Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Get Healthy Blog Hop - cycling in the mornings.

Welcome to everyone surfing around the Get Healthy Blog Hop, I hope you are finding many interesting pieces of advice.

Now I'm a writer so I have a very sedentary profession and about a year and a half ago I realised this was very bad for me. I hate to think what shape my heart was in and I knew I needed to exercise more.

Hence my husband and I bought an exercise bike. Now this is nothing special, but I thought I'd share some things I have found over time.

Now I know such things can be very boring and I thought to myself, I'm a writer, I'll write while I pedal. My husband even made me a little stand to attach to the bike so I could use my laptop. I soon realised this didn't work at all.

When I first started I was in terrible shape, I couldn't even do 15 mins at the lowest setting without quietly dying in the corner. I really needed something to distract me so that I wouldn't hit that wall.

As I said, I tried the writing. It didn't work because I had to sit there and just think from time to time, which gave my brain a chance to notice I was doing exercise and my legs hurt.

I also tried music. This worked for some songs, but not for others and I still kept noticing I was pedalling.

I tried watching vids on my laptop. Still not enough to keep me distracted.

Then finally I tried reading. This I have found is the perfect solution. Reading takes all of my brain and occupies it while I am pedalling away and usually I find that at the end of my program I am hot, sweaty and have not remotely noticed how much time has past.

Of course I have to be careful in my choice of book. It has to be one that I am totally engaged in, so there has been the odd time I have climbed off the bike, picked a new book and started again :).

I never get enough time to read, so reading while pedalling has the advantage that I get my reading time and I get my exercise in one go. When I am reading a really good book I actually look forward to climbing on the bike, rather than it being a chore. If I am strict with myself and only let myself read that book while I am on the bike, I don't  have any trouble dragging myself out of bed in the morning and into the study where the bike is situated. Reading is an incentive :).

Now, after about a year and a half, I am up to level 10 on the bike and I am reading lots of lovely books, so it's win/win.

At the moment I am reading The Vampire Legacy, a series of book by Karen E. Taylor and I am enjoying them very much. I have read Blood Secrets and am now on Bitter Blood. I have #3 to look forward to.

Now for a little bit of shameless self-promotion :).

I have a new title out this week called The Trade.

Title: The Trade
Summary: Earth no longer belongs exclusively to humans. After the hoard came demons roam the wreckage of old Earth just as humans do. Karon spans the divide, both human and demon, and, yet, neither at the same time. At the mercy of his vampire heritage he seeks a trade with a powerful demon prince and can only hope that his price will be accepted.

The Trade is a male/male, erotic, paranormal fantasy short story. It was previously published as part of the Vampire Bite Blog Hop as a giveaway and has now been edited into eBook form.

If you are interested in any of my other books, they are all listed on My Books page which is part of this blog. They span everything from YA to erotica so there is something for every one and there is nothing explicit in the book descriptions.

Some of my other favourite titles that I have enjoyed while cycling in the mornings are (all these are Amazon UK links, but just change the to .com to see them on the US site):
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.
Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice
Salem's Lot by Stephen King
Dawn (Xenogenesis) by Octavia E. Butler
Nightseer by Laurell K. Hamilton

If you have any fav books you would like to share in comments, please do, I would love some suggestions.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

FB3X Drabble Cascade #11 - Sons and Lovers PG13

This week our prompt word for the Drabble Cascade is eyes. If you would like to join in (everyone is welcome to) all you have to do is write a 100 word drabble or up to a 500 words flash fic of original fic, fanfic or meta inspired by the word and post it, before adding your link to the list at the bottom of the post (it's under the read more so as not to clog the feed).

Our word of the week is 'cold'.

Sons and Lovers
by Natasha Duncan-Drake

Jack was freezing his nuts off, which was kind of ironic given his name. If Lain made one more joke about Jack Frost, Jack was dumping his arse and that was a fact. When they had first met and Jack had revealed what he was called, Lain had laughed for a good minute and Jack had had no idea why. It was only later he found out he was dating the son of the Snow Queen.

"I'm cold," he whined, even though he was wrapped up in three big blankets.

"When we get there I promise to find some way to warm you up," Lain said and gave him a devilish smile full of sinful ideas.

It went some way to heating Jack's blood, at least a little.

"Mortals aren't designed for this place," he said, still marginally tetchy.

"You'll get used to it," Lain replied. "We're perfect together; it won't be long before you start picking things up."

They'd been going out together for nearly a year now and had been sharing a flat for the last three. Jack couldn't argue that they made a great couple, but this was news to him.

"Is that why you finally decided to bring me?" he asked.

Lain went home at least once a month and then reappeared renewed and invigorated by a trip to his native world. That was one thing that had worried Jack about their relationship, but Lain always said that he loved Earth and Jack enough to spend a good percentage of his life there. The other thing that bothered Jack was the fact Lain was immortal, but every time he brought it up Lain just laughed, kissed him and told him not to worry.

"Well that and to meet my mother," Lain replied, his white hair flying in the air that whipped over them as the carriage sped along.

Jack's mind kind of froze and he stared at his boyfriend.

"You, um, you didn't mention that before," he said, not sure whether to be petrified or just plain scared.

The Snow Queen was legend even among the supernatural community and those mortals aware of them. She was said to be exquisitely beautiful and as deadly as the ice and snow she commanded.

"Yes I did," Lain said and smiled, "when you were making supper last night."

Jack mentally cursed; he'd had the blender running for soup and he knew Lain had said something, but he hadn't caught what. He'd just hummed and smiled and now he realised he should have asked.

"Oh god, I'm going to meet your mother!" He started to panic.

"She's going to love you," Lain told him and kissed his cheek, "and I can't exactly marry a man who hasn't met Mummy."

"But she's... she's..." then Jack's brain caught up with what his boyfriend had said. "Did you just propose?"

Lain grinned and Jack couldn't decide whether to kiss him of kill him.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Fanart: Sherlock of the Spheres (Let's draw Sherlock Challenge)

So this is my latest piece of fanart. It's for the Let's Draw Sherlock challenge on Tumblr and my main post is over here on my Tumblr blog if you would like to see it in it's full glory and much larger.

This month's challenge is to reinterpret famous works for the Sherlock fandom, so I went with Galatea of the Spheres by Dali.

My Sherlock of the Spheres is done in Photoshop and was a lot of fun to create. Took me about six hours yesterday, Rob had to drag me to bed because I had totally forgotten the time :).

Dali has always been a favourite of mine and I wanted to do The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, but it didn't seem to suit the change up as well.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Recipe: Red Lentil Tikka Masala With Rye Barley Roti (from the Times)

This is a recipe from the Times Eat pullout special with low cal recipes. It's another one I tried for a fasting day on the 5:2 diet and it's really tasty and filling. However, the recipe is very spicy, way too spicy for me and I didn't even use the full amount of spice suggested in the original.

Red Lentil Tikka Masala With Rye Barley Roti
Serves 4 (original) or 2 (my ingredients list)
218 cal per portion (396 with Roti)

Image taken from the Times website
Original recipe masala paste (for 4)
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 2 tsp smokes parprika
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds (dry fried and ground)
  • 1 tsp coriander seed (dry fried and ground)
  • 2cm root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tbsp groundnut oil
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • salt and pepper
  • handful of fresh coriander
Recipe I used masala paste (for 2)
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 2/3 tsp chilli paste (next time I'm going to use a third of this)
  • 1 tsp smoked parprika (next time I'm going to use half of this)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds (dry fried and ground)
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seed (dry fried and ground)
  • 1cm root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp groundnut oil
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • salt and pepper
  • handful of fresh coriander
Original recipe for the curry (for 4)
  • 1.5 tsp groundnut oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 tbsp masala paste
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 250ml vegetable stock
  • 200g red lentils
  • 4 generous handfuls of young spinach leaves washed (~200g)
  • 2 tbsp low-fat natural yoghurt
Recipe I used for the curry (for 2)
  • several squirts of oil spray (the 1 cal a spray stuff)
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed (I like garlic :))
  • 1 tbsp masala paste
  • 200g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 125ml vegetable stock
  • 100g red lentils
  • 2 generous handfuls of young spinach leaves washed (~200g)
  • 1 tbsp fat free greek style yoghurt
As you can see I reduced the amount of oil as much as I could, especially in the curry because it was only for frying and the spray worked just fine.


The original recipe says to use a processor for mixing the masala paste, but I used a pestle and motar because I couldn't be arsed to get it out and then have to clean it all :). If you are using the processor see instruction 2, if you are using a pestle and mortar see instructions 3 to 8.
  1. Put the coriander seeds and cumin seeds in dry pan and heat until you can spell their scent rising and they are toasted. Then crush them in the pestle and mortar.
  2. Using a PROCESSOR: Add all the ingredients for the paste and pulse until well combined and mostly smooth (jump to instruction 9).
  3. Using a PESTLE and MORTAR: Add the oil to the crushed seeds in the mortar and mix in.
  4. Add the garam masala and work together.
  5. Add the chilli and work together.
  6. Grate the ginger (I used one of these, which are brilliant for garlic and ginger) and add, working it in with the pestle.
  7. Add the tomato purée and salt and pepper and work in.
  8. Chop the coriander and add a little at a time, working in with the pestle each time.
  9. Now you're on to the curry. Spray the pan and add the onion, cooking on a medium heat until it has softened, usually about 4 or 5 minutes.
  10. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.
  11. Add the masala paste and stir in to release all the flavours.
  12. Add the tomatoes.
  13. Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil.
  14. At this point I used a hand held blender to smooth out the sauce because I don't like lumps of onion and tomato in things, but feel free to leave out this step. Once blended return to the heat and bring back to the boil.
  15. Add the lentils, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 mins (because I had blitzed the sauce it was quite thick, so I covered it while it simmered as well to keep in the moisture).
  16. Take off the heat, allow to cool a little and add the spinach leaves, allowing to wilt in the heat.
  17. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt and a warm rye, barley roti (see next).
Now I do have to say I haven't tried to make the rye barley roti because I was going for the really low cal option, but I'm including it for completeness and it looks tasty :). If I do make them I'll come back and edit the post with any observations I make.

Makes 8
  • 100g wholewheat flour
  • 50g barley flour
  • 50g rye flour
  • 1/2 tsp rock salt
  • pinch chilli powder
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 120 ml water
  1. Mix all ingredients to a smooth dough.
  2. Leave to rest for 20 mins
  3. Knead well (this usually takes a good ten mins if doing by hand) and divide into 8 balls.
  4. Rolls each ball into a disc on a floured surface to prevent sticking.
  5. Spray a heavy frying pan with oil and heat the rotis on each side until cooked through.

May Monster Madness #7 - Fiction - Hunting the Hunter PG13

Blog #7 for the May Monster Madness Blog Hop. Click the link or the image to visit the master post for the hop, or scroll to the bottom of the post to see the linky list.

So for the last day of the blog hop I've written a short story for you all. Since I raved about vampires so much I thought it should be a vampire story. This one actually turned out quite differently than I expected, but I'm rather pleased with it anyway.

I must warn for mentions of rape and the brief mention of child abuse because I know those trigger some people. The story is suitable for teen audiences and up. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoy it.

Hunting the Hunter
by Natasha Duncan-Drake

The bar was a dive; not really the place to be wearing an Armani suit, but Gregory had only had to deck one patron with a quick display of mixed martial arts for all of the others to leave him alone. He had learned long ago that if anyone remembered him they would remember the suit, not his face. He made sure to change it up a little each time he ventured out and he always affected a different persona to make sure he was never connected back. That was part of the game.

This time he was the tired businessman drinking himself into a stupor. He knew for a fact at least two of the patrons were waiting for him to collapse so they could steal his wallet, but they were going to be sorely disappointed. He'd already seen the man he was after.

His mark was 6'2'', dark haired and well turned out compared to most of the crowd in the place, which wasn't saying much. It was clear the man carried with him a mantel of fear as even those drinking with him were not as relaxed as they pretended. Gregory could see it all in the way they sat, showing bravado, but making minute movements every time their alpha dog so much as shifted his eyes. Gregory could read them like a book and all he was doing was looking at them; he was not impressed.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

May Monster Madness #6 - The Monsters In Me

Blog #6 for the May Monster Madness Blog Hop. Click the link or the image to visit the master post for the hop, or scroll to the bottom of the post to see the linky list.

There are monsters in me, metaphorically speaking, and I suspect there are monsters in everyone. That's not to say we let out monsters out, but they are there.

The Vampire

The leach, the bloodsucker, I know I have one inside. It comes out when I just want to take something and not give back. I don't think I'm a selfish person; I like to give, sometimes more than I like to receive, but there is that part of me that is selfish. It's part left over survival mechanism, part laziness and occasionally I have to fight against it to bury the monster back inside.

There's also the sexy seducer of men ... well men translates to my husband and that's all I'm going to say or it would be TMI :).

The Werewolf

The animalistic, wild side of the human psyche. I don't have to fight this one much, I'm not a violent person by nature, but just occasionally I do explode. Usually at this point there is just shouting, but occasionally throwing things comes into it as well. I think I've only actually done this a couple of times in my life, but beware any who push me that far.

As for baying at the moon and shape shifting: I'm a writer, we all signed up to be lunatics, but we mostly shape shift with words.

The Zombie

Rather than 'Brains!' my call should be 'chocolate!' :) I can't drink caffeinated coffee or caffeinated tea because they don't agree with me, so if I have a bad morning start I reach for the chocolate. I'm actually quite a morning person, but every now and then, after a really later night the zombie comes out ;).

The Mad Axe Murderer

You should read some of my horror based fiction - that's where my mad axe murderer comes out :)

The (Little) Devil

Now I definitely have one of these, but she doesn't get to come out much because there's an angel balancing her. My devil pokes fun at other people and laughs at things she probably shouldn't laugh at, but they never get to the outside because the angel points out how making fun would hurt someone and how so-and-so really isn't funny if I think about it.

My devil is more about slightly wicked fun like dirty jokes and innuendo than anything else. I have a very dirty mind; I blame my mother :).

So those are my monsters, do you have your own?

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

May Monster Madness #5 - Vampires (yes again)

Blog #5 for the May Monster Madness Blog Hop. Click the link or the image to visit the master post for the hop, or scroll to the bottom of the post to see the linky list.

So I've done two blog posts on vampires in as many months, but never you fear, I always have more to say about vampires :).

Anyone who knows me would be able to tell you that I'm a little bit obsessed when it comes to vampires. It started in the 80s when I was a teenager and saw The Lost Boys and it continues to this day. Check out my 'Vampires' label on this blog and you will see.

I love vampire legend and lore, I love vampire books, I love vampire movies and I love vampire TV shows. About the only thing I'm not into when it comes to vampires are those groups who consider themselves real vampires. If it makes them happy and they're not hurting anyone I don't see why they can't have their own lifestyle, but definitely not my thing.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

FB3X Drabble Cascade #10 - Cocoon of Safety? PG

This week our prompt word for the Drabble Cascade is eyes. If you would like to join in (everyone is welcome to) all you have to do is write a 100 word drabble or up to a 500 words flash fic of original fic, fanfic or meta inspired by the word and post it, before adding your link to the list at the bottom of the post (it's under the read more so as not to clog the feed).

This post is also inspired by May Monster Madness which is a blog hop I am taking part in at the moment. I have done a post for today here May Monster Madness #4 - Fear of the Dark, but I thought it would be good for this week's Drabble Cascade post to be inspired by it as well as our word of the week.

Cocoon of Safety?
by Natasha Duncan-Drake

Click, tap, slide.

It repeated over and over again as Joanna lay there under the covers. She tried not to even breathe, lest the sound alert whatever was making the noise.

Everything had started while she was trying to fall asleep and her first instinct had been to dive under the duvet, but now she realised her error. She was trapped and she could not see. She dared not look, just in case her hiding place was safe, but neither could she stop her mind from imagining terrible things.

Click, tap, slide, tap. That wasn't right. Then the duvet twitched.

May Monster Madness #4 - Fear of the Dark

Blog #4 for the May Monster Madness Blog Hop. Click the link or the image to visit the master post for the hop, or scroll to the bottom of the post to see the linky list.

When I was much younger, less than eight, I never had a problem with windows looking out into the dark. I didn't like being in the dark, but looking out into it was never a problem. Then I read a children's ghost story in a Mandy annual (probably the one to the left, but I can't remember the year).

It was a simple story about a girl who heard something at her window and thought it must just be a branch or a bird. Then she looked and it was a face and she screamed and screamed. It wasn't graphic, just a little story, but I still can't sleep with the curtains open. Isn't it strange how childhood things still affect us. I used the same idea in my book Face of the Dead, because I remember it freaking me out so much.

Dark places into which we cannot see are the most fantastic spots for monsters.

The best use of this I have seen recently is the Hammer version of The Woman In Black with Daniel Radcliff. They have this arch at the end of a long hallway that is so dark it is almost completely black and, of course, eventually, that's where the woman in black appears. You can see the black alcove I'm talking about over Arthur's shoulder in this picture.

The Alien films also use dark spaces very well. There is the moment, I can't remember which film, where there is a dark alien hallway, totally still, until the alien suddenly moves. It is a perfect moment of fear.

Of course the darkness of space is superb for horror, as the catch phrase goes: "In space, no one can hear you scream."

Another space horror movie that uses the dark to terrify us is Pitch Black with Vin Diesel. I have to admit, I prefer the sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, which is much more space opera Sci-Fi, but I do have a soft spot for Pitch Black as well.

It's basically another reworking of the Alien genre, but it's well done with an interesting array of characters. The creatures cannot stand light, so, of course, all darkness is dangerous. This is a blatant use of the human fear of the dark and it works very well.

We rely so much on our sense of sight that anything that lurks in the dark can terrify us. My favourite monsters of all don't terrify me (well not usually), but they do lurk in the dark. I am a huge vampire fan and most of them have a big problem with daylight. Bringing this blog full circle, the creepiest vampire I remember gave me another problem with windows.

When I was ten or eleven I think, I remember seeing Salem's Lot (the original mini series) on TV. Now this had a superb scene where Ralphie Glick comes to his brother and floats outside his window (see below). This gave me the heebeegeebees for weeks, especially since, at the time, we were on holiday with relatives and my sister and I were sleeping in a room with the exact same windows. A mist comes up out of the dark, Ralphie floats in and then his brother Danny lets him in, to his doom.

I have to admit, I enjoy the remake, but it doesn't quite manage to be as eerie as that one scene I remember.

What monsters lurk in your dark places? ;)

[Edit: Just thought I'd add, I wrote a drabble (100 word story) inspired by Monster Madness today as well: Cocoon of Safety?]

Monday, 13 May 2013

May Monster Madness #3 - Things That Go Bump ...

Blog #3 for the May Monster Madness Blog Hop. Click the link or the image to visit the master post for the hop, or scroll to the bottom of the post to see the linky list.

Okay, so what is scarier than the monster you can see stalking you? The monster you can't see.

In recent years I think Hollywood has forgotten this, because it has budgets for huge special effects. The thing about the human imagination is that we are all different; different things scare us to different amounts. Hence, the more you leave to the human imagination, the scarier it is likely to be for everyone.

The greatest weapon in the arsenal of scare to achieve this in a film is SOUND.

I think one of the genres that understands this best these days is Asian Horror (Japanese, Korean etc). What they do is have long build up scenes where you have really creepy noises and thuds which show you the monster's progress. By the time the monster actually appears the viewer is so scared already it could look like a little fluffy bunny and everyone would still be terrified. The sound of the cat and Kayako Saeki's croaking sound from The Grudge both spring to mind - you can hear them at this site if you would like to.

English and American horror used to understand this as well. If you look at a film like The Haunting (the original specifically, but they used some similar devices in the remake) it relies a lot on sound and the building of fear. The reactions of the actors are what create the atmosphere, not some huge monster leaping out of the cupboard.

One set of films from the modern era that does understand this, I think, is Paranormal Activity. Because the first one was made on a shoestring budget they could not rely on special effects or the Hollywood tricks of big block busters, they had to go old school. They didn't use sound all the time, but what they did was quite stunning. The fact that we didn't really see anything was total genius. Having to nip to the loo at 3am after seeing Paranormal Activity suddenly became much scarier :).

Paranormal Activity is also a genre that shows how simple effects can be brilliant. In #3 the bit that scares the hell out of me isn't any of the big scenes at the end, it's the scene with the babysitter and the sheet. Now a sheet is the cheesiest representation of a ghost ever and yet this scene scared the stuffing out of me the first time I saw it.

All it is, is a moving camera the swings from left to right and back again past a central pillar. The sheet ghost never moves when the camera is on it, only when it is not, and it is terrifying. What may or may not happen is left totally to the viewer's imagination and that's the worst part. I didn't enjoy PA3 as much as PA1 and PA2, but that scene was magnificent.

The same principles can be applied to the written word as well. The build up to a monster in a book is just as important as it is in film. If a writers describes the monster straight away, they've lost something. Sound can play an important part in this and an author has the advantage of being able to use smell and touch as well. The cold clammy touch on the back of the neck, the tap, tap, tapping on the window, the low moaning that could be the wind, the dank smell of mould and decay: all can be used to build the mood.

Too many people seem to think instant gratification, instant scare with full on monsters is the best way to go, when in fact it's the build up, the tension that creates the terror. I think monsters are much more likely to terrify when we can't see them.

Thank you for reading. What are your favourite scary moments in movies or books?

If you enjoy books with a ghost story build up, you might like my book Face of the Dead:
Face of The Dead
Old houses creak and groan and make noises. Miles had expected that when he bought the farmhouse, but the tapping on the windows is a bit of a shock the first night he moves in. Of course there has to be a rational explanation and Miles is determined to find it, which would be easier if things didn't keep getting stranger.

You can see all of my other titles listed beside this blog.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

May Monster Madness #2 - The Monster Under the Bed

Blog #2 for the May Monster Madness Blog Hop. Click the link or the image to visit the master post for the hop, or scroll to the bottom of the post to see the linky list.

Everyone must have had one of those moments where you tuck yourself under the covers so the monster won't get you. I know I had them as a child and I still have them and I'm *coughs loudly to mask the number*.

The human brain is an amazing place. One moment we can be perfectly rational and the next we turn off the light and suddenly we are surrounded by monsters.

Two places held certain terror as a child: the wardrobe and under the bed. The wardrobe door had to be completely closed and there was no way I was ever looking under the bed when the light was off. I honestly have no idea what I expected to come out of either place, but it was definitely some sort of monster. These days I hate it when the door to our back bedroom is open at night; it just spooks me (probably something to do with that room being really cold too :)).

When I was younger I remember reading a short story in a horror anthology about a mummified arm that an explorer brought back from Egypt that proceeded to come to life and stalk his house and kill people.

I can't remember who wrote it or what eventually happened. but I do remember a scene where the arm climbs the bedclothes to a sleeping person; inch by inch, making its way closer to the person just lying there. To me that mental image is way worse than a whole mummy. The idea of an unattached arm moving by itself filled me with dread.

It's like in Evil Dead 2 - the hand is far scarier than the zombies. Of course this doesn't apply to Thing from The Addams Family, because how could anyone not love Thing? Then again that is one universe that breaks many rules when it comes to monsters :).

Of course there is one rule with bedroom monsters in horror; if you are under the covers you should be safe. One of the films I really love and scares me silly is Juon (The Grudge) - now there are some monsters for you. The part that scared me totally witless the first time I saw it was where they break the golden rule. In the bed should be safe; under the covers is a haven, only, not so much:

Thank you so much for reading, please, tell me about the monsters under your bed.

Some of my books you might like:

When Darkness Beckons
This is a two story horror anthology created for All Hallows Read 2012.

Catcher of Souls by Natasha Duncan-Drake (that's me :))
Is a ghost killing people?
Some Things Are Stranger... by Sophie Duncan
A werewolf is being hunted and finds a friend who might not be all he seems.

Book of Darkness
An anthology of six short horror stories.

Sleep Of The Damned by Natasha Duncan-Drake
How would you cope if you discovered your bed was haunted?
BFF by Sophie Duncan
New school, new best friend, but Karen discovers that Debbie has dark secrets.
Just One Day by Sophie Duncan
The house is haunted for just one day a year.
The Crosses We Bear by Natasha Duncan-Drake
If there is a cross above your bed in a hotel, might be best not to move it.
Queen Of My World by Sophie Duncan
Alfred doesn't like people very much, but he knows how to use them to get what he wants and he wants Lissy.
Dead Not Dying by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Tigger died, only the old cat came back.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Problems with MobiPocket Creator on IE9 and above.

When I create the Kindle versions of my books I use MobiPocket Creator because it makes my life really easy. With the new Kindle and ePub formats coming in I am going to have to learn to do it manually, but until then, this is really good.

Now the problem is that MobiPocket does not always work with IE9 and above. It often breaks when you create Tables of Contents.

I was creating Tables of Contents like this (which used to work just fine):

and receiving this error:

I scoured the web for fixes and I found some really complicated ones. However, Soph (my sister) was having no such issues and finally we were sitting together when she gave me a very significant piece of information. She puts 'p' or 'div' in the tag name box when she creates a table of contents, like this:

Low and behold, no error message. After editing HTML, trying to use the guide option rather than the table of contents tab and everything else, it was a simple as not leaving a field blank.

I believe the error occurs because IE9 and above treat arrays in javascript differently than IE8, but I thought I should share this simple fix in case anyone else is having the same problem. Nowhere did I find anyone just saying to add in the tag name.

May Monster Madness #1 - A Myriad Monsters

Blog #1 for the May Monster Madness Blog Hop. Click the link or the image to visit the master post for the hop, or scroll to the bottom of the post to see the linky list.

It's my write-like-a-mad-thing month so, of course, I signed up to another blog hop :). In my defence, this one is irresistible  how can I not join something called May Monster Madness?

This is a seven day hop and I have created posts for every day, so please, do keep checking back. If the A to Z Challenge taught me anything it's get everything done in advance.

Today I thought I'd talk about all the different types of monsters I can think of off the top of my head, going back in my memory to dredge up some of my earliest recollections.

When I think monster and look back to being young, the first thing that comes to mind is fairy tales. Giants and wicked witches are the monsters I remember in these. Have a piccie of the wicked witch from the recent Hansel and Gretel film as an example. Now she was a lot nastier and graphic in the movie than I remember from the stories, but The Brothers Grimm always did sanitise their fairy tales.

Another early memory that comes up when I think of monsters is Ray Harryhausen (RIP) because his Sinbad, Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonaughts movies are still some of my favourite.

The one that always comes to mind is Medusa from Clash of the Titans. It's her scaly skin and that look in her eyes that has stayed with me since I first saw the film and that sound she made as she moved. I always loved the monsters from Greek myths and Ray Harryhausen brought them to life for me throughout my childhood.

Of course the older we get, the nastier our monsters get as well, although not always more frightening. When I was a teenager I enjoyed movies where the monsters were gorier and often humans gone bad, like Candyman and A Nightmare on Elmstreet. I revelled in monsters along the lines of Freddy and his friends, but I find these days I tend to prefer monsters that are less slasher and more fangs and claws.

I think it's that I have more of a sense of my own mortality these days and so I like monsters to be more supernatural. I know Candyman and Freddy both had powers, but they were still nastily human.

One type of monster I avoid all together is the slasher movie madman as in Saw. I enjoy a good serial killer film or book, but not when it takes the leap into slasher territory. For example, I really enjoy Silence of the Lambs, but the follow up, where Hanibal slices off the top of one of the investigators heads and has him sitting at dinner - that takes it too far for me. It's a very fine line and probably a bit arbitrary  but I do not argue with my squick index :).

These days I like my monsters alien (Alien, Predator, Species), romantic (Dracula, Underworld, Anita Blake, Salem's Lot), dead (Resident Evil, Zombieland, The Haunting, The Lady in Black), demonic (The Exorcist, ), or animal (American Werewolf in London, Dog Soldiers).

Time for the shameless self promotion :). If you enjoy ghost and monsters I have a couple of books out you might like.

When Darkness Beckons
This is a two story horror anthology created for All Hallows Read 2012.

Catcher of Souls by Natasha Duncan-Drake (that's me :))
When Miles sets foot inside The King James pub he knows instantly there is a disembodied soul in residence. The question is, is the soul responsible for the deaths that have happened on the site or were they just accidents. It's Miles' job to catch troublesome lost souls, but when danger strikes he might just be too late.

Some Things Are Stranger... by Sophie Duncan
Life is weird enough for Jake being a werewolf on the run from The Pagan Dawn, ruthless hunters determined to wipe out all 'paranormal scum'. His luck runs out when he is ambushed after a Halloween party and, badly injured, he dives into the shadows of an abandoned warehouse with his pursuers on his heels. Yet, Jake discovers that he is not alone and his encounter with a goofy hobo, who talks about the place being haunted, teaches him that all strangeness is relative.

Book of Darkness
An anthology of six short horror stories.

Sleep Of The Damned by Natasha Duncan-Drake
How would you cope if you discovered your bed was haunted?
BFF by Sophie Duncan
New school, new best friend, but Karen discovers that Debbie has dark secrets.
Just One Day by Sophie Duncan
The house was a bargain and Georgie loves it, so she's not going to listen to the strange warning from the estate agent that for one day every year it is haunted.
The Crosses We Bear by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Shitty hotel, shitty team bonding weekend, but Lyle gets more than he bargained for when he removes the cross from above his bed.
Queen Of My World by Sophie Duncan
Alfred doesn't like people very much, but he knows how to use them to get what he wants and he wants Lissy.
Dead Not Dying by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Jo loves her cat, Tigger, but when he comes back from near death, Jo eventually realises that it might actually have been death itself.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

'Write like the deadline is tomorrow' month :)

So I have cheerfully named this month 'Write like the deadline is tomorrow' month because I really need to get my head down and start typing.

I have three publications to finish this month, hopefully for staggered publication in June.

One is a novel which is 85% finished already. I just have the final touches to put to it before it goes into the editing process. Given that I don't write in a straight line, this means all the little bits I couldn't be arsed to write to begin with or the bits I just didn't know how to navigate. I actually love this bit. Just occasionally there are those wonderful moments where I've left a gap in the middle of a scene and all it actually takes is one sentence to make it perfect :).

They're rare, but I can hope for divine inspiration ;).

The other two are both novellas. One is 70% done, but the blasted thing keeps growing. I was aiming for just over 20K words, but it looks like it's going to be over 30K. At least my readers should be happy :).

The other isn't done at all. I know what it's about and have the first scene done, but that's it.

Hence, 'Write like the deadline is tomorrow'. I'm actually rather revved up, which is nice :D.

Also, have just discovered Chai tea - I love it. Hopefully it will help me get through all the writing.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Tom Hiddleston as The Laughing Cavalier

So I’m doing this puzzle of the Laughing Cavalier and then I came upstairs to touch up a book cover I’m working on and this happened instead. Y’know, like it does.

(I was watching this art show the other day where this chap in the know was saying how the whole painting is basically a love letter).

I can claim I was just exercising my photo editing skills, but that would be a lie ;).

May I present, Tom Hiddleston as the Laughing Cavalier, you know, simply because...

Review: Iron Man 3

Title: Iron Man 3
Robert Downey Jr. ... Tony Stark
Gwyneth Paltrow ... Pepper Potts
Don Cheadle ... Colonel James Rhodes
Guy Pearce ... Aldrich Killian
Rebecca Hall ... Maya Hansen
Jon Favreau ... Happy Hogan
Ben Kingsley ... The Mandarin

Summary: The USA is under threat by a terrorist named The Mandarin who keeps hacking into their TV to show pictures of atrocities and make threats. People are dying in explosions all over the world. Tony Stark is having trouble with flashbacks to New York and his underlying need to protect Pepper. When circumstances put him up against the Mandarin he starts a journey that will change everything ... again.

I love this film. There are no two ways about it, Soph and I snuck off to see it yesterday afternoon and I would go and see it again today in a heartbeat. However, I have seen people say it's better than The Avengers and I would have to disagree. It's not the acting or the effects or the plot that make me say that, it's the humour. Maybe it needs a few Norse deities to knock off screen or a Hulk, but the humour in The Avengers is better. There are parts that are very funny (and if I tell you the funniest bit in my opinion it will be a huge spoiler, so I'm not going to, I will just say it made me think of a  toad) and the first scene where he is testing the new armour is brilliant.

That being said, it is still an awesome movie and a must see for everyone.

One question, was it originally supposed to be a Christmas release? Given the whole Christmas theme running through it, it seemed a little strange it came out in April.

Let's start with the plot. Now I'm not a comic book fan, I know very little of what goes on in them, so I have no idea if it appalled comic book fans, I just know I think the plot is a gem. It's well paced, well thought out, well written and I loved it. Yes there is a kid in it at certain points, a kid that could have made it so Disney and so not Marvel, but he is brilliant and the plot uses him perfectly, IMHO.

The effects are epic and I really mean that. I saw it in 2D because I hate 3D and it was magnificent. All the battles were simply amazing and every moment of them held my attention. I was not sitting there at all at any point looking at my watch wondering when it would end (unlike in Oblivion the other week). The effects outside the battles are also fantastic and I do love the new armour.

So, on to what really makes this movie for me: the actors and their characters.

Let's start with the man himself; Robert Downey Jr is astonishingly good. He gives 100% to the role and it totally engaging all the way through. Also, is he ageing backwards? What? I'm allowed to be shallow every now and then.

Tony Stark in this movie is brilliant. I love the fact that he has PTSD from New York. At the end of The Avengers you see him shrug it all off, but that's just an act. That there are consequences, even for the great Tony Stark, humanise him in a way that even the whole dying thing from #2 didn't. The way this movie takes him back to basics is brilliant and it is perfect that someone actually has to give him the advice (please forgive me if the quote is not quite right, I am quoting from memory):
'You said you were a mechanic right? ... Then just build something.'

The fact that a lot of his psychological fallout comes from that he feels he needs to protect Pepper is also spot on. I love how these films are brining them closer and closer together, because they are one kick arse couple.

Which brings me nicely on to Pepper. Oh wow, I love her in this movie. She is awesome. She gets to save Tony - yay! She gets to wear the suit - yay! She gets to be utterly awesome without the suit (for reasons I cannot go into or it would count as an epic spoiler) - yay! She also gets to be Pepper, you know, CEO, intelligent, not taking Tony's shit, running a multi-billion pound company like the amazing woman she is. So yeah, I'm a bit Pepper fan.

Then we have Rhodey who is also fab. The way Tony takes the piss out of him after War Machine is re-branded as Iron Patriot is so cool. The fact that he has a real part in the plot in this movie is also brilliant.

You really see how much of a friend he is to Tony and how much of a fabulous officer he is as well. He gets to be a hero as well as a foil for Tony Stark.
EDIT: I can't believe I forgot one of my favourite characters. JARVIS, how could I forget him. He is so completely brilliant in this movie and he gets to kick butt. I have always loved the way Paul Bettany voices him, but he actually gets to do lots of stuff in this movie. We also get to see how he is not completely infallible in a most amusing way. JARVIS rocks.

So, on to the bad guys. Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin is fantastically evil. He does Bin Laden type terrorist so very, very well. He is evil incarnate and eloquent and exactly how he should be.

Ben Kingsley is also brilliant for other reasons that I cannot reveal because of spoilers.

Then the other baddie is Aldrich Killian played by Guy Pierce who is superbly slimy. He does creepy and bad in a way that made me want to slap him; which I think is a good reaction. I can't say too much without spoilers, but he is deliciously bad.

You first see him as he is on the left at a business meeting with Pepper and when he kisses her on the cheek to say goodbye I already wanted to shoot him between the eyes. He's played that well.

The other characters are also engaging and interesting: The President, Happy, Maya, and it is a well rounded, visually stunning, fast paced, exciting film.

My favourite part of all would be a huge spoiler, so I will just say, Barrel of Monkeys and be done with it. It was so innovative (even though I'm pretty sure the physics and biology of one part of it were not compatible) and I thought it was brilliant.

This film will stay with me for a long time ... when's the blu-ray coming out? :)