Update December 2017

I missed blogging last week because I was too busy with edits. I’m pleased to announce I’ve signed contracts and finalised about everything for another foray into the life and times of one Lethbridge-Stewart. More on that shortly. For now you might like to pop along to the new Lethbridge-Stewart website and dig around.

I’ve about caught up with work in progress and have some new plans for 2018, with projects spanning several genres, some studying, and other things. I’m even ‘having a go’ at plotting, interesting for a general ‘pantser’ of a writer as in fly by the seat of. I won’t be surprised if I end up doing a little of both. As for this month, though I’ll likely be back with an end of year message or two, for now I’m taking a break, and a much-needed holiday. Best wishes to you and yours at this time.

I’ve rather sadder news to mention before I end on a more upbeat note. Many of us were informed this weekend that my main publisher, Loose Id, is closing. It’s hard to hear as I had hoped to write for them again this coming year and was working on finalising a submission. I’ve had a rough four years, which included two moves and other issues. Problems that seriously interfered with and finished off my hoped-for writing schedule. I had at last hoped to return to working with Loose Id as I had next to nothing new out with them during that time…a time now finished but unforgettable.

Loose Id gave me my first full-length publication. They helped me step from the realms of publishing short stories in magazines to writing longer length work. Though not my only guidance they were there at the beginning, and I’ve managed to take that learning process, add to it, and use it in other genres. Those I’ve worked with will always have my gratitude. Such closures have almost become part of the publishing industry backdrop but on this occasion, for many, it truly feels like the end of an era. My books will be available with them until the end of May 2018. As to the future for those titles…I’ll let you know as when I make a decision. There’s no reason to re-release without at least tidying these titles.

On a better note, the last book in the ‘Snow Angel’ trilogy released on 2nd December in ebook form with the print copy available soon. Books 1 and 2 are already available (those ordering from the UK may be best to do so from Amazon) in re-edited and even extended editions. Don’t forget I also run separate Dark Fiction and Romance Sites if you want more extensive information.

Book 3: Christmas Angel

True love’s path seldom runs smooth. Can love change a man who doesn’t even understand himself?

Available from JMS Books and many good outlets.

What’s on Your Desk

A few weeks ago Alternative Read invited me to share my desk. This is that post.

So…say a few words about your routine, they said. If only I had one! I’ve tried various regimens.

Write until I’m exhausted, never a great plan. Stick to a minimum number of words able to walk away self-satisfied and smug because I’ve got at least that amount of work accomplished. Or write as the muse dictates. Truth is, there is no correct choice. It’s a question of finding what works, and like all designs, sometimes life gets in the way and a change is necessary.

I used to like to write first thing in the morning. I came to struggle with that because I always worried I neglected something, maybe an important email. I try to quickly check email and do a pass through some type of social media early now, so at least it’s not nagging at me. So distracting!

If I have the opportunity I try to write a couple of hours in the morning and a couple early afternoon. If not, then I’ll write when and where necessary. I can work if there’s a television on in the room as long as it’s not a show I’m interested in, but I don’t tend to cope well with music playing. I’ve written during a journey or while visiting relatives. I’ve written for ten minutes or ten hours. Routine…it’s a wonderful dream.

My desk does not look interesting, though I can lower it or raise it as I want so I can choose to sit or stand, a better option then being glued to the seat facing a deadline. It’s not always as bare as it looks in the picture mostly because ‘hubby’ puts papers on there for filing or attention. If I’m peeved, I may throw these underneath on the floor. Don’t worry, I’m joking…partly. I really do chuck some papers into a pile by my feet. Course, I’m always hoping the little guys to the right will help with the filing if not the writing. Hasn’t worked yet.

The pictures above are for enjoyment only. Although always a fan, I didn’t realise how much I’d come to adore Terry Pratchett’s work until I heard of his illness and, subsequently, his death. All but one of these pictures are official (and the odd one for my pleasure only, added because I loved it so much). This is a new house, a fresh start, and I drove my other half crazy getting him to hang these as I wanted.

Death, Rincewind, Errol, Greebo, The Librarian and The Death of Rats all look down from around the Discworld while I work. These and the overcrowded bookshelves at my back are part of a world I love so much. They’re the part of me who loved The Beast because he gave Belle a library.


I write in many genres and I’m pleased to say the latest upcoming titles in the multi-authored Lethbridge-Stewart series (The Brigadier of Doctor Who fame) will include my book, A Very Private Haunting.

http://www.candy-jar.co.uk/books/lethbridgestewarthome.html
My first foray into this universe is available now on Kindle in the short story, The Wishing Bazaar.

Happy Halloween?

Some might call wishing someone Happy Halloween an oxymoron. Readers of my romance fiction may well be surprised to hear how much I love Halloween and so many things spooky.

In keeping with the season, I thought to leave you a little scare this week. Some will find this funny, some may jump. Everyone’s reaction is different. My question is always how many times would anyone keep flicking off the light?

The Grimm Truth

I wrote this article for a West Country community newsletter that I used to contribute to regularly. Subsequently, this piece was also accepted for publication by Gothic Fairy Tales. However, little was I to know that its publication in a small Devon paper would result in my receiving fan mail…all the way from South Africa! A North Devon ‘maid’ (as they are often referred to) had moved all that way but continued to pay for and receive local news as a reminder of her true home and the place where her heart lies. She simply adored The Grimm Truth and wanted to thank me for writing it. No one could have been more surprised and delighted than I. Until I began writing novels this was my first instance of anyone outside of the UK reading my work. Who was to know that a simple article would travel such a long way?

*****

Take someone who has not only travelled abroad but also explored many counties in the United Kingdom. Couple this with an extensive interest in writing, and one cannot visit these places without gaining an awareness of the numerous tales and fables that exist, many unique to the areas. For a writer, it is impossible to ignore the tales of King Oberon’s epic battle on Dartmoor and the wealth of legends regarding fairies and pixies in Devon alone. These stories are born out of and are woven into the magic of legend and history. Yet, as adults, we segregate many of them to the realm of quaintness and childhood. Many of us fail fully to comprehend the extent early delights such as Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes are part of that wealth.

It may surprise many to know that the stories we now regard as created for and belonging to children were originally intended for adults only. They were often traditional folk tales with endings that were far more bloodthirsty than their modern-day counterparts. No one saved granny or the little girl in the red hood from the wolf’s ‘great big teeth’ and Sleeping Beauty was not awakened by a kiss, but impregnated by the prince, and even gave birth while still she slept. These stories speak of mysterious times and places, yet they are a tool to reflect incidences in our own lives and history. It was during the Victorian era that these stories began to be rewritten, printed, and delegated to the realm of children’s imagination. However, maybe in this they still serve their purpose for when read to children now, parents are unconsciously teaching their offspring that bad things happen in life, that we have to learn to deal with them, and that with a little luck and maybe perseverance the good guy can still win. Simply, these stories now teach us at an increasingly young age of the world in which we live, and they should not be regarded lightly or dismissed.

A well-known producer of collectable figurines clearly saw the potential of delving into these fantasies and tapping into the darker origins for adults. Consequently, a small series of figurines depicting these story characters combined with the macabre and Gothic, a soupcon of humour and eroticism hit the market as their response. Certainly not to everyone’s taste, a brief mention is not to publicise them, but to draw attention to the fact that these stories are still with us, and their influence remains as strong. In addition, these strange figures delved slightly out of the realm of fairy tales into the neighbouring text of nursery rhymes, these ditties that are regularly told to children of an even younger age. Indeed, some encyclopaedias classify them as verses for children.

Reminded of childhood reminiscences, I particularly recalled a book given to me by my grandmother containing works of the Brothers Grimm who collected stories as a study of their culture. Conversely, Hans Christian Anderson wrote his own stories, though he readily incorporated elements from the world around him. The Brothers were unhappy to find their work often referenced to children as they intended these tales for all. This was a contention they shared with Anderson, though their tales were sometimes considered coarse, while Anderson’s were often moralistic.

Knowing most fairy tales were not originally intended for younger audiences left the question of nursery verses and the origins and original intentions behind these short, entertaining rhymes. Choosing one for research purposes led to some interesting and equally entertaining information and equally if not more disturbing answers.

A few of us may be aware that Ring Around the Rosies was an account of the black plague and referred to the circles that occurred around the eyes; this ends unsurprisingly with people ‘falling down’ (dead). Conversely, how many of us remember Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater? How many of us would be content to read this to our children knowing that the origins are from America instead of Europe, though this may seem obvious since pumpkins were not readily available in England until recent years? Not much to concern anyone there even with the Pumpkin’s connotations of Halloween. Yet, how many of us would happily sit down to read this rhyme to children knowing what the verse actually meant. “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater had a wife and couldn’t keep her” translates into an unfaithful wife; hence, he couldn’t ‘keep’ her. He put her in a pumpkin shell (pumpkin shell in this instance meaning chastity belt) and there he kept her very well.

Incidentally, the face carved in the Pumpkin is to frighten bad spirits away: it is not a bad entity itself. Another frequent mistake: children are not meant to trick you if they do not give them a treat. They are meant to ask for you to give them a treat or for you to play a trick on them: more examples of where traditions have been twisted to suit this modern age. So adults enlightened, children beware!

The truth is many of the rhymes that we once laughed over at bedtime were written using fact, even politics. Many were folk songs or even prayers; many rhymes were direct digs at greed and taxation. Some may have traditional customs. They may also be categorised as lullabies, riddles and tongue twisters among others. All had individual use and intended audience (counting rhymes are an effective aid to learning). Many are synonymous with other cultures though they may appear in a different form or with a substitute character relevant to that country’s history.

Some do not hold up so well in today’s climate. The tale of Miss Muffet, supposedly based on the daughter of an entomologist named Muffet who was frightened by one of her father’s spiders surely helps to instil fear in children of arachnids. Likewise, Peter Pumpkin Eater is seen by some as a form of abuse and the vision of a blind woman running after three mice with a chopper in her hand would be a strange sight for most of us. However, surely it is important to keep these in the context they have been regarded for decades. Once heard as children they became part of our play, have remained constant companions and did us less harm than most images youngsters are subject to today. The sad truth is some of these rhymes have changed over time and may not reflect their original intention. Alas, some origins are lost to us completely and the creators, many of them anonymous, are no longer with us. Still, they should not be discarded. Not many of us look back on them with any emotion other than a fondness. They are an integrated part of our history and, most importantly, they teach us to play with words at an early age.

Incidentally, King Oberon was seriously injured, and Puck still searches for herbs to cure him. If anyone has any suggestions they could be in for some fairy luck, though Puck is not generally thought of as trustworthy.

© Sharon Maria Bidwell, all rights reserved.

Thanks for the memories, James

As it’s October I thought it suitable to mention a writer who has ‘been with me’ since my teens. True, one of the first horror books I ever read was by Stephen King. The book was Salem’s Lot if anyone is wondering. But for a long time, my favourite ‘horror writer’ was James Herbert. When I heard of his death, I experienced that jaw-dropping moment when one doesn’t want to believe the news and can remember the moment as though it happened this morning.

I place the term ‘horror writer’ in quotes because Herbert was never entirely happy with being categorised, and had his share of mixed reviews. He felt any violent or horror-related work met a certain brand of snobbery. It’s a problem I completely understand and why I label my own horror writing as Dark Fiction, precisely because many stories flank other topics and genres.

Some horror writers aren’t, truly, writing what I call horror even if there’s an element of that in the story. Some of Herbert’s work became blended with the paranormal (he said himself that his later works tended to lean to the supernatural), fantasy, and I have always felt a large part of his compositions contained humanitarian questions and shone an ugly reflection on society. In Herbert’s own words, some of what he had to say regarding his motivations and underlying themes might surprise many.

I recall one particular mention of the seemingly oversized rats in his books Rats, Lair, and Domain. The trilogy may have been inspired by a line in Dracula, but the description and size of the rodents came from the creatures he saw in the overrun areas of the East End of London in which he grew up. Having seen ‘Rodents of Unusual Size’ (some readers will know where I borrowed that from and it’s not Herbert), I’m prepared to believe. Some can look bigger or at least match the size of small dogs.

There’s also the issue of how much is too much? Yes, violence (and sex) can be gratuitous but I’ve also believed a writer should ‘write’ and not fear to show something as it is or would be. Herbert wasn’t a writer who feared to call a ‘spade a spade’ and preferred to give an honest portrayal of any scene. Of course, his writing, which was ignored or even banned when first published is thought of as more commonplace now. Books and films deemed once to be adult viewing can now be found in school libraries.

Some readers will be surprised that I read or even like the horror genre, despite my saying constantly that I read anything and everything. Truth is, I grew up on horror books. My teen years were romances (usually Mills & Boon because that was what my friends were reading), Herbert, King, and Steinbeck. I’m serious when I say my library is eclectic.

I suppose in a sense I also admired Herbert because he was a success story — well known and British. The young writer in me couldn’t help being a little envious. So much happened to me throughout those years. My life went through so many changes. What I read during that time is blended with all the other memories. Lately, I’ve felt the pull to return to those roots with my writing. Though to date, it’s been strictly short stories, I plan to try my first Dark Fiction novel soon and I’m sure I’ll be thinking of Herbert when I do.

My tribute will be a simple one: many, many thanks for the memories, James.

September Garden Update

They say a photo speaks a thousand words so if I say we’ve gone from this:to this:

and this:

to this:

Well, I’m still not sure it conveys the amount of digging, moving, carrying, loading, unloading, building, muscle ache and expense. Or maybe it does. We’ve carried 3 bulk bags of ballast through, 2 of the red shingle, 1 of sand, 2 giant bulk bags of the cream/gold (below), and a pallet load of 20kg bags to make a whole ton of the Yorkshire Cream (up top), a pallet load of stones, and various smaller bags of bits and pieces. A neighbour shouted out to us the other week: “Every time I see you, you’re shovelling shingle.”

Raised beds to the left are for flowers. The beds to the right will be for a few veggies, or I’m thinking I’d like to grow blackberries and chard. We’ve shrubs in the back bed on the left, and grasses on the right. Don’t look like much now but give it a few months. We’ve planted two cypress trees.

The central back bed I decided to make decorative. I needed somewhere to put my seahorse. I’ve some more pieces I want to pick up for this — some glass floats, shells etc., but I love it so far. The light on the lighthouse revolves.

We’ve more screening to put up and I’ve some more plants I have my eye on. Also planning a seating area with a pergola so there will be some more updates to come.

Death Note Dismay

Netflix’s effort to create a live-action adaption of the Japanese Manga series Death Note (first serialised in magazine form and later as anime and then live-action television) is overall disappointing.

I dislike when the conception of a character changes, so in that regard would like the opportunity to see the live-action film released in Japan in 2006/8, and while the relocation might call for altered nationalities, I would have preferred a cast reflecting the original personas more. Not that there is anything wrong with the performances of the actors giving the story line and the limited time to execute it — and there lies the real problem, as I will explain further on.

It’s sad the cast does their best with limited material. In this revamp, Nat Wolff fits the lead role of Light (Yagami), and Margaret Qualley the lead female, Mia — a necessary change for the better. The anime characteristics of the earlier ‘Misa’ (who is erratic and immature) would never fully translate to a western culture. She was the most irritating female protagonist/antagonist (she reflects both at various times in the plot) I’ve seen in a long time.

In particular, although Lakeith Stanfield did a good job of perfecting the glances and mannerisms of ‘L’ the character dissolves into volatile instability in a way the original ‘L’ (Ryuzaki) never did, and it’s a shame they took his personality in that direction.

Ryuzaki’s story in the anime was expected and logical but no less onerous for all that and ‘L’ remains for me the most compelling character of the whole series and concept so I would have liked to see everything about the adaption more fledged. The interplay between Light and Ryuzaki is lacking in the Netflix edition, which at heart is not in any way captivating, or inspiring conviction.

The best thing may well be Ryuk as voiced by Willem Defoe, but I was sorry the whole mythology of the Shinigami wasn’t explained to the uninitiated, and the skilful twists of the plot compacted to such a momentary suggestion of the source material. I’ve read criticism that the film feels rushed and I wholeheartedly agree. The sheer haste of execution means none of the sub-text is examined and barely disclosed. I recommend checking out the anime series though for a serial running for 37 episodes it requires commitment.

August Garden Update

Long overdue but after another busy weekend I thought I’d provide an update on the rest of the tiers. Please excuse the lurking piles of rubbish.

To recap we’ve gone from this:

To out of control:

and now we’re finally fully tiered:

 

The top tier is my herb garden with a lower level mostly decorative. There’s a wollemi pine in the planter. Herbs include rosemary, various thymes, sorrel, chives, garlic chives, sage among others.

On the far left we’ve a bank of various lavenders at the top, blueberry plants and wild strawberries in the middle, and an embankment of many different foxgloves.

To create the tiers, we’ve used a mixture of rustic sleepers and Marshall’s croft stone walling. A layer of ballast had to be laid for each section of wall and back-filled with gravel for drainage.

More soon!

Peach Custard Pie

Four years of upheaval not only interfered with my writing, but other pastimes. I used to enjoy baking and cooking to a greater degree than has been possible recently. Having had a chance to cook the other weekend, I thought, completely off the topic of writing, to share one of my favourite and easy dessert recipes. I found it in a cookbook many years ago (couldn’t tell you which one) and have adapted it a bit over the years so now make it following my own notes.

Ingredients at a glance:
Shortcrust Pastry
1 large tin of peach slices and/or fresh, or a mixture of both.
1/4 pint soured cream or yogurt
2 eggs
4 oz sugar
1 oz plain flour

Ingredients in more detail:

Shortcrust Pastry — I have to admit I tend to cheat with this, mostly because I’ve found a store bought one I like. Jamie Oliver has often said store bought pastry is fine so if it’s okay for him it’s good enough for me. I do sometimes make fresh pastry with a lot less fat than the recipe states. In fact, I often use less fat and sugar than most recipes stipulate. Atora suet or its equivalent (beef or vegetable), also makes good pastry BUT only if baking and eating fresh. I wouldn’t advise freezing suet pastry; it’s never the same.

Peaches — it’s fine to use tinned or fresh and I have used a mix of both when I didn’t have quite enough of one or the other. This recipe also works with other fruits. If using particular moist fruits drain first on kitchen paper. If using fresh peaches, peel or don’t depending on preference.

Soured Cream/Yogurt — the original recipe stated soured cream but it’s not something I have available as often as yogurt. If you want an especially rich dessert there’s no reason not to use cream, and for a more healthy option use a vanilla or natural yogurt.

Eggs — I’m sure the original recipe stated egg yolks, I forget how many. Again, if going for a richer dessert then use yolks but I’ve found this works fine using the whole eggs.

I tend to use 3 or 4 ozs of sugar. The actual recipe stated more but I always use less and even seem to recall halving the original amount. I made this the other weekend with 4 ozs and thought it a bit too sweet so I can’t imagine using more. Depends how sweet your sweet tooth is, I suppose.

1 oz plain flour — definitely needed to make the custard ‘set’.

Instructions:

Preheat oven to around gas 6 (that’s 200c and about 400f, I think — better check). Roll out dough and use it to line a 8-9 inch shallow pie dish. I use a fluted flan pan with a push-up base.

Arrange the peach slices in two concentric circles, one inner, one outer, slightly overlapping.

In a bowl, beat together the cream/soured cream/yogurt (whichever you’re using) with the eggs, sugar and the 1 oz of plain flour. Pour over the peaches.

Bake for approximately an hour, or until the custard sets. The tip of a knife should come out clean.

If the edge of the pastry looks as though it will burn it can be covered with some foil mid-way through cooking. I usually get away with it going a bit brown.

Note: this recipe also came with a streusel topping. I really don’t bother with it but, if wanted, make a crumble type topping and sprinkle on half way through the cooking time, or sprinkle with a little brown sugar and cinnamon or, as I often use, some finely chopped nuts with or without a little sugar and spice.

Serve warm or cold.

So, to recap: pastry in a flan dish, line with fruit, beat the rest of the ingredients together, pour in and bake. It really is simple.

 

 

 

Experience something bitter, something intoxicating

2011? How was this 2011? Seems like yesterday and still one of my favourite stories because I got the writing and story just as I wanted. Thinking of including it in a collection.

I also remember sshhhing the husband while putting on the final polish.

My inspiration was the title of the anthology and the ‘Green Muse’ painting by French history painter and illustrator, Albert Pierre René Maignan.

***

Bitter and Intoxicating

Émile beheld the rough lines of age and labour in the hand before him. The network of passing years bisected by a scar and punctuated by torn cuticles threatened to entrap him in a labyrinth of wanting. If only he could capture the essence of that hand, the person it belonged to, in a drawing.