On marmalade

I used to hate marmalade with the same fervour generally reserved for microwaved meats and fruit in muesli that was not sultanas.

Orange juice made me sick in the mornings, but I was always prone to colds, to coughs. Mum made me drink it, no doubt thinking that the vitamin C was all that was keeping me from dying.

Grapefruits were disgusting. Lemon looked so inviting, left over in a nest of ice after a pub dinner, but really it just made my mouth fill with saliva and pucker.

Cumquats were the only edible thing that grew in the garden where I grew up, so I’d eat them. Even though, in my very humble opinion, they taste like death.

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I made jam a few times with the cumquats that grew at home. And by jam, I mean a vaguely sour sugary syrup that wasn’t thick enough to even stay on a spoon. I gave it away to relatives, who always said thank you (bless them). As time went on, I tried again and again – the Lisbon lemons from my aunty’s little garden; the limes our next door neighbour brought us after we moved to the hills. I went for recipes that were quick; I was too impatient to read up on what I was doing and accepted the cloudy, watery jams and marmalades as just one of those things.

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I only started to enjoy eating marmalade after I met my husband, Ben. At that time in my life, my breakfast consisted of a banana eaten while driving to uni or work or the farm where I kept my horses. Ben liked a leisurely breakfast. He ground coffee and sat in the chair at his mother’s table, reading the newspaper with the morning sun on his back. He had unsliced loaves of bread and marmalade that was made by his grandfather. Marmalade that was crystal clear and well set. It was seeing the marmalade on the table most mornings that convinced me that maybe I did like it. So I joined Ben. We ate marmalade together, flipping through the newspapers. It meant getting up earlier, but it was worth it. It was nice not to start the day in a rush.

***

Two years ago we moved to a farm with an established citrus orchard and over those two years, I’ve been overwhelmed by the quantity of citrus that’s grown on the trees. Out came my super-quick-super-shit jam and marmalade recipes, which I used to make marmalade in my food processor. Cloudy and watery, but at least preserved. At least they weren’t going to waste.

My friend, Sharon, who is a kitchen goddess, took a few boxes of cumquats from our orchard this year and gave us some cumquat marmalade. It was beautifully set, crystal clear and delicious. It threw my cloudy, watery marmalade into a particularly unflattering light. I wanted to do better.

This season, I collected my oranges and lemons with a steely resolve. This year would be different. I would branch out from the quickest-easiest-recipe-I-can-find in a brave and radical attempt to make marmalade as magical as Sharon’s.

I trawled the internet. Sharon is a big Sally Wise fan, but the one Sally Wise book I have has been eaten by the giant piles of books that are in desperate need of sorting and shelving and I couldn’t find it. In the end, I dug out the ever-wonderful copy we have of Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion. I found the recipe for marmalade and blinked at it. Surely not. Surely I did not have to cook this marmalade over two friggen days. And where was I supposed to find a muslin bag? I looked at my food processor. My quick, easy food processor. I gritted my teeth. Two days.

 

We have lisbon lemons from my mother-in-law’s place and meyer lemons, cumquats, grapefruits, oranges, blood oranges and mandarins from our own orchard. While I was making a giant mess in the kitchen, I figured I may as well have a crack at preserving lemons (also from Stephanie Alexander’s book) as well as trying out candied lemons (great way to use up excess skins and added bonus of leaving a sweet, sugary syrup behind – voila, cordial!). The next morning, I did as I was told. I baked my sugar and squeezed my muslin bag and reheated my water/fruit juice/fruit peel mix. It turned out beautifully. Like liquid jewels in a cup. I’ve learnt a few things about marmalade over the last few weeks. That you can get your pectin from the pips and pith rather than adding it in powder form. That different fruits have different levels of pectin. That grapefruit and Seville oranges have pith that ends up clear. That if you boil your marmalade for too long in the final stage, you can turn it into sugary syrup.

 

As much as I once hated marmalade, I now adore it. There’s something very grounding about taking such a long time to cook, to preserve. It’s precious and luxurious and the perfect accompaniment to a piece of homemade sourdough and a cup of tea.

 

 

 

 

 

A weekend in the country

I’m going to try and blog a bit more regularly. It’s a joy to just write what I feel like, without being conscious of angles or pitching or whether the piece is Good Enough.

Today, I want to write about my weekend. I spent it driving around country Victoria visiting beautiful bookshops with my husband, Ben, and Karenlee Thompson – who has written the beautiful short story collection Flame Tip.

I’m from the other side of the city, nestled in the upper regions of the Yarra Valley. We started off at Red Door Books in Lancefield – a gorgeous, welcoming little town. The Red Door had a stunning array of fiction and gardening books, in particular and now has a couple of signed copies of ACHE and IN THE QUIET.

We then popped to Aesop’s Attic bookshop in Kyneton, which has a mix of new and second hand books. I was particularly struck by the range of books for young adults and children – although it stretches well back from the storefront and would have something for everyone.

Our next stop was the The Book Wolf in Maldon. Maldon is a gorgeous town, full of heritage buildings and great shops. The Book Wolf is in new hands – the very capable and warm Mike Smythe. It’s got lots of tasteful gifts as well as a lovely range of fiction and non-fiction. There’s a real sense of community at The Book Wolf, with lots of books on the local environment and local history. The Book Wolf has both new and secondhand books, a cosy collection of plushy chairs and a woodfire heater.

We popped into Paradise Books in Daylesford, which has been one of my favourite bookshops for a very long time, although I’ve only managed to get across town a handful of times for a visit! This shop looks regular enough from the outside, but it’s a bookish wonderland – stretching out into rooms and rooms across two floors and comprising both new and second hand books. The range of secondhand books in particular is pretty breathtaking. Pictured left are the stairs that lead up to the second storey.

Our final stop was New Leaves in Woodend – which is a relatively new addition, owned and managed by the wonderful Woody. There was a huge non-fiction and kid’s section here and the sort of atmosphere that makes you want to curl up in a ball on the wooden floor and stay there forever. A lovely group turned up to drink champagne and hear Karenlee and I in conversation about our newest books, Flame Tip and Ache – which both explorebushfires. The real star was Jupiter the cat, who knocked on the front door of the shop to be let in halfway through our talk.

It’s such a privilege to be able to visit such wonderful shops – the number of times locals came in while we were visiting and the staff greeted them by name was astounding.  I was delighted by the pride staff took in their local authors, book clubs and the stunning natural environment north west of Melbourne.

Out the other side of the city feels very different from the Yarra Valley (I know, I know – very obvious. I have a point, I promise!). The landscape is different; the trees and earth and colour of the grass. But around the Macedon area is very similar to the valley, too. Freezing winters and the constant threat of bushfires throughout summer; wineries and the delightful throb of a strong equestrian scene. And a truly magical view of the city at night, cruising in along the calder.

 

I nearly forgot! Here’s a picture of my weekend’s book haul! Since moving to our Yarra Valley farm and growing most of our own produce, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with preserving.  Can’t wait to get stuck into these x

 

Ache’s Second Week

Things are not slowing down for Ache! This week Ache was officially launched at Readings Hawthorn by the wonderful Dr. Leah Kaminsky. It was a great turn-out of very old friends, new friends and people I was lucky enough to meet for the first time. A very heartfelt thank to everyone who came – I know many people travelled quite a long way and it meant so much to have you all there. 

Readings Books reviewed Ache in their newsletter and there was a also a lovely review in The Sydney Morning Herald. Ache is also Robinson’s book of the month! Hurrah!

I was interviewed on the Australian Writers’ Centre blog, talking about Ache and writing and everything in between.

I contributed to this awesome article on what Looking for Alibrandi means to me. It’s been 25 years since this powerful and beautiful book was published and I was pretty thrilled to have the opportunity to babble about how much I adore it!

I wrote an article on trauma, grief and social media for The Age. For anyone that’s interested, I’ll be chairing a panel on writing trauma at this year’s EWF and I’m also running a workshop on writing trauma at the Victorian Writers’ Centre. Details on both events can be found under the events link above. x

Ache’s First Week

Ache’s first week has been the biggest whirlwind of my life. I started it off sick. And while this severely messed up my editing schedule on my other projects, it was a relief to turn my computer off for the weekend – no writing novels, no editing, no pitching, no admin. I watched bad television and napped and did some knitting and napped some more. And although I hate being sick, in this case I was grateful to be made to stop.

On Sunday, the day before Ache came out, I had two articles published in The Age/Sydney Morning Herald. A piece on the four books that shaped me for the Arts section and an article on growing up in a house of women for Sunday Life.
On Sunday evening a beautiful review of Ache was published by bookblogger, Debbish.

Monday was the day that Ache came out in stores. It was the day that it truly stopped belonging to me. It’s a bittersweet moment – tinged with pride and excitement but also horrendous anxiety and uncertainty. I had an interview with The Regal Fox go live on Monday. I also had an article published in The Guardian on Monday looking at the importance of bushfire stories. This was an article I’ve been wanting to write for a long time and I’m so glad I finally did.  I have a lot of beautiful friends and I was flooded with photos of Ache out in stores, which was pretty glorious.  Monday also saw the announcement of my new book deal with HarperCollins (I talked about this in my previous blog post, but you can also find info here).

On Wednesday I flew up to be a speaker at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. This festival is magical – set out over the water with the habour bridge and opera house peaking in from the right. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it. It’s particularly lovely in it’s layout – a majority of events are set out in one spot, so it’s really easy to make a day of it and get from one event to another. Apart from the panels I appeared on, I spent my time in Sydney seeing some great panels, caught up with lots of friends and met lots of fantastic people. As someone who is very introverted and normally exhausted by socialising, it was a lovely surprise to feel really invigorated by everyone I spent time with this week. And then on Saturday I was surprised by not one, but two paper reviews for Ache! One in The Australian and one in The Saturday Paper. I couldn’t be more thrilled with how Ache’s first week out in the wilds has gone.

Ache is also in the front window of over fifty bookshops around Australia. This photo is the front window of The Leaf Bookshop in Ashburton, VIC. If you happen to see it on display, please send me a pic!

This next week Ache’s going to be launched on Thursday (if you’re free and in Melbourne, come along!) The rest of the week is  going to be a bit of a blur of bookshop visits and finishing up the current round of edits on my first YA novel, which will be out in March. If you’ve read Ache (or In the Quiet!) or are planning it for a book club or have any other questions, please get in touch I’d love to hear from you!

E x

Two Book Deal with HarperCollins

 

Something that I talk about a lot on panels and such is the fact that I wrote ten manuscripts before In the Quiet was picked up in 2014. I hadn’t really given much thought to all the manuscripts tucked into my hard drive, but talking about them so much over the past couple of years got me thinking about them again. And there was one that I’d written when I was sixteen. It was a special story for me – for year twelve art I’d actually typeset it, bound it and designed a cover for my final piece of assessment. I leant it out to friends, who all dutifully told me it was brilliant (I have good friends). And I sent it out to a few places. And then, nothing. So I did what most people do – I tucked it away and tried to forget about it.

And then, last year, I pulled it out and started reading. My writing had gotten better in the intervening ten years (THANK GOODNESS), but there was something about the story that I really liked. I’m the sort of person who works intensively on a project and then sets it aside, so during a bit of down time on my third novel for HarperCollins, I started playing with this old, familiar story that felt like a long lost friend.

Twelve years after I first finished it, my little YA novel is being published.  It’s really highlighted for me that putting something aside and working on new projects is not a failure. In this case, it was extremely valuable.

There are more details on the books+publisher website.