Spring cleaning

Spring means the return of communal bathing season. The birds didn’t do much bathing over winter, unsurprisingly. Now the sun forays forth occasionally and Floralia is upon us, they are back at it. It’s also baby-making time, so our garden is a flurry of frantic feathered fauna doing their best to put ALL THE FOOD into their beaky faces to take back to the nest.

BRO, STOP, UR DOIN ME AN AGGRO

While chatting with a colleague at work over a break, looking out the window at some seagulls, I voiced aloud my imaginings of what the birds might be thinking. She expressed surprise that anyone would do this — I have no idea whether this habit results from a childhood of indoctrination by Johnny Morris, or simply my constantly hyper-active imagination. I can only assume there’s something instinctive about it, though; since being exposed to the concept, my colleague tells me the habit has caught on.

At the meeting of Lemon Tree Writers a fortnight ago, we received an interesting workshop from the writer Sophie Cooke. A workshop presenter rarely covers short fiction, long fiction and poetry all in the space of one workshop, and this one was very well received by our eclectic mix of Scottish writers. While largely pitched for novice writers, I enjoy any prompt to produce some potentially useful word chunks, and found this no exception. Despite poetry requiring much more effort from me than prose, I managed to throw something together that didn’t sound terrible when I read it out, reminding me again of that well-known quote from cyclist Greg Lemond:

An image of a lone cyclist alongside a Greg LeMonde quote: it never gets easier, you just go faster

If it had been suggested to me even five years ago I could produce an eighteen line poem in the space of ten minutes, which — critically — I would not be too embarrassed to read out to a dozen people I barely knew, I would have found it hard to believe. Exercises like this are good reminders of why all the writing and reading is important. Even writing one has no intention of ever seeing the light of day presents an opportunity to embed a reluctance for copulas, a mental red flag for flabby words such as “that” and “very”, and the habit of specificity.

I think, these days, even my imaginary conversations between starlings need less copy-editing than they used to.

Semi-obligatory 2016 awards post

I’ve noticed that it’s the time of year for award eligibility, so here is what I’ve got in the running for 2016 awards.

Zangao
This isn’t Skook, but it looks like him.

I had a slow year on the writing front, but She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow is eligible in the short story category and available to read for free (or you can listen to the podcast). Should you wish to cast some love in the direction of Hedron, Chancery and Skook, I could bathe in the warm fuzzies like a happy baby sea flap flap.

It also turns out this marks my first year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. My thanks to the moderators, especially David Walton, for helping me confirm that and getting my name up on the list.

Just being on there feels like an achievement!

The Clockwork Phoenix has landed

Clockwork Phoenix 4 front cover
In the flesh

I was delighted to receive my contributor copy of Clockwork Phoenix 5 a couple of days ago. It is a stunning book, and I’m not just saying that because I’m (more than slightly) biased. It arrived at work, and a couple of my colleagues were driven to remark on how nice it felt — the print quality is excellent. Although I’ve had an electronic copy for a while, I’ve been saving the other stories for when the physical copy turned up, and so far Jason Kimble‘s The Wind At His Back indicates a fantastic collection.

Clockwork Phoenix 5 back cover

This book will be released on the 5th April, and can be pre-ordered direct here (same as first link above), or from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble and a few other places. If you follow the first link in this post, you’ll find all the pre-order links.

A Clockwork Phoenix 5 launch reading will take place on April 5th at 19:30 in The Brooklyn Commons Cafe at 388 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, New York as part of the New York Review of Science Fiction/Hour of the Wolf Reading series. Mike Allen be there, and so will seven of the book’s 21 contributors: Rob Cameron, C. S. E. Cooney, Barbara Krasnoff, Carlos Hernandez, Sonya Taaffe, Shveta Thakrar, and A. C. Wise. All will read excerpts from their Clockwork Phoenix 5 stories. I can’t make it, owing to the presence of a large, wet, wobbly thing in which one finds fishes and whales and crabs and octopuses.

And, if you’re in book buying mood, Best of Apex Volume 1 is now in stock at Amazon UK, and presumably elsewhere. This book reprints my story from the December issue, She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow.

Final resolution – REVIEW MORE

I nearly forgot my final goal for this year.

REVIEW MORE.

I read a lot, as any writer should. Our house is one giant library, and there are stacks in my currently-reading and to-be-read piles. I have, however, been very BAD at reviewing the books I read, and the best way of supporting a writer or publisher is to review their output. This is such a good thing to do for the writers you want to support that I thought I’d add it as a separate post. So, if you’re a reader rather than a writer, or a writer who wants to support other writers, do try to review the work you read. If you’ve got your own website, fantastic, but you can post reviews at Amazon, Goodreads or some other curation site if you don’t.

It really does make all the difference.

Turning the page – 2016 writing goals

Towards the end of January last year, I posted a note of my writing goals for the year. I declined to review the year that had just been because it had been a particularly difficult one.

I’m not going to dwell on 2015, either, because I want to keep my focus firmly forwards. Still, there’s no point setting targets unless you review how close you came to meeting them.

How did I do?

I didn’t manage having something out to market at all times. Not quite. The process of moving from draft to fully polished piece is still taking longer than I’d like, but that’s fine. I was super close.

I didn’t manage to complete to first draft one short story for every month of the year, but I came closer than I have any previous year, with 6 completed shorts, one novella and one novelette. In terms of non-hypergraphia, stuff I might be able to use word count, I’m calling that target met.

I didn’t get much further with either of my novel projects in terms of words on the page, so I’m out for a duck. It doesn’t mean I didn’t do any work on them, though, and that work will stand me in good stead this year.

I didn’t update my blogs as often as I intended. Although I did up the frequency considerably here, my other blog languished in the doldrums.

That said, we did buy and move into a new house in April, a house that needs considerable renovation, and the dayjob has been inconsiderately demanding (joke — in the current climate, I’m damn lucky to have it). With those two factors running interference, I don’t feel too bad about not fully meeting these targets. The work I have produced this year has been variable, but it includes some material of which I am extremely proud and hope will find a good home someday.

Let’s not forget I made two thrilling sales, to Apex Magazine and Clockwork Phoenix 5. Both of these are dream markets, and I still can’t quite believe it. My story at Apex, She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow, was podcasted, produced by Lisa Shininger. This was the first time I’ve ever heard one of my stories read aloud by someone else, and it’s a strange but exciting experience.

What’s on the cards for 2016?

More of the same, with a few tweaks.

  1. Have something out to market at all times.
    I’ll repeat this goal this year, but I hope this becomes such a fact of life it will no longer be a goal but a state of being.
  2. Complete to first draft at least one short-form story for every month of the year.
  3. Get to grips with flash.
    I’m lumping these together because I’m hoping number 3 will help me achieve number 2. Last year my target was derailed by the hypergraphia’s tendency to go into this weird state of WORDSSSSS, OH YES WORDSES MOAR OM NOM NOM WOOOOORRRRDSSSSESSSSS AWWW YISS MOAR MOAR WORDSES.
  4. Write every day.
    I shot myself in the foot on this one last year by trying too hard to domesticate the hypergraphia. I tried this thing where, if I wasn’t writing something useful, I wouldn’t write at all, thinking that might channel the urge more usefully. PRO-TIP: this does not work. All it does is make the whole process more difficult. If writing means scribbling stuff I can’t use, or sticking pictures into a commonplace and adding labels, that’s fine. It’s all part of the process. To use a triathlon metaphor, I won’t necessarily be squatting or doing deadlifts in a race, but these exercises help build strength, and stronger means more speed and endurance. Just because it’s not something immediately and directly useful doesn’t mean it is worthless.
  5. Finish a novel project.
    I have two on my target list at the moment, of the three in progress, but by the end of the month I shall have settled on one of them and will be making a hard push to complete this year. I already have a strong idea of which one it will be.
  6. Take more classes.
    I don’t think it’s coincidence that I made my first two pro sales on the back of taking almost every class Cat Rambo has to offer. I’m already signed up for Lit Techniques 2, so this will get me off to a good start.
  7. Have another go at poetry.
    I’d like to be a lot better at poetry than I am. Avoiding it won’t change that.

Most of all, I think 2015 gave me a better grip on what I’m good at, on the themes that make the difference between a story that will work eventually, and a story that’s more likely to end up either trunked or ripped into tiny pieces for total reconstruction, and that means a fresh eye for older stories still looking for a home. That’s my main goal for the coming year: put that insight to work.

The Old Man of the Woods
The Old Man of the Woods says, “Your job is to create a space in which it is possible for others to see things differently.”

How about you? Any goals you’d like to share?

Hypergraphia — bleeding inky thought onto paper

I have no fixed process for writing. Stories come the way they come. Sometimes that means a single scene from which I have to uncover the rest of the story like an archaeologist digging up a pot or an ancient skeleton; other times it means sitting down with a pen and paper as soon as I’ve dragged myself out of bed, scribbling furiously while someone tries to ask me what I want for breakfast and whether I’ll be making coffee any time soon.

I keep what is probably some kind of commonplace. In fact, I keep several, and carry all of them around with me along with half the contents of a decent stationery shop, because I become quite anxious if I lack a way of draining the contents of my head at any given moment. I have a cherished, if battered, Timbuk2 El Ocho, which is well overdue for replacement, and it is full of the various things I need to keep the fiction imps at bay while carrying on with the rest of my life.

Most of my work germinates as pen and ink and paper. It used to be the case that every first draft found form on narrow-ruled, feint and margin, before I could begin to type. I still have a lot of material, things that have either not sold yet or never will, stashed around the place. For the sake of speed and saving time, I moved on from writing out the whole thing by hand, but I cannot entirely tear myself away from the pen and paper stage.

Commonplace book
A couple of pages showing the birth of a work in progress

I don’t just keep notes, write down references, quotes, ideas, fragments of sentences that have a shape I want to explore. Sometimes the names of songs, places, even food finds their way in there. I find going about it this way, rather than doing everything by tapping away on a keyboard, helps encourage the creative process and entrains more of whatever engine it is that drags these things from the aether.

The book itself is a large plain moleskine (I also have two ruled, and a plain folio). I use a variety of fountain pens, coloured pens and pencils, Washi tape and Coccoina paste. The intention isn’t to keep a journal, although there are some truly beautiful ones out there (take a look on Pinterest — you’ll find a few on my Pen & Ink board, like this one). Still, the result of all my notekeeping being fun to review means I can happily spend time going back through my stack of notebooks looking at story fragments and ideas.

This practise has proved invaluable to me in greasing the wheels and adding a bit of low-end torque to jolt things out of a rut and free up narrative space. There are times when I need freedom to think, to mull, to plan, to let my subconscious chew on things for a while, or even to have a conversation, make like a sociable human being, but whatever it is inside my head that makes words has the bit between its teeth and won’t let go, even though it’s heading on entirely the wrong track. Cutting things out and sticking them into a notebook might not look like writing, but I can assure you, it is.

Help the Apex magazine fund!

Haar is what we call the sea fog here in the north east of Scotland. There are other places that have similar banks of dense, white cloud rolling in from the sea, of course; the phenomenon is not limited to this part of the world. I’ve seen something similar in San Francisco.

It plays a big part in She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow, which will be published in Apex Magazine next month, and is as much a part of the land here as the ever-shifting dunes, the tank traps and pillboxes, and the extinct volcanoes.

It was particularly splendid this week, sitting a mile or so offshore and dull grey in shadow but bright, brilliant white in the sun. I tried to take a picture, but I have yet to manage to capture an image of the haar in its full glory.

Haar
There’s something in the haar and it has a taste for cattle

The thick grey band across the horizon is the haar. It’s remarkably stable, and just sits there until conditions are right for it to come into shore.

Apex has announced a subscription drive, with a target of $5,000. As I write this, the funding rocket is showing less than $1,000.

You can find direct links to the subscription links here. It doesn’t cost much to subscribe. Most of the material is online for free anyway, but by subscribing you help make sure that there will be more great new stories from emerging and established authors. If you can’t subscribe, or can but want to do a bit more, you can always add some funds to the tip jar at the bottom of the subscription drive page.

Best of Apex Magazine Vol. 1

This is me on a sea-kayaking trip last year with Frood at Portknockie, in which we were ably guided by Sam Weir of Kayak Scotland:

Sea Kayaking at Portknockie
One of the best weekends ever.

That grin on my face is a result of being encouraged into doing things I had no idea I was able to do with the experience I had, and coming out the other side with vastly increased confidence and a burning desire to get out there, do more and go further, and have even more fun in the process.

Now you have a good idea of what my face looked like when I found out that my story She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow has been selected by Jason Sizemore and Lesley Connor for Best of Apex Volume 1. There might have been some jumping around squealing, too.

Just a bit.

To help fund the project, the Apex team is holding a raffle for a place on Carrie Cuinn’s Editing for Writers workshop, worth $100. The course is 4 weeks long, and should be a goodie.

“Editing 101” – AKA “Editing for Writers”. Identifying parts of a story, tenses and perspectives, narrative arcs, and other elements that are potentially affected by the editing process. Definitions, editing marks, using (and creating) style sheets, important style manuals, levels of editing, and fact-checking. The basics of copyediting: concepts and skills necessary for line editing (also called copyediting), relying mainly on the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed; editing vs. proofreading; tips for spotting tricky errors. The basics of developmental editing: what it is and isn’t, including the specifics of developmental editing in fiction. We’ll also cover rates, and working with clients, including querying about edits, maintaining an author’s voice, and related services.

As you may already know, Carrie published my story What The Water Gave Her in the Dagan Books anthology Fish, which was a huge deal for me. Carrie is putting herself through school at the moment, supporting herself with her freelance author and editor work, while raising her young son. This is a great opportunity to buy a chance to take what promises to be a great course for the sum of $3, which is less than a pint of beer or a large coffee at Haymarket’s AMT. Apex will split what they get from the raffle 50/50 with Carrie. Buying a ticket will help support both Apex and Carrie, and put you in with a chance of winning the top prize. Other prizes on offer include print copies of Women and Other Constructs by Carrie Cuinn, Starve Better by Nick Mamatas, To Each Their Darkness by Gary A. Braunbeck, and For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher by Jason Sizemore.

Go on. You know you want to.

More word fuel: Bread. Nommy, nommy, home-made bread.

What better accompaniment to freshly brewed coffee than soft, delicious, home-baked bread?

Fresh from the oven
Here’s one I made earlier.

We make all our own bread. It started as an experiment, because I was having trouble with wheat. Marko read somewhere that the commercial method of bread production, the Chorleywood Bread Process, can produce bread that some people find problematic, because it is so fast the yeasts don’t have time to break down the gluten properly. This might or might not be true in my case, but my experience of home made bread has been a positive one, and I don’t enjoy commercial bread any more.

It might seem like a lot of effort, but it really isn’t, and while the resulting loaf works out more expensive than a standard sliced white from Aldi, my preference is to substitute quality for quantity where it makes sense to do so. Each 1kg loaf we make does us for anything from 4 days to a week, and while the process takes a few hours, the amount of actual work involved is about 15 minutes, and it’s well worth it.

So if you’re having a day at home writing, and fancy breaking up your writing with an activity that doesn’t take your mind away from the story, try making some bread.

For reference, all my flour comes from Marriage’s Millers these days. I’ve tried lots, and their flour consistently produces great results. I most often use a 50:50 blend of Strong Wholemeal and Very Strong Canadian White flours, but you can make up the full weight with whatever flour you like, as long as it’s bread flour. I also have a baking dome by La Cloche, which Marko bought me for Christmas last year and is the most frequently used piece of specialised kitchen kit I own apart from the kettle and the Chemex. It makes superb bread in a standard domestic oven. For proving, I use a 1kg lined wicker proving basket.

You don’t need to use either a dome or a basket — the following recipe can be baked in a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin. If you want to do that, the dough should go into the tin for its second proving. Alternatively, you can use the dough to make a plaited loaf or some other shape that will hold itself together on a tray for the second prove.

Our last trick is the use of a sourdough flour improver. Our sourdough is around three years old, and I’ve tagged a method for making one at the bottom. It’s not necessary to include this, and you can either leave it out or put in quarter of a cup (about 4 tablespoons, or 60ml) or plain, live yoghurt instead.

This recipe makes an 800g loaf. Or thereabouts.

Ingredients

  • 600g flour (strong white, strong wholemeal, or a blend of flours, as long as they are strong bread flours) plus a little more for dusting the proving basket, if using
  • 100ml boiling water
  • 260ml cold water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp dried yeast (unlike Paul Hollywood, I do NOT use the fast acting kind, which contains flour improvers, but the kind that needs to be activated in water)
  • 1.5 tsp fine sea salt
  • Half a cup (about 120 ml, or a ladle full) of sourdough starter OR quarter of a cup (about 60ml) of plain live yoghurt (optional)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil plus a little more for oiling the proving bowl, the kneading surface and the tin/tray/dome

Method

1.Dissolve the sugar in the boiling water. Add the cold water, then sprinkle the yeast in and mix thoroughly. Measure out the flour into a large mixing bowl.
2. Go away and do something else for fifteen minutes. Perhaps a timed writing exercise. Adam Maxwell has a fun prompt generator if you’re stuck for ideas. Or how about a picture prompt from Flickr? I keep a Pinterest board just for story prompts — feel free to use one of those.
3. Now your yeast mix should be nice and frothy. (It could take longer if your house is cold. If this is an issue, you can use 150 ml boiling water and 210ml cold water to give it a boost.) Add it to the flour along with about half a cup of sourdough mix or the yoghurt, if using. Mix it together thoroughly with a butter knife, so all the flour is incorporated. It might be quite sticky: this is fine.
4. Go away and do something else for twenty minutes. Perhaps another timed writing exercise. You could use the results of your last one as a starting point or try something different. Maybe a random Wikipedia entry. Or pick a scene from one of your favourite stories and write about what one of the bystander characters was doing before the scene started.
5. Now that the flour has had a chance to absorb all the water, and the yeast has started work, add 1 tbsp of olive oil and the salt to the dough. Squidge it all together and turn out onto an oiled surface. Knead. Try not to add any more flour, even if the dough feels sticky, unless it’s more like wrestling with an amorous squid than kneading.
HOW TO KNEAD: Pin one edge of the dough ball with the fingers of one hand (usually your non-dominant), as if it had teeth at the other end and poisonous spines, and the only way you could keep it from escaping or turning round to bite you was by pressing the fluffy top of its tail to the ground. With the heel of the other hand, push the dough away from you, stretching it to about as half as far as you can reach. Take the distant end, fold it in half back over itself towards you, then turn the dough through 90° (a quarter turn) and repeat. Once you get the hang of it, you can try the double fold (stretch as far as you can reach, fold, press down, fold again, turn, repeat).
6. Knead until the squid wants you to stop — the dough will tighten and feel like it wants to stay a ball rather than be your BFF and cling to you for dear life. At this point the surface will be smooth and soft, but the dough may still be a bit sticky. That’s fine, as long as it’s happy being a ball. This takes about ten minutes, which is just enough time to think about what you’re going to write next, or for your subconscious to get to work on that tricky plot point that’s been bothering you.
7. Round the dough.
HOW TO ROUND THE DOUGH: On an oiled surface, and with freshly oiled hands, flatten the dough into a round then pinch a bit of an edge, pull it out and fold it back in to the centre. Repeat slightly further along, as if you were creating petals and folding them into a bud. Once you’ve done this all the way round, turn the dough over and use the edges of both hands to smooth down and spin the dough, tucking it under itself. Gill Meller of River Cottage has a video showing the process — start at 4:45 to avoid listening to his sales pitch for the oven he’s using.
8. Place the rounded dough in an oiled bowl (I use a 3 litre Pyrex mixing bowl), top down to get it oiled, then flip it so the top is uppermost. Cover in cling film. Now go away and do something else while it rises, which can be anything from 1 hour to 4 hours depending on room temperature. I often bring my dough with me into my office/writing space so I can keep an occasional eye on it.
9. Once it has doubled in size, knock it back by prodding it firmly with a fist, and repeat the ROUNDING step. If you’re using a round proving basket, dust the basket with flour and put the dough in with what will be the base of the loaf uppermost. If you’re proving it in a tin, shape the rounded dough into a fat sausage with your hands, tuck the ends under, then put it into the oiled tin and press down so it reaches the corners. If you’re shaping your loaf some other way, do that instead. Cover your dough with either a damp, lint-free dish towel, or stick it inside a plastic bag.
10. Go away and leave it to rise again for around half an hour to an hour. It’s easy to tell when it’s ready if it’s in a basket or a tin: once it has grown just higher than the top of the tin or the basket you’re good to go.
11. FOR A TIN:
Slash the loaf with a very sharp knife or smoothly serrated bread knife, once in the middle and again about halfway to either end. Spray the surface of the loaf with water and place into a preheated oven as hot as you can get it. If you like, you can throw a few ice cubes into the bottom of the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then spray again and turn down to 200°C (180 fan) for a further 30 – 40 depending on your oven.
FOR A BASKET AND DOME:
Turn the dough into the oiled base of the dome, slash once right across the middle of the loaf (you might need to make repeat cuts to get the slash deep enough — it should be about half the depth of the loaf), cover, then put into a cold oven. Switch the oven on to 200 °C, bake for 35 minutes, then remove the cover and bake for a further 15-20 minutes.
12. Turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack. If it’s done, it should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
13. Leave to cool for at least an hour — the sooner you cut into it, the sooner it will start to go stale.

A fresh loaf of bread
The finished loaf, next to a standard mug for scale (see previous post for how to get 5 of these from one Chemex coffee maker).

NOTE: you can make a slightly smaller loaf using 500g flour and 300ml water. The 5:3 ratio is the starting point for all basic bread recipes. You can always use the Bakerybits dough calculator for other quantities.

To make your own sourdough starter, take 150g of strong white flour and mix it with 150ml of tepid water in a bowl. Whisk thoroughly, wandering around, harvesting yeast from the air like a perambulatory sky anemone. When I first did ours, I kicked our wood pile a few times and ambled around outside for ages, singing to the yeasts in the hope of luring them from their aerial manoeuvres into my bowl. Cover and leave for 48 hours. Add another 150g of flour and 150 ml of tepid water. By now it should have started bubbling a bit and smell a bit sour. Don’t worry if not, it can take a few days as this method uses only aerial wild yeasts, and they take a while to adapt to their new home. Leave for a further 48 hours, then discard half the mix and replace with 150g flour and 150 ml water. After another 48 hours you should definitely be seeing bubbles, but it might smell acidic rather than pleasantly sour. Keep feeding every couple of days until the colony has settled down and it smells nicely sour and a bit yeasty, almost like beer froth. It is now ready to use. We keep ours in a tupperware tub on top of the breadbin, and it is fed 1 – 2 times a week with strong white flour (i.e. whenever we make bread). It behaves best when the mix is quite thick, like drop scone batter, and it is beaten vigorously at feeding time. Every couple of months we transfer it to another tub and wash the one it’s in.

Chemex brewing for the caffeinated caterpillar

It’s a common generalisation that writers are fuelled by coffee. (I know of one or two who reserve the coffee for the editing part, but it remains part of their process.) I consider myself one of the unfortunates who was born with a less than optimal quantity of caffeine naturally present in the bloodstream, thus being obliged to consume more merely in order to obtain some semblance of normal function. I drink a lot of it, and therefore am particular about it. My beans are fresh ground at home in a burr mill grinder approaching its fourteenth birthday, and every three weeks I buy freshly roasted beans, storing opened packets in an Airscape vacuum canister.

I believe I’ve tried just about every form of coffee making known to man with the exception of, thus far, cold brewed and the vacuum system used by Hannibal (the latter firmly out of my price range). I have a single cup drip filter, an Aeropress and a French press at work, choice dependent on how much time I have to make the coffee. At home I have a drip machine, stove top espresso maker (Moka pot), turkish coffee pot (Ibrik) and a Chemex.

Chemex with two rather pretty mugs
Chemex with two rather pretty mugs but NOT ENOUGH COFFEE.

The Chemex is a thing of beauty, and appeals to me because SCIENCE. I have used my fair share of conical flasks in my time. It also makes the best long coffee, in my opinion. If you like your coffee short, dark, bitter, thick and with crema, this isn’t for you; I generally prefer long to short, however.

It also has literary history: it’s the coffee maker used by James Bond, as specified in From Russia With Love:

It consisted of very strong coffee, from De Bry in New Oxford Street, brewed in an American Chemex, of which he drank two large cups, black and without sugar.

If that were not enough, it’s the only coffee maker to find a place in the Museum of Modern Art.

If you hadn’t guessed already, I’m a bit of a fan.

HOWEVER. It’s not a fast method (hence the machine drip filter for weekday mornings), and nor is it straightforward. Especially if, like me, you are a caffeine monster for whom the standard instructions for a brew to the button (the glass bubble near the bottom) are risibly inadequate.

This, fellow coffee lovers, is a method for brewing a LOT* of coffee in a 10 cup Chemex and keeping it hot while you undertake the business of the day without having it cooking on the stove.

Here’s what you need:

Coffee, kettle, vacuum flask, chemex

Left to right that’s an electric kettle (American readers, I have no idea what you use for boiling water, but use that instead), my trusty Dualit grinder containing 60g of freshly roasted Brazilian Yellow Bourbon, the Airscape from whence came the beans, a l litre vacuum flask and my 10 cup Chemex (CM-10A) containing a pre-folded unbleached filter. (I also use the bleached round unfolded filters, because, again, SCIENCE, but I think the unbleached gives a marginally faster flow so it’s possible to use a slightly finer grind of coffee and thus a slightly more complex flavour profile.) If you are making coffee just for yourself, you may want a larger flask, say 1.5l.Wash the filter

1. Boil about 500ml of water in your kettle. When it boils, put it in the empty flask. Now refill the kettle (ours has a capacity of 1.7l) but don’t switch it on, yet.

2. Grind your beans. It should be a moderately coarse grind, so the coffee ends up the texture of beach sand. While it’s grinding, using about half the water in the flask, rinse down the filter paper. It’s tempting to skip this step, but don’t. It gets rid of any residue from the packing and warms the Chemex. Discard the rinsing water.

3. Put the ground coffee into the Chemex. Switch on the kettle. Using just enough of the hot water still in the flask, soak the coffee until it’s saturated but not floating, then stir. Empty any remaining water from the flask but put the lid back on to retain heat.Stir the coffee

4. Once the kettle has boiled, fill the flask. Use the water from the flask to pour over the coffee in the Chemex, using a spiral motion to ensure even coverage. Fill to within about 5mm of the glass rim. Stir again.Add more water

5. Top up the water in the flask using the water in the kettle. Transfer the Chemex to the stove top. If you have gas or ceramic you’re fine — if you have a coil element you will need a special heat diffuser to ensure you don’t damage the Chemex. Turn on the stove to its lowest setting.

6. Once the water has filtered through, top up the Chemex using the remaining water in the kettle (it will now have cooled to the ideal 90 – 92ºC) by pouring gently down the sides of the filter paper, washing the coffee grounds back down into the mix.

Keep filling7. Continue topping up the Chemex in this fashion using water from the flask, being careful not to overfill, until you have achieved the desired amount of coffee. In my case, this is to the neck.Full!

8. Remove the filter paper, holding it above the Chemex for a few moments to allow any remaining coffee to drain. You don’t want to lose any.

9. Empty any remaining water from the flask (there won’t be much) and fill the flask with coffee. You can now pour yourself a mug using what’s left in the Chemex, safe in the knowledge the rest will stay hot for however long your flask is supposed to keep things hot.

10. Enjoy with your current reading material, or use to fuel words.

Enjoy!

* By “a LOT” I mean about 5 full British mugs, or roughly 1.6 litres of coffee.