Wishing you a Peaceful 2021

A strange year for all. One in which I started acupuncture (something I never imagined myself doing) to see whether it would help with a non-life-threatening but incurable complaint I was diagnosed with last year. Alas, owing to the Covid situation I could not complete the first set of sessions so still don’t know. And yes, despite what you may hear, sometimes acupuncture can hurt. Covid also interrupted a long planned holiday, especially two destinations we’ve been trying to get to and now may never reach. It’s also the year when a close relative had a serious health scare, but tests and months later they announced the all clear, so if I’ll take nothing else good from 2020, I will take that.

Towards the end of the year, I had to have an extraction owing to a wisdom tooth hooking under the tooth in front and killing the nerve. Unavoidable and didn’t go entirely to plan, but not as bad as I feared. Like most, we didn’t get out and about much this year. We’ve had a couple of distanced walks with our best friends, but aside from that have seen no one we know, including family.

I drafted several scenes for a ‘possible’ novel (yet to be confirmed/completed) and worked on an extremely rough draft of a first horror novel. I republished a romance, had a couple of short stories published in both the April and October editions of Night to Dawn magazine, plus republished my Sleepy Hollow poem, Ichabod, Ichabod, Ichabod, for the third time. I’m especially pleased to say I started drawing again, including learning how to sketch despite finding it a bit scary drawing straight off in black ink. And I read more than my planned minimal quota of books!!! Here’s to better in 2021. Best wishes, everyone!

Update Nov 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

A month in which I had a tooth out and because of various reasons tried Conscious Sedation, which, unfortunately, didn’t work for me. At least I now know. It’s also the month when I realised it’s been 20 years since we had to say goodbye to our beloved dog. She may be gone, but she’s never forgotten. Like everyone else in the UK, we’ve been in a second lockdown, although in some areas things are no different. Shops are heaving, so are markets… all of which, if they sell food, are allowed to open. The one thing I hate more than anything this year is food shopping. All the shops have their own rules, it’s been confusing, you get the shoppers that stare at a single shelf for what feels like half an hour, and others have no idea about keeping their distance. I’ve ordered a few goodies for Christmas this year to subject ourselves to the shops as little as possible.

FILM/TV:

A sci-fi horror called The Invisible Man, staring Elisabeth Moss, turned out to be interesting to watch. The 2hr film definitely flew by, as it makes the viewer question whether this woman trying to escape her abusive husband is losing her mind, or being stalked. Underwater was another surprise and possibly a bit of a treat for anyone who loves their Lovecraft and Cthulhu mythos. An added surprise was that Kristen Stewart carries herself well as the action hero in this underwater sci-fi disaster film. Motherless Brooklyn deserves a mention for Edward Norton’s performance, and the fact he also adapted Jonathan Lethem’s novel, and directed this story of a private detecting in a corrupt city. A pleasant thriller that didn’t drag along its 2hr 20 minutes.

Pleased to have at long last caught up with the last episode of Eureka. We used to tune into this sci-fi show on the SyFy channel… right until our Sky box melted several years ago. Came home one day to the smell of burning plastic… awful and a little frightening. As a glitch in Sky’s system kept insisting they couldn’t give us a box because we had one despite it being a melting lump of danger, we never renewed and so lost out on the last one and a half series. It’s taken some years, but I have to agree with what I’d heard — it’s one show that rounded off well, with a satisfying conclusion.

READING:

An English Ghost Story, Kim Newman

This story was not what I expected. When one hears mention of a ghost story, one imagines the unsettling creak of a floorboard, lights that flicker as though from faulty wiring, an escalation of scares, and spectres at every turn, not a subtle disintegration of family that’s almost a metaphor. The tale begins with the family finding the perfect home and weaves an enchanting picture of country life that’s something out of a Victorian romance, creating the perfect escape the characters seek. What isn’t so clear is they cannot escape their own flaws, weaknesses the power within the house focuses on and brings alive to disturbing extremes. Does it work? To an extent, although I think the readership will be one who also appreciates more literary subtext and likes classic works. If looking for an easy scare, this won’t be the book. I’ve not read much of Kim Newman, particularly in recent years, but this interested me enough that I may look up some of his other titles.

Bird Box, Josh Malerman

Having watched the film after seeing mixed reviews, I was keen to read the book as I had also heard good things about Josh Malerman’s work. I didn’t react to the film as badly as some, but found the book to be a completely distinct entity with far more tension. I also like how the story’s told with two lines of chronology running throughout — a present journey undertaken by Malorie and the events that led her to that point. I see the book has as many mixed reviews as the film, but I’m not a reader who needs a big reveal. And with a revelation that could drive the main character, Malorie, mad, the question of the best outcome will always be questionable. There’s no way a writer can please every reader with this type of story, only trust the book will find its own audience. The suspense comes from Malorie’s anxiety, the act of having to fumble around not knowing if a threat stands right next to you excellently portrayed. Will Malorie find sanctuary? Will she save the children? I’ll be reading more from this author, including the sequel.

The Servants of Twilight, Dean Koontz

This chase thriller holds up to time, as readable today as when written, the fanaticism just as relevant. The bad guys walk the line of caricatures but somehow work, as does the vivid icy landscape they are all plunged into. The soul of the book is summed up in this perfect sentence: “There was evil … in mankind’s fatal attraction to easy, even if irrational, answers.”

Trudi Canavan

Priestess of the White

Book 1 of the Age of the Five

Epic Fantasy once used to be my favourite genre, and books like this remind me why; the author has a strong sense of world-building. She interweaves the various characters’ lives, societies and religions in a way that makes them wholly believable. And amid all this, there’s an interesting love story. I was particularly taken with the Dreamweaver, Leiard, haunted in a possibly life-threatening way by ‘linked memories’. I have Books 2 & 3 to look forward to and hope I enjoy these equally, although I don’t feel this series is as compelling as Canavan’s ‘The Black Magician Trilogy’.

WRITING:

I finished my ‘extremely rough’ draft of a horror novel. It’s a new venture for me, but something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, even if no one ever reads it. Naturally, I hope that won’t be the case, but it still needs a lot of work. Still, it feels great to have the framework completed. December will be a month where I write if/when/where I like, with a view to revamping some older works and producing new in 2021.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

Night to Dawn 38

It’s fine to extend Halloween into November, isn’t it? I’m afraid this is a rather late post. I’m blaming the toothache and wait I had for the assessment, then treatment. A true horror story of a wisdom tooth hooking under the tooth in front. Nothing I had done, nothing I could have done to avoid it. Treatment over, but nursing the pain of recovery, I realised I completely overlooked blogging about my latest releases in Night to Dawn 38.

I’m delighted to say his edition features reprints of my Sleepy Hollow Poem, Ichabod, Ichabod, Ichabod, and my short story, The Wolf Moon (previously seen in the anthology, Winter Tales).

First stanza of Ichabod, Ichabod, Ichabod. Read more in Night to Dawn 38.
Read Diana and Gabriel’s tale in Night to Dawn 38.

Available from www.bloodredshadow.com and through Amazon.

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 June 2020

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

As the world reopens, we’re buttoning down all the more to avoid the inevitable second wave. We’re lucky in that we can buy veg locally without risk — it’s a business unit on the outskirts of town and they put a table across the door. We go to the door, tell them what we want while those inside scurry around packing it up with gloved hands, then we step back, they place it on the table; we step forward to use the card machine to pay, pick up our veg and leave. No contact with anyone. I can see why many have resorted to more local sources, though we’ve always tried to use ours.

Our weekly routine has changed little (except that this time of the year we would have gone for some evening walks) but the weekends have started to drag a little. With that in mind, we’re thinking of tackling a couple of DIY jobs. I’ve had to order 4 tins of paint to redo our front door and the frame from three different outlets. Struggled to get a suitable colour, and it seems many shops still lack stocks.

FILM/TV:

Dipping in to series old and new. Watching the most recent season of The Black List and picking up Brooklyn Nine-Nine where we left off ages ago. Started Altered Carbon, definitely an interesting concept. Just watched Hereditary, a film proclaimed to be something incredibly original when it hit cinemas. Alas, I can’t decide whether it’s slow and dull, or insidious and disturbing. The horror is at times overly melodramatic, at others subtle, perhaps scarily so if you’re easily scared. I neither liked nor disliked it. I think they promoted the film inaccurately, especially when it first came out leading the viewer to expect something quite different which always harms the experience. On a side note, having a dog in the film was entirely pointless.

READING:

Another great month.

Forward Collection, Amazon Original Stories:
While I felt none of the stories were perfect, and often that they were a mere glimpse into a larger concept, I can see where the various subjects create a balance with this collection of six stories available together or individually.

The Last Conversation, Paul Trembley
Though I didn’t like the second person narrative, this may be my favourite of the ‘Forward Collection’ possibly made apt as it concerns loss during a pandemic. There’s a lot left to the imagination, and perhaps that’s why it will fail for some readers. The big reveal is not as grand as perhaps we’d hope it to be. Still, this story is multilayered asking many uncomfortable questions. I couldn’t help feeling there’s a longer story hiding within this shorter work.

Ark, Veronica Roth
Enjoyable, but I found this to be the weakest of the 5 Forward Collection stories. An evacuated earth requires too much suspended belief and though the narration is beautiful, there was no true forward momentum and the ending proved a disappointment. This reads more as a vignette rather than a full story.

Summer Frost, Blake Crouch
An exploration of artificial intelligence that perhaps offers few surprises and yet does so with style, asking all the right questions and offering a variety of conceivable answers, all excellent reasons to suspect the development of A.I.

Emergency Skin, N.K.Jemisin
I greatly loved the concept of this story of an explorer returning to Earth long after those who destroyed their planet having fled from it, to find things are not quite how it seems. Oddly enough, this is another timely story being that we’ve all seen during the recent pandemic how the Earth can regenerate without human interference, though any one group being at fault is subversive and plainly fallacious.

You Have Arrived at Your Destination, Amor Towles
At some future point should humans be able to choose not only the sex of their child but perhaps their life, too. And in doing so, does that parent abandon that child to a life that requires no guidance to a path already mapped out? For one man, it’s a question that makes him evaluate his own existence and choices. Alas, I didn’t find this drew me in deeply enough to more thoroughly explore this excellent concept.

Randomize, Andy Weir
This story made me smirk the most. While the technical jargon may fly over most heads, it’s easy to understand what’s going on here, leaving the question of what makes a crook and what part does technology play in the modern world. A reflection on techno highway robbery.

The Witcher: Season of Storms, Andrzej Sapkowski
A prequel to the first two Witcher books, reading much like a standalone book. I would advise to read this as the third instalment, otherwise the story may confuse as there’s little to no introduction of the main established characters. I enjoyed this as the story takes the form of political intrigue and the theft of Geralt’s swords. I’ve seen some criticise the writer’s style. The only thing I find slightly annoying is the repetitive ‘was’ — it was raining; they were walking; it was dark in the alley — style, though this writer is not the only one who over uses this type of narrative, and I don’t know whether it’s in part owing to the translation. The world of The Witcher remains rich and absorbing.

The Doll Who Ate His Mother, Ramsey Campbell
This is a tough book to rate, but when you understand this is Ramsey Campbell’s debut novel, the good and bad points fall into place. If you love Campbell’s work this is a glimpse of a fledgling writer. If you’ve never read Campbell before, don’t start with this for the author went on to bigger and better things garnering recognition well deserved. The story is also dated — understandably, written over 40 years ago. What people expected, accepted, and found frightening was entirely different back then. So was depth required. Both a horror story with satanic elements, and a thriller involving a disturbed boy perhaps corrupted by the perverse beliefs of those who raised him, alas, the book’s greatest flaw is the lack of menace (for a modern audience). I also spotted what should have been a surprise, but such is an annoying habit of mine. Some will dislike the surreal sauntering sensation the book invokes, but this lends a strange uneasy appeal to the narrative and can be forgiven as a writer finding his voice — and a distinctive voice it now is to those who appreciate his work. Still, there were moments when simple everyday things came across as overly described to where I had to read a sentence twice. Ultimately, the book fails to fall into the horror category for me, and it lacks a depth that left me feeling there’s more to explore, leaving characters shallow. The best and spookiest scene comes toward the end and takes place in a basement, and something about this still lingers, like seeing only the surface of a story through a murky window pane.

What Britain Has Done 1939-1945, Richard Overy (introduction)
Possibly glamorised considering its purpose, but What Britain Has Done was originally published in May 1945 by the Ministry of Information. Even if the facts and figures were half true, they are staggering. This is history as they never taught in school, and which should have been part of such education.

The Muse, Jessie Burton
When writers who can write this well receive such mixed reviews, it must frustrate all creatives. The book is multilayered taking place over two time lines. Jessie Burton excels with a rich, sensual vocabulary that makes her easy to read yet brings to life people, places, and the world of creativity without the reader being aware of it, blending it into the narrative seemingly without effort, though a great deal of effort must have gone into this work for the research alone. This book is about the impediments women face both practically and psychologically. It’s about the inspiration of creativity. When I purchased the book, I read a few reviews; some pronounced Odelle and Olive — the principal characters of the book separated by three decades — as irrelevant and unlikeable, but there’s much more woven into this story than we see immediately on the page. Odelle’s experience in unravelling the mystery behind a mysterious painting gives her the foundation to be herself, to push onwards against all obstacles. Olive is also a woman of her time, equally restricted because of it. Olive chooses secrecy; Odelle to claim what is hers. These women are bookends, the opposite of each other and of how society wants them to be as the times dictated, adding more depth. I’ve loved both this and The Miniaturist, but, if I had to choose, I would opt for The Muse. It is by no means a weaker second book, as some noted critics have suggested.

Orcs First Blood Trilogy, Stan Nicholls
Bodyguard of Lightning, Legion of Thunder, Warriors of the Tempest
Read back to back these books seem oddly poignant in today’s climate being that the not so subliminal subtext is one of racism and the environment. The author has tried to turn classical fantasy tropes on their head by making the orcs the protagonists. To an extent, he succeeds, although I’m left feeling these books could have been far deeper than they are. For the most part, they are a light, entertaining read. In other spots they are possibly overly violent, though in a world populated by magical beasts and humans perhaps the brutality is not so surprising. I’ve few problems with the author trying to get down and dirty, but I’m not so sure the lighter passages aren’t at odds with the darkness of the story, the writing akin to Young Adult novels in places. Still, I liked this not-so-merry band of orcs; sadly, they’re too humanised, and I often forgot they ‘were’ orcs, with the pacing uneven and the ending a little anticlimactic. Still, I enjoyed the read.

WRITING:

The re-release of An Act of Generosity took place, and I saw the cover to an upcoming edition of Night to Dawn Magazine which contains a poem and short story of mine.

Stay Well and Happy Reading!
Sharon x

Re-edited and re-released

Happy to announce I’ve taken one of my books from my backlist and given it a makeover. My writing has changed in recent years for the better and I felt this story deserved a wider audience as it was much loved in the past.

An Act of Generosity is now available from JMS Books (for those in the US) and widely in other recommended outlets.

Robert’s a responsible adult and a dedicated businessman. He hesitates to hire Lee, who’s applied for the position of PA at his firm, knowing how hard it will be to deny his attraction to the younger man. Lee knows Robert’s has feelings for him, but can he get the proper English gentleman to admit they might share more than lust? And what will happen when Robert discovers they share a past?

Update Feb 2020

Hi Everyone!

OUT AND ABOUT:
Hit with the virus from hell (no, not the one in the news), and been battling to get well so there’s been little in the way of ‘out and about’ other than necessity, and we’ve also been getting ready for an upcoming trip.

FILM/TV:
At long last got around to binge watching The Good Place. So unique. Funny. Questioning and examining morality. And the ending is so touching. I cannot recommend this series enough.

READING:

Winter Rose, Patricia McKillip
Beautifully written and lyrical, Winter Rose can be viewed as many things. Supernatural, magical, surreal, reality, dream, or even a metaphor for a young woman’s desire and lost love. When I picked up this book some years ago, I knew nothing about the author, though the cover states she’s the winner of the World Fantasy Award. May not be for those who like straightforward stories with every t crossed but fans of the unusual may appreciate the book.

The Mask, Dean R Koontz
A reread as part of a book clearance plan. Though readers often find Koontz in the horror or fantasy section, the best way to describe most of his books is supernatural thrillers. This, one of his earlier titles, is well-plotted, perhaps a little simplistic for true thriller aficionados of today, but is a fast, well-paced read although the end feels a little too fast and abrupt to me.

The Vesuvius Club, Mark Gatiss
With a nod to Mordecai this is a somewhat fun Edwardian suspense romp, but the story felt as though it went on too long and waned.

In the Time we Lost, Carrie Hope Fletcher
I wanted to love this book but can only like it. This spin on the Groundhog Day type story is certainly inventive, I like the characters, and the setting. Unfortunately, during the early repeats my interest lagged, although my attention picked up, especially in the last quarter of the book. This is light reading, perhaps too light for me, so I’m not dismissing this author or the story, for I enjoyed this quirky romance despite feeling some vital element was missing. This would likely work much better visually, for I feel the problem might be this story is difficult to accomplish in the timeframe. Would people change intrinsically in such a short time? But to linger on too many repeats would make the book repetitive and boring, whereas, in the inspiration repeat story, we’re able to view hundreds of days go by in short snippets. A brave idea, sweetly executed that gain momentum and improves towards an end I unfortunately found disappointing. On another note there are some typos in the book for which I never solely blame a writer as it’s a responsibility shared with the publisher. Still, as this was a printed hardcover book, I expected better.

WRITING:
I received my first official review of my audio short by Big Finish, The Infinite Today, part of their Short Trips Doctor Who range is now available for download at £2.99. Blogtorwho said:

“As soon as the recognisable vocal tones of Katy Manning provide the introduction it is hard not to immediately begin smiling.”… “Manning is sublime at telling the tale.” … “This particular story, concocted by Sharon Bidwell, is an intriguing one.” … “In addition to bringing fans a dream Doctor/companion combination, The Infinite Today provides a thoroughly enjoyable short trip.” … “However, it was a beautifully executed moment of poignancy right at the very end which caused the tears to well up in this particular listener’s eyes. Unexpected but that little moment brings the whole thing together perfectly. Sublime stuff.”

Read the entire review at: https://www.blogtorwho.com/review-doctor-who-the-infinite-today-a-dream-doctor-companion-combination/

A Very Private Haunting is being prepared for its Second Edition printing, and, in the time leading up to a holiday, I’ve continued with basic editing in other ongoing projects.

Happy Reading!
Sharon x