When, in late December of 2012, I decided that 2013 would by my year of thinking more consciously about creativity in all its many forms; how it inspires us and drives us onwards, I was not really expecting to wind up in a three-man tent (which doubles as a portable dark room), in a campsite […]

If you have been completely cut off from all news and media sources for the last month, you may have missed some surprising news.  Or, at least, it surprised me.  The Bell Jar turned fifty this year.  It was a shock, since I was sure it was from the 60s, which was like twenty five years ago.  But not so.

For many female writers who came next, the ghost of Sylvia Plath has always loomed large.  Lately, I feel as though she is everywhere I turn.  Even this morning, as I was waiting to wave someone away in our drive, I absently switched on the radio on the windowsill and just happened to catch Hayley Atwell reading from Andrew Wilson’s new Plath biography Mad Girl’s Love Song.  I hadn’t realised this was the BBC book of the week, although, had I stopped for one minute to consider what it might be, I would have had to guess this, or the Bell Jar itself.  (I will search the schedule in a minute, it must surely be there, or on BBC4.)  After all, Sylvia and her infectious, feminine, feminist madness is everywhere at the moment.

Which is, in my view, a good thing.  Continue reading

IMG_6234If you’ve been reading this blog, then you will know that one of my goals for 2013 is to try and think a little differently about creative expression.  As part of this process, I have managed to be become the embedded writer in an astonishing project involving more than that 100+ wet plate photographers from more than 25 countries.  It’s called ‘The Mask Series‘ and the idea is quite simple.  Everyone involved takes one image, using a wet plate camera like the one you see here.  In other words, no film. Instead, you mix up the chemicals needed to make your chosen surface (glass, tin, aluminium) photosensitive, and then, provided you haven’t blown yourself up yet, you take a photo that has a vintage M10 Czech Gas Mask in it.  (This does actually make a lot more sense if you look at the blog devoted to the project.)

Since I am writing so much about this project now, I decided it was about time I took a gas mask image of my own.  Continue reading

mask.jpgIf you’ve been following this blog, then you already know that one of my goals of 2013 is to do more conscious thinking about creativity.  What inspires it? What drives it?  How can we tap in and harness it to enrich our lives?  So I’m very grateful to  have been granted a behind the scenes pass to a fascinating collaborative art project The Mask Series – an International Collaborative Art Project which is being curated by the American conceptual artist Shane Balkowitsch.

What you see here is a vintage Czech M10 gas mask.  It’s the prop that Shane has chosen as the central focus for this global art endeavour.


Shane has issued an open invitation to photographers from all over the world to create wet plate collodion (link to your terms on the site) images using the M10 as a prop.

“Having every artist in the project use the same prop levels the playing field.  Some artists may find it an inspiration, while others may view it to be a crutch or hindrance.  Either way, the end result will be the unique vision of each individual artist.”

Since, amazingly, it turns out there are still one or two folk out there who don’t yet have vintage Czech gas masks of their own kicking about the place, Shane has bought up a supply, and is shipping them around the world, from photographer to photographer, in a sort of international gas-mask relay.   Currently there are a dozen M10s in circulation around the world for The Mask Series.  This means that even as you read this, somebody, somewhere is probably taking an old school photo involving an M10.  To say nothing of the many artists who are sat there waiting for the postman…

From the moment I heard about this project, I was gripped by the creative possibilities. lungs Continue reading

Late last night I heard the tragic news that a writer-friend of mine, Denni Schnapp, killed herself on Thursday.

Denni was the first person I knew personally to make use of social media in the lead up to their suicide. In recent months, she’s been very clear about the fact she was in a lot of emotional pain, ridden by angst. Where most of us have an over-ride switch, Denni had a loud-hailer.

So although not entirely unexpected, Denni’s death still has still come as a shock.

As public conversations go, Denni’s social media suicide was strangely one-sided. The terrible reality is, it was all so embarrassing that I suspect no one really knew what to say. I don’t offer this as any sort excuse for the sustained silence, but rather as an possible explanation.

“Plus it’s not exactly urgent. I simply don’t have the energy to kill myself at the moment. Wouldn’t know how to go about it. Takes planning”

Personally, I find the shotgun-sharing side of Facebook pretty hard to take. It’s not that I didn’t care, or want to know, what was happening to Denni. It’s that I didn’t want to know so very publicly. Which, I accept, makes no sense. But it is why, once or twice in that past few months, when things seemed more alarming than usual, I contacted her privately. Continue reading

Admittedly, it is early the year to be nailing colours to masts.  But having read little more than the preface of Julian Barnes’ new collection of essays (and one short story) I am already finding it hard to imagine how it will be possible to discover a more moving apology on the whys and what-fors […]

It’s hard to imagine anyone who would not get something out of this film. I saw it for the first time in cinema, and it washed over me in waves of mystery and amazement. For the first hour or so you are asking yourself a lot of obvious questions, along with the narrator who, although […]

Image 1If you’ve read this blog before, you’ve likely noticed that cookery, and more specifically cake, is a running theme.  This is, at least in part, due to the fact that I have a tendency to try and bake my way out of tight corners. At the moment I’ve reached the stage in a rewrite where it is consuming most available time and headspace, and somehow the overflow for this also tends to spill out as yet more baking. 

The cake you see here is the result of my trying to think-between-the-lines of an imaginary first date of sorts for two characters in Paris.  A cake with Brooklyn in the name might not, therefore, seem the obvious first choice.  Until you taste it, and all is revealed.  Intense, sweet, creamy, and profoundly chocolatey, a bite of this little number is as close to the heady rush of a first kiss you are ever going to find in cake form.

What you see here is my second attempt.  The first was sometime last year but, like most cakes around here, it disappeared before it could be documented.  In addition to its near X-rated nature, this recipe also has several practical things to recommend it.

1. It can be prepared in stages.  I’ve made the sinfully rich chocolate custard the day before, and then carried on with the cake.  I am sure you could prepare it even two or three days before you wanted to serve it.  If anything, the flavours just intensify, lifting this from first kiss to full-blown snog. (Besides, since you’re probably meant to be writing anyway, the less time you spend in the kitchen the better.)

2. The fat content can, theoretically, be reduced.  Strictly speaking the custard doesn’t need all of that butter.  It tastes just glorious even without it.  Yes, the butter does help with structural support, but if your fridge is cold enough it’ll all be fine.  It also is what gives the chocolate custard that candlelit erotic gleam.  But, if you’re at all like us, you are probably going to be eating it late at night while concentrating on Newsnight or some Scandinavian crime thing, so the candlelit sheen can possibly wait for another pud.

I first saw this in a Waitrose magazine, in which they mention there is also a book.  To be frank, I’m afraid to buy it, because I just know it will be fab, and there is a limit to how many baking books it is safe to keep in one house.  Meanwhile, here’s the recipe.

Trust me.  If you like chocolate and/or snogging, this is the cake for you.

Recipe: Brooklyn blackout cake
By Annie Bell

  1. Have ready 2 x 20cm loose-bottom cake tins at least 5cm deep.
  2. First make the filling, as this requires a cooling time. Blend the cornflour with about a third of the milk until smooth. Bring the remaining milk to the boil in a small nonstick saucepan with Continue reading

This year, some friends and I are planning to read the twelve volume novel sequence, A Dance to the Music of Time. I am writing this in the fervent hope that you might be persuaded to join us. You might well ask, why bother with a reading plan, at all? And, more to the point, […]