Archive for the ‘Starbucks’ Tag

The End In Sight

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I got the early train into London this morning for an early-morning Starbucks writing session – something I have not done in a while, it must be said.  In fact looking at my writing log made me realise the last writing session was dated 16 April – over a month ago.  I will say at this point I am rather anal about logging my writing sessions, noting word count and date of every one.  It helps me keep track of my monthly word count, and also how long it takes me to finish each draft.  But it also makes me aware of how long it’s been since the last session.

Why the gap?  The end of April and beginning of May was manically busy in the day job, and I was also working on edits for both DEATH SCENE and DEAD COOL, which made it hard for me to get my head around working on the WIP as well.  And then I was away for two weeks.  I did actually take the Netbook away with me, with the idea that if it was raining I might get some time to sit in the hotel room and write, but well…the weather was glorious and the writing didn’t happen.

Anyway.  Now I am back home again and trying to get back into my usual routine, including the early-morning writing sessions.  The current work in progress is the 1960s crime thriller, and this morning was a good session.  I’ve been wrestling with the climax of this one, but now I feel that the end is in sight.  The novel still needs a great deal of work – I am not deluding myself about that.  But I am nearing the end of the first draft.  And I’ve always seen the first draft as putting the scaffolding in place.  Once you’ve got that, you can start the real building work.

The main issue with this novel will be research.  It’s set in 1967, and spans San Francisco, London and Vietnam.  This is not an era I was alive to witness, but there are plenty of people around who were, and they’ll notice if I get it wrong.  The parts of the novel set in Vietnam – which is effectively the final section of the story – is proving particularly tricky.  This was a very emotive point in history.  In particular I want to know what Long Binh looked like in 1967.

Research has never been my strong point, and I’ve never let a mere thing like getting the facts right stop me from getting stuck into the first draft.  Of course, this generally means a great deal of changes between the first draft and future drafts.  Fortunately, the Internet has made doing research a great deal easier than it used to be.  A quick search has revealed that there are a lot of personal accounts and photos from soldiers who lived through the Vietnam war are out there in the public domain, and careful research will help me ensure I get it right.

For me, the most important thing is to get to the end of draft 1.  I’m not there yet with this WIP.  But I can just glimpse the light at the end of the long tunnel.

After that, the real work starts.  Doing the research, getting the facts right, sorting out the plot holes, working out what’s not working and what’s not in the novel that should be.  But all that will come later.  For now, I’m focusing on getting to the end.  And I feel like I’m almost there.

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Writing Processes – Part 18: Starbucks and Inspiration

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It’s been a while since I blogged in this series of posts, but I’d like to pick it up again.

In the last post (some time ago now so here’s a reminder) I talked about the importance of routine.  Part of my writing routine is a couple of early-morning sessions in Starbucks with the NetBook, before I go to work.  It seems to work for me.

The strange thing is, this is now so much a part of my routine that I actually get more done in that hour before work than I do when I have the day off and I endeavour to spend the day writing.  On average, I get 1,000 words written in that hour.  On a really good day, it might be 1,800.

But it has to be Starbucks.  I am never quite as productive if I sit in some other coffee shop.  I can’t really explain why.  Part of it might be that I generally don’t like coffee, unless it’s Starbucks.  And even then it has to be a single shot, with sweetener (or syrup) or I can’t drink it.  Here in the UK, we have Continental coffee chains as well as American ones.  Europeans generally like their coffee far stronger than Americans do.  I can’t drink coffee from other coffee shop chains – I find it too strong and bitter.  But Starbucks soya lattes, I like.  I also like their muffins.  My favourite ones were the ginger ones, which sadly are no longer available here.  But I’ve recently developed a fondness for their new chocolate hazelnut muffins.

So I sit there at 7:30am with my NetBook, my soya latte and a muffin, and as I eat the muffin and wait for the NetBook to boot up, I start thinking about where my characters are and what comes next.  By the time I finish eating, I’m generally ready to start.  Maybe it’s the sugar rush from the muffin, combined with unaccustomed caffeine (I’m generally a tea drinker).  Maybe the fatigue has something to do with it.  Because I have to get out of bed at 5:30am for my writing mornings, I generally start them somewhat sleep-deprived.  I have discovered that this seems to be fairly good for my creativity, particularly when I’m working on a first draft – because I’m writing before the ‘internal editor’ has woken up.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m a creature of habit.  Because these early-morning writing sessions are now an integral part of my routine, when I sit down in Starbucks with my NetBook and my coffee, I expect to write, and I do.

Whatever the reason, it seems to be working for me.  So I shall carry on crawling out of bed in what feels like the middle of the night in order to keep up my early morning Starbucks writing sessions.  The word count is testament to their effectiveness.

Chapters

(Cross-posted on WriteClub blog)

I am a big fan of chapter breaks. Every story I’ve ever written, bar those less than 10,000 words, has had chapter breaks.

When I am reading a book, I like chapters. I particularly like short chapters. I hate stopping my reading session in the middle of a chapter, because when I come back to the book I have to hunt around the page to work out where I got to last. A chapter break makes it so much easier to find your place. Most of my reading is done on the train, going to and from work. Short chapters make it much easier to work out where to stop. When my train is ten minutes away from its final London destination, I will check and see how long the next chapter is. If it’s short, I can get one more in before it’s time to stop reading and get off the train.

Short chapters are also good when I’m reading in bed. It’s getting late, and I’m tired, but if I’m enjoying the book and the next chapter is only five pages long, I’ll probably read that one before stopping. And maybe the one after that. If I’m looking at 20 more pages until the next chapter break, I’ll probably stop there and turn out the light, no matter how much I’m enjoying the book.

No chapter breaks in a book really bugs me. For all the aforementioned reasons, this is one of my pet peeves. Much as I enjoy Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series, none of the books contain chapter breaks and it drives me crazy. Lindsey Davis, on the other hand, knows how to write a chapter. Her books about Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco have short, snappy chapters. In fact, she has been known to finish a chapter after one paragraph.

It was pointed out to me recently that my novels always have short chapters. I don’t think this was intended as a compliment, but I saw it that way. Yes, I love short chapters, for all the reasons above, and there are even more reasons to love short chapters when I’m writing them. As I hate putting down a book in the middle of a chapter, I also hate finishing a writing session in the middle of a chapter. Sometimes it’s unavoidable – like if I’ve started a chapter but I don’t know what happens next, so I have to stop and come back to it later. But on the whole, if I come to my WIP with my chapter plan, I know what’s supposed to happen in the chapter when I sit down to write it. My chapters are, on average, 1500 words long – often less. If I’m on a roll, it is possible for me to get that many words written in my hour-long early morning writing session in Starbucks.

Some writers like their 20,000+ word chapters. Some claim to hate chapters completely, preferring to let the narrative flow in unending waves. But I am much more likely to finish reading your book if it has frequent chapter breaks. If I get to page 50 and there’s been no chapter break, there’s a good chance I might abandon it right there. So of course I write short chapters – my writing reflects my reading preferences.

So what about you? Whether you’re a writer, or a reader, what’s your take on chapters?

New Routines

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

There are many stressful things about moving house, not least of which is the complete disruption to your daily routines. Everything’s in a different place, you don’t know where to find things for a long time, you have to get used to doing everything slightly differently.

Even my writing routines got disrupted. I did no writing at all for about a month after moving – I felt I really couldn’t get back to normal life while there were still boxes to unpack. But now the boxes are mostly unpacked, most things that we use every day have a place, and I have got back into writing.

My journey to work is longer now. The train route I’m on is a slower trek into London, and I have a longer walk to the station. This has put a bit of dent in my early morning writing routine. From the old place, I would leave the house at 6:30 am, to get into the West End for 7:30, and I would sit in Starbucks for an hour writing before going to work. Now, in order to get to the West End for 7:30, I have to leave the house at 6:00 am. That means a 5:30 start if I skip the shower and other morning customs – generally I prefer to have an hour.

However, in the new house I have a bigger writing space – in fact I have a study, a whole room to myself to write in – in the other house I only had a writing corner. This morning I decided to try out a new routine – getting up early to write at home before work.

So I set the alarm for 5:30 am. I spent an hour writing, in my pyjamas (with cup of tea, of course). I then had an hour to get ready for work, and although I had to catch a later train than usual, I was still at my desk for the day job by 9:00 am. By the time I got there, I’d been awake for three and a half hours and felt that I’d already done something productive with my day.

I think I’m going to stick with this routine. It means I will spend a bit more time in our new house, I’ll save a bit of money by not buying quite so many Starbucks breakfasts, and it means I get the writing time in before I even leave home in the morning. It did take me a while to get going this morning, and I’d had two cups of tea before I even left the house. but it’s just a matter of getting used to a new routine. It’s good for me to get out of the rut sometimes.

I’m not planning on giving up the Starbucks mornings completely. This is just a way of cutting back, without cutting back on the writing. After all, once upon a time I thought I could never write away from my little writing corner, and my Starbucks mornings proved that one wrong.

And there is something gloriously decadent about writing in one’s pyjamas.

WIP Woes

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

When I first started writing, I used to scribble in the back of school exercise books, in pencil. Towards the end of the 1980s I got my first computer – an Amstrad PCW. It was one of the machines with green fonts on a black background. It didn’t have a hard drive, so files had to be saved on floppy disks.

I tell this story because the influence that machine had on my writing is still with me today. Because the floppy disks didn’t have much memory, files had to be small. I used to save each chapter as a separate file, because it would take several disks to hold an entire novel. I still use this system of saving each chapter as a separate document. Only when the manuscript is nearing completion do I compile it all into a single document – and only then do I really know how many pages I’ve got.

Currently, I’m working on draft 2 of the horror WIP. Up to now this has largely been minor amendments to each of the early chapters, though as I go through it I start thinking about any major changes that might need to be made.  Things were going quite well until I got to chapter 12. And then I realised chapter 12 was missing from my ‘Draft 1’ folder.

An extensive search failed to unearth the missing chapter, but because I keep meticulous logs of when I write each chapter, I have worked out what has happened. The early chapters of the first draft of this WIP were written from October to December last year. At that point, I was still on my clunky old laptop, and my old NetBook. My writing routine has always been fairly rigid. If I was writing the chapters in Starbucks during my early-morning writing session, they were written on my NetBook. When I got home I would boot up both machines and copy the files from one machine to the other, so that there was a back-up. If I was writing at home, then I would transfer them the other way.

However, the old laptop was very slow, and sometimes waiting for it to boot up to transfer files was a frustrating process. What clearly happened is that when I was copying over my new chapters from the NetBook to the laptop, I somehow overlooked chapter 12 and didn’t copy it.

I got my new laptop for Christmas, and copied the files from my old laptop to the new one. Then the hard drive on my NetBook died – suddenly, and without warning. All files were lost. That was OK, I thought, I had everything backed up. Or mostly everything. Only now have I realised I had failed to back up chapter 12, and the only copy of that chapter is now lost forever on the dead hard drive.

What I am left with is a log of how many words were in that chapter (1,330) and a summary of what it contained. But the file is gone. I have to rewrite it. And that realisation was a depressing thought.

So the next day, I got up early for a writing session, took the NetBook into London and sat in Starbucks staring at chapters 11 and 13 or quite a long time. I did not get hit with any inspiration to re-write chapter 12.  What did occur to me, though, is that there are a lot of problems with this section of the novel, and there’s a lot of rewriting that needs to be done. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t write chapter 12 again. There are a lot of ‘talking heads’ – people talking about things instead of doing things. Too much ‘telling’, not enough ‘showing’, as the T Party writing group would probably say.

What I am attempting to demonstrate in this section of the novel is the changing personality of a character who is being possessed by a demonic creature, in the way he interacts with his friends, and how he’s becoming more violent to his girlfriend. At present, the girlfriend tearfully relays to her friends how her boyfriend raped her. I haven’t actually got a scene showing the rape. But I think I’m going to have to write it. The action will have a lot more impact than the telling.

I haven’t been able to face writing this scene in this week’s writing sessions. It’s going to be a very difficult and harrowing scene, and writing such scenes can be emotionally draining. But it needs to be done. Sometimes your WIP takes you to places you really don’t want to go to. But you have to go there anyway, in order to grow as a writer.

The ironic thing is, if chapter 12 had not disappeared, I would not have scrutinised that section of the novel quite so hard. Some times these things happen for a reason…

Finishing

(Cross-posted on WriteClub)

I was inspired to write this post by a friend who mentioned she has trouble finishing the stories she starts.

There are probably many reasons why many novels are started and not finished. My experience has led me to suspect there are two main culprits, which are the ones I’m going to deal with here.

1. You don’t know how it ends.
2. You spend so much time going back and editing the first draft, you never get to the second draft.

It took me 10 years to write SUFFER THE CHILDREN. I was citing life stuff getting in the way, but that was just an excuse, since I found time to write plenty of short stories during that 10 years. The real reason was the fact I got halfway through the book and didn’t know what was going to happen next, so I shoved it into a drawer. When I finally decided I wanted to finish this book, I knew I had to have a plan. I started by making a chapter-by-chapter outline of what I had so far. From there I worked on an outline of the whole story arc, all the way to the end. I ended up with three pages. I was then able to finish my chapter-by-chapter plan, because the story outline guided me as to what was going to happen in the chapters I hadn’t written yet. And from there, I was able to finish the novel.

It took me a while longer to learn this lesson fully. I’ve got a couple of other novels that were started and never finished, simply because I didn’t know how they were going to end. So now I don’t start a new novel without meticulous planning. I start with my three-page story summary. From there I do a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. This isn’t set in stone, and it might deviate a bit – I might, as I write, realise there’s another crucial event that has to happen between the events of chapter 11 and chapter 12, for instance, which might add a couple of extra chapters. But that’s OK. The system works for me, because every time I sit down to write, I know what’s going to happen next. My chapter plan is my guide.

Some writers are averse to too much planning, and swear by the ‘seat of the pants’ method. If this works for you, then I’m not criticising it. However, sometimes you can tell when a book has been written this way. If a novel starts off a certain way, and then suddenly, without notice, veers off in a completely different direction halfway through, it’s likely to have been written without a lot of forward planning.

If you are the sort of writer that has half-finished manuscripts gathering dust in your desk drawers, then maybe you should give the ‘planning’ method a try. It might help you finish one of them.

The second reason for not finishing, as cited above, is ‘over-editing’ the first draft. Again, this is largely down to writing technique. Some writers say they prefer to edit as they go, so by the time they get to the end of the first draft, there isn’t a need for a second draft. The problem with this method is, if you keep insisting on going over and polishing chapter 1 until it shines, you may never actually get to chapter 2.

Remember that old adage: Fix it in the rewrite. Remember also the words of Ernest Hemingway: the first draft is always shit ( well, I think it was Hemingway).

The point of the first draft is to erect the scaffolding on which the story is built. Who cares if it’s rubbish? No one’s going to read it. In fact, another successful writer, Stephen King, positively discourages writers from letting anyone see the first draft. In his marvellous how-to book ON WRITING (in my opinion the best ‘how to write’ book ever), he calls it ‘the closed door draft’. You write it without letting anyone in. When you get to draft 2 or 3, that’s when you can open the door and invite people to view it.

The first draft lets you get a feel for your characters and your plot. It lets you see where you still need to do the most work. But it should and will be flawed. Allow it to be so. Your secondary character Sue, petite and brunette, becomes blonde Alison halfway through? Don’t worry. Fix it in draft 2. You decide at chapter 20 there needs to be another character, but they ought to have been introduced in chapter 5? That’s OK. Just dump them in the story, and when you work on the next draft you can make a point of introducing this character earlier.

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to turn off the internal editor and just write, which is what I’m suggesting you do. I get up at 5:30am twice a week for my early-morning writing sessions, before work. I am not an early riser by nature. I find it a struggle to get up that early, and I stagger into London and sit in Starbucks for an hour, before going to the office. But that hour is very productive. I don’t think much about what I write. I just write. Maybe what I’m writing is rubbish, but it is first draft. And crucially, at that time in the morning, the part of my brain where my internal editor resides is still asleep, so she doesn’t interfere. And I think perhaps that’s why my early-morning writing sessions are so successful. It might be a different story if I was editing, but at the moment I’m just writing draft 1, and it’s working.

So these, in summary, are my two tips to get to the end. More planning, less editing. You can always fix it in the rewrite.

Writing Processes – Part 17: A Matter of Routine

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I’ve talked before about my dislike of exercise. I’m not one of those people who enthusiastically embraces her gym sessions because she enjoys the adrenaline buzz. I go because I feel it’s a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. I really don’t enjoy it, and I enjoy less the fact that I struggle to climb stairs for three days afterwards.

But because exercise is good for me, I endeavour to make time for it. And the only way it works for me is if I schedule it into my calendar. I have to set recurring appointments, so I get a reminder coming up on my calendar telling me about my commitment. Somehow this makes me more inclined to go. If I delete exercise sessions from my calendar, I feel guilty.

The same can be said about making time to write. This topic is much blogged about, both here and elsewhere. None of us have enough time to do everything we want to do, and when you’re trying to fit writing in around the day job, it does feel like you’re working two full time jobs.

I now schedule my writing time into my calendar the same way I schedule in my exercise classes. Monday evening is the ‘Million Monkeys’ initiative, where writers are invited to gather at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank, sit down with their laptops and start writing. It’s all very informal and very much a ‘drop-in session’, but I find that when I do go, I get quite a lot done. Maybe it’s the collective creative vibe. Maybe it’s the fact that when I am sitting amongst a group of others who are all furiously typing away, progressing on their WIPs, I feel more inclined to get on with mine. So I now schedule this event into my week as often as possible.

I also schedule two ‘writing mornings’. Generally Wednesdays and Fridays, I will get up at 5:30am and get the extra early train into London. This gets me to the Starbucks round the corner from work by 7:30am. I sit there with a soya latte and a ginger muffin, in my usual seat, and I will write for an hour before going to the office. My breakfast there rarely changes, and neither does where I sit. But this is all part of the routine. For me, the routine works. If I expect to be doing something at a particular time, on a particular day, I’m more likely to do it. And if someone’s in my usual seat at Starbucks and I have to sit somewhere else, I don’t get nearly as many words written.

I think for writers, routine works. But it’s equally important to find a routine that works for you. Don’t like getting up early? Neither do I, but strangely I’ve found that now I’m the wrong side of 40, getting up early to write is actually preferable to staying up late. You might be the sort of writer that finds you’re at your most productive at 2 in the morning. That’s fine, but if you’ve got a day job as well, that might be hard to manage unless you can cope without much sleep, or you can negotiate with your boss to start a bit later some days. Some people write during their lunch hour. I find the whole business of trying to eat my lunch and write at the same time a bit distracting, and I’m not a person that can go without lunch, so I don’t that myself. But if it works for you, then great.

Some people maintain that if you want to be a serious writer, you should write every day. Sound advice, if you can manage it, but I was only getting myself very stressed trying to fit in writing every day. My writing mornings are now recurring events in my calendar. In general, I will only delete them if I’m having a day off work and am not going into London, but if that’s the case then I will try and schedule another writing session later in the week – or I will endeavour to fit in some writing at home. If I manage to get extra writing time in then that’s a bonus, but at least I know that if I follow my usual routine, then I will have at least three writing sessions in a week.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the ‘best’ times for writing. You must make time, no doubt about that – a lot of people will talk airily about wanting to write a novel, but “never having the time”. You can talk about it, or you can do it. There might be a lot of trial and error before you find what works for you. But once you do find something that works, make it part of your routine.

Most writers I know are creatures of habit. So work on developing the habits that make you a better and more productive writer.

IT Fail

(Cross-posted from WriteClub)

My little NetBook has died. I mourn its passing. I have to come to rely on it completely in the last couple of years. Not only is it my lifeline during my early-morning Starbucks writing sessions, but I also take it on holiday with me. This year it’s been to Egypt, where it witnessed the birth of my new horror WIP. It’s also been to New York.

I used to do all my writing on my Dell laptop, which sits docked in my Writing Corner. When I decided to be more disciplined in my writing, my husband suggested we get a NetBook, which was much more portable than the laptop. It’s fair to say it revolutionised my writing habits.

The Dell laptop is seven years old, and has been getting decidedly slower and clunkier of late. In fact, when I turn it on I have to go away and do something else for twenty minutes, because it takes that long to think about things. So my main gift this past Christmas was a shiny new laptop running Windows 7. It’s lightning fast in comparison to the old one.

But, on New Years’ Day, the NetBook died. Literally. In the morning it was working fine; I went back to it a few hours later and tried to wake it from its sleep mode, and couldn’t. Continuous restarts failed to get me past a black screen with the words ‘failed to find operating system’ on it. Apparently this means the hard drive has failed. Getting it fixed is going to cost almost as much as a new machine, and even then there’s no guarantee we can retrieve any of the files.

I am, on the whole, pretty good at backing up. I transfer all my writing files between the laptop and the NetBook regularly, and every so often back them up onto the desktop PC as well. However, I’m not so diligent about doing this every day. I’d made a start on editing my short stories for the collection, and hadn’t copied them over anywhere. This wasn’t the end of the world, as I was able to retrive my Stumar Press editor’s copies from his email to me, and it just meant having to do them again. However, when I had my novel critique session for the second Shara book, I made notes as we went along on the NetBook. That I hadn’t copied anywhere, and so it’s lost forever. I do have the hard copies from my critiquers, but the idea of making a document with my own notes was so I would have an easy-to-access precis of what I need to fix in the next draft. Bummer.

What’s most inconvenient, however, is not having the NetBook to carry to my writing sessions. That I really miss. Not wanting to expose my shiny new laptop to the hazards of Central London, I have had to resort to hauling out the old Dell again and taking that into London with me for my writing mornings. It’s very heavy. And as I said before, it takes a long time to warm up.

However, I have learned my lesson with regard to backing up. This little guy in the picture was one of my stocking stuffers. I call him Robbie. He’s a USB flash stick with 8GB of memory. I have copied over all my WIPs onto him, and I carry him around everywhere. Every time I write more words, I copy them over straight away.

Having just forked out quite a lot of money on a new laptop, replacing the NetBook has to wait a while. In the meantime, I have to either get used to lugging the ancient laptop around, or I need to rearrange my writing schedule to give myself more time to write at home. Because I really don’t want to use the IT fail as an excuse to not write. Much as it’s made me realise how much I rely on technology, that would be a poor excuse indeed.

Appropriate Music

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Most writers seem to listen to music of some kind when they write. I prefer silence. I think this probably stems back to my teenage years. I spent a lot of time then holed up in my room, either doing homework or writing, and for both I needed quiet to concentrate.

However, when I have my early-morning writing sessions in Starbucks there is usually music playing. Generally, if it’s not very interesting music, I tune it out. If it’s music I know and like, I find myself listening to it, which makes it harder to concentrate on the writing.

At the moment when I sit in Starbucks I’m getting bombarded by Xmas songs. All well and good, but I’m writing a horror novel. Festive cheer is hardly encouraging the right mood.

Last week, sitting in Starbucks, I was working on a particularly difficult funeral scene, for one of the young victims of my supernatural monster. There are some key conversations that have to happen at the funeral to demonstrate the strain on the relationships between the main characters. I’m finding these scenes hard enough to write at the best of times. With cheesy Christmas pop songs going on in the background, it was even harder.

But then ‘Hallelujah’ came on. This has become a Xmas song simply because it was released by the X Factor winner a few years ago and hence was guaranteed to become the Xmas Number One. Whoever decided ‘Hallelujah’ was an appropriate choice for a Xmas song clearly hasn’t listened to the lyrics. It’s a beautiful song, but very depressing. And violent. However, it seemed aptly fitting for my downbeat funeral scene, and proved to be an inspiring song to write to.

If you’re not familiar with the song, I include the Bon Jovi version here. This is admittedly not the best version – there are many – but this one’s not bad, and I do enjoy looking at Jon Bon…

Bon Jovi – Hallelujah

Happy December

Well, it’s December. Which means I can no longer put off attempting to get into a festive frame of mind. It’s time to buy Xmas presents, do my Xmas card list, and venture into the attic to retrieve the tree and decorations.

Two years ago I did a blog post on why I don’t like the festive season. This Scrooge-like view is shared by many of my friends, but I have to say it seems to completely baffle my family. “You used to love Christmas”, my sister said to me recently. Yes, I did, when I was a kid and it was all about getting presents.

However, in an attempt to redress the balance – and to a certain degree bow to the inevitable and try to let in some festive cheer – I have decided this year to do a post on what I do like about the festive season.

Starbucks Gingerbread Latte:
I don’t drink coffee. The only coffee I like is Starbucks soya lattes – and most coffee drinkers say that Starbucks coffee doesn’t actually taste like coffee, which is probably why I like it. But I do love gingerbread, and Starbucks gingerbread lattes are one of the best things about this time of year.  Along with my customary stem ginger muffin, the gingerbread lattes have become part of the breakfast treat that accompanies my early-morning writing sessions.

Marzipan:
I love marzipan. When I was a kid I waited anxiously for my mother to decorate the Christmas cake. My sister and I would both get a lump of marzipan each to eat on its own. I would roll mine out like Play Dough and nibble it, in an attempt to make it last as long as possible.

When the Christmas cake has been cut and handed around, I’ll still go for one of the corner pieces that has more icing sugar and marzipan than cake. Because in fact I prefer the marzipan to the cake.

Ten Days Off Work:
Because I work for an organisation that closes down for the season, we knock off at noon on the last working day before 25 December, with a couple of glasses of champagne, and that’s it for us until the first working day of January. This generally amounts to ten (sometimes eleven) days of not having to crawl out of bed at 6am and trek through the cold and the dark to get to work. Ah, bliss.

The Wizard of Oz:
When I was a kid, cable TV had not been invented. Never mind DVDs, we didn’t even have video players in those days. Throughout most of the 1970s, “The Wizard of Oz” was on TV on Christmas Day. It was never on any other time of year, and there was no other way of watching it back then.

Hubby also fondly remembers looking forward to watching “The Wizard of Oz” at Christmas as a child.  So much so that we now have it on Blue Ray DVD, and we make a point of sitting down to watch it together, at some point over the holidays.

Presents:
Yes, I still like presents. I think everyone likes getting presents, even though we’re not supposed to admit it.

As a kid, I hated getting clothes – I thought they were boring presents. I preferred getting toys. Not much has changed, actually. I still like ‘toys’ – preferably those with a Star Wars or Buffy theme – and get more excited about these kinds of gifts than I do about scarves or make-up kits or any of the other things that girls are supposed like.

Having a valid excuse to eat and drink too much:
Whatever one’s religious beliefs, this time of year is a time for feasting. That means being able to forget the diet, and gorge on chocolate and all things fattening. Especially mince pies.  I love mince pies.

It’s also an excuse to drink lots of alcohol with all your friends, and nobody frowns on you if you start the year with a killer hangover, because that means you had a good time on New Years’ Eve.

It hasn’t escaped my notice that most of the above points involve food. It’s time to eat, drink and be merry. I shall do my best to be cheerful as 25 December rapidly approaches.  I think I’ll have another mince pie…