Ethical Eating for the meat eaters who want to do better.

I’ve been circling around the idea of veganism for a while now. All that I’ve read and heard tell me that it’s the right choice for so many reasons: health, planet and heart. But. But. But. I’m not quite there yet. I want to do the right thing, but I’m struggling with it.

I like eating meat but to be honest, that is only a small part of it. For me at this point in time, it is all about just that: time. I know that if I want to do it, I have to do it properly. And I’m not sure that I can. I have a very, very stressful and ongoing family situation that takes up a lot of my time and emotional energy. I have a husband who is definitely not ready for this step yet, and I know that to do it properly will take a lot of re-educating myself on how to prepare a healthy and balanced diet. So, what to do…

The answer, for me, is to make sure that what meat I do eat is as far removed from the appalling factory farming as it can possibly be. And of course this is expensive. Very expensive. Free range and out door bred is not enough: a free range chicken from a popular cut price supermarket costs under £5, but that price tells me that the rearing of that chicken would probably not stand up to close scrutiny.

So it’s got to be organic, properly free range, slow reared, and no nasty hormones, antibiotics or any other such disgusting, and frankly mind boggling practices that are taken as the norm in factory farming. Hence the expense. Right at a time when I’m on a serious budget. So far, that has put me off a little. I know, I know, what price ethics. But now, I’m seeing the cost as part of the appeal. If I’ve got to pay nearly three times the amount for my meat, I’m not going to be eating very much meat. And what I do eat is going to be the very best quality.

Last week, on Tuesday a beautiful box of organic meat was delivered by Riverford Organic Farmers. It has to be Tuesday because that’s the day for my area (more green ethical brownie points). The contents of the box were small – budget – but so very delicious.

The limitation of the delivery day also meant that when we had friends over for dinner, instead of getting in meat, I used quorn, and it was lovely. And btw, I also served up quorn nuggets to my granddaughter who is a big fan of chicken nuggets – which most definitely are not anywhere near organic or free range – she loved them.

Now I know that a lot of people are going to knock me down for eating meat and animal products and using the word ‘ethical’ in my blog, but do you know what? If we all ate truly ethically sourced meat, I’m guessing that the impact on the planet would be significant in terms of the benefits. Many of us would not be able to afford to continue to eat meat in the quantities that we, as a country, are currently consuming it, and that would be a good thing.

The animals would be a lot happier too.

So that’s it for me. Riverford will be delivering fortnightly, and I can eat their delicious organic, slow-reared, free range meat with a clearer conscience. And safe in the knowledge that I’m not filling my body with disgusting chemicals. I may not have made the move to veganism, but I’m feeling a lot better about the choices I’m making.

The Joy of Discovering New Authors

I am aware that I haven’t posted for some hundreds of years, and that is due to various reasons: rubbish blogger being the top one; completing my MA being second; and family-issues-like-you-wouldn’t-believe being the third. Still, here I am. And the reason for this return to WordPress? Reading and Writing of course.

I’m still worrying away at trying to be a writer, well writing – a lot. And, in my quest to find, and polish, my voice as a writer, I am spreading my reading net to catch new styles, and find new (to me) writers.

The Booker prize seemed to be a good place to start – and I thought I’d go back before I went forward, so I started with Penelope Lively Moon Tiger. I’m really looking for narratives that move back and forth in the protagonist’s life as this is what I’m trying to do in the novel I’m writing at the  moment. I want to look at how that is achieved in a way that doesn’t feel clunky or jarring. And Moon Tiger is a beautifully evocative example of a narrative that does just that. In fact, Lively does much more than simply move between the different events in her protagonist’s life; she also moves between narrative perspectives. So that we get the same, often quite small event, through the eyes or voice of each of the principal characters involved: sometimes this is through first person, and sometimes through third person. It is beautifully, brilliantly, and deftly done – with the narrative moving seamlessly often from one paragraph to the next.

Further, and this is something that I am also concerned with, she somehow manages to paint her self-centred, hard-edged, and judgemental heroine in such a way, that the reader cannot help but be drawn to her.

It was a pure joy to read, and the perfect book for a writer in training. Ideal in that, as the narrative moves elegantly between narrative perspectives and voices, you can examine the craft of writing from many different angles. As Dorothea Brande states in Becoming a Writer ‘…technical excellences can be imitated, and with great advantage. When you have found a passage, long or short, which seems to you far better than anything of the sort you are yet able to do, sit down to learn from it.’ I would certainly recommend that any one wishing to learn, or at any rate improve, the craft of writing, to have a read of Moon Tiger.



A Review: A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark

 I’ve decided to stop referring to myself as someone who is learning to become a writer and, instead, to label myself as one who is working on becoming a better writer. After all, I can write, as in I can put pen to paper and produce readable fiction and non-fiction. What I am aiming for is to become a good writer and, hopefully, one who will eventually become published. 

So, as an improving writer, I am going to publish reviews of books which I feel are of particular use to an improving writer. Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry From Kensington definitely falls into this category. 

I loved this book: it is witty, warm and wise and eminently capable as is its protagonist, Mrs Hawkins. Spark’s prose hums along nicely. She reminds me a little of Austen in that she presents her reader with a seemingly cosy comedy of manners and then sneaks in some truly horrifying characters who represent the dark side of life. 

However, the real benefit of this book to any one wishing to improve their writing lies in two key areas: one being that as you read, you take on a subliminal lesson of the joy to the reader of a lightness of touch such as Spark’s; the other being the advice given ‘free of charge’ by the capable Mrs Hawkins to aspiring writers. I include them both below.

“You are writing a letter to a friend…this is a dear and close friend, real – ore better – invented in your mind like a fixation. Write privately, not publicly; without fear or timidity, right to the end of the letter, as if it was never going to be published, so that your true friend will read it over and over, and then want more enchanting letters from you.”

“some very good advice, that if you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work,…the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp. The light from a lamp, I explained, gives a cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.” 
My advice is simple, if you haven’t read this book, do so immediately. 

The Best Advice a New Writer Can Get…

As I have been sharing in various posts, I want to become a writer. And that involves a number of things: practising writing in different forms at every opportunity; writing in my preferred form more consistently; taking writing courses and reading what other, successful, writers have to say about the craft. 

Some of the above were pretty obvious from the start, some not so much. The obvious was the practising and writing courses; the less obvious the reading what published writers have to say about writing. I don’t know why this wasn’t obvious at first but it just wasn’t. I didn’t really come to that realisation until I finally, after several years of stop/starting with my writing, decided that buying a writing magazine was quite a good idea. From this came the realisation that published writers can offer some very good advice and tips on writing and that a more formal writing course, such as an MA in creative writing would be a very good investment in my future. 

However, the really key advice that ran through every article and book on writing was to read, read, read as well as to write, write, write. 

This was an exciting moment for me as a trainee writer, because I’ve always felt a little guilty reading when I should be feverishly writing away. Now I realise that I can read guilt free as it will serve as an almost subliminal writing course in itself. So I have been reading: reading widely, voraciously and enjoying myself hugely. And what’s more, it seems that the more I read, the more I write. Who knew? 

I’ve also decided to post reviews of the books which have been particularly enjoyable as well as useful to me. But that’s just the kind of crazy chick I am. 🐣 

Creative Flow vs Careful Planning

I’ve recently set up a creative writing workshop for students at the school where I teach. There are about 10 students in total who attend and it’s great. After years of teaching schemes of work and having to stick to the limits that they impose, it is a truly joyful experience to throw away the rules and work however we please. One of the first casualties has been careful planning.

We discussed this as a group. I relayed the advice that I recently read in Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ about plot and his preference for putting “characters … in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free”. We agreed that, for the most part, we preferred this way of writing. Some of us said we liked to just write and then at some point map out key details but none of us said that we sat and planned a story out before we start to write. And then, do you know what we did? We just wrote. For 40 minutes, a long time for a teenager, we sat and wrote, all working on our own stories. It was bliss. 

Next week we’re going to continue the process of writing before we settle down to polishing and redrafting. I find that the more I just sit and write like this, the more I love it. And as a teacher, I find it really liberating; I can’t wait to try it in the classroom.