Saturday, 30 January 2016


Our award-winning project ‘Howe Farm’ on BBC2 tonight @ 8pm in the series ‘The £100k House’ as inspiration for others

This is Howe Farm, Dorton Bucks by IPT Architects. Pictured in the dead of winter but still looks brilliant. It was built cheaply out of industrial components designed for factories and similar fast-construction buildings.

Just lovely.

It has won numerous awards and almost won RIBA Building of the Year 2015.


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Really loved this. Best film I have seen in ages.

Anyone who has ever created something then fought against all the odds to get it out there then been undermined, ripped-off and betrayed  by a combination of tardiness, double-speak and graft should go and genuflect at the screen. Terrific stuff.

Basically, it’s about a divorced American mother who has two kids and a what? Dysfunctional will do – a dysfunctional American family all living in her Long Island house: her mum and dad who are divorced; her husband from whom she is divorced; her supportive gran who is widowed plus her two kids. So, lots of tension stress and conflict. When the film opens, she has a sense at times of things eluding her grasp, of the good years slipping away. Then she invents the mop and the film follows her struggles. Joy is essentially a film about crisis management.

Jennifer Lawrence plays her warm. You warm to her from the get-go. She is a pretty girl but that isn’t why you warm to her; she is given warm scenes and warm dialogue. We see her as a child in a backstory scene, un-self-consciously befriending a little black girl, who remains her best friend throughout her life. When the plumbing springs a leak, it is Jennifer Lawrence who gets down on her hands and knees to repair it. We warm to her. I just don’t know enough about cinema and acting to know whether directors cast people with warmth or if it’s all in the script. She was warm in Hunger Games, warm in Silver Linings Playbook; perhaps she will only do warm films. Virginia Madsen, her sister [Terry] in Joy plays her cold. She is a superb actress and could act anyone off stage . . . she was in Sideways, if you can remember . . . and she played cold in that as well.

I’ve learned in my writing how to create warm or cold characters. In Parallel Lines, Kiri is warm; she is the one who everyone leans on. The one who metaphorically fixes the plumbing leak. In the first novel, Riccarton Junction, she is hard and cold . . . to everyone . . . until they can demonstrate trust. No, no I know it’s not as black and white as all that but Sideways won its Oscar for Best Film [Adapted Screenplay] for its depth of characterisation and it is that what makes Joy so great.
It has great pacing. It is ultimately a biopic but the pacing has the effect of giving it the structure of a thriller but . . . unlike in a lot of Hollywood movies . . .  Joy does not solve any of her problems by beating someone to a pulp in the third act. Just hard work and intelligence . . . and no swearing or cursing, not once. This is a working class American family and the word fuck is never heard, which has to be a first.

You can have what you want most in the world, but to pay for it you must give up what you wanted second and third.’

. . . . is the tag-line of my second novel, Train that Carried the Girl. And she does.

Gawd, I loved this film.


This is a 2014 French comedy that isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste . . . it gets only 3* Reviews but we liked it. I quite like the French and admire the way they have strived to protect their language and culture and I quite like their gentle comedies.

We were in China once a very long time ago and stayed in a freezing hotel whose only guests were Europeans. As it happened, we were there on Bastille Day. During dinner, a group of French tourists stood up at their table while food was being served and sang the French National Anthem, which is called, La Marseillaise. All the Brits in the restaurant got up and shuffled out but we stayed out of respect and stood with them on their special day. But can you imagine a group of British tourists standing to attention in a Chinese restaurant singing God Save the Queen? No? Neither can I but even if they did, would the French or indeed any other nationality rudely walking out?

[Perhaps the Irish?].

Like all the best bitter-sweet comedies there is an underlying moral in Cycling with Moliere which is that you can never go back. You can’t return home after thirty years away, you can’t go back to that simple fulfilling job you used to love; can’t pick up where you left off with an old friend you haven’t seen in decades. For good or for bad you are stuck with the life you have created.

French existentialism. I suppose it never died.


Haven’t got much to say about this. Everyone seems to have an opinion.

What’s it about. Mans inhumanity to man, I think. Something I tend to go out of my way to avoid in books, television, theatre and cinema. The Guardian called it meaningless pain porn, ‘. . . vicious savagery justified by medieval notions of retribution’.

I understand her point; it’s a very male film, awfully well done like say Hurt Locker or Black Hawk Down, awfully well done and realistic but ultimately, gratuitously violent.

Am I recommending it? Well, if you don’t know what happened to the native populations of America when the Europeans turned up, then watch it and learn. If you want to see what an Oscar-winning central performance looks like then go and see DiCaprio strutting his stuff to terrific effect. If you like gorgeous, immersive shots of wild scenery then go for that. But Joy, it isn’t.

It isn’t easy to write a revenge thriller. This is the genre Ridley Scott specialises in; Alien is a revenge thriller. So is Gladiator and Thelma and Louise but how do you bring about the revenge? Good guy/girl kills the bad guy? Good guy decides revenge doesn’t actually make him a better person and lets bad guy walk free? Fist fight on the edge of the cliff and the bad guy falls to his death anyway? Good guy lets bad guy go ‘cause that’s what being a true hero is and then the tiny/weak girl who was raped in the first place takes the gun and blows his head off?

I’m not honestly sure the screenwriter gets it right in Revenant. It’s adequate, I suppose. Six out of ten. Read Parallel Lines to see how it’s done. Or read the best revenge thriller ever written, Dead I May Well Be [Adrian McKinty].

Thursday, 28 January 2016


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Pilaf is a dish in which rice is cooked in a seasoned broth. Quite often this mix is stirred with pieces of cooked onion, as well as a mix of spices. The end result must be fluffy.

Kedgeree is very similar but usually includes fish and boiled eggs added to the final mix.

This is the version I have perfected over the years:


All in grams.

375g chicken stock/2 x eggs/1tbsp fresh coriander leaves [fresh really makes a difference]/salt & pepper but not too much/3xbay leaves [break them up]/small pinch of ginger/2xtsp garam masala/2xspring onions/1xlemon, zest only/1xtbsp lemon juice/400g undyed smoked haddock fillet, skin on/2xgreen chillies, seeded, chopped/250g basmati rice/40g butter.

Pre-heat oven to approx. 180C

Put the eggs on to boil.

Melt butter in heavy based casserole dish, with a lid. Add garam masala and allow to heat up for a minute or two on the hob. Add the rice and stir into the spicy mixture.
Add bay leaves/lemon zest/green chillies/ginger/salt & pepper. Pour over the chicken stock. Bring to the boil then lay the smoked haddock on the top, carefully submerging it into the rice. Remove from hob, cover with the lid and cook in the oven for twenty minutes [no more]. Remove from oven and leave to stand, still with the lid on for about ten minutes.

Take the lid off, lift out the fish and take the skin off. Take the bay leaves out. Add boiled eggs/chopped spring onions/fresh coriander. Put the fish back in then take a knife and fork and mix the rice while also breaking up the fish and the boiled eggs. Leave to stand for around 4-5 minutes while everything settles. I have been known to put the casserole back in the still-hot oven for a few minutes just to replace the heat lost while mixing.

Mix one more time. Just before serving, add the lemon juice.

Should easily serve four.