Update August 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
To start on a sour note, as I read a reference of people dying from the 1918 pandemic until 1923, it seems we all need to make the best of a bad situation and, though the onus is on the individual to keep themselves safe, we went for a walk with close friends, ‘together’ yet as separately as possible. Life won’t be without risk for no one knows how long. It’s hard to live in a tourist area with this going on, though some spots are less populated, so it’s safer than if we were still living in London. I would ask every visitor to remember that wherever they go, it’s where someone lives and to treat that area with respect.

Sadly, like warnings against piracy of books, music, films, etc., those who pay attention wouldn’t do it, and the rest don’t care or happily steal. So asking people to bin their litter or take it home is likely a wasted effort. I can’t help thinking we need to go back in time and run those Keep Britain Tidy campaigns once again. When I was a child, you dropped litter in the street and you could expect a clip on the back of the head from a parent. Rubbish and human waste are always a problem but have been a particular bane in the South West this year.

FILM/TV:
Nothing particular to report. We’ve started watching Star Trek Discovery but can’t say we’re taken with it. (Warning for spoilers.) Finding it slow and love…not…

…how the main character is getting her end away while the bad guys torture her captain. I’m afraid I fell about laughing. Also, major plot hole when doctor alerts the person who may not be who they think to their face without first telling the captain and ordering a security detail. I understand ‘why’ they did it that way, but if I could think of at least two alternative scenarios to bring about a similar outcome, I would expect writers of such a series to do the same. I would have previously voted Voyager to be my least favourite Star Trek series, but this may be a close call.

We watched to the end of the current series of The Blacklist — a series we’ve always enjoyed — that alas they had to finish partly by animation because of the pandemic. May be some time before we see the next season.

For fans of the actor and of Marvel, it stunned many this week to hear of the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the role of Black Panther with a quiet regal dignity the character needed. Characteristics which seem to describe the man himself from what his closest friends say and the fact that he quietly battled colon cancer for 4 years.

READING:
The Witcher: Time of Contempt, Andrzej Sapkowski
While I’m not saying these books contain the best writing (perhaps a little becomes lost in the translation), they continue not to disappoint. In this volume, the situation heats up with all out battles and portents of war greater than the world of the Witcher has experienced to date.

Allotted Time, Robin Shelton
Not a laugh out loud read but still pleasantly humorous memoir/diary of two hapless gardeners who still made something grow. The only thing the book lacks is photos of the shed and the greenhouse which I would have loved to see.

Audrey Rose, Frank De Felitta (ebook)
The classic story of reincarnation. I’m unsure what genre I would place this in. It’s not scary and, for me, goes on too long, though it’s a perfectly excellent telling of a series of logical events including a court room enactment. Though some may say farfetched and it likely wouldn’t happen today, I particularly like how those in authority, including the judge, all put their own careers above the possible mental or physical safety of a child. Something rings true about the media circus and ‘trial of the decade’ debacle to this day.

Dead Trees Give No Shelter, Wil Wheaton (ebook)
The story of two boys, one who died young and one now an adult, still haunted by the mysterious circumstances of his brother’s death. While many could write this story, it’s expertly told, and, like most monster stories, the true face of the fiend may not be all it seems.

The Wise Friend, Ramsey Campbell
This story has the warm, welcoming tones of Lovecraft feeding on a sense of something otherworldly and disturbing. Worlds within worlds, and secret universes glimpsed but seldom seen. Disquieting in style rather than scary. I felt a few sentences were awkward and would have liked more dialogue tags but enjoyed the read.

The Witcher: Baptism of Fire, Andrzej Sapkowski
Though I’m not so taken with the tell rather than show sections of this series, I’m still absorbed in the world of The Witcher. This book reveals a new take on a classic monster and an ironic surprise at the end. On to the next…

A Head Full of Ghosts, Paul Tremblay
Feels wrong to say I enjoyed this book because of the subject and the outcome. Alas, this novel suffers from reader expectation, tainted by what the book’s blurb and endorsements promise, especially if the reader has loved a previous work of the author more. I would call this a book of suspense, or psychological horror…though, as Tremblay expertly questions in the end notes that may depend on your definition of horror. At times, the book has a Young Adult flavour, though that’s understandable as the main character imparts her story to another. Well written and constructed the unease (for me) comes filtered through the mind of an ill child… or does it? That’s for each reader to decide, but I know where my conclusion lies. It’s a fine novel and quality read, but never scared me. Still, I like Tremblay’s work and will read more as he seems to write subtle fiction open to question that lingers.

WRITING:
I’m approximately halfway through my first draft of my first horror novel. And I received my author copy of Night to Dawn magazine which features reprints of my short story The Wolf Moon, and my poem, Ichabod, Ichabod, Ichabod. It’s due for release in October.

Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x

Cheese that…Isn’t

I rarely bring consumer affairs to my blog, and this is repost, but having popped two pizzas in my next click n collect shop, this sprang to mind. Have you ever heard of Analogue Cheese?

No, I hadn’t either until I saw a mention of it on television. Analogue Cheese is cheese that…well, ‘isn’t’. You can read more on it here in this wiki reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheese_analogue but honestly, this makes it sound more palatable than it is. In the programme I watched, they made some in its raw state and it looked like baby sick to me. According to the presenter, it didn’t taste much better either.

It’s actually fats, emulsifiers and powdered milk, and if you’ve ever eaten a supermarket pizza or ready meal, the chances are you’ve consumed some. I don’t buy ready meals and we eat little pizza; when we do, I sometimes make my own, but I’ve vowed never to eat a cheap pizza again. Yuck!

I’ve since been informed that there was a huge scandal in Germany over Analogue Cheese resulting in a swift ban. Pity the UK never acts as quickly regarding such cases. The law shouldn’t allow manufacturers to call this cheese. It’s a cheese substitute, which comes in a variety of flavours, including Monterey Jack, so even looking at the ‘type’ doesn’t help.

We try to eat healthy, eat very little processed food and buy fresh produce, but even I had no clue cheese existed that wasn’t cheese. As someone who loves cheese I’m particularly disgusted, even more than I am by the thought someone invented things like cheese string, and cheese sprays, and advertise these to feed children.

There’s an overall complaint re the rise in obesity in the UK and an increase in certain forms of cancer, but are consumers really entirely to blame? Yes, overeating and lack of exercise is a problem, but I find it horrifying to think we’re becoming a nation that no longer seems to know how to cook. I was talking about this with a friend recently—a friend who lives on other people cooking for her or ready meals. I giggle when she claims to be ‘cooking’. Taking something out of a packet and putting it in the oven is not cooking: it’s heating something up. Yet I’m more horrified by the thought many ready meals contain a large proportion of chemicals and most of us don’t even know they are present. NOTE: this applies to Vegan meals, too!

Is the consumer entirely to blame for eating food advertised as cheap, convenient, and possibly misleading as to its contents and health value? I think not. I also don’t even think people are solely responsible  for not knowing how to cook. Many parents no longer teach their children to cook because no one taught them. A good deal of cookery or (as we used to call it at school) Home Economics classes are under threat or have even disappeared altogether owing to budget cuts. The government wants our nation to get fit and be healthy yet, typically, they’ve created part of the problem. For people to understand nutrition the subject needs teaching in schools and to include showing children the consequences of what they eat.

One other thing my friend and I agreed on is the way we eat. Most specialists will say that overweight people eat as a substitute for something missing in their lives. While I believe that comfort eating exists and is a genuine problem for some, I also grit my teeth and think a few choice words when I hear this.

Fact: food is a pleasure and as a race, humans love indulging in pleasure. Food tastes good! It’s that simple and I think if we could eat what we like without consequences a large proportion of the world’s population would indulge.

Yet, it’s also ‘how’ we eat, not what we eat, that I believe has consequences. Did you know that you should chew each mouthful 32 times? Yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds, and it’s a rather antiquated view, but there is some sense to this. Too many of us gulp our food. Some people lose weight just by eating more slowly and have said they felt more satisfied.

Why? Think about it. You’re gulping your food and your stomach doesn’t have time to process that it’s full until it’s ‘very’ full. Over time, your stomach stretches and wants more food. The human stomach is actually only about the size of an apple. It doesn’t need huge portions at any one sitting. In my grandmother’s day, they had four meals in a day: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Supper. I don’t remember snacking because they spread out food, so we never ate a huge portion—most people couldn’t afford to—yet never went hungry.

Gulping food and not chewing requires the body to break down whole chunks of matter. The eating process should begin in the mouth. The idea isn’t to chew to get food down one’s throat, but to break down the food so the stomach can then work on it. Swallow unchewed lumps and then the digestive system needs to work overtime. I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t a strain on the body or that we fail to digest certain nutrients as a result.

Gulp food and what happens is we finish the plate, think, “Ooooh that was nice. I’ll have some more of that…” when what we should have done is slow down and enjoyed what was already on the plate for longer. Some people eat so quickly they cannot possibly taste half of what they eat.

I’m just as guilty. I do my best, but even I eat things I shouldn’t. I’m in a hurry and eat on the run. I don’t do enough exercise, though I try, and I’m equally determined to slow down and chew my food…I just won’t be chewing many more store-bought pizza and fake cheese.

Note: Apparently, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with Analogue Cheese from a health point of view. For those with food allergies it can be a helpful substitute, but it’s not as if we’ve not heard that before. In addition, I don’t care whether it’s harmful. At the very least, it’s fraud.

Public vs Private

During this pandemic crisis, with political tensions running high, this may be the perfect time to ask when should a writer (or anyone with a public persona) keep their beliefs private and when should they make them public?

Not all of us share the same beliefs. I’m glad of this. Not only would it make for a boring world but imagine if we all believed something horrible, such as cruelty to children or animals was fine and the fate of the planet wasn’t our concern. Strong beliefs make us stand up, speak openly, defend and protect those who cannot do so for themselves. Standing up for one’s beliefs can lead to changes for the better. Differences of opinion lead to breakthroughs.

Alas, the sad, simple fact is that not of us can agree to disagree. That’s why the advice to be careful what you state publicly can be perfectly understandable. They say never discuss sex, religion, and politics…considering some things I’ve written there’s at least one of those topics that’s occasionally been unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean I have to let the public into my private life. Besides, what do you want to know? I’m a normal person, like my readers. I crawl out of bed in the morning, brush my teeth, stumble into the kitchen in search of that first coffee. I also wash clothes, clean the house, cook, shop…have friends and family. In addition, I make mistakes, apologies, laugh, cry, get sick, heal, and hurt, for myself and for others.

There are some things that are unavoidable. I can hardly write romance without declaring that I believe people should be free to love whom their heart tells them to love. I can’t write darkness without delving into the mysterious and questioning justice. You only have to read my work to know that. I realise there are those who will vehemently disagree with me and may even hate me for it. All I can say is that there is more than one element to my personality. I feel a view that dictates because our beliefs differ we cannot be friends is short-sighted.

Do I agree with all the things my friends believe in? Do I agree with all their decisions? No, of course I don’t. I have friends who are homophobic and rather than attack them for this, if they wished to discuss the topic I would hope we could do so sensibly and intelligently. I would like to know why they feel the way they do, and I would be open to explaining my viewpoint. Ultimately, they are entitled to their beliefs as long as they don’t victimise others for it. I don’t expect all my friends to like each other, but I expect all of them to respect they are all my friends and to be civil should they ever meet, especially if it’s under my roof. I don’t believe to like another person you both have to share the same sexual, religious or political belief. I’m capable of agreeing to disagree, and that’s one thing I wish was more widespread.

There are limits. There are some things in this world I couldn’t tolerate but they are usually in extremes and no one should want someone around who feels certain forms of abuse are fine, but I’m not talking about that level of animosity. I’m a different person to you. If we all wanted to love thyself to this extent, there’d be no reason ever to say hello to another human being.

Therefore, don’t assume that because I’m friends with someone in my private life, or elsewhere, is someone with whom I share the same beliefs, especially in this world of social media. I don’t know what may lurk in all those dark hearts, though the horror writer in me likes to explore this question. Never assume all the viewpoints in the stories I write are from my personal viewpoint. One aspect of a writer’s job is to show all sides of the argument, without getting into a public, personal disagreement.

Dragon #7

This is a memory of when life was normal, and we were all able to go out and about without worry. Seems fitting as we’re struggling to find somewhere that’s not heaving with people.

Found this little guy in a shop in Wales last year. I also liked a wolf, but it was far smaller and they were all the same price, which didn’t seem right. When collecting dragons, for the sake of space, sometimes I have to go small.

Update July 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
Have battled the weather to get the front door and window sills painted. We still have two window sills to do, but we cannot believe the difference. I won’t share what I called the colour they had painted the sills originally, but it’s so nice to see it going, if not gone. Looks like a new house.
Still not ventured out yet, in part owing to the weather which has been mostly miserable recently, but also because the Southwest is pretty much sold out with beach carparks closing early mid morning because they are already full. We’re considering this year to be a washout and have no plans to go anywhere or to meet up with anyone, but we do need to get walking. With that in mind, I’m researching some lesser-known walks of the type most tourists avoid.

FILM/TV:
Watched a series I won’t name because of spoilers but when the secondary character dies at the end (or does she?) and you’re relieved because she’d become annoying, and you feel the lead should have got over her long ago, it’s not a good sign. Unfortunately, nothing particularly wonderful springs to mind, though if you like Will Ferrell humour (for me it’s hit and miss), Eurovision was a better film than I expected. There’s not a lot of new stuff coming on anywhere, no doubt because things are on hold, not getting made, and the networks fear of running out.

READING:
Glad to say I’m keeping to a greater number of books read this year.

The Godsend, Bernard Taylor
If you love evil-children tales, this is for you. Though there are maybe few surprises it’s the author’s style that draws in the reader. And it’s written in such a realistic way, it’s entirely plausible. In one sense, it’s quite a basic book and when I began I didn’t expect to like it all that much, but there’s something about the pacing that makes this insidious. Big blue beautiful eyes have never been so untrustworthy.

Amuse Bouche, Anthony Bidulka
A light amusing read with a likeable protagonist in the form of Russell Quant, private eye. There seem to be complaints that this isn’t a gay romance, but I never thought it was or should be, least not in the first book. Fast-paced entertainment. The ending for me, unfortunately, didn’t come as a surprise.

The Witcher, Blood of Elves, Andrzej Sapkowski
From reviews, it appears the Witcher books are a little like marmite. While I found some passages in this book duller than any of the previous titles, those parts were necessary to the overall narrative. I like that these books come together with never the same pattern. A kind of tapestry of short stories that makes the Witcher so different. In this book we learn more of Ciri and what happened to her where the Netflix series left off.

Something Nasty in the Woodshed, Kyril Bonfiglioli
Though the subject of rape is definitely not one for amusement, it’s the only sensible choice to make the plot of the third Mortdecai book work, though it tarnishes an all too easily worked out (for me at least) implausible plot filled with tangents. Still, I continue to love Mortdecai’s manservant/bodyguard, Jock, most of all, and if you’re one upset by politically incorrect classism and sexism, then none of these books are for you. Anyone who’s reached book three knows how antisocial and pretty much anti anything except booze, Mortdecai is. Take him as he is or don’t. There are some classic lines, as always. There are two other books (one finished by another writer when the author died and murmurs are only one is worth a read) but for the moment I’m unsure if this is where I will stop.

The Vampyre, Tom Holland
A well thought out, well-written fabulous blend of fact and fiction, but as one character tells the story to another, I felt distanced from the action. The strange circumstances which take Byron to visit the ancient castle are all too reminiscent of the most famous vampire, with, for several pages, Byron taking on a similar role to that of Jonathan Harker, and Vakhel Pasha, that of Dracula. There were parts I found absorbing, other areas where my attention wandered. The creatures that occupy the castle give the classic Igor competition. Still, overall it’s an excellent work with ideas both incredible and ludicrous, often hallucinatory. I came to love the book, though some of my feelings remain ambiguous.

Phantoms, Dean Koontz
Another reread for me as part of a possible book clearance. Dean Koontz often gets shelved in the Horror category, when his work is more one of supernatural thrillers, some with science fiction or horror sub-genres. This book covers all these in a well blended, often edge of the seat chiller. When death comes to a small town in several bizarre ways, it raises questions about life, various belief systems, and the nature of good and evil. I’m unsure if the sub-story featuring a murderer’s arrest worked for me or was necessary to the overall plot. And the ending also took a little longer to complete than was ideal, but this is a well-written book with an excellent story. One I dither over whether to keep.

The Diary of a Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith
A classic which I first read as a teen, surprising my then English teacher when I chose it from the school library. Loved it then, adored it now. Perhaps surprisingly, it first appeared in Punch magazine in the late 1800s. Though simplistic — a middle-class gentleman seems to think his diary has as much chance to see publication as anyone else’s — it’s an exaggerated, humorous look at society and social observations, yet contains an underlying sadness. Part of the fun (and less cheery tone) comes from the things Mr Pooter finds so amusing and which plainly are not. The tale remains charming, and the illustrations delightful.

WRITING:
I drafted some and wrote a synopsis submission for a story I’ve been asked to write, though it will go through many changes. I confess I hate writing this way. Usually, for fiction, you write before you submit. Having a story accepted based on a synopsis means a real deadline once given the go-ahead. It’s why, despite being told I shouldn’t, I’ve penned a ‘few’ scenes — it’s the way my mind works. I’m a pantser mostly and have no clue what direction the story will go until I write. The more I’m bogged down by plot, the less inspired I feel. It’s the age old argument between plotters and pantsers, but really one figures it out beforehand knowing things may change, while the other figures it out as they go, fixing things in edits. For me, the second option is definitely more fun. Having said all that, I’ve also been figuring out a rough guide for the horror novel I’m writing and I’m about a quarter done. I don’t have a market for this in mind, but the story has nagged me long enough. I need it out of my head before I worry over its future.

Stay Well and Happy Reading!
Sharon x