of mead with mulling spices. Do not add sugar like with traditional mulled wine.
  • Halve and core pears and boil in mulled mead for 10 mins or until soft.
  • If you can’t use them within the next couple of days,  you can preserve them using a hot water bath canning method.
  • On the day of, cut the bread into cubes and put into a large soup pot. 
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine half and half, honey, spices, and 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream. Mix with a whisk until mixed to your satisfaction. 
  • Add egg mixture to bread cubes and stir until mixed and the bread has broken completely down to a uniform mush. If you have a few chunks of tough crust, it’s ok.
  • Transfer pudding to a round casserole dish. 
  • Bake at 350 for 30 mins.*
  • While doing that, slice the pears as thin as you can.
  • Take the pudding out, poke deep holes into the almost-done pudding and pour leftover spiced mead over it, as much as you think is enough to keep it from overcooking.
  • Place pear slices in fan patterns all over the top.
  • Put back into the oven for an additional 15 mins.
  • Take out of the oven. Sprinkled with powdered sugar* and serve immediately with heavy cream, if desired.
It was so good, y’all

I’m actually really pleased with the way this turned out, especially since I made it up on the fly, completely without a recipe! If you decide to give it a try, let me know what you think!

I hope you all have a fabulous holiday season, and that 2021 treats you better than 2020 did.

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  • * My mum made me a loaf from her bread machine. Commercial loaves of may yield different results
  • *Our oven died in August, so I’m using the convection oven setting on my microwave
  • *I didn’t dust mine in powdered sugar, and I wish I had, lol.

That which we call a rose would smell as sweet.

But would it? Would Harry Potter be such an everyman if his name were Albus Dumbledore? Would Aragon, son of Arathorn, be so inspiring if he were named Bilbo Baggins? Is it just familiarity that makes these names feel perfect, or is there actually something to choosing the perfect name?

A name matters

Sometimes, a name points to a certain attribute a character has. Remus Lupin, from the Harry Potter universe, has a two part meaning name: Remus, from the tale of Romulus and Remus, two brothers nursed by a she-wolf, the legendary founders of Rome; and Lupin- the word lupine mean wolf-like, or pertaining to wolves, from the Latin word lupus. I guess the kid was destined to be a werewolf, the bite just sealed the deal.

Subtle

Some names are a little subtler, like Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire. Tryion purple was a dye made from mollusk shells and was worn exclusively by Roman emperors (to wear purple and not be royal was punishable by death, even up until the 1700s, I believe). Perhaps this is a nod to the wealth and ambition of the Lannister family.

So be careful when naming your character, and what meanings that name may have.

A name doesn’t matter

I’m not trying to confuse you, I promise. Sometimes, a name doesn’t have to have a meaning hidden in it, it can be chosen on feel. My penname refers to a river in England which has special significance to me. My real name means ‘divine,’ but that’s not why it was given to me (though it does fit.) My mother named me after a song, sometimes babies are named for family members (my real middle name is also my mother’s middle name), or people their parents admired.

Sometimes you’ll get a kid named after a virtue (Grace, Hope, Joy), or months (usually spring and summer months. I don’t see many Novembers, and that’s a shame.), or plants, etc. These I don’t consider meaningful names because a person is not always hopeful, June isn’t always a significantly auspicious month for people named that, and unless someone is very well-versed in the language of flowers, plant names are usually chosen on aesthetics.

My daughter would be named Nasturtium Garlic Van Hassel, because I’d want her coded to be brave, strong, and victorious in battle.

These names are more about the feeling they inspire in the reader, than the personal history of the character. They feel more real. Harry Potter isn’t literally a gardener, but such a common name makes the story feel like it could happen to anyone, which is great for books about kids. Stanley Yelnats, of Holes, does not have a meaning name because ‘Stanley’ means a stone clearing, and while Camp Green Lake had lots of stones and he did do lots of clearing, his father didn’t, nor any of the Stanley Yelnatses before him. The point of that name was a dorky family joke, illustrating the closeness of the relationship with his family.

Every character name should have a why, but the why need not be literally spelled out in the name.

Generator

Sometimes name generators are great. I use them for all of my fantasy stories because I’m not great at fantasy sounding names. This sometimes is great, sometimes gets me into trouble. Alois and Sulat both came from a generator. Alois is a real name, unfortunately also the name of Hitler’s father and one of his brothers. But ehh, not all Adolfs are evil, so there’s that to keep in mind.

I thought Sulat was one of those truly unique names because I ran it through a baby name site and came up with nothing, but then I Googled it, and it’s a town in the Philippines, which is now on my bucket list.

I love Alois and Sulat’s names. I love that his is all soft sounds and vowels and ends in an s, because despite his size and muscle and bravado, he’s a lover, not a fighter. And Sulat ends with a sharp t, almost like a full stop, which is great because she’s blunt and efficient and doesn’t like a lot of faffing about. Their names suit them perfectly, meaning aside. So, consider the sounds, as well.

My favourite generators are:

It’s a hallmark of humanity to mourn and honour our dead: all cultures do it, they have done it throughout time. Here, in the west, our trends have changed a lot over time, and some of the ways we did it in the past may look foreign to us, now, but it’s really the same thing at the heart of it.

Memento Mori

Past eras, especially the Victorians, which are beyond the scope if this post, are notorious for the macabre fascination with death. There are a lot of reasons, ranging from poor heath care to shifting religious philosophies to lowgrade carbon monoxide poisoning to the rise of industrialisation and the distancing of ourselves from the natural world. The truth is, with our technological and social advancements, we are removed from death. Most of us are not surrounded by it or haunted by it anymore to the degree that we were in the past. So, death was never far away for them, and life was so delicate and uncertain. Your loved ones could be gone with no warning and no way to say goodbye. So, finding closure through long and complicated mourning rituals was one way to cope with the trauma.

If you think about it, wreaths, jewellery, post mortem photography, etc, aren’t that different from putting a sticker on your car. It’s a way of taking someone’s memory with you wherever you go.

So, now I’m gonna go into some symbols we commonly see on mourning jewellery of this era.

Hair

Yes, this is human hair

Hair was crazy popular. It was one of the easiest pieces of physical relics of the person to get. It was often woven and set behind a piece of glass or crystal, but sometimes it was actually used to created intricate scenes like paintings, or just simple chunks of curls encased in glass.

Eyes

The image of the dead person’s eye was also a common image. Eyes are the windows of the soul, they say, as well as an easily identifiable feature. Not to mention, the obvious visual of the deceased watching over their surviving loved ones.

Jet

Jest is a black volcanic stone. It feels almost like plastic in its texture and weight, but it is a stone. It is shiny and black, so it gives the feeling of fancy gemstones, especially during the periods of heavy, black-only mourning.

Silver

Silver represents the moon, is naturally antibacterial, and is less opulent than gold, so it was a favourite base material for jewellery.

Skeletons

The people of the past did not shy from the macabre in their mourning jewellery. Skulls, skeletons, and coffins are undeniable clues that a piece if jewellery is for mourning.

Acanthus

Pretty much any leafy filigree on funerary art is modeled on acanthus

Acanthus is a lush leafy shrub, popularised by Corinthian columns of ancient Greece. In funerary art, acanths represents remembrance.

Pearls

Pearls also symbolise the moon, but also tears and the sea. Pearls and garnets are very common in mourning jewellery

Johanne’s brooch

By the beginning of Magic Beans, Lady Johanne Blodden is a widow, having lost her husband 7 years previous, during the Ettin Wars. Though she had no real affection for him in life, she is a proper lady, and so wears a mourning brooch to honour his memory, as was expected of a widow. Her brooch features a grey eye, modelled after his portrait, shaped like a teardrop, and ringed in pearls.

Worldbuilding is one of the funnest parts of writing fiction. If you’re writing in the real world, the geography is easy, but if you’re inventing a new world, you have to consider a lot more things. One thing that is impossible to overlook for carbon-based (organic) lifeforms is water. There is no human civilisation that doesn’t have access to water in one form or another.

Life

Life refers not only to drinking water, but also water to irrigate crops and hydrate animals. We need it to drink, but we also need food, and our food needs water.

Transportation of goods

For much of history, the fastest way to move large quantities or heavy goods was with waterways. Shipping over the ocean or even sending boats downstream are much faster than dragging or driving over land.

Travel

Along the same lines as shipping, water can move people as easily as cargo.

Geography

The settlement of villages and towns is always determined by water sources. Nit just for the above reasons, but also for protection or even aesthetics. Large bodies of water can provide buffers against enemies or good vantage points, or even a lovely view that people want to look at for generations.

Industry

Water can power mills by use of waterwheels, it can provide water used for production, and it can carry waste away (though, we’re discouraging that, these days).

Fishing

The water itself can provide a source of food and commerce in the form of fishing. Freshwater lakes and rivers and the ocean all have distinct ecosystems that humans can take nourishment from.

Bodies of water

You cities need water. They can’t survive without water, and there are consequences for limitation of water. The island of Santorini in Greece obviously has access to the ocean, but they have very little rainfall and freshwater. They had to adapt the way they grow wine grapes to absorb as much of every little drop that they can, and they have bottled water shipped in for drinking, as a result, bottled water is crazy expensive.

Bet you’ve never seen a vineyard like this

But they have the sea.

You cities may be coastal, or have access to lakes or rivers, be in a place where they have heavy rainfall, or huge underground reservoirs with lots of wells for access. Whatever you do, start with water, and build the culture around how they utilize it.

Starting off: There was an expression during the Impeachment proceedings that stuck out to me: ‘criticism should be private, praise should be public.’ That pretty succinctly sums up a pillar of my brand and my professional image: I will be vociferous in my praise of work and artists that I like, but my dislike will only be illustrated by my silence on the subject. Which isn’t to say of course, that anyone I DON’T talk about are on my shitlist, lol, but don’t expect me to be one of those authors who gets into wars with other artists on social media.

So, I won’t go into specifics about who I’m talking about, not least because this is a topic that applies to a lot of people, especially at a time in history when someone’s problematic words and actions are on display and subject to consequence. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and other movements centred around giving voice to disenfranchised people fed up with just taking it, the question has arisen: can you still enjoy the work of someone who proved to hold beliefs or commit actions against your personal morals.

It’s a sticky one. Again, I won’t name specific people, but see if this sounds familiar.

There was a book or series you read in your youth that had a profound impact on you. Maybe it made you feel less alone and more understood, maybe it made you think, maybe it awakened a love of a genre. But then, as you matured and learned more about people and the world, you started to notice things. Outdated gender assumptions, homophobic or racist jokes, that one ageist trope that will not die. And then, the author starts talking on Twitter, and every word they type makes you cringe.

So, should you feel guilty about what you enjoyed as a child? If the work holds up, can you continue enjoying the work without endorsing the things the author says?

To the one, I say no. You were a kid, you’re more mature now, you know better.

But to the second, I tentatively say yes. Art is subjective, it’s not universal and what speaks to you might be meaningless to someone else. And what is problematic to your adult mind was probably completely overlooked when you were young, and something else was formative and possibly even the only light in the darkness to your teenage heart. That emotional connection cannot be denied. You are who you are in part because of the things that were meaningful when you were young. The fact that you matured into a more compassionate and understanding person in spite of exposure to troubling things speaks to the larger messages of that work.

Take what worked, and leave the rest behind.

Concerning the author of those words, they are people, too. Their personal trajectory is not the same as yours or their work. Maybe they slid backward and became more intolerant as they aged- that’s their journey. Their demons shouldn’t diminish how your younger self felt sitting alone in your room with the one thing that understood you. Some people can be educated and helped. Some just have to be cut loose. It hurts, but one thing we all as artists need to make peace with is that once our work is out there and the people get to engage with it, it’s no longer ours.

There’s a line in, ‘All the Rowboats’ by Regina Spektor talking about art in galleries, and it goes, ‘It’s their own fault for being timeless/ There’s a price to pay and a consequence.’ Art has to be accessible, that’s the point. It can’t be divorced from the audience, that’s the point. The work is timeless, the author is mortal.

Art can be divorced from the artist.

It can be taken out of their hands and placed in the custody of the fans. We see it with countless fandoms, where the author is completely overshadowed and rendered almost inconsequential by the fans. Fanfiction and fanart is a prime example. Some authors get into it and play along. The ones who dig in are run over and left behind.

Some works of fanfiction and fanart even eclipse the original source material.

So, if you remembered those books with fondness but don’t follow the author and can’t bring yourself to reread, don’t worry about it. It was the 90’s or the 60’s or whatever, the world has changed. It was probably considered quite forward thinking, at the time. They were doing the best they could, presumably. We’ve moved on, we’re doing things differently now. We’re doing the best we can, now. It’s possible that there will be social criticism of my books. I’m not perfect, I’m doing the best I can. I’m learning all the time, too. I have books and authors from my past that I cringe about or wish they would stop tweeting. But I have to remember that what I got from their work says more about me than it does about them.

Take what’s good, and leave the rest behind.

Btw, I welcome fanfics, fanart, cosplay, etc etc. Tag me.

Ahh, a nice cup of tea. What could be more soothing than gentle perfumed steam rising from a tasteful china cup to warm you on a rainy day or accompany a good book? It’s almost hard to imagine the turmoil that went into making it.

Mmm…

You can’t make a cup of tea without something reaching boiling point.

Tea originally came from China. I point out this ‘duh’ fact because there are a number of famous tea growing regions in the world, like India, Nepal, and Japan. In fact, today, almost every continent has it’s own tea growing regions. But it wasn’t always like that. There are some original growing regions in India, Myanmar, and Tibet, but most of it is in China.

This pic looks super old, right? It is. It’s from the Liao Dynasty, which was around a thousand years ago. China already had tea for 1-2 THOUSAND YEARS BEFORE.

It started, most likely, as a medicinal drink in the Shang Dynasty in the second millennium BC (I never cease to be amazed by how friggin old China is!). From there, it moved to Sichuan province, where people began to boil it and drink it for fun, subtracting the other medicinal plants.

The history of tea in China is fascinating. Tea in China today is fascinating. Maybe one day, I’ll tell you guys about the TWO STORY TEA MALL in Shenzhen that I visited. But this post is about tea in Georgian England, and to get there before I’m old and grey, I’m afraid I’ll have to skip ahead…and almost all of Asia.

Sorry.

Tea is mentioned in passing by Marco Polo in the 1200s, the Portuguese got into it through their Chinese colonial city of Macau, the Dutch East India Company brought the first crate of green tea leaves to Amsterdam in the early 17th century, the French had it in the 1630s, and in the 1650s tea was appearing in British coffeehouses, where it spread to the colonies and beyond. In 1662, King Charles I married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, bringing the drink to court.

Now, things start getting crazy.

Tea basically exploded. At first, it was expensive and had to be procured from Dutch smugglers. But then the British East India Company got involved, making things more affordable to the British. By 1700, tea was in grocery stores, and women were getting in on the craze, too. Then they started adding milk and sugar to it. A lot of sugar. The popularity of tea from China and sugar from the Caribbean (which was facilitated by the slave trade, let’s not forget) basically fuelled Britain’s economy and contributed heavily to the global power that Britain was at this time. Then a fungus hit coffee growing regions, dropping popularity of coffee and boosting that of tea, and by 1750, tea was the national drink.

At first, green tea was the most popular (yes, with milk added), then black tea gradually started gaining more popularity, and has stayed the most drunk type of tea, even to today.

Shit starts to get really fucked up in the 1800s, which is after the period I’m talking about, so here endeth the lesson. If you want to know more, look up the Opium Wars and, if you’re not American, the Boston Tea Party (if you are American, also look it up. There’s a good chance that the history you learned in school was wrong.)

How it was made and served

The making and serving of the tea was terribly technical and actually bears some resemblance to the way tea is served in China.

So here, is the step-by-step procedure, if you’re planning to have a historically accurate pot of tea.

First, choose a tea pot big enough to serve your guests. If you have four teacups to fill, the pot should hold six teacups worth; one cup per guest, plus half again.

Not mugs. Cups. Don’t embarrass yourself.

Boil the water, and while it’s cooking, presumably in a brick fireplace, add enough tea for each person, at one teaspoon per teacup, plus half again. (Fun fact, pound for pound, tea has more caffeine than coffee. The reason it’s considered a milder drink is because the serving size is smaller. Traditionally, tea is measured in teaspoons and coffee in tablespoons, which are three times bigger.)

Cover the leaves in boiling water and fill the pot one third of the way. Let it stand for fifteen minutes.

15 minutes is a long time, y’all. Your average cup of tea steeps for 3.

While it’s steeping (dear god, it’s gonna be strong and bitter), pour some boiling water into the cups. That’s the part the Chinese still do.

When the tea leaves are done, fill the pot with boiling water, dump the water out of the cups, and serve two-thirds of the the tea (that’s important) into the still-warm cups. Pass around cream and sugar to each guest’s taste.

You leave one-third of the water in the pot so that the leaves will continue to steep.

Typically, each guest will have three cups each, so you’ll need to rebrew the leaves. Rinse the cups and fill the pot up again with boiling water. Serve immediately with cream and sugar.

For the final round, you rinse the cups again, fill the pot only two-thirds full, and serve the entirety of the remaining tea. And that’s how you keep the strength of flavour the whole way through. Neat, huh?

Now, if you like a weaker tea, use only enough water and tea per guest and don’t leave the leaves sitting in the tincture (the super concentrated tea).

Now, the afternoon tea that we all know and love wasn’t really a thing yet, in the time period of my books, but close. It was mostly drunk medicinally to relieve digestive issues, so it was something you had after a meal, with a meal, or in the late afternoon or evening. It was traditionally served with simple fare, such a bread and butter, but you know fancy people, they’ll find an excuse for cakes and biscuits.

And if you wanna get really fancy, you’ll want to invest in a real wooden tea caddy (yes, they still make them), and find a tea brick, which is how it was transported before. Loose leaf is susceptible to dampness such as is found on oceangoing vessels, but also bugs, and has a tendency to take on the smell of what’s packed with it. Tea bricks (pressed and compacted leaves) are more water resistant and generally travel better. But you’ll have to break chunks off and crumble them up. Please don’t shave them, that’s no better than tea bags.

Behold! A pic from the two-story tea mall in Shenzhen! This shopkeeper is cutting chunks off a tea brick for us.

On the brick note, bringing it back to the Boston Tea Party for a sec: people love depicting all of those guys dumping crates of tea like boxes of sand into Boston Harbour. But they were most likely crates of tea bricks, and those dudes were just frisbee-ing them into the water. And I think that’s a much more fun depiction of history.

Tea and Plain Speaking

There’s a fun little chapter in Golden, where Johanne discusses the prospect of marriage with a matriarch of another branch of her family. If you want to read a bit of it, or sample the tea inspired by it, visit The Forest Witch’s tea blend, Johanne.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from people who want to write but can’t is that they just can’t find the time. And I want so badly to laugh, because I’m like, ‘YoU tHiNk I hAvE tImE tO wRiTe?’ I don’t. Even without a 9-5 Real Job™️, there are chores to do, errands to run, social and family obligations to fulfill, self care to do to keep from going completely off my rocker, etc. So, how do you find time in a busy schedule?

Mood

The first thing, and this is going to sound harsh, and I don’t mean it to. You have to be absolutely truthful, because it’s not easy. How badly do you want to write? When you’re overworked, sometimes you need to rest, and that’s healthy.  That’s got to take priority. When you’re stressed and it’s just easier to go along with someone else’s plan, that’s fine, do what you have to do.

But if writing is your therapy or god forbid, your job, you have to prioritise it. You have to carve out time. And sometimes that means other things don’t get done (not rest and self care. Rest and self care first, ALWAYS), or you have to put up boundaries and say no to people, or ask someone else to help you out. The reality is that there are only so many hours in a day and sometimes if some of those go to writing, they have to be taken away from something or someone else.

That out of the way, there is a method that I find helpful, when the schedule looks super packed, and it’s called the Pomodoro Method.

Basically, the Pomodoro Method is a system of time management cut into 25-minute chunks with a 10-minute break in between. This is like a High Intensity Interval Training workout for your brain. You focus super hard for 25 minutes, take a 10-minute break (stretch your wrists, get a drink, walk around), then hit it again.

This is super effective for me. I can get from 600-800 words in 25 minutes. It’s said that Terry Pratchett wrote 400 words a day, so I beat him every day. I work for two hours on a project from the hours of 5-7 am, so on a good day when I hit the ground running, I can get 3-4 Pomodoros in, which can be up to a maximum of 2400 words, which isn’t bad for a day’s work.

I like to combine my pomodoros with music, rain sounds, and scented candles. Even better if my cat is in a cuddly mood and I have a cup of coffee to sip in my breaks. It also sometimes helps to have a friend to add a bit of competitive pressure. I have a friend I meet with online every Friday at Stupid O’Clock in the morning. We have a chat, sprint (what it sounds like- a chunk of intense writing) for 30 minutes, compare wordcounts, say our talk-to-you-laters, and go about the rest of our days. It’s really nice and keeps me on track, for 30 minutes out of the week, if nothing more.

So, if you’re serious about writing and you just can’t seem to find the time, ask yourself, ‘can I find 25 minutes?’ Sometimes, that’s all you need.

If you’ve read Golden, you’ll know that Lady Johanne loves her garden. In her story, her husband’s physical absence during the war and emotional absence at home drove her to find a distraction, ending up with a passion for gardening. After the war and her husband’s death, she moved herself and her daughter to her uncle’s house, Ellenly, where she was allowed to manage his ancient garden according to her tastes.

I was going to do this all in one post, but whoo boy, is there a lot to talk about. The Georgians loved gardening.

So, today, we’re going to get into why country gardens are such a thing, what they represent, and what they were used for.

Wealth

Obviously, you have to have land to have a garden. Land is everything to the gentry. That’s what landed gentry means, you’re not just a noble by blood, you have an estate that generates income.

Then you need money to hire gardeners, you need money to buy the plants, which are sometimes exotic and imported, and then also need special tending like greenhouses, etc.

Some gardens have features like fountains (which are purely aesthetic, meaning they’re not used to water anything, and they require engineering and access to a water source), or ancillary buildings like gazebos. Some were designed by famous professional designers (watch this space for a post about Capability Brown, the most famous landscape designer of the age).

Leisure

To design, tend, and enjoy a garden, you have to have time. Sure, peasants had vegetable gardens, and the big houses had little veggie gardens that served the houses attached to the kitchens, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

Easily, the only fresh air and exercise a wealthy person got in a day was a stroll through the grounds. And of course, you couldn’t grab your hand weights and power walk across the sweeping lawns. You had to dress up, get together with your fancy friends, and stroll. And it has to be beautiful, or what’s the point?

Taste

Like everything else about wealth and class, everything you did was on display, and everything was a competition. It wasn’t enough to have a garden, you had to have the best garden. You couldn’t call your friends, so, really, the only way to socialise was to physically visit. So, there were parties and house calls and tea, and all the rest of it, a lot of which happened in the garden. So, your garden had better be on point. And if you saw someone’s garden that was better, you improved yours. And the cycle repeats. You added a new maze or a new hybrid or a water feature or hire a landscaper; whatever you had to do that set your garden apart.

Ok, so, you want to take the plunge and get Scrivener. Good choice, I approve. It’s a gamechanger.

But the programme for your Mac or PC is $50 for Mac, $45 for Windows, and $80 for both (unless you won NaNo and got the discount code) and the app for iOS is $20. Ouch, I hear you. I have the Windows version on my laptop and the app on my iPad, so here’s my breakdown of what’s great and not so great about each.

Just to get it out of the way early: yes, I am an affiliate for Scrivener. No, I am not raking in dough every month because of it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve made anything at all from it. But I do love it, so it’s not gross to promote it. I see it as my responsibility to inform people like me of a product that will help them, and help out a company that has helped me.

Onward.

Scrivener is basically a souped up word processor/binder/so much more. So, if you have Microsoft Word and Evernote and many many copies of different drafts if your stories, do you even need Scrivener? Maybe not, but wouldn’t it be nice to have it all in one place?

But the purpose of this article isn’t to pitch Scrivener as a whole, but to help you decide which version is right for you. I do wish there was a way for people who had bought the desktop version to get a discount on the app, but I don’t know what bureaucratic hoops would be involved in that, so for the time being, let’s assume it’s one or the other. I also wish there was a version for Android, and we are promised one sometime in 2018 (that’s not a typo, I checked. We are late by nearly 2 years), but until then, we’ll have to make some choices.

Firstly, the device you have. I was never much for typing on my phone, and still only do it as a last resort. So, if you don’t have an iPad, I’d say right off, stick with the desktop. If you’re cool with your phone or have an iPad, read on.

Secondly, what kind of physical space do you have? I travel a lot, which means I’m on planes a lot, and the seatback tables make typing on my laptop a real inconvenience, to the point of being nearly impossible. That was my primary motivation for buying an iPad in the first place: I need something more portable, and iPad won out over Galaxy Note because it could run Scrivener. I was lucky enough to snag it when Prime was having a big sale.

So, if space isn’t an issue, then the desktop is grand, and if you need something more portable, go with the app.

Thirdly, features. Scrivener has A Lot of features. An overwhelming amount of features. It’s great if you’re a control freak like me and like to make sure everything is absolutely perfect, but if that sounds scary, there’s a solution. The desktop version has everything, it is full service. It even has a tutorial to get you started and every fresh document also has tutorials. The app is much more streamlined. The trouble with that is that it takes a fair bit of random tapping sometimes to see if it can do what you want it to do. That being said, the bells and whistles that are missing from the app won’t improve or impede your story or process, they’re really very surface level mods that would probably slow it down or make it too big and clumsy a file. I don’t really miss them.

So, there you have it. If you’re landlocked and you like full power at your fingertips, it’s the desktop for you. If you travel and only need the basics (and already have the iPad), go with the app. Obviously, the best choice is both (and they sync through Dropbox, so you never lose your work), but if you’re between checks, are a casual writer, or just resent buying the same programme twice, I hope this has helped.

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