Only the Dead…

Having had a cold all last week, looking like death warmed up, and having difficulty lying down, it’s maybe little surprise I should recall a snippet of information once told to me by a National Trust volunteer. I cannot recall which property we were in but we lingered to look at a rather short double bed.

“How many people do you think slept in that?” the volunteer asked us.

Aware this must be a question with an unusual answer, we suggested, “Four?” Our thinking was that perhaps as there were no other sleeping arrangements and for warmth the parents kept their children in the bed with them.

“Six.”

I have to admit I blinked at the bed, mentally trying to calculate the extraordinary positions or height variations required to make them all fit but failed to come up with anything short of a nocturnal game of Twister. “Six?”

“Yes. How did they all fit?” She echoed the question revolving in my head. The answer is simple and one that explains why this sprang to mind last week.

They sat up because only the dead lay down.

Such was their belief but forced to sit to sleep all last week, the risk of drowning in unspeakable fluids while I slept too great, all I could do was to grumble at the idea. I hate having to sleep sitting up; the thought of doing it voluntarily makes me shiver with more dread than the notion ‘only the dead’ take up a horizontal position.

Too soon?

My rule is no Christmas in the shops until after Guy Fawkes, and none in the home until December. So, though it came out just a few days ago, it’s okay for me to share this now.

If you never heard of Pentatonix, check them out. Even if you don’t like Christmas, they have other albums with so much more to offer. If someone hadn’t shared them, I would never have known of their existence so passing along.

Update Nov 2019

Hi Everyone!

OUT AND ABOUT:
I finally got to see Amsterdam this month, visiting when on a late cruise which also included Hamburg, and Bruges, though, for some reason, I believed Amsterdam would be quaint. Some highlights were a canal cruise, cheese, and chocolate. I fell in love with many of the houses in the countryside of the Netherlands; so much more interest architecture than ours. Having visited Bruges a few times we opted to see the countryside. Unfortunately, I find travelling extremely difficult these days so the trip wasn’t as enjoyable as it should have been.

FILM/TV:
Found Luke Cage good but a little slow, and though Iron Fist started promising, I’m unsure about the pacing. I also find several character’s reactions somewhat naïve in both series. Good viewing that should be great.

Began both BBC series of His Dark Materials, and The War of the Worlds. Though I have to be honest, I hardly watch the ‘beeb’ these days but had to give these a chance. So far so good.

READING:
The Shining, Stephen King
I’m sure there’s few people who need telling the plot of The Shining. Alcoholic writer takes a job at the Overlook Hotel to be the caretaker over the winter taking with him his wife and son, only young Danny Torrence has a talent the like of which is undocumented and to the ghosts of the Overlook he’s a shining beacon. As a side note for anyone who has only seen the film, the book is decidedly different with a depth the film lacks. This story is also far creepier than I recalled, maybe because you can feel a five-year-old’s panic.

Doctor Sleep, Stephen King
This novel returns to events which happened in the Overlook Hotel of ‘The Shining’, with Danny Torrence now grown. A well written and enjoyable paranormal thriller but don’t go into this expecting the same scares.

WRITING:
Alas, I missed out on being interviewed by Doctor Who magazine because I was out of the country. Nice to be asked, though.

Happy Reading!
Sharon x

Update Oct 2019

Hi Everyone!

OUT AND ABOUT:

This month we spent a couple of nights at a delightful little place on Bodmin Moor. We’d happily return though we now know it’s three miles down an, at times, one car width lane. Wouldn’t put us off though we’d like to go in better weather. We were lucky while out and about, the purpose of our stay mainly to meet with friends. A couple of weeks later we attended a food market which is temptation itself. Two sausage rolls, two pasties, two chocolate brownies, two churros (eaten on the spot), two packets of cheese,  and three packs of sausages for the freezer later, we made ourselves stop.

FILM/TV:

Being as it’s October we’ve been watching a lot of old horror films, and a couple new. In The Tall Grass is an odd one based on a novella by Joe Hill and Stephen King (Joe Hill being his son) that’s currently only available on Kindle but will be out in a collection next year. I have to admit my first thought when hearing a kid screaming for help in a field of tall grass was I’m not going in there, could be a setup. I would have fetched help. It’s difficult to talk about this one without giving the plot away but the concept of being lost in a maze of grass unable to find a way out turned out to be watchable, with elements I appreciated but others I disliked.

Another Netflix offering was Eli, the story of a boy seemingly allergic to the environment (think Boy in a Plastic Bubble with a twist), whose miracle doctor/cure may not be all that it seems. I like this film for the haunted house elements which are so well done.

And we had to rewatch a few classics, which for me includes Fright Night, the original 80s film, where a teenage horror-film buff has a vampire move in next door and has to seek help from a washed-up television star ‘vampire killer’, Roddy MacDowell (always a favourite of mine). Also starring William Ragsdale, this film is now a cult but if you’ve not seen it on Blu-ray you’ve never seen it before. It’s wide, bright and clear, and the depth of distance is incredible. I recall watching it on VHS where we thought everything happened in darkness. I won’t leave with a mention of the remake which, though fairly bad, has its moments. I think Colin Farrell steals the film who seems to having a ball and enjoying being a vampire far too much, and, of course, the late great Anton Yelchin who died far too young.

READING:

The Doll Factory, Elizabeth Macneal

I have to admit the style distracted me at first but soon drew me into the world of Victorian London. The perfectly assembled cast delivers a tale of love, obsession, and atmospheric horror. The fair Iris who wishes to better her situation; her poor embittered sister, Rose; the exuberant Albie; the questionable love interest in Louis; and the infatuated Silas. I couldn’t help thinking of undertones of John Fowles ‘The Collector’ although if that in any way gave inspiration to this novel the author has enriched a basic idea and made it her own. Also, I think the comparison to various other titles is a pity as people like John Fowles are literary noteworthies (regardless of whether you like them) which promotes the book to a level difficult to attain. Some books are simply enjoyable. I’m uncertain whether to consider some parts of the story entirely historically accurate but the tone suffices to transport the reader into another era. The only real downside for me is that I was expecting something perhaps a little more gothic. Still, a fabulous debut.

Happiest Days, Jack Sheffield

One of the strangest things to read in this series is how people show up at school to register their children, something I never experienced. Such were simpler times portrayed so well by Jack Sheffield. Though simply written for anyone who recalls the 80s, these books, imbued with nostalgia, carry a cosy, leisurely ambiance that’s like walking through time with an old friend and made me stay with this 10 book series, of which I believe this is the last though the author has written other titles.


Dracula, Bram Stoker:

A re-read of a classic I’ve not touched for many years. A book of this type will always receive mixed reviews. A classic, by definition, is always a book of its time and will jar for a modern reader. Especially for a modern reader who has not read classic literature for most of their life. My childhood books included novels such as Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island so I have no problem with reading this. At such times when Dickens was popular, writers were paid by the word so if any such novels feel padded there’s a reason. This book does feel overlong, and if written/edited now would be much shorter. I’d particularly forgotten the peculiar way Van Helsing speaks which I read with a blend of irritation and amusing pleasure. In the 21st century the book has many faults, much of it reading like Victorian melodrama, and is far from horrifying, but in 1897 Dracula would have been petrifying. It’s almost impossible to review a book of this type so it’s important to understand how this novel was pivotal.

Though Stoker did not invent the vampire myth or write the first well-known story, he wrote the crucial novel, bringing us a vampire who would popularise the genre and creating a legend. Like the writing or not this book deserves its pedestal. Stoker touched on the darkest fears, not only of the time, but at the heart of terror, a creature capable of overtaking the human mind, of seducing, of changing shape and appearance, of ‘infiltrating’ the home, the heart, the marriage bond. Horror novels often reflect societal fears of the moment, and Dracula is no different though many of the same fears exist more than a century later. Stoker also puts into the mind unforgettable images — a wild country of superstition, Dracula’s towering castle, Harker’s slow realisation he’s a prisoner, Dracula’s vertical crawl, his intention to take over London, the crazed incredible Renfield, Dr Seward’s asylum. And, perhaps, for women today, the book represents the ultimate equality statement. Lucy and Mina’s story both begin with them represented as something beautiful and fragile, ‘creatures’ who can do nothing without their men and who require protection. The book ends with a gun in Mina’s hand. She has become a far different woman from the shy girl who did nothing more than look forward to a life of marriage. She wishes to protect Jonathan as much as he longs to protect her, perhaps placing Stoker as a realist and/or ahead of his time. Still, there are moments that sit uneasy with me, the worst of which is the historical error that anyone can provide a transfusion without blood-matching, a fact not discovered at the time but which cannot help making even this modern reader wince.

WRITING:

I’m delighted to say the pre-order release of my second Lethbridge-Stewart came out:

A new reality has been created by the temporal disruption ripping through the causal nexus. Welcome to 1978… with a difference.

Anne Travers, co-founder of UNIT, and her husband, Bill, are celebrating their wedding anniversary in France, which is the perfect opportunity for Anne to catch-up with an old friend; Madeleine Bonnaire.

At the institute owned by Madeleine’s father, one professor is more interested in his own project than any work for which Bonnaire has hired him. His need for secrecy and his attitude irritates his assistant, Paul Larousse, who would prefer to dwell on his feelings for Madeleine. Meanwhile, Victor Bonnaire is not at all happy to hear of Anne’s visit, not least of all because he’s always viewed Anne as a bad influence on his daughter.

What seems like a simple case of familial friction takes a bleak turn when a local unknown threat makes the news. Suspicion abounds and throws Anne and Bill into an unexpected mystery. What is the strange threat, and does it present a direct danger to anybody at the institute? Or to those who ask too many questions? Unable to walk away from her friend, Anne has no option but to investigate, little knowing she’s about to face the darkest shadow of her life so far.

http://www.candy-jar.co.uk/books/theshadowman.html

https://www.freewebstore.org/candy-jar-store/Bloodlines__The_Shadowman/p676602_20100089.aspx

And for anyone interested in getting a feel for the series there are free downloads, including my short story The Wishing Bazaar:  http://lethbridge-stewart.ne-dc.co.uk/downloads/

Stay well and be Happy,

Sharon x

The Best Popcorn

Something a little different today. I have to share my accidental best recipe for the lightest home popped popcorn.

I’ve a popcorn recipe book for both savoury and sweet flavours from which I’ve only tried a few recipes, but one stood out combining both sweet and salty flavours. It’s simple enough and nice enough but one day I replaced the oil used with another and came up with the lightest popcorn with the salty, sweet taste that works out cheaper than store bought and likely healthier because goodness knows we all need to question what mass-produced products contain.

Take two tablespoons of coconut oil, melt in a lidded pan. Once melted increase the heat, and drop in a couple of handfuls of popping corn kernels. Shake the pan intermittently and when the first piece of corn pops, quickly lift the lid and drop in a heaped tablespoon of sugar. (Tip: put the sugar into a saucer, or ramekin or pot ready as it’s far less likely to spill and makes it easier and faster to drop the lid back on).

Keep shaking the pan now and then until the popping slows and almost stops then remove from the heat. Tip corn into a bowl and then sprinkle on a little salt as you like it.

I found this a good substitute for salty, sweet corn and corn popped in coconut oil to be light and crisp.

Autumn

Though famous as a time of harvest, turning, and falling leaves, a drop in temperature, and arguments over when it begins (equinox on 22nd or 23rd September, meteorological on the 1st, or traditionally known to occur on the 21st), the season no longer seems to offer the chill but crisp and sunny walks among crisp leaves it once did. I’m tired of hearing ‘it’s typical autumnal weather’ on the news reports when the weather forecasters speak of the recent deluge. Still, I cannot help but love the colours of autumn, in clothes and in nature, and the fun of Halloween. The weather doesn’t always obey the dictations of my heart but still for me autumn shall always remain the best time of the year. For me, ‘Tis the season.

Update Sept 2019 2/2

After our trip to Whitby, which I talked about last week, we went on to Center Parcs, Longleat, to meet up with family — a place we’ve not visited for years. Can’t claim we’re impressed. Amazed at the high ratings on reviews. Family had booked a 4-bedroom which turned out to be 5-bedroom villa with disabled facilities, a games room and sauna. I have to say none of us were pleased with the placement for a disabled property as Longleat is hilly. One has to wonder what designers were thinking as it would make more sense to locate the disabled accommodation near the Village Plaza where the Pinewood apartments are. The slope up to the nearest land train point would make pushing a wheelchair a considerable task, and, while I’m sure an official reply would be to order the park transport service for disabled visitors, it’s necessary to book it in advance. It’s not always possible to know what a person wishes (or is able) to do one minute to the next, particularly when a family member has difficulties. In additions, the décor was atrocious. Brown everywhere. Dark brown tiles in the bathrooms with dark grey trim made it feel as though I were walking into a cave. No exaggeration:

Bathroon in ‘daylight’.

Dark brown walls behind the beds. Brown carpet almost everywhere and laminate wood effect flooring in the bathrooms and downstairs added to the oppressive atmosphere. And I’ve never stayed in any place with such creaky floorboards which by the end of the weekend were driving everyone crazy.

Bedroom in daylight and with sidelights on.

Even worse was the food. We felt the dining in option okay but less than average food, the choice at Huck’s lacking, and while they ask about food intolerances, they should fill no menu with spicy food to the point where there’s little to no other choice. No Hassleback potato available. Really? At 7:45 on a Saturday night there are no potatoes unless they’re fries? The worst has to be Dexter’s, chosen for convenience and wanting to get on the road. If one wishes to eat the world’s worst burger at deluxe burger prices, then eat at Dexter’s at Center Parcs. My husband joked that ‘maybe we shouldn’t eat anywhere called Dexter’s’ — humour only those who watched the series will understand — but I think he had a point. I’m not sure WHAT was in that bun! While we didn’t try any other outlets this visit, we had the only good meal at the Pancake House.

The one thing I do like there is the spa, and we spent three hours enjoying the facilities in their refurbished suite of saunas and relaxation rooms — a place that would be more relaxing if other visitors understood the meaning of peace.

FILM/TV:
Welcome to Marwen is a great example of a story well told and special effects put to great use so I’m surprised to learn the film flopped, along with reviews calling Steve Carell’s performance icky, the story misconceived and misguided, and questioning its target audience. But then I’m often the odd one out in such things. Granted the way the female dolls are presented is perhaps a trifle unpleasant and overdone, and the way the antagonists take on the persona of Nazi soldiers unsettling, but as this is based on true events, without delving more into the facts I can’t comment. Based on the factual story of Mark Hogancamp, a man struggling to recover from a brutal assault that wipes away his memories, had anyone told me a blend of real life action and animation featuring dolls would be so engrossing, I doubt I would have believed them. While imperfect in places and not one I would wish to watch twice, sorry, I enjoyed it.

In preparation to watch the new Netflix series of The Dark Crystal, we watched the film, not having seen it since in the cinema back in 1982. Easy to recall the details as the heart of the tale is a simple story featuring many of the hero’s journey plot points. I don’t know whether I’m alone but the puppets for me were as grotesque as they’ve always been, and by that I also mean the Gelflings. Though I admire the artistry in all Jim Henson’s work this type of puppetry strikes me as repulsive…and possibly they’re supposed to be. Still, most of us, then and now, wanted a Fizzgig.

READING:
Jonathan Maberry while best know for his Young Adult zombie books also writes for adults and proves he’s capable of handling the vampire genre in V-Wars. I started this because the series is in production. The thing to stand out for me was I’ve never seen a multi-authored book arranged in this manner with the stories broken up into parts and a sliding timeline. I can easily see why and how this has been adapted for television.

Silent Night continues Jack Sheffield’s series featuring the headmaster, teachers, and children of Ragley school in the usual charming and gentle fashion, this one set in 1984. Followed by Star Teacher, the 9th book in the series set in 1985 and bringing more changes into the life of Ragley’s headmaster.

As I was on the road a lot this month I didn’t read as much as I hope and chose some lighter titles.

WRITING:
Working on a (possible) re-release of a book and two others to accompany it to create a trilogy. Also got edits (mostly to change my English spelling and punctuation to American) from Night To Dawn magazine for a short story of mine, a work of dark fiction entitled, Bead Trickling Laughter’.