Update Sept 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

We got out for two walks and spent some time planning others where we can keep to ourselves as much as possible. The garden earned a little attention, even though spider season started, and I’m still dabbling with artwork with lots of ideas. And we learned they’re getting round to at long last laying tarmac on some local roads, but apparently with no regard to waste collection getting through. Oh joy!

FILM/TV:

We finished Season 1 and 2 of Star Trek Discovery with mixed emotions. I liked some characters, but after season 2, I’m torn whether to bother when season 3 arrives. I felt quite satisfied with a partial open-ended storyline, especially as this should fit into earlier events around the time of the original series. I’m unsure where it’s going interests me all that much. May well shelve it until/unless there’s little else to watch.

Like many others we tuned into Ratched, the Netflix series based on Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The series didn’t have quite the punch I expected, but I like how the line between good and bad blurred and they gave the storylines deeper consideration than they might have. And, although they directly took one element from Stephen King’s ‘The Green Mile’, they used it to startling effect. Not for anyone squeamish.

READING:

Darkness Comes (aka Darkfall), Dean Koontz

Very much a mixed offering, and even though this is an early example in this author’s career, it feels weaker than some others that came before. There was as much I liked about it as I disliked. I wanted to care about the characters more. It’s fun in a B-Movie way. The monsters of the story come straight out of Lovecraft. Whether this is a bad thing it’s hard to say. There are a few creepy moments but not as many as in other novels and the threat seemed diminished by introducing the antagonist who seemed rather cartoon-like to me. Still, I’m not knocking a novel that was perfectly acceptable at the time it released, but I reread this as part of a book clearance and have no problems letting go of it.

Lost Innocents (ebook), Jacquelynn Luben

This reads at first like a well-plotted standard detective story, but I especially liked that a journalist undertakes the detecting. The stories don’t at first appear to connect, but, of course, they do. Also, it’s towards the end of the book the subtext truly comes to light.

The Witcher: The Tower of the Swallow, Andrzej Sapkowski

This series reads as a set of three, and a set of five. The first three have an entertaining, jumpy, short story feel, with the following five more serious books making up a set of novels. The first three are much more fun. Book four of that five is the best yet with Ciri coming into her own and going through the worse trials, Gerait and Yennifer pursuing her for the right reasons with plenty of villains snapping at all their heels. Though the way the author writes and presents these stories receives mixed reactions, I like the non-chronological story telling. There were a few slower sequences that felt like a bit of an info dump, but otherwise I loved all the story elements.

Revival, Stephen King

This is one example of an author choosing a perfect title. The theme resonates throughout the book. Scary? Overall, I would say no, though the payoff is potentially terrifying. I found the story absorbing and well written.

Sophie’s Choice, Jostein Gaarder

A magical, mystical blend of fact and fiction that makes for an excellent teaching aid for anyone wanting to learn about philosophy. I felt a little disconnected with the book at first — as though the letters to Sophie were a bit too much like sitting in a classroom, but as it progressed, I became swiftly hooked. The ending also felt a little too long, but overall the experience is not unlike falling down the rabbit hole, and I wish I had read this many years ago. Though I knew some facts, I didn’t know them all. The book even touches on the subject of natural selection, and implications of more artificial selections/mutations caused by pesticides and disease control. The book is just as relevant today as when first written. It’s a lot to take in, but if you want a whirlwind tour of history and how philosophy has helped to shape our lives, this is an amazing book.

WRITING:

I must begin by saying that I heard at the beginning of September of the sad, sudden death of Celina Summers. She was a strong and talented woman. She, and the people she introduced me to when she ran Musa Publishing, taught me so much, and she was inspirational. She spoke up for others and I recall her work came close to attracting the attention of one of the Big Six publishers on two occasions, rejected once because they had recently published something similar. Having read her work, I can honestly state she was an excellent and imaginative writer who deserved recognition. I was disheartened by her near miss and am truly choked by her passing.

I’m reaching the end of the third quarter of my first draft of my first horror novel. I stress draft, purely because my novels to date haven’t had to joggle the cast in quite this fashion. I will shelve this for a while when complete before I rewrite some passages and edit. And as I stated last month, Night to Dawn magazine releasing in October will feature reprints of my short story The Wolf Moon, and my poem, Ichabod, Ichabod, Ichabod.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

Buugeng

I missed blogging last week because I didn’t feel all that well. No, nothing to do with the dreaded virus, but I’ve had a strange disjointed week, though the writing picked up a little with the least written being approximately 1,300 words. I’m working on the draft of a horror novel, so everything else remains shelved. I’m into the third quarter so don’t expect the end to be too long off now. Though I stress I’m saying ‘draft’. I’ll be doing a lot of rewriting on this and shelving it at least a month before I do, but that will give me room to consider writing something else new and maybe re-releasing an older work early next year. More news as and when.

For this week’s blog, I thought I’d leave you with something beautiful to watch:

Simple but Delicious

I’m doing something different today, offering one of the simplest recipes that will feed one, or two, with plenty leftover chicken and sauce to use for other meals (to me ‘leftovers’ is another word for ingredient), or a full family or visitors. Apologies, there’s no picture. I cooked this the other week but didn’t think of posting, so didn’t take a photo. You’ll end up with tender chicken and a red, richly flavoured gravy. Cook this in a large pot on the hob, in a casserole dish in the oven, or, if you have a slow cooker large enough, that’s an even easier option.

Provencal Pot Roast Chicken

Some ingredients I list are flexible. This is your dish, cook to your taste!

1 medium to large chicken
A few cloves up to a whole bulb of garlic depending on how much you like
Salt and pepper
Parsley or chives or whatever herb you like
1tsp Herbes de Provence
1 red pepper quartered, stalk and seeds removed
1-2 carrots, peeled if necessary, halved in the middle or cut into three chunks depending on size
1 onion peeled and quartered (optional)
1tbsp tomato puree
Approx. 500ml (half pint) of water — this will increase as the juices from the veg and chicken run out, so allow for that with the pan you’re using. Also depends on how many you’re feeding. You can make a little or a lot. If you want more juice, add a little extra veg, etc.

Place all this in the stovetop pot, casserole, or the slow cooker. Yes, put the chicken in whole!

Simmer for around two hours on the hob, or bake on 375f/Gas 5) in the oven, or for about 5 hours on high in the slow cooker. If doing in a pan or slow cooker, I turn the chicken halfway through.

Once the chicken is done, remove ready to carve for serving. I sometimes find this the hardest stage, as it can literally fall apart. For the sauce, allow the ‘gravy’ to cool until you can whizz it all up in a blender, or, better, if you have a handheld blender, being careful if the liquid is still hot, you can blend right in the pan/casserole dish/slow cooker. Serve with potatoes and veg of choice, or pasta.

You could also do this with chicken portions, though the recipe works best with chicken on the bone to create the stock, so use thighs and drumsticks. You can also cook it the day before and simply reheat.

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.