Welcome to my Blogger page, thank you for visiting. This is where I will share my reviews of books, movies and other things I enjoy. If you would like to see my ramblings, fanfiction and other general posts, please visit my Livejournal: beren_writes. Visit my pages to learn about me and my books.
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Friday, 1 December 2017

Merry Mid-Winter! by Natasha Duncan-Drake #FreeFictionFriday


Free Fiction Friday


And December is here - I'm so excited - this is my favourite month of the year. Most of the family are December babies, so we have a season of birthdays as well as Christmas to look forward to. However, before that, it's the first Friday of the month which means it's Free Fiction Friday over at Wittegen Press. This month we have a fantasy version of the wonderful "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens for our lovely readers, with fairies and fauns and magic.

These stories are exclusively for subscribers of our newsletter, but anyone can join and it's really easy.

It is completely free to become a member and all you need is a valid email address. Fill in the form at the bottom of this page and you’re done. Don't worry if you join after the 1st Friday, the password for the month will be included in the welcome email after you subscribe.

What we WILL DO for our subscribers:

  • Send you an email on the 1st Friday of the month to remind you about the short story and give you the password for the month as soon as the story goes live.
  • Send you information about new books, competitions and events, so you don’t miss anything.
  • Give you two Free eBooks just for joining.

What we WON’T DO to our subscribers:

  • Spam you with loads of random advertising.
  • Reveal your email adress to anyone else.

This Month's Short Story

Merry Mid-Winter!
by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Genre: paranormal, fantasy
Length: ~7.5K wds

Description:
Ebenzia is a fairy. She is supposed to see to the distribution of magic within her district of the magical forest of Lon, but she hoards it instead. This Mid-Winter Festival, forces beyond even her comprehension decide to intervene.

A fantasy version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

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Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Recipe - White Chocolate, Mascarpone and Puffed Wheat Cheesecake with Dark Chocolate Ganache


White Chocolate, Mascarpone and Puffed Wheat Cheesecake with Dark Chocolate Ganache

This is most definitely not a recipe for every day, it is delicious and very decadent! It is something of an amalgam of recipes because I went to a birthday party the other day and they had this wonderful birthday cheesecake. I asked about the recipe, as you do, but didn't get all the details, hence I used what I had gathered and looked at other recipes. I have reduced the amount of ganache in this recipe to that which I used when I made it, because there was a little too much of it.

This makes a cheesecake that will easily serve 12-15 people - it served 5 of us and we only got through a third.

Equipment


  • 1 heat proof bowl
  • 1 large mixing bowl
  • grease proof paper
  • 10.5'' / 27cm spring form tin (you could use a slightly smaller one, just make sure it's a deep one)
  • 1 shallow dish
  • 1 medium saucepan
  • spatulas and spoons

Ingredients

For the cheesecake
  • 280g / 1 1/4 cup / 10oz cream cheese
  • 250g / 1 1/8 cup / 9oz mascarpone
  • 300ml / 1 1/4 cup double (heavy) cream
  • 2x150g (10.6oz) white chocolate
  • 200g / 7oz rich tea fingers (closes US equiv is probably graham crackers)
  • 50g / 1.8oz puffed wheat
  • drizzle of honey
For the ganache
  • 200ml / 1 cup double (heavy) cream
  • 200g / 7oz dark chocolate
Anything you like to decorate.

Instructions

  1. Line the base of the spring form tin with the grease proof paper.
  2. Lay the biscuit fingers flat in the base of the tin, covering as much of it as possible. (Breaking the biscuits into bits can be used to fill in large holes).
  3. Lay the puffed wheat in the base of the shallow bowl and drizzle with honey. Then stir to coat. (You can use Honey Monster Puffs that are pre-coated, but the plain ones were much cheaper, hence this work around :)).
  4. Melt the chocolate in the heat proof bowl. (I microwave it on full for 30s at a time, but you can also gently heat it above a saucepan of hot water as well). Leave to cool.
  5. Whip the cream until it is beginning to thicken.
  6. Add the cream cheese and the mascarpone and whisk again until it begins to hold its shape (not too much or you will end up with cottage cheese).
  7. Pour in the white chocolate and mix vigorously with a spatula. (It might look grainy for a few moments, but don't worry, it is supposed to become much stiffer).
  8. Add the puffed wheat and mix through.
  9. Carefully add the cheesecake mixture over the layer of rich tea biscuits, smoothing out to the sides.
  10. Add another layer of rich tea biscuits on top and refrigerate.
  11. To make the ganache, break the chocolate into a heat proof bowl.
  12. Put the 200ml of cream into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil gently for 1 min watching carefully to make sure it does not bubble over.
  13. Pour the cream over the chocolate and mix to melt it all together to make a lovely shiny fluid.
  14. Remove the cheesecake from the fridge and pour over the ganache.
  15. Decorate as required and return to the fridge until needed.
The puffed wheat give this cheesecake the most wonderful texture. It was described to me like Kinder Chocolate with cereals, but I've never had one of those so I can't compare :). All I know was it was yummy.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Recipe - Delicious & Fun Lasagna Pockets


Delicious & Fun Lasagna Pockets

This recipe is based off a Twisted recipe and they have a great video to show how the pockets go together, but I changed the underlying recipe somewhat, so this is my version. I made this yesterday and my husband ate three of them, so I'm counting them as a win. They would be great for a dinner party or a lot of fun for children because there is always something more fun about having our own individual little parcel than just a chunk of a whole.

However, do not fool yourself, these are not easier than throwing together a big lasagna, in fact they are more of a faff :D.

Bechamel White Sauce

Buying the white sauce in a jar or box is fine, but I totally forgot it, so in case you are in the same situation, here's how to make it.


Ingredients

  • 60g (1/4 cup) butter
  • 60g (1/2 cup) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 600ml (2 1/2 cups) milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)

Equipment

  • 1 sauce pan
  • 1 measuring jug/cup measures
  • 1 small whisk
  • 1 small bowl (to measure the flour into)
  • Sieve

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter in the pan over a medium heat.
  2. Add the flour and whisk in to form a thick paste.
  3. Add a small amount of the milk and stir until smooth. Repeat this until all the milk is mixed in.
  4. Add the salt and pepper and bay leaf and cook gently, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens (about 7-8 mins).
  5. Sieve (I did this to get rid of the bay leaf, which had lost a few little bits into the mixture) into the measuring jug previously used for the milk and leave to cool.

Lasagna Pockets

First a word about the lasagna sheets, unfortunately not all lasagna sheets are made equal. I don't know what size your average lasagna noodle is in the US, but in the UK, most of the dried, boxed ones I've seen are simply not long enough. I used fresh lasagna sheets from Morrisons which are much bigger, and when split down the centre are perfect for one pocket.

This recipe would work fine in variations for meat eaters or vegetarians, but not vegans, sorry.

The original ingredients were supposed to make four, but with the extra I threw in, it will make at least five (I didn't have room on the baking tray so just made a small lasagna in a take away box which is now in the freezer :)).


Ingredients

  • 500g mince [beef, turkey, soya, quorn etc]
  • 2 small or 1 large carrot
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 red pepper [capsicum] (I use roasted, out of a jar because I hate pepper skin)
  • 1 small courgette (zucchini)
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced (I use squeezy garlic from a tube :))
  • pinch of salt (smoked salt gives great flavour)
  • pinch of pepper
  • 1 tsp chili paste/flakes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 stock cube [beef or vegetable]
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) sweet sherry
  • splosh of seasoning sauce [Worcestershire or soy sauce]
  • 350ml (1 1/2 cup) passata
  • 350ml (1 1/2 cup) bechamel sauce
  • 250g (1 1/2 cup) grated mozzarella (I used a mozzarella/cheddar mix because I prefer more cheese flavour)
  • 25g (1/4 cup) grated hard Italian cheese [Parmesan or vegetarian equiv]
  • 4 large flat lasagna sheets split length ways to make 8, or 8 individual long ones
  • 2 tsp oil for frying or spray oil
  • fresh basil (optional)

Equipment

  • sharp knife
  • chopping board
  • large frying pan/skillet
  • large flat spatula
  • baking tray (lined with grease proof paper/baking parchment)
  • various bowls and spoons

Instructions

  1. Finely dice the onion, carrot and red pepper.
  2. Cut the courgette in half and slice it into thin strips lengthwise.
  3. Heat 1 tsp of oil in the frying pan and add the mince, tossing it in the oil until coated.
  4. Crumble in the stock cube and cook until the mince is browned.
  5. Remove into a bowl and drain off excess juices.
  6. Put the pan back on the heat and place the strips of courgette all across the bottom of it.
  7. Cook until tender and colouring, turning once in the middle of cooking.
  8. Place flat on a plate and leave for later.
  9. Add the other tsp of oil to the pan and place on a low heat. Add the chopped onion and sweat down until translucent.
  10. Add the garlic, diced carrots and diced pepper. Cook on low until the veggies are tender (this took 20 mins for me, but you can leave it with the lid on and do something else, just coming back every now and then to check and give it a stir).
  11. Stir in the tomato paste and cook through for about 1 min.
  12. Return the mince to the pan and stir so everything is combined.
  13. Add the pinch of salt, pepper and squeeze of chili paste and stir through.
  14. Splosh in the sherry and the seasoning sauce and cook for a minute or so until the sherry is reduced.
  15. Add the passata and bring to the edge of a boil, before turning down and simmering for about 10 mins.
  16. Allow to cool so that it solidifies up a bit - sloppy mince will make for very difficult assembly of the parcels :).
  17. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F
  18. Par-cook the lasgna sheets as instructed on the packet.
  19. If you want to see how the parcels go together - check out the video made by Twisted over at their version of the recipe. Here is my written version:
    1. Place one lasagna sheet vertically on a flat surface.
    2. Spread a thin layer of bechamel sauce in the centre of the strip.
    3. Place another sheet over the first to make a cross, using the bechamel to stick them together.
    4. Put another, slightly thicker layer of bechamel over the square where the two sheets overlap.
    5. Add a layer of the mince mixture on top of this (between 3 and 4 spoonfuls).
    6. Lay courgette strips from each corner over the mince (this will help stop things spilling out when making the parcel).
    7. Cover with grated mozzarella.
    8. Fold up the sides, top, left, bottom, right and tuck the corner of the right one under the top one to make a parcel (like closing a cardboard box).
  20. Transfer the parcels to the baking tray using a wide, flat, spatula.
  21. Cover the top of each parcel with bechamel sauce.
  22. Add grated mozzarella and some of the grated hard Italian cheese over the bechamel.
  23. Bake in the over for 20 mins until golden and bubbling.
  24. Garnish with fresh basil and serve.
These are so much fun and worth the effort just for something different. Thanks to Twisted for the original recipe - it's a brilliant idea.

Friday, 3 November 2017

A Matter of Will by Natasha Duncan-Drake #FreeFictionFriday


Free Fiction Friday


And November is here - soon it'll be Christmas and we won't know where the year went :). It's the first Friday of the month which means it's Free Fiction Friday over at Wittegen Press. This month we have a novelette for our lovely readers, with werewolves and vampires and magic.

These stories are exclusively for subscribers of our newsletter, but anyone can join and it's really easy.

It is completely free to become a member and all you need is a valid email address. Fill in the form at the bottom of this page and you’re done. Don't worry if you join after the 1st Friday, the password for the month will be included in the welcome email after you subscribe.

What we WILL DO for our subscribers:

  • Send you an email on the 1st Friday of the month to remind you about the short story and give you the password for the month as soon as the story goes live.
  • Send you information about new books, competitions and events, so you don’t miss anything.
  • Give you two Free eBooks just for joining.

What we WON’T DO to our subscribers:

  • Spam you with loads of random advertising.
  • Reveal your email adress to anyone else.

This Month's Short Story

A Matter of Will
by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Genre: paranormal, romance, vampire
Length: ~8.5K wds

Description:
Edwin and his pack have beaten the invading vampires, but they lost people doing it. One of those lost meant far more to Edwin than he would like to admit and his heart is breaking. The problem with vampires, though, is some of their kills come back.

Newsletter Subscription Form

We'll send you details of book releases, competitions and other news from our authors, BUT we WON'T spam you, or pass your details on to anyone else.
Wittegen Press

We will also give you 2 FREE ebooks just for signing up.

* indicates required

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Good luck to all those doing NaNoWriMo


It's day one of NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month when thousands of writers make it their goal to write 50K or more words throughout November.

This year I am passing on NaNo and the whole starting a new novel thing. I've chosen to concentrate on short stories for various projects, and finishing the editing/formatting of my existing novels so they are ready for paperback in time for Christmas. I've written my first 2K today on one short story, so all is going well from my end so far.

But I wish all those going for the 50K lots of luck and perseverance.


Remember to:
  • Pace yourself.
  • Reward yourself.
  • Don't punish yourself if you miss a day here and there.
  • & Have fun!
May the words flow, the inspiration take you, and the pesky details line up in perfect order.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

All Hallows Read - Free Book - Possession Is Nine Tenths of the Law


All Hallows Read
Free Book
Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law

by Natasha Duncan-Drake & Sophie Duncan

As is our tradition at Halloween, Soph and I are supporting All Hallows Read once again. The idea is that instead of candy we give out a free book. This makes giving over the internet much easier and promotes the joy of reading, so it's win/win!

Our book this year is called Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law and it has two spooky stories in it to tingle the spine:
  • Looking for Luticia by Natasha Duncan-Drake
    Lucy is the host of a successful ghost hunting TV show, but their latest location is going to be a lot more haunting than she or her crew have ever dealt with before.
  • Lost in the Dark by Sophie Duncan
    Evelyn Edness is a medium who works for the dead, helping them to move on from the limbo of an eternity as ghosts. Kate Grange has come to ask for her help.
It is free to download from Smashwords for all our trick or treating visitors. After Halloween it will be 99c so grab your copy TODAY while it is free. Just click below and you're away.

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law

Happy Halloween!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Creepy Countdown Day 8 - Canopy of Doom


We're almost at Halloween and we all know how that get's the mind turning. It's often just the idea of ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties that make us hide under the covers, or run for the light switch, so from now until the big day I thought it would be fun to talk about ordinary things that scare us when the mood is right. These are the kind of thing good horror movies love to twist to get us going.

Canopy of Doom


And here we are on the last day before Halloween! Everyone ready with all the candy, costumes and chocolate? We don't go in much for trick or treating around here, but I have the goodies in, just in case we get a few.

So on a bright summer's day there is nothing nicer than driving along a lovely road with overhanging trees. The beautiful greens and natural atmosphere is wonderful. This is especially true on those amazing roads that have a complete canopy over them. We have several near where I live and they are exquisite.

However ...

We all knew that was coming didn't we :)

There is nothing more sinister on a dark Autumn night than driving down the same kind of road with only headlights to guide the way. It doesn't matter if it's a two lane road or a single track lane - the effect is the same.

These are the roads all those ghost stories talk about. The ones with the phantom hitchhiker, or the lady in white that appears in the back or passenger seat of the car. The ones we can't do anything to avoid.

It doesn't matter what we believe during the day, at night, all bets are off. There are definitely ghosts waiting for us somewhere under the dark, eerie canopy.

All there is in front of us is a dark tunnel with seemingly no end. No stars, no moon, just trees reaching down, ready to bar our way when the ghost tells them to. What is beautiful in the sun is terrifying when night descends.

Do you have any road with tree canopies near you or have you driven down such roads? Were they scary? Do you have any other types of roads that give you the creeps?

~*~
Coming October 31st
FREE for 1 day only for All Hallows Read

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
by Natasha Duncan-Drake and Sophie Duncan

Two spooky stories to give you chills.
Check back on Halloween for details of how to download.
poster by blablover5

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Creepy Counrdown Day 7 - Into the Dark


We're almost at Halloween and we all know how that get's the mind turning. It's often just the idea of ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties that make us hide under the covers, or run for the light switch, so from now until the big day I thought it would be fun to talk about ordinary things that scare us when the mood is right. These are the kind of thing good horror movies love to twist to get us going.

Into the Dark


Entering a dark room can be unsettling, simply because, most of us, at some level, are scared of the dark. It's a primeval instinct left over from when the dark could kill us, and since some of us still regularly fall over the cat, the instinct is well honed. However, I find that this instinct is even worse if there is a staircase involved.

At home there is nothing worse on an Autumn evening, than working away upstairs and then realising I have forgotten to turn any lights on downstairs. I have to go from the brightness of my PC screens, down into blackness.

Equally, sometimes on a Winter morning, when I have to go up to my office, all there is upstairs is darkness and my heart always skips a beat. It never helps when one of my cats comes with me and then decides to hightail it back downstairs half way up, either!

Somehow the stairs are like the doorway into another world, one of light and the other of darkness. There could be nasty, creepy things waiting in that darkness, patiently sitting there until I bridge the gap between realities.

I also hate to admit it, but there have been a number of times I have charged downstairs after turning the lights off up there too!

Do you have any places you really don't like to enter if they are dark? How do you feel about staircases that descend or rise into darkness?

~*~
Coming October 31st
FREE for 1 day only for All Hallows Read

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
by Natasha Duncan-Drake and Sophie Duncan

Two spooky stories to give you chills.
Check back on Halloween for details of how to download.
poster by blablover5

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Creepy Countdown Day 6 - Tap, Tap, Tapping At the Window Pane


We're almost at Halloween and we all know how that get's the mind turning. It's often just the idea of ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties that make us hide under the covers, or run for the light switch, so from now until the big day I thought it would be fun to talk about ordinary things that scare us when the mood is right. These are the kind of thing good horror movies love to twist to get us going.

Tap, Tap, Tapping At the Window Pane


So, the other day I talked about shadows through the window, but there is, of course, something even worse. What could be creepier than something tapping on our windows in the middle of the night, or even scraping along the glass?

It's an image that works so well to terrify - everyone remember that iconic scene in Poltergeist. Of course that film takes it a little further in that the tree really is out to get Robbie.

Come to think of it, it may be that film I have to blame for my long held fear of branches tap, tap, tapping at the window. I'm very glad to say there is no tree anywhere near our bedroom window.

Of course in horror it doesn't just have to be a tree, it could be an insane bird, or even Dracula. That is what makes such noises in the middle of the night so utterly terrifying. When we are in the mindset to believe, the monster is always trying to get in.

Windows these days are a little more sturdy then they once were, but we all know even tripple glazing wouldn't stand up to the monster slowly scratching away at the glass. Its claws must be really long and sharp to make that noise, or is that the sound of fingernails as ghostly apparitions make known they want to come in.

I'll tell you one thing, I'm diving under the duvet - no way am I parting the curtains to check!

Have you ever had a room or stayed in one where a tree made itself known by tapping at night? Or anything else for that matter?
~*~
Coming October 31st
FREE for 1 day only for All Hallows Read

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
by Natasha Duncan-Drake and Sophie Duncan

Two spooky stories to give you chills.
Check back on Halloween for details of how to download.
poster by blablover5

Friday, 27 October 2017

Creepy Countdown Day 5 - What's Up Pussy Cat


We're almost at Halloween and we all know how that get's the mind turning. It's often just the idea of ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties that make us hide under the covers, or run for the light switch, so from now until the big day I thought it would be fun to talk about ordinary things that scare us when the mood is right. These are the kind of thing good horror movies love to twist to get us going.

What's Up Pussy Cat


Apparently today is National Black Cat day, so of course I had to do something to do with cats. Always remember, black cats are lucky—treat them well and we will do well, treat them badly and the worst luck will find us. I don't have a black cat at the moment, but my sister has an adorable little girl called Binx who loves head scritches :).

Now we all know cats are odd creatures and it's no surprise that Ancient Egyptians thought they were sacred. Anyone who has cats knows their cat can never fully be explained by mere mortals. In one way they are very useful to explain away spooky things - anyone with cats will immediately assume that any weird bangs and crashes are the cats getting into things they shouldn't be getting into.

However, there is one really, really creepy thing they do...

We all know what I'm going to say, right?

It's when they suddenly stare at nothing as if they are looking at something we just can't see. Even worse is when they do it just over out shoulder with that OMG expression to go with it.

The other day I was sitting on the floor reordering DVDs on the shelf to put away new ones (yes, my collection is alphabetised ... and by category) and Amber was helping, as cats are wont to do. Then all of a sudden she stared over my left shoulder in that way she has when someone dares enter her presence she does not wish to deal with. It was so very, very creepy. I admit it, I had to turn the lights on at the other end of the room just so there were no dark corners!


Do you have cats? Do they do the stare at nothing thing, or do you know cats that do? Does it freak you out?
~*~
Coming October 31st
FREE for 1 day only for All Hallows Read

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
by Natasha Duncan-Drake and Sophie Duncan

Two spooky stories to give you chills.
Check back on Halloween for details of how to download.
poster by blablover5

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Creepy Countdown Day 4 - Moving Shadows


We're almost at Halloween and we all know how that get's the mind turning. It's often just the idea of ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties that make us hide under the covers, or run for the light switch, so from now until the big day I thought it would be fun to talk about ordinary things that scare us when the mood is right. These are the kind of thing good horror movies love to twist to get us going.

Moving Shadows


Light coming through a window and curtains and creating shadows on a wall can be incredibly beautiful. It can also be inordinately creepy.

If I can't sleep I sometimes enjoy looking at the shadows on the wall as cars pass. Our bedroom doesn't face the road and it's far enough away that the light isn't intrusive, but when cars come up the road lights come past the house next door and throw interesting patterns sometimes. This is fine most of the time, in fact it's interesting.

However ...

Waking up in the middle of the night just when a car goes past can be really freaky.

That moment between waking and sleeping when our brains remain confused, that's the time when moving shadows are at their worst. When there is no conscious connect between source and what is appearing on the wall.

Shadows, but their very nature can make the most amazing shapes. For example, the one below is actually a leaf being held in bright sunlight, but I cropped it, added a couple of gradients and a Halloween raven and bam, it's a freaky hand reaching out.

Our brains are very good at making shapes into things. We pattern match all the time and come to conclusions, it's how we can process large amounts of information so fast. In the dead of night, just waking up, it's the whole flight of fight reflex that often kicks in, especially if the threat is moving.

It has been many years since I have ended up in the hallway thanks to thinking something will get me, but moving shadows still make my heart pound.

Shadows can be used so effectively in fiction as well. The visual media has used them so well, like in the famous scene from Nosferatu and all through films like Darkness Falls. Also, more than one scene I've read in books makes sinister shadows so very creepy. Horror is a genre that often takes the small things and makes them seem huge in our minds. Shadows should not be allowed to hurt us, but every horror fan knows, we can never trust the darkness.

When you think moving shadows, do any films or TV series immediately jump to mind? Did you ever have a personal creepy experience with shadows in your life?

~*~
Coming October 31st
FREE for 1 day only for All Hallows Read

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
by Natasha Duncan-Drake and Sophie Duncan

Two spooky stories to give you chills.
Check back on Halloween for details of how to download.
poster by blablover5

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Creepy Countdown Day 3 - Tick, Tock


We're almost at Halloween and we all know how that get's the mind turning. It's often just the idea of ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties that make us hide under the covers, or run for the light switch, so from now until the big day I thought it would be fun to talk about ordinary things that scare us when the mood is right. These are the kind of thing good horror movies love to twist to get us going.

Tick Tock


Normally I love the sound of a ticking clock. That regular rhythm is soothing and restful. It's one of those white noise type of sounds that is great to entertain parts of the brain while working or trying to go to sleep.

However, there are exceptions to this rule.

Thanks to numerous horror scenes over the years, the ticking of a grandfather clock, with it's deep sounds and reverberating tocks is not so restful. This is especially true if it has heavy sounding chimes.

We become trained to react to certain things, like Pavlov's dogs, if we experience it over and over again, and the ticking of a grandfather clock does that to me. From Sapphire and Steel to good old Hammer horror, the grandfather clock is a tick tock of doom.

I love the look of such big clocks, but I really couldn't deal with one in my house :).

It's like the clock is counting out until something really bad happens. It could be a ghost, it could be a monster, but it's definitely coming. AND the chimes are like the announcement that the bad thing is here! Even someone describing the deep ticking of a grandfather clock in a novel gives me the shivers.

Hearing is such an important sense, especially when it's dark, and somethings are perfect for getting under our skin.

The other thing that makes my skin crawl is too many clocks. There is something inordinately creepy about a room with clocks all over it. It's as if there's too much time and there is a dred hanging in the air that they will all chime at once.

Ever been disturbed by a clock, or maybe have you heard any scary stories about them you'd like to share?

~*~
Coming October 31st
FREE for 1 day only for All Hallows Read

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
by Natasha Duncan-Drake and Sophie Duncan

Two spooky stories to give you chills.
Check back on Halloween for details of how to download.
poster by blablover5

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Creepy Countdown Day 2 - Mirror Mirror


We're almost at Halloween and we all know how that get's the mind turning. It's often just the idea of ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties that make us hide under the covers, or run for the light switch, so from now until the big day I thought it would be fun to talk about ordinary things that scare us when the mood is right. These are the kind of thing good horror movies love to twist to get us going.

Mirror Mirror


Okay, I admit it, this one gets me all year round, it doesn't have to be Halloween.

We have a perfectly normal bathroom mirror. It's modern, it's practical, it's easily cleaned. Nothing antique or spooky or remotely strange about it. During the day I often glance into it as I wash my hands or as I clean my teeth etc.

However, you could not pay me enough to look into it on a night time trip to the loo!

It's utterly ridiculous, but somewhere in the back of my brain, that little voice that screams at the people in horror movies for doing really stupid things, is yelling that if I look I will see something terrible.

Admittedly it is always darker in the bathroom at night because I only ever turn the hall light on so my eyes don't adjust too much and make the walk back hazardous :), but it's still totally irrational.

We've all seen the poor person in the horror film innocently standing in front of the mirror, only they catch something hideous or lethal out of the corner of their eye.

Yep, so not taking that risk. Head down, wash hands, flee back to safety of bedroom - that's how it's done!

It gets me so often that I wrote a flash fic about it a while back and published it on this blog - Mirror, Mirror On the Wall.

Anyone else not like to risk the bathroom mirror in the middle of the night or am I the only one?

~*~
Coming October 31st
FREE for 1 day only for All Hallows Read

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
by Natasha Duncan-Drake and Sophie Duncan

Two spooky stories to give you chills.
Check back on Halloween for details of how to download.
poster by blablover5

Monday, 23 October 2017

Creepy Countdown Day 1 - What's That Noise?


We're almost at Halloween and we all know how that get's the mind turning. It's often just the idea of ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties that make us hide under the covers, or run for the light switch, so from now until the big day I thought it would be fun to talk about ordinary things that scare us when the mood is right. These are the kind of things good horror movies love to twist to get us going.

What's That Noise?


When we are primed for chills down our spines anything can set us off. The mind is the greatest weapon in the horror creator's arsenal. Once set along the right path, the smallest noise can trigger the creepiest feeling.

Something that is perfectly ordinary during the day can be terrifying at night, or after watching something spooky on the telly. This is both the joy and the drawback of enjoying a good scare.

Anything that is just a little strange, or that we weren't expecting can do it. In my house this is the ice maker in our refrigerator.

I kid you not!

It's getting dark earlier and earlier now and, sometimes, while I'm cooking diner and waiting for Rob to get home, I'll have my laptop on in the kitchen and I'll watch something spooky. Lately this is Evil Things - which is dramatisations of people being haunted in different ways because of things or places. So far the ice maker has got me three times!

When it makes more ice it whirs and drops the ice into the ice box. This makes a sudden, variable noise that spooks me every time. When it does this is also completely random.

It's bad enough with all the lights on, but, in our house, you have to go through the kitchen to get to the bathroom, so sometimes it makes me jump out of my skin when I'm padding to the loo, in the dark, in the middle of the night. Stupid machine!

This is the type of scare a horror movie would use to build tension and then break it with the mundane, making us even more scared because we know next time it's going to be for real. It's silly, but it doesn't half get the blood pumping!

Do you have any appliances in your house that like to randomly scare you?

Check back tomorrow for more Creepy Countdown.
~*~
Coming October 31st
FREE for 1 day only for All Hallows Read

Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law
by Natasha Duncan-Drake and Sophie Duncan

Two spooky stories to give you chills.
Check back on Halloween for details of how to download.
poster by blablover5

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Shower Stool. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways... #ThinkyThursdays



Shower Stool. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways...


Okay so I'm not actually going to wax lyrical about a shower stool for the whole post, but it got me thinking how sometimes we put off things that can helps us for no valid reason or from misconception.

This is my new shower stool, or at least as close a picture as I can find:
For those who are knew around here, I need a shower stool because I have bilateral talipes, in layman's terms, club feet. I was born with the condition and had several corrective surgeries as a child, but it only improved the condition, it didn't cure it. Unforunately the older I get the more trouble I have with my feet, making standing for long periods (especially on hard surfaces like showers stalls) and walking any distance probelmatic.

Hence I've been considering a shower stool for a few years now, but have always put it off. Mainly through a misconception that all shower stools looked like this:

Having looked into such things:

  • most of them do not take a great deal of weight, 
  • many of them seemed to be too close to the wall,
  • most were expensive,
  • and the installation sounded like it would be a royal pain.
Now knowing that I could have bought my sturdy, free standing, ajustable height little stool, I wish I had done it earlier. Showering is once again a joy rather than a chore. 
  • No more foot pain, 
  • no more weird balancing acts, 
  • no more slipping and sliding.
Seriously, why don't all showers come with shower stools as standard?

Anyway, as I mentioned, all this led me to thinking how misconceptions or worry can stop us doing things that can actually really help us in the long run.

I also use walking aids when I am out and about - crutches to be precise. They make me so much more stable and allow me to keep going when before I would have just had to sit down. They don't take away all the pain, but they defintely reduce it.

Yet I know people who refuse to use walking aids because they somehow see it as giving up, or as a weakness. I've never given up in my life and I am a damn sight better off with my crutches than without. From the knee up my body works perfectly, but from the knee down it's pretty crocked. Choosing to start using the walking aids was quite a big moment for me (quite a few years in the past now), but it made my life so much better.

It's so sad that some poeple see disability aids as making a person lesser.

This includes things like glasses and hearing aids. I'm pretty sure my generation and those following mine are less likely to look on such things as bad (personally I think glasses are as sexy as hell ;)), but I know many from my parent's generation who do things like only put their glasses on when they really have to, or go out without their hearing aid, or even refuse to have their eyes and ears tested at all.

Technology is there to help people and it's getting better all the time. I think it's about time we banished the stigma. Be it a little thing like a sturdy shower stool or something more fundamental like a robotic limb, everyone should have a chance to get the best out of life.

So there you have it, how my brain went from shower stool to something a bit deeper :).

Are you having any thinky thoughts today? Would you like to share them?

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

2 Useful Excel Tips When Using HH:MM:SS Duration Format


So this weekend I was playing around in Excel trying to sort out our DVD library. I have a nice program that does most of it for me, but I wanted to do some other stuff, so Excel it was. Don't worry I'm not going to go into details about DVDs, but I did learn a couple of things that I just hadn't come across before.

I used to use Excel a lot when I was a consultant, but mostly I was doing hideously complex things in VBA, so a lot of the normal front end passed me by :).

2 Useful Excel Tips When Using HH:MM:SS Duration Format

The DVD program I'm using exports in hh:mm:ss format for the duration of the film. What I wanted was it all in minutes only. Hence some scrabbling around to find out how to make the data useful.

Displaying Hours, Mins and Seconds

We can use formatting to display just the hours, minutes or seconds.
hh:mm:ss[h][m][s]
01:20:151804815
01:40:1511006015
01:20:451804845
  • Highlight the cell or col with the hh:mm:ss in it
  • Right Click and choose "format cell"
  • Choose "cutsom"
  • Type in [h] or [m] or [s] accordingly
The problem with this method is that the formatting converts the larger units into the chosen one ok, i.e. hours into minutes, hours and minutes into seconds but it ignores the smaller untis. There is not round up, only round down.

Hence if we need to take into account the smaller units we need another method.


Calculating Hours, Mins and Seconds

There is no nice function in Excel to calculate hours into mintes or into seconds, so we have to create a formula. Luckily there are funtions to extract the particualr parts so it is very easy.

A2 is the location of the cell where the hh:mm:ss value is stored.

hh:mm:ss to hours - =((HOUR(A2))+MINUTE(A2)/60+((SECOND(A2)/60))/60)
hh:mm:ss to mins - =((HOUR(A2)*60)+MINUTE(A2)+(SECOND(A2)/60))
hh:mm:ss to secs - =((HOUR(A2)*60*60)+MINUTE(A2)*60+(SECOND(A2)))

This gives us a decimal value. If we want a rounded up value so, for example, 01:40:15 converted so hours becomes 2, because that is the closest, then we can just use the format with no decimal places.
  • Highlight the cell with the formula.
  • Right click, choose format cell.
  • Choose "number"
  • Lower the number of decimal places to 0.
Rounded Up
hh:mm:sshrMinSecshrMin
01:20:151.3480.254815180
01:40:151.67100.2560152100
01:20:451.3580.754845181

These are also numbers so they can be easily compared against other numbers.

As with all things in Excel, there are many ways of doing things, but these two were nice and straightforward and quick :). I also don't have the latest Excel, so for all I know there are now functions to do this anyway!

Friday, 6 October 2017

#FreeFictionFriday - Looking for Luticia by Natasha Duncan-Drake


Free Fiction Friday


Can you believe we're in October already? Nope, neither can I. This year has been flying by. It's the first friday of the month which mean it's Free Fiction Friday over at Wittegen Press. We've posted a new short story for our loyal readers to enjoy. This month it's really spooky.

These stories are exclusively for subscribers of our newsletter, but anyone can join and it's really easy.

It is completely free to become a member and all you need is a valid email address. Fill in the form at the bottom of this page and you’re done. Don't worry if you join after the 1st Friday, the password for the month will be included in the welcome email after you subscribe.

What we WILL DO for our subscribers:

  • Send you an email on the 1st Friday of the month to remind you about the short story and give you the password for the month as soon as the story goes live.
  • Send you information about new books, competitions and events, so you don’t miss anything.
  • Give you two Free eBooks just for joining.

What we WON’T DO to our subscribers:

  • Spam you with loads of random advertising.
  • Reveal your email adress to anyone else.

This Month's Short Story

Looking for Luticia
by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Genre: horror, paranormal
Length: ~7.5K wds

Description:
Lucy and her team have the most successful ghost hunting show on UK TV. They investigate, they debunk, and every now and then they catch the supernatural on camera. Their latest project is Darling Manor. This place has a locked room, which may or may not contain the embalmed remains of a dead relative, a very strange inheritance cycle, and more spooky stories than any house really needs.

Lucy and her team have moved in to find out the truth, but the creepy manor has Lucy on edge. Is it her imagination, or is there something to be afraid of? This could be the one investigation that is really dangerous. Will modern technology trump historic legend, or will the supernatural gain the upper hand?

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Wednesday, 4 October 2017

The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Butterfly Approach to Writing #WriterlyWednesdays


The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Butterfly Approach to Writing


The butterfly approach to writing is when we, the author, do not write a story from the beginning to the end. Rather we jump around writing various scenes and then going back and filling in what is missing. It is like the butterfly going from flower to flower in random order until it has visited all the blooms it needs.

On a personal level, this is my favoured manner of writing. I can writer from beginning to end if I have to (you can hear the whine in my voice, right? ;)), but I much prefer to butterfly. When writing I rarely do much planning other than jotting down the odd note. Most often I have the beginning and the end written way before most of the middle.

There are however both advantages and disadvantages to the technique.

Advantages


  • The butterfly approach is very much an inspiration driven methodology, so we are able to write what is in our heads right at that moment.
  • Jumping from place to place in the plot can inspire new ideas and ways forward, rather like storyboarding can, but because we're writing in detail it can spark off even more.
  • Writers can and should be able to write when they are 'not feeling it', but the butterfly approach allows much more leeway for leaving off a particular part and coming back to it later. For example it is very hard to write a good battle scene, or sex scene for that matter, when we are not in the right head space. Butterflying around allows us to come back to those scenes on the right day.
  • If our book has more than one protagonist it is possible to follow through arcs individually without worrying about jumping between characters all the time.
  • Over thinking can sometimes result in writer's block, but because this is all about inspiration, over thinking doesn't often happen, especially in the early stages.

Disadvantages


  • Sometimes ideas change, so later scenes that have already been written have to be edited. This has to be done in-line, or at least notes made or it makes for more difficult editing once the first draft is complete.
  • Once most of the story is there it requires much more discipline to go back and fill in the scenes that have been left out. This can be a bit of a shock to our systems after so much freedom.
  • All the hard scenes (like battles and sex and bothersome character interactions) are left until last, so finishing can be difficult.
  • Some planning is needed to go in and make sure our story has everything it needs - this is especially important when 'show don't tell' come into it. It can be very tempting to skim when putting in the final, often not so exciting, scenes.
So both pansters and planners can use the butterfly approach, although planners are likely to have much more stucture to theirs. It can work for both ways of going about things. If you're the kind of writer who writes from beginning to end, have a go at butterflying once in a while; it might be fun! They do say it's good to try new things.

Are you a butterfly writer or a straight line writer? Have you tried both? Why do you like your particular approach?

Readers, I suppose the equivilant might be reading multiple books at the same time and going to whichever one you feel like at the time. Would that appeal to you or would that lose some of the joy for you?