Archive for the Books Category

Maybe Dukan, Not Sure If I Can

Posted in Books on January 12, 2011 by timlafferty

After a friend lost loads of weight on the Dukan Diet, my wife asked for the recipe book for Christmas. She hasn’t read it yet, but I have. Dr Dukan is French and his diet is based on eating only protein for a few days, followed by a period of protein and vegetables. Apparently this is how French women eat, which explains why they’re all so slim. So it’s similar to the Atkins Diet but with low fat proteins. I’ve tried Atkins but I didn’t lose any weight and it gave me gout. I’ve lost a couple of pounds in 10 days with Dr Dukan but apparently I should have lost about seven. Perhaps the fact that I’ve customised it a little by adding chocolate and cashew nuts has reduced its effect.

I’ve never been described as fat, at least not to my face, mainly because I’m usually trying some sort of diet fad.  The Carol Vorderman diet book involved a vegetarian detox – lots of salads, oats and pulses. I put on weight. The worst diet was the one recommended to me by an Indian ayurvedic doctor. For three days I had to drink cups of ghee (a sort of butter) diluted in hot water. I had to time it such that on the third day I could remain near a toilet because everything would come sliding out, well oiled. I didn’t lose any weight and drinking the ghee made me gag.

The only diet that has worked for me is the Sacred Heart Memorial Hospital Diet; I was told they used it for heart patients who needed to lose weight quickly before surgery, but apparently that’s an urban myth and hospitals deny using it. This diet involves making copious quantities of vegetable soup and drinking as much of it as you can – the more soup you can force down, the more weight you lose. On Day 1 you can also eat some fruit (except bananas), on Day 2 some vegetables and on day 4 you can go really wild and have a banana.  Apparently in the first week you can lose 10 -17 lbs but I’ve never been able to keep it going for more than about three consecutive days without feeling too weak and wobbly to continue (it’s probably not the safest of diets). But over the course of a couple of years I drank the soup often and lost about 20 lbs to the point that people said I looked too thin and I had precious few muscles left. I reached the point where I couldn’t face another mouthful of that insipid soup so over the following seven years I’ve put all the blubber back on, and more (sadly, the muscles are another story). Being a sedentary writer doesn’t help. Wanting to lose it again is partly the desire to stay fit for sport, partly because my cholesterol is too high, partly because I don’t want to buy new clothes but mainly because I’m vain – man boobs are not a good look.

I’ve also tried various diet supplements sold on the internet, but they don’t seem to work either and most contain things I don’t want to consume, like caffeine. I’m not sure I can stick with the Dukan Diet but I’ll keep trying. Who knows, I may end up looking like a French woman (I already have the breasts).


Nano Fiction

Posted in Books on October 22, 2010 by timlafferty

I belong to a writing circle, formed about ten years ago by me and a few like-minded writers who I’d met in a creative writing class. Gradually people moved away or stopped writing and the group has morphed from a writing circle to more of a triangle. We meet every three weeks or so and trash, sorry, “constructively critique”, each other’s work over a bottle of wine or two. We’ve entered various competitions over the years, including ones for mini sagas and nano fiction. I can’t claim any accolades for this form of writing myself, but three members of our little tribe have been recognised for their brilliance, so I shall take some reflected glory from that, because doubtless I trashed earlier drafts (but drank so much wine I can’t remember).

A mini saga has to be exactly fifty words and nano fiction must be one hundred words or less. Here they are:


A mini saga by Ruth Brandt

He didn’t have his own clothes any more, the boy whose mummy said she didn’t want him. So, on clean laundry day he fought for the pants with elastic and the socks that matched. But he always knew when it was Christmas Day; after breakfast they gave him an orange.

That piece won first prize in Connection Magazine’s 2001 mini saga competition. Ruth’s prize was £150; she reckoned £3 a word wasn’t a bad rate. She spent the money on champagne. (Sadly, the mini saga is a true story).

Consumer’s Lot

A mini saga by Kevin Levell

He bought the thing he didn’t need, with money he didn’t have, from someone he didn’t know. It had been designed by someone he hadn’t heard of. It was built by someone who didn’t care, in a country he’d never been to. He got it home and it didn’t work.

Kev is not just creative with his writing, he’s a fantastic professional illustrator. Check out his work. He can also turn his hand to corporate graphic design – he created the Write Brain logo for me (

By A Thread

A mini saga by Sylvia Colato

Theseus decided. Sailed to Crete and ingratiated himself with a traitor.

Without fear along the tortuous route, thanks to the secret weapon, he arrived and slew the powerful brute.

Really grateful for her help, he left the island with informant, Ariadne. He nevertheless abandoned her, on Naxos, en route home.

Sylvia’s and Kev’s pieces were ‘Commended’ in a national mini saga competition run by The Daily Telegraph. Both were published in a collection of the winners in 2001. The competition was devised by Brian Aldiss and one of the judges was Joanna Lumley. I don’t believe they’ve run the competition since, which is a shame.


Nano Fiction, By Ruth Brandt

My boyfriend insisted that ducks couldn’t fly. We argued for days, staying up late into the night. When I ran out of facts, I decided to give my boyfriend the time and space to process all my compelling arguments.

After a week of silence I returned to our flat to find that my boyfriend remained convinced that ducks were purely water birds. In order to put the silly argument behind us and get on with our lives, I persuaded him to accompany me to the park. We waited by the duck pond for an hour. The ducks didn’t fly.

Fishing Tackle

Nano Fiction by Ruth Brandt

My boyfriend went away to university, leaving his fishing tackle in my safe keeping. I took to hanging around the lake where he had fished, chatting to the other fishermen and telling them how much I missed him. When one of them caught a 26.6lb pike, I knew my boyfriend would be delighted to learn that the lake held a fish of such a size. So I took a photo of the pair, entitled it ‘What a catch!’ before texting it to him. My boyfriend texted back saying I should return his tackle to his mum.

Those two pieces by Ruth were ‘Commended’ and published in an anthology called ‘Ada and more Nano-Fiction’ published by Leaf Books in 2009 (


Posted in Books on July 27, 2010 by timlafferty

The novel that I’m writing (28,542 words of the first draft complete, not that I’m counting) has a character who starts a chocolate business. I know, I know, Willy Wonka has already been done but that’s not stopping me. I thought it would be useful, ahem, research to visit a chocolate factory.  And if  you’re going to visit a chocolate factory, and you haven’t won a golden ticket, where better to go than chocolate-central, a.k.a. Belgium? So last Tuesday I went to the Eden factory in Jabbeke, near Brugge. Until recently it was a cigar factory but that business was going up in smoke so they decided to switch to making chocolates. After a chat with CEO Wim Petermans I had a guided tour by Production Director Patrick Aubrion.  Before stepping onto the factory floor we donned hats, white coats and overshoes and stuck our hands in a machine that squirted disinfectant on them.

I’ve spent a lot of time in plants that print newspapers or magazines. This was similar, with its conveyor belts and wrapping machines. The main differences were that this was spotlessly clean and had giant vats which can hold up to ten tons of liquid chocolate. Oh, and obviously there were lots of busy ooompa loompas, who aren’t ever sighted in print plants. Making chocolate is an expensive business – the mould needed for just one shape of chocolate costs €15,000. I asked Patrick how he comes up with new chocolate tastes and he said he’d set up a lab at home. Apparently his wife isn’t too keen on having a chocolate lab at home so I suggested he might like to have mine – she’d love it.

Only I could visit a chocolate factory and not taste a single chocolate. None were offered and it seemed rude to ask. So, like you, I’ll have to wait until Eden chocolates go on sale in shops in the UK; I believe John Lewis will be selling them soon. Now I can weave my new-found knowledge of the chocolate business into my novel. I may even include a handful of oompa loompas.

Tim Lafferty and Patrick Aubrion

Tim Lafferty and Patrick Aubrion (right) at the Eden Chocolate Factory

The Stieg

Posted in Books on July 16, 2010 by timlafferty

Photograph of Tim Lafferty If you’ve read any of the Stieg Larsson Millenium Trilogy, starting with ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ you’ll probably enjoy Nora Ephron’s spoof of it in New Yorker magazine.

Larsson’s books, set in Sweden, are page-turners. Well, the first one is. The second book, ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’ isn’t quite as good but keeps the story going, even though the first few chapters, set in Grenada, seem to have no relevance to the rest of the book. The final one, ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’ is dire – don’t waste your time on it.

His plots and characters are engaging but changing points of view frequently means that he has to keep repeating parts of the story to bring that character up to speed. He also includes a lot of details, which are not necessary for the story, nor interesting.

‘The rucksack contained her white Apple iBook 600 with twenty-five-gig hard drive and 420 megs of R.A.M., manufactured in January 2002 and equipped with a thirty-five-centimetre screen.’

And three paragraphs later, the even more inane:

‘Unsurpisingly she set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple Powerbook G4/1.0 GHz in an aluminium case with a PowerP.C. 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 megs of R.A.M. and a sixty-gig hard drive. It had BlueTooth and built-in CD and DVD burners. Best of all it had the first forty-three centimetre screen in the laptop world with N.V.I.D.I.A graphics and a resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels, which shook the P.C. advocates and outranked everything on the market.’

OK, this character, Salander, is a computer hacker and I guess the writer is trying to show us the sort of things she’s going to be interested in. Thank goodness he didn’t go quite as far as writing in the computer code she used.

I don’t know if he has some deal with Billy’s Pan Pizza but Billy gets a lot of mentions, usually as part of a dull and irrelevant shopping list.

‘She was dressed in jeans, T-shirt, and a thin cloth jacket. She wore sandals and short cotton socks. She walked gingerly over to the 7-Eleven where she bought some shampoo, toothpaste, soap, kefir, milk, cheese, eggs, bread, frozen cinnamon rolls, coffee, Lipton’s tea bags, a jar of pickles, apples, a large pack of Billy’s Pan Pizza and a pack of Marlborough Lights. She paid with a Visa card.’

The fact that I read all three books shows either that I love reading shopping lists and ads for computers or that the books are pretty good. Fair play to him, he’s had three books published and was the second-best-selling writer in the world in 2008. Apparently over 27 million copies of his books have been sold. So, respect. It’s just that they could have been so much tighter – they read like first drafts. They were all published after his death in 2004 and perhaps no-one felt they could edit them.

By the way, I read these books using Amazon’s Kindle app on my 3GS iPhone, which has 8 GB of memory, 480×320 resolution, VGA video recording, a 3-megapixel camera, MMS and Voice Control. Now, excuse me but I fancy a pizza.