Monday, November 26, 2012

Amanzi restaurant review

AMANZI RESTAURANT, ARWENACK STREET, FALMOUTH 01326 312678. Ian and Carolyn Turton, who were born in Zambia and Malawi respectively, took over Clarks restaurant in Falmouth in July 2010 and reopened in May 2012 as Amanzi, which means water in Zulu or Xhosa. “We wanted to bring our own feel to the restaurant,” says Ian, “and differentiate from the rest of the competition.” Ian previously owned a restaurant in Johannesberg for five years with his brother. “Although our inspiration is our African roots, our dishes are an infusion of flavours from across the globe,” Ian says. “With a focus on seafood, grill and delicious vegetarian options, we have secured a wide range of Cornish suppliers so that we can literally offer people the opportunity to “eat local, taste global”. All our meat is Cornish and our vegetables come from an allotment near Stithians. Since we’ve changed our name we’ve had a lot of encouragement to have more African dishes: we’re the only restaurant in Cornwall to provide African food.” “We try and look after people and give them the whole experience,” Carolyn adds. The restaurant has a warm atmosphere with music playing quietly, tea lights and a rose on each table and a wonderful selection of wooden African art on the walls. By 8pm all the tables were taken and the place was buzzing with customers of all ages – Amanzi has only had a handful of quiet nights since they opened in May, and soon we could see why. The service is excellent – very warm, friendly and informative yet unobtrusive. Deb and I had a glass of South African Chenin Blanc while we tried to decide what to eat, but eventually I chose a starter of seared scallops with hogs pudding and a crab bisque sauce. The scallops were so tender they melted in the mouth, the delicacy of the scallops was offset by the robust hogs pudding, and the velvety crab sauce made for an unusual combination that worked really well. Deb’s squid was very tender, unlike the chewy morsels I’ve usually eaten, and served with spring onions and a soy, ginger and honey dipping sauce that was light but provided a good balance of flavours. Being messy, we dripped sauce on the table which was cheerfully wiped down between courses – another bonus point. My poached cod with mussels in a creamy white wine sauce served with crusty bread was fabulous – the mussels were steamed and fragrant, just as they should be, the cod tender and subtle, and the sauce was delicate but tasty. The Bobotie, a South African dish of spiced lamb mince, baked with an egg topping was served with yellow raisin rice and apple and fig chutney. We were told to mix these together before tasting them and we could see why – the lamb was quite bland but mixed with the sweetness of the raisin rice and the chutney was absolutely delicious - so good I could eat it every day. We shared a mixed salad and some seasonal vegetables – runner beans, carrots and red cabbage that were beautifully nutty – but the main courses were so delicious and plentiful we didn’t have room for the greenery. The food is unusual, and beautifully cooked by someone who really understands it, particularly fish. We had a wonderful experience, so do go – but book, or you may be disappointed. Dinner £12-18 per main course. Open 7 days a week from 5pm, Saturday and Sunday open daytimes but bookings can be made for lunch. Sunday lunch £9.95 (£12.50 for 2 courses) Traditional and African Christmas menus will be available.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Isabel Wolff


“I thought what an odd environment it must be where you are being stared at, every square inch of you, by a complete stranger,” says Isabel Wolff, talking about her latest novel, The Very Picture of You

Isabel is not an artist, so interviewed six well known portrait painters at length. “I didn’t sit in on any sittings: I felt that would be too intrusive, but I spoke to them about the technical aspects.” She also had her portrait painted in order to experience the other side of the canvas. “I became fascinated by the relationship between artist and sitter. The intimacy of it and what is said in the sittings: the things that can be revealed as well as those that are hidden.”

Unlike many of her heroines, Isabel has not been jilted at the altar, lost her mother nor had a disappearing husband. But she believes that “novels are informed by who the writer is: their moral judgements about the world and their values and their understanding of human nature. I think that anyone who writes a good novel has to have a sharp eye and an understanding heart.” Isabel believes her earlier journalistic training helped her develop a sharp eye, and the rest of it comes from her own experiences.

Anyone who has read Isabel’s novels knows they are in for a good read. “I aim to write with a mix of poignancy and humour because we can all connect to that,” she says. “I hope my readers enjoy a page turning story with lots of twisty mysteries that takes them out of themselves for a while and they look forward to getting back into.” She looks up and smiles. “I hope they find them rewarding and amusing and think about the book afterwards - I also hope they are as well written as I can make them.”

Writing commercial fiction, Isabel says that the story is the main thing but finds the plot very hard to work out. “It’s like making a map of a place you’ve never been – you’ve got the general terrain but you want to put in the geographical detail and also little blind alleys and cul de sacs to lead the reader down and get them pleasurably lost. But you have to lay the clues properly.” She finds it’s like problem solving. “It’s like making a jigsaw puzzle – you make it then smash it up and the reader puts it together for themselves. It has to be hard to see the pattern but not so hard that they can’t do it.”

Isabel believes that, “The power of a good story well told is to move, entertain and uplift, that is the privilege. That isn’t about how many copies you sell - it’s about touching someone’s heart.”

Her many fans will be pleased to know that the novel she is currently writing, which will be out in 2013, is partly set in Cornwall. “It’s semi-historical like the last two, and has a slightly supernatural element.”

Isabel’s favourite parts of Cornwall are the Roseland Peninsula, and the Isles of Scilly. “All my earliest memories are of Cornwall: the excitement of getting up very early and driving down to Penzance, then the thrill of getting on the Scillonian to get to the beloved Isles of Scilly. “ She smiles as her children run around the garden. “It means so much to me now to be able to give my own children the kind of happiness that I had of Cornwall. It’s a place of intense longing and happiness.”

The Very Picture of You published by HarperCollins available now

Cornwall Today FEb 2012


Having fun and keeping healthy

“Everyone knows how to laugh – it’s a language we all use: no one’s taught it, and it makes us feel good,” says Steve Patterson. “A child will laugh on average 3-400 times a day whereas adults only laugh on average 16 times a day – if that.”

Steve Patterson moved to Cornwall in 2001 from Devon, and had numerous jobs but wanted a challenge. “I worked in drug rehabilitation as a support worker and knew the benefits of laughter but wasn’t sure how they could be utilised,” he says. “So I found a course in London on Laughter Yoga. We learned how to take groups including all the different meditations and breathing exercises – some of it was quite spiritual. And we learned how to take it into schools, old people’s homes, prisons, hospitals and businesses.”

Steve was asked to take laughter yoga sessions at the NEC in Birmingham, then at WOMAD and Glastonbury in 2010 which proved such a success that he formed the Cornwall Laughter Yoga Club and hasn’t looked back. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor, started Laughter Yoga with just 5 people from a Mumbai park in 1995. It has become incredibly popular and there are now several thousand clubs in over 65 different countries.

“In early 2011 I trained in India with Madan Kataria, and it was amazing. There were 29 people from 16 different nationalities and it was an amazing way to bring all these nationalities together. There was a man from Vietnam who spoke very little English but was able to communicate through laughter.

“Laughter yoga is a unique concept where anyone can laugh for no reason, without relying on comedy, jokes or a sense of humour,” Steve explains. “We initiate laughter as an exercise in the group, including eye contact, which gets everyone smiling, and lots of childlike playfulness. Soon, the exercises turn into real and contagious laughter. The reason we call it Laughter Yoga is because it combines laughter exercises with Yogic breathing. This encourages increased oxygen to the body and brain which makes you feel more energetic and healthy. The concept of Laughter Yoga is based on scientific fact that the body cannot tell the difference between fake and real laughter – you get the same physiological and psychological benefits.”

Steve believes that childlike playfulness is extremely important. “Children laugh when they’re running along whereas we adults have it drilled into ourselves that we haven’t got time to play - we have to be serious and work. In fact when you bring play and laughter into the workplace it can be so beneficial for team building, self consciousness and creativity.”

Laughter has also been proven to help relieve pain, cancer, depression, anxiety, grief and stress. “Laughter gets the endorphins going which is the body’s happy drug and pain relief. It also gets the body’s immune system going,” Steve explains. “Norman Cousins wrote a book called The Anatomy of an Illness – he was very ill and found that if he laughed heartily for 10 minutes he had 2 hours of being pain free.”

Steve currently runs sessions in Newquay and is looking to expand into Falmouth and Truro. “My ultimate dream is to have a laughter club in every town in Cornwall,” he says – with a laugh.

But he has found the western perception of Laughter Yoga different from that in India. “I’m concerned that the name Laughter Yoga doesn’t capture the essence of what it’s about,” he says. “We don’t do yoga poses - it’s all about yogic breathing, so we need to come up with another name. In India yoga is known as being very spiritual whereas here it’s more known for keeping fit. 10 minutes’ laughter yoga is equivalent to 30 minutes on a rowing machine for cardiovascular exercise but there’s more to it than that.”

Helen Young would agree, having been to Steve’s classes. “I’m a great believer in the healing power of laughter – none of us laugh enough,” she says. “A lot of women release stress from crying and I think it’s more healthy to release stress through laughter. It also exercises the lungs and keeps me feeling younger. The idea is to try and get people to regain their sense of humour, which I think has really gone downhill – because of political correctness people are afraid to laugh these days.”

And how did she feel after the first class? “It was a definite release of stress and put me in a good mood for days,” she says. “A great place to practise is in the car – I tried and felt a lot better for it. It made me see things a bit differently.”

A sentiment that Steve echoes. “I’m passionate about how fantastic I feel after a session, both as a teacher and a student,” he says. “Laughter yoga has taught me the importance of laughter and playfulness in life for everybody. We don’t laugh as much as we could, and I think that could be why we get ill and stressed.” He pauses and his eyes crinkle up into another smile. “The best times we have are when we’re laughing and having fun.”

Cornwall Laughter Club has sessions on Thursdays at 7pm at the Hotel Victoria in Newquay

Cornwall Today March 2012

Waterfront Crew

The coolest club for young people in Falmouth

“It’s amazing the stuff that’s dropped onto Falmouth waterfront,” says Mel Bailey, Student Manager at Falmouth School. “We’ve found a gold watch, an entire toilet, a set of false teeth, countless trolleys, stereos, TVs and chairs. On the Roseland we’ve done cleanups by canoe which have been very successful. It’s fun and reaches areas you can’t reach by foot.”

Mel’s talking about some of the work undertaken by the Waterfront Crew, a group of youngsters who work out of school hours to help clean up Falmouth waterfront. In return they receive meals, go sailing or kayaking and learn to work together, so they feel included. As Mel explains, “It's a very simple idea – it's about earning your reward and having fun with it.”

The idea was pioneered in 2007 by Falmouth School in conjunction with Falmouth Police, Falmouth Town Council and local businesses. “We wanted to show the good work that young people can do, make that higher profile to give a boost to their self esteem, and so that the community got to know about them in a balanced way,” explains Mel. “It’s also about a sense of belonging – feeling part of something with others. The bond that has developed between the young people is immense.”

Police Community Support Officer, Sean McDonnell adds, “The waterside area in the town centre looked neglected and no one seemed to take ownership of it, so we thought why don’t we tap into that fantastic natural resource, and clean it up? If we can assist youngsters in trying to take ownership and take care of their own environment we’re helping them develop into good citizens who will want the best for their town,” he continues.

The businesses in the town have been supportive and delighted at what the young people have done, and the cleanups are rewarded with fish and chips, canoeing, sailing, kayaking etc. “From early on the youngsters’ perception was that the town was helping them and providing something, and out of that has come contacts and even employment,” says Sean.

Mel targets young people that she thinks would benefit from the experience, but the selection process is delicate, as she explains: “It’s normally around 20 young people, complemented by extra referrals from the community, the police force, and we blend it in with a mix of other students so they become part of something like any other activity.” It’s all voluntary so it takes place in their own time, after school or at weekends.

Sean adds, “It’s important it’s not seen as a naughty boy reward scheme. So we go for a mix of achievers, some who are vulnerable, young carers, and they grow as a friendship group which has been refreshing to see.” From the policing side, Sean sees other benefits. “It’s built an awful lot of bridges. It’s a great leveler if you’re out trying to kayak or windsurf.” Mel laughs. “They see us fall in the water which happens regularly and that’s a huge barrier breaker.”

The Waterfront Crew have worked with the National Trust, Cornwall Marine Network, Eden Partnership, amongst others, and in 2010 they focused on the gateways to Falmouth to encourage visitors to return. “We cleaned the Dell station, Falmouth Docks cruise ship terminal and also the police station gardens,” says Sean. “The head of Devon & Cornwall Police was stunned and recognized our work as a way forward of embracing young people in the community.”

It’s the youngsters who tend to come up with ideas of where to clean. “They start coming up with ideas for a clean up and select a reward and we see if we can make it possible.” Mel laughs. “The clean ups are as much fun as the rewards which is an unexpected result.” There tend to be 6-8 clean ups in a year, mostly in spring and summer, and in winter they estate cleanups inland in the Falmouth area. But neither Sean nor Mel realized what a huge success this would be. “It’s surpassed my expectations,” says Sean. “We’ve had offers to make it a national blueprint but it wouldn’t work because you need to keep it small or you’d lose that personal side.”

The nurturing aspect is the shared part of the role between Mel and the police. “After the first year, we’ve said if the young people wish to continue and work with younger people, we are more than delighted: it’s good for them to work with other age groups. There’s a huge waiting list now.”

So the plan is to continue as they are, looking after Falmouth, the waterfront, and most importantly, the young people of Falmouth. “It’s about giving consistency to those who don’t have much,” says Mel. “We aim to be there as much as we can for them.”

Jenny Coleman - ditch the research!

“Every knock back and experience helps in a way, even if it feels horrible at the time,” says Jenny Colgan, bestselling author of novels such as Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend, and The Good, the Bad and the Dumped. “Nobody's life is an unparalleled success, and if you want to write about people's trials and tribulations it probably helps to have had some of your own. Of course it sounds really trite to say that now: it didn't feel like that at the time at all.”

Having struggled herself, Jenny can well empathise: something that is often reflected in her books. “After college I started working in hospitals as an NHS trainee - it was awful, I was terrible at it. Really bad,” she says. “It's tough to be trapped in a career that doesn't suit you, and I was always looking around for something more creative to do. I did try stand up comedy, and I met some fantastic people doing it, but I was never any good at it. I also tried cartooning, children's books and sketch writing - being a novelist was the first thing anyone ever said yes to!”

Jenny’s latest novel, Meet Me at the Cupcake Café, is a comedy about a woman following her heart - which longs to bake for people- over all her sensible instincts. “I suppose if there is a theme, it's to try and find something to do for a living that you love,” she says. “And I know better than most people that it isn't easy!”

Before writing the novel, Jenny wasn’t a cook though she enjoyed watching The Great British Bake Off. “I didn't used to be able to cook, then I learned; that's what the book reflects, really. I really do enjoy cooking and baking, but I'm not a fancy chef. I make a terrific fish curry and brilliant cheese scones (not together), basic stuff like that.”

Despite the fact that the novel encompasses setting up a business, financial implications, health and safety etc., Jenny did very little research. “Like almost anyone else I've worked in bars and restaurants in the past, so I have an idea what goes into a catering business. I'm always impressed by people who run their own cafes or restaurants; it's an incredibly hard way to make a living.

“I think a lot of people who want to write get horribly bogged down in research and getting the details right,” she continues. “It's a total waste of time. Get the characters right; try and feel them as living, breathing humans who have something to say, and worry about the details later.”

Jenny tackles some important issues in this novel – redundancy, dementia, single parenthood as well as lack of confidence and setting up a business, yet with a light touch. “I didn't see it as issue tackling, just using the characters to tell a story,” she explains. “I did fall a bit in love with Pearl and Louis though - the single parent family. As soon as I started thinking about how she could manage a job with a child, I realised how unbelievably difficult it must be. I honestly don't choose types to write about, I get a view in my mind's eye of a person then take it from there, follow my instincts as to what their life is like.”

The setting is also important: Meet Me at the Cupcake Café is set in Stoke Newington, an area well known to Jenny. “It's a real melting pot, you get absolutely all sorts of people there. Also it's in London but it's not on the tube, so it has a proper village-y atmosphere right in the middle of all this high-density housing. It's a great place.”

Jenny now lives in the South of France, and she and her husband have a flat in the City of London for her work. Listening to her description of her family, it’s clear why her books are so popular. “Living in the South of France sounds show-offy but if you saw our house you would realise it really isn’t,” Jenny insists. “My husband is a marine engineer and works a lot round here, and we have three children. Wallace is four and likes calamari, trampolining and making loud announcements about just how he will run the world when he is Spiderman; Michael-Francis is nearly two and likes singing lalala, tucking bears under his arms and peering dubiously at new food, and Delphie is brand new and likes sleeping and the way the sun moves across the tree leaves.”

Although writing seems to come naturally to Jenny, not all her books have been easy to write. “Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend was the hardest to write,” she says. “It was really, really hard to get the tone right; to make this spoiled rich girl sympathetic. My editor and I must have ripped the whole thing apart about four times. I think it's rather good now, but there was a lot of unsightly tugging and sticking going on behind the scenes.” Whereas other books came out with very little effort: “Class, which I wrote as Jane Beaton, just tumbled out, easy as pie, in about four months; we barely changed a word of it.”

When it comes to what makes a good novel, Jenny believes page turning quality is vital. “It's really important, especially when we're all so busy and distracted all the time. My books are meant to be fun, and funny, and I hope I give readers a real urge to keep turning the pages. There's not much I like better than getting into a hot bath with a good book and a big mug of tea.”

Jenny is a self confessed bookworm: “I will read high, low, and the Richard and Judy lists in between. All that matters to me is that it’s good.” Her definition of good writers is eclectic – “Liz Jensen blows my socks off. The Rapture knocked me out. Curtis Sittenfeld is great.” She pauses. “Kashuo Ishiguro- imagine writing Remains of the Day AND Never Let Me Go in one career. I think both of those novels are perfect. Who else? Dan Rhodes is great, Jon Krakeur, and I think the best non-fiction writer at the moment is Michael Lewis.”

It’s clear that Jenny loves her work as “novelist, journalist and occasional radio big gob”. What she particularly enjoys is “Being your own boss, and the sheer fun of it, the chance to disappear into your very own world for a few hours a day.” She smiles. “Plus people are nice to you, and other writers are on the whole really nice, interesting people, and the parties are good.”

So is there anything that she dislikes, or would like to change? “I worry about the future for my industry, but I don't think I'm alone in that; a lot of industries are going through a lot of change.”

Like many writers, Jenny has found social networking to be a bonus for feedback. “Twitter is brill (I'm @jennycolgan); it's a lovely place to interact with readers directly.” But like many authors she steers clear of Amazon reviews. “You can always find something to spoil your day. The best feedback is good sales, it makes me so happy when people are obviously enjoying something and telling their friends.”

Jenny has written and spoken much in defence of ‘chick lit’ as a genre, and is rightly proud of her contribution to commercial women’s fiction. But the fact remains that public opinion is still very dismissive, even though many of these novels tackle vital and often rarely discussed issues. Jenny believes it’s because of “Sexism. That and the fact that a lot of people who don't read very much are idiots.” So who is at fault for this misconception?

“You know what, I’m not sure how much of a problem it is,” she continues. “These books do tackle important issues, and it's entirely possible that having a pink, or genre cover means they reach more people than they would otherwise. I'd much, much rather write a book that reached out to hundreds of thousands of people that had a pastel jacket, than a slim novella with a 1920s photograph on it that was well-reviewed and completely unread except by four blokes wearing expensive glasses who live in quirky apartments.”

There’s no danger of Jenny’s books being read by a mere four people, and her army of fans will all hope she continues to keep writing her intriguing, satisfying books. So how would she like to be remembered? “Like every other single person on this earth: as that old, old person who died safe and warm in her bed, surrounded by people who loved her.”

Meet me at the Cupcake Café is published by Sphere April 2011

Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop of Dreams is published by Sphere March 2012

Writers' Forum March 2012