Wednesday 31 August 2016

Dead Before Dawn, Cover How To - #WriterlyWednesdays 40

Greetings and welcome to Writerly Wednesdays. Today I thought I'd show you all how I created my cover for Dead Before Dawn: The Vampire Curse. I wanted something effective, but simple. This is a romance, but it also has an element of horror that I wanted to bring out. Hence several of my choices.

Dead Before Dawn, Cover How To

I create all my own covers and if you look you will see that I keep improving and some of my old covers are not so good :). I am slowly replacing these as I go, like I did with all of the Soul Reader series and Charlie Waterman.

One of the important things to remember with eBook covers is that they have to look good big, but they also have to be legible when small. There will be a standard size for every cover on a site, but this is just the biggest it will be seen. It will be resized from anything between that and 80x120. Always test out your cover at its min and its max to make sure you can still tell what it's about.

So the first thing I did was go looking for a good image to use at my background. I wanted to go with the obvious imagery, so I looked for "dawn" on this site:

The images on this site are free to use for any legal purpose without even requiring an attribution. Great resource.

I chose this image:

It is already wonderfully atmospheric and moody and I liked the colour palette.

Next I opened my Photoshop file with the correct sizing. I was making this cover for Wattpad so ultimately it was going to be 256x400 so I decided to work at 400% - 1024x1600 (usually I work at 2000x3000 for a normal cover).

I imported the image above and chose which part I wanted to use for the cover:

At this point I also put on my markers for thirds.

The rule of thirds is simple - you divide your space into three length wise and width wise and then use the thirds as the basis for the layout. This pleases the eye of the viewer, which is definitely what we want. As you can see with this I have the most interesting part of the background image in the bottom third. This article has lots of examples and more information on the rule of thirds.

I knew from the start this cover was going to be title based, that is the title is the most important part. Often my covers have people on them, like The Machine, but it is perfectly valid to go for a title based cover as well.

My most important word - the exciting one in the title, is DEAD, so I knew I wanted that to be big and bold. It had several iterations and actually started as DARK, not dead.

I didn't originally have the the subtitle (The Vampire Curse) on the cover, hence I was going for something to illustrate that, but I decided it was too cheesy. The font I finally chose is Barstarda-K. It has a nice paranormal feel to it, but is easy to read.

The one part I didn't like was the way the small 'd' ends - when it's small I found it hard to read. So I used a layer mask to change it slightly:

The font also has a bevel, a slight gradient overlay and a screening outer glow so that it stands out from the background. I tried a stroke first, but it looked clunky.

Next I moved on to the rest of the title 'Before Dawn: The Vampire Curse'. This I wanted all in the middle third. I started off with the 'Dead' slightly higher and the 'Before Dawn' in the centre, but it felt off balance. So I brought the 'Dead' down and moved the 'Before Dawn' into the left two thirds.

The font is Felix Titling with 140% on the vertical. I used a gradient overlay with colours from the background to link it in with the main design and then used a stroke and a drop shadow to bring it out of the picture.

I used the same font for 'The Vampire Curse' and placed it on the lower third line. I linked it back to the 'Dead' by masking the V of Vampire and replacing it with a V using Bastarda-K.

That just left my name and the Wittegen Press logo. I went with a legible font and chose to place it on the dark area at the bottom to give emphasis to the sunrise happening in the middle of the picture. The Wittegen Logo is standard and all I ever do with that is change the colouring if it doesn't go with the cover.

However, when I looked at it, I didn't think it was quite moody enough. I wanted the focus more on the words and the sunrise. This I achieved by putting in a new layer just above the background which I coloured black. Then I cut out the centre with an oval and used a Gaussian blur (approx 151) to make it less distinct.

It still wasn't quite moody enough, so I added one more layer over the whole thing to bring it together. I used a gradient fill with a dark blue to white value. I made the layer a Multiply layer and then reduced its opacity to 40%.

And that's it, there you have it, my finished cover.

All that remained was the save it for the web at 256x400 and it was ready for uploading to Wattpad.

Thursday 25 August 2016

The Joy of Reading a Book #ThinkyThursdays 23

Hello, and welcome to my blog for Thinky Thurday. You know when we've been so wrapped up in doing things that we forget how much we enjoy something else? I've had one of those mornings, so I thought I would share.

The Joy of Reading a Book

I am going to be honest, I have been very bad this morning. If you saw my post yesterday, you know I am about to launch properly into the world of Wattpad. So this morning I was using some of my social media time to poke around.

I made a mistake...

I clicked on a story called The Ghost Files by Apryl Baker. I wanted to see what extras a popular author might have added to their story etc.

You can guess what I did then, can't you ... yep, I decided to take a quick peek at the actual story.

So that was about 4 hours ago and I just came up for air.

The book is superb, BTW, but I suspect you guessed that. It's first person (which I often don't get on with), with a plucky teenage heroine, and she's brilliant. She see ghosts, only it's so much more than that. There's suspense, great characters, a murder mystery and lots of excitement. I heartily recommend it. You can download it for free from Amazon as well and I just bought the second one from there too :) (I'll have to do a proper review).

We all do it, I suppose, get wrapped up in what we're doing that we forget some of the joys of life.

I've been so busy writing and doing all the publishing things that indie writers have to do, that I'd forgotten the simple joy of reading a book. The excitement of joining characters on their journey, of being whisked into their world.

This book reminded me of all that. It sucked me in and didn't let me go.

I will be the first to admit I'm a picky reader. It takes a lot to really drag me into a book. I read whenever I can and I usually like what I read, but books that demand not to be put down are rarer. These are the books that remind me why I have always loved to disappear into the written word.

So I would just like to take a moment to thank everyone who writes, be it high literature, genre or fanfiction. We are all different and we all find that magic that makes us keep reading no matter what in different things. To those who craft words, I salute you.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Cover Reveal: Dead Before Dawn (The Vampire Curse) #WriterlyWednesdays 39

Greetings and welcome to Writerly Wednesday 39. Thank you so much for dropping by. Today I am excited to reveal the new cover for my latest vampire novel: "Dead Before Dawn: The Vampire Curse".

This one is going to be serialised, for free, on Wattpad very soon. I'm editing like a mad thing at the moment.

Drop me a comment with your username and I will make sure to follow you.
For those who don't know, Wattpad is a free website with lots of wonderful stories to read. It also has apps for many, many devices. You can log in with your Facebook, your G+ or with email and password. It takes only a second to create an account - then you can follow authors and receive updates when they post new chapters.
The book is a gay, polyamory, vampire romance set in the modern world. The lead character is called Max ... and that's all I'm going to tell you at the moment :).

So are you ready for the cover reveal?

Drum roll please ...

 (if you're wondering about the size - that's the recommended size for Wattpad :))

Thursday 18 August 2016

The Olympics and Dedication #ThinkyThursdays 22

Well our screens and feeds have been dominated by one thing over the past two weeks: the Olympics, and I have been amazed by some of the performances. Hence I thought it a good topic for Thinky Thursdays. Welcome to my blog.

The Olympics and Dedication

It is quite amazing the level of performance we see in the Olympics. Athletes jump higher, run faster, tumble better, swing better, swim better, aim better, hit things better, leap off things better and throw better than anyone else in the world. It's utterly stunning.

My favourite event to watch is the gymnastics and, boy, did it deliver this year. Never have I seen such amazing athleticism and sportsmanship. What was really heartwarming is how all the athletes seemed to congratulate and commiserate with their fellows. Of course they all wanted to win, but there was a camaraderie there that linked them all together.

Simone Biles is utterly amazing. During the gala the announcer said "Superwoman exists and her name is Simone Biles" and she is. She's simply fantastic. Watching her sometimes, it's as if she is made of different stuff to the rest. And yet even she proved she was human in the Beam final.

I'm very glad she got a medal, but in a way, I think it is good to be reminded that she isn't perfect. That way we are also reminded of all the hard work and dedication she puts in to her sport to be at the top. She is capable of not being spot on and the fact she is nearly all of the time is utterly incredible. A moment of weakness actually enhances her greatness.

I also have to mention Max Whitlock because, in the UK, we're just not used to our gymnasts taking gold twice at the Olympics. His performances on both the floor and the pommels were exemplary and he got bronze in the all around too. Utterly stunning.

The gymnastics this year has been utterly fantastic. Every event seemed to be won rather than lost, i.e. it was excellence that came through and not accident that ruled many out.

The same with all the other events I have been watching.

One thing all these athletes have in common is dedication. They put hours and hours into their sports day after day after day. How can we not be inspired.

Not all of us are sporty. I've just been watching the women's long jump and I remember at school, when we tried, I didn't even make it into the sand pit :). Yep, I can't jump at all. Not my forte, but there are other things I can do. I can write; I have something of an artistic streak  and I love science. These are the things I strive for, the things to which I am dedicated.

We all have something to which we can dedicate ourselves. It doesn't matter if it's artistic, academic, sporty, altruistic, a matter of faith or family, or something else. It is there in all of us. We may never be the next Simone Biles or Leonardo Da Vinci, but it's not about marking ourselves against other people. It's about striving to achieve what we want to achieve, of feeling good about ourselves.

I very much hope you all have something to which you can dedicate yourselves that makes you happy. We might not be superwoman or superman, but we can be the best of ourselves.

Have a great day!

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Flash Fiction: Mirror Mirror on the Wall - #vampire #horror #WriterlyWednesdays 38

Welcome to my blog. Today I have a little flash fiction for you Writerly Wednesdays 38. I've been playing with points of view and since I have been banging on about vampires recently I decided to combine the two. I do hope you enjoy it, many thanks for visiting. This is a horror tale not suitable for the very young.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

by Natasha Duncan-Drake

It has been a very long day and you've just cleaned your teeth ready to fall into bed. Nothing is going to get between you and the wonderfully comfortable mattress you spent far too much money on. Not even Bethsheba, who was curled up right in the middle of the duvet last time you looked. For once the cat will not get her way ... probably.

All that remains is some night cream and then you are good to go. Opening the bathroom cabinet, you pause. The hairs on the back of your neck are standing up. Your hind brain is trying to tell you something, something you missed. A small tendril of ice-cold fear curls around your spine.

Of course you know you're being irrational. It's late, you're tired, that's all it is. You reach into the cupboard and grab the night cream, but you hesitate before you close the mirrored door. Instinct says you don't want to look.

It's an old fear, one you are used to in the middle of the night. Yet, this feels different. When you wake up and pad to the bathroom for water or to use the loo you're half asleep; wild fancies are acceptable. Now you're tired, but you are awake. This doesn't feel imagined.

You tell yourself you are being ridiculous. You're in your own home. There is nothing to be afraid of. Only it takes a lot of will power to push the cupboard door closed.

That's when you see her: black hair; blood red mouth; bottomless, dark eyes.

Adrenaline lets you turn, heart jumping into your throat.

But there's nothing there.

Your rational brain says you are making things up. The rest of you can feel the chill in the air.

Slowly, so slowly you barely breathe, you turn back to the mirror. It is as if you have no choice. The sensible thing would be to run for the bedroom or even downstairs. The sensible thing would be to leave, but you can't make yourself do it. All you can hear is the blood rushing in your ears. Your stomach is twisted in a knot. It's hard to catch your breath.

You don't want to lift up your eyes. You fix them on the plug hole, desperately trying not to look. Inside you know if you look it's over. If you look something terrible will happen. You need to keep your eyes down.

But you just can't stop.

Millimetre by millimetre your gaze rises: first the edge of the sink, then the tap, then the tiles with their pretty black and white pattern. Your will is crumbling. All it took was one glance and you were caught. You fight, but it is hopeless.

For a few seconds you manage to stare blankly at the edge of the cupboard. It takes every ounce of control in your body and it does not last long. Like a prisoner being led to execution you bring up your eyes.

She's still there, between you and the shower. She hasn't moved.

She is staring at you with those dark eyes. Now you are looking you can see they are dark red, not black and you know they are your undoing. There is no humanity in them, no mercy, only want.

Her skin is pale, with a sickly yellowish tint and her hair is wild. She is gaunt, her flesh pulled taught over skull like someone starved. You can sense her hunger.

Now she has you, she smiles. Long, sharp, yellow teeth fill her mouth as it opens wider than a human's should. It splits her face and renews the cold terror sparking through your body.

She lifts one hand, as if holding it up for you to see. Long nails tip too long fingers. There is dirt under those vicious talons and you can't help but imagine them digging through newly packed earth.

You whimper as she reaches out to you, stepping closer. She carries with her a chill that seems to sink into your bones.

Those long fingers settle on your shoulder. You are allowed one small moment of freedom as you eyes dart sideways, but there is nothing there. Only when you look back in the mirror can you see the deadly nails so close to your vulnerable neck.

At least she has stopped smiling.

Her touch makes your skin crawl. It is as if your very cells understand the corruption they are being exposed to. You cannot suppress the shudder that makes your legs feel weak. You grip the side of the sink. Your mind is screaming at you to run, but your body will not respond.

A tear leaks out of your eye, travelling down your ashen cheek. You would beg if you could, but your voice is as lost as your will.

Her touch is like breaking a barrier between you and with it comes a smell. It is vaguely fruity, but like fruit that has gone over. It is sickly and causes bile to rise in the back of your throat. You've smelt it before at your grandmother's funeral, covered by chemicals, but there nevertheless; it is the scent of death.

You open your mouth to scream, but there is no sound as she lifts one finger and pushes your head to the side. For just a moment rebellion fills you and you try to resist, but that skeletal digit digs into your neck and you acquiesce with a gasp.

She is close now, all but leaning against you. Her presence leaches all the heat from you. You would shiver if you were capable of that anymore.

This time when she opens her mouth there seem to be even more teeth. Her breath is fetid. It smells of rotten flesh and death. Your stomach churns.

Every move she makes is slow and deliberate, building the terror. It is calculated; you can feel it.

As you become weaker, she becomes stronger and you know what has to come next.

You are made to watch as those needle sharp, filthy fangs lower towards your vulnerable flesh. Another whimper is all you are allowed.

Part of you is screaming that this is impossible, but the primal part, the bit that evolution just can't get rid of, that knows evil. That understands.

The pain is excruciating as teeth slide into your neck. For a moment you can't breathe as white hot agony lances down your nerves. Your heart beats wildly, desperately trying to keep you alive as her mouth clamps on to the wound she has made. The only sound she makes is an obscene sucking noise as she steals away your life.

The pain fades, but so does your strength. Soon she is holding you up and yet still you stare in the mirror. You are dying and, yet, you still have to look.

When she wrenches back, her face seems nearly all mouth, a long, forked tongue flicking over her blood-soaked lips and teeth. Only slowly does that huge maw close, shrinking back to normal size.

It's a shock when she drops you.

There is no strength left in you and you hit the bathroom floor with no way of stopping yourself. All you can do is lie there, empty and close to death. You blink, about the only movement left to you, and between one and the next you see dirty feet walking away. There are muddy footprints on the tiles, one right next to your head. You blink again and they are gone. Yet again and they are back.

Soon they are more there than not. It occurs to you that as you near death you are allowed to see your killer.

Eventually you realise she has stopped in the doorway. With the last of your strength you turn your gaze up, just a little, and you can see her watching you. Breathing is hard, and even when you manage it there does not seem to be enough oxygen. There under her gaze you gasp your last gulp of air.

"Sister," is the last whisper you hear.

Your mind screams in denial, even as everything goes dark.

Thursday 11 August 2016

When Does a Trope Becoming a Cliche? #ThinkyThursdays 21

So apparently I was talking in my sleep last night. I only remember dreaming about trying to cook vegetarian food for some friends - not overly exciting. However, I have been doing a lot of plotting lately (not to take over the world, well unless it's by book sales :)) and the Olympic gymnastics was rather exciting to watch just before going to sleep - so that could have been it :). Anyway, learning this got me thinking ...

When Does a Trope Becoming a Cliche?

trope - noun - a significant or recurrent theme; a motif.
cliche - noun - a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.

What my little foray into chattering while comatose made me think about was how talking in ones sleep can be such a cliche in fiction. Which then led me on to thinking about lots of other tropes and how they can quickly become cliches.

We all think in cliches some times; it's how the human psyche works. However, we generally try to think in an original manner and that, I believe, is the key to using tropes and avoiding cliches.

I have seem lots of advice about how not to open a book, like, don't have a whole scene that turns out to be a dream as your protagonist wakes up. This is a cliche.

It's good advice; we don't want to alienate our readers with tired, uninteresting writing.

However, we also know that there are very few actual plots out there and that the key to exciting our readers is in the execution. I think this is the same divide between a trope and a cliche.

A cliche is a boring rehash or many things we have seen before.

A trope is an idea we have seen before presented in an exciting, grabbing way.

Sometimes it's a fine line, sometimes it's not. Let's have some fun. Here is a cliche riddled opening:
She looked at him from across the room. Her eyes said 'I love you' even as she mouthed the words 'help me'.
Sam struggled to free himself from the bonds holding him, but it was no use. They wanted him to learn a lesson. He was helpless. 
The gunshot ripped through him as surely as if it had been aimed at his heart, not hers. Blood bloomed on her white shirt even as she began to fall.
Sam sat up, gasping, a name he didn't know trying to make it to his lips. It had been the same dream for five nights now. Over and over again he saw the same woman dying and he had no idea who she was.
Throwing off the sheet he staggered to the bathroom. Bending over the sink he threw water on his face, coming back up to stare at himself in the mirror. The grey bags around his eyes were only growing bigger.
Shall we count the cliches?
  1. Eyes that speak.
  2. Female character who exists purely for male character.
  3. A woman dying to further the story of a male character.
  4. Blood on a white shirt.
  5. Waking up gasping.
  6. Staggering to the bathroom.
  7. Throwing water on his face.
  8. Staring at himself in the mirror.
And that's just from five paragraphs!

The writing is tired, it's uninteresting and it's been done a thousand times before. It does neither of the characters justice. It's not a beginning that is going to inspire may to keep reading.

So what should we do? Well, first, let's give the female character some agency of her own.
She glanced at him once, eyes only flicking from the gun for a moment. Her hands were shaking even as she tried to talk to their captor.
Then let's keep her death, this is a premonition after all, but give it more worth than simply being the love interest.
Sam pulled against the cuffs holding him to the pipe. The metal bit into his wrists without shifting at all. She was the key; they knew it, he knew it, and without her it was all over.
But, lets skip the gunshot; they really are very messy and make murder rather obvious.
She was still talking for her life when a woman stepped up behind her. Her eyes opened in shock and she gasped quietly, faltering, eyelids flickering as her words ceased. As she started to collapse forward, the other woman slid a syringe back in to a small container. The thud as she hit the floor was the only sound she made.
Now, how about we dump the cliche of waking up in bed?
Sam's head snapped up as he took a sharp breath, blinking. The first thing that made any sense was his haggard reflection in the dark screen of his computer. With a shudder he hit a key on his keyboard to bring up the spreadsheet he had been working on; he'd fallen asleep at his desk ... again.
The dreams were getting ridiculous.
Standing up he reached for his coffee mug. He had to stay awake or someone was going to start asking questions. Glancing through the window next to his office door, however, he completely forgot about caffeine. There she was, talking to Mike; the woman from his dream.
Now I'm not saying this is Shakespeare, I just created it off the top of my head, after all, but I think it's a lot better than it was. These paragraphs still have tropes, everything does, but, hopefully they're a little more exciting than the first version and less cliche.

The most important thing is that they ask questions, engage the reader and, with any luck, make them want to find out what's going on.
  • Why is Sam dreaming? Is he psychic, or is he just putting together bits of information in his subconscious?
  • Why is this woman the key? Who is she?
  • How can spreadsheets become guns and intrigue?
Just with the Olympic diving (yay Team GB!), it's all in the execution. A character becomes a cliche when they a just a whole bunch of tropes strung together with nothing to make them interesting, and the same goes for a plot. 

We all love tropes, that's why they exist. What we have to be careful of is that they don't slip into overdone and cliche. If we read back our own work and it seems like we've read it a hundred times before, in lots of different places, it's probably time to change it up a bit. This can mean changing our choice of language or completely tearing something apart to give it more zing. Beta readers and editors can be very good at helping with this part, but I think we often know the truth in our heart before they ever tell us.

Sometimes a good writing exercise it to take a cliche we've seen in something else and see what we can do with it to make it more interesting and exciting.

What are your favourite tropes? Do you have a favourite or least favourite example to share?

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Recipe: Avocado Pesto Tagliatelle with Italian Style Chicken (or Roasted Veg) #TipsTuesdays 39

I'm betting you can tell we eat a lot of chicken in our house, because this week I have another recipe that involves chicken. However, this is a very easy one to make vegetarian and even vegan, because all you do is replace the chicken with roasted vegetables (or tofu or Quorn if you like). This recipe makes a lovely creamy pesto without all the cheese and oil used in a normal pesto and with all the goodness of avocado.

Avocado Pesto Tagliatelle with Italian Style Chicken (or Roasted Veg)

You could make this recipe even healthier by swapping out the tagliatelle for courgetti or another spiralized vegetable, but this is one of the few dishes where I prefer actual pasta. The tagliatelle takes the creamy pesto so well.

The pesto is the most amazing bright green colour thanks to the basil and the avocado, which makes my inner child so very happy :).

The pesto will store, but not for too long and it will go brown unless kept cold and sealed. I used the leftovers of mine on crackers the next day after covering it in cling film and storing it in the fridge. It was still lovely, but aim to use this quickly for best results.

Serves 4


For the pesto

  • 1 large avocado (make sure it is ripe)
  • 31g fresh basil leaves (this is one packet from Morrisons :) - the original recipe I used said 1 cup)
  • 50g (1/3 cup) Pine Nuts
  • 3 cloves of garlic (I use the squeezy stuff :))
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tblspns extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

For the chicken

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • Italian seasoning (I use a pre-made spice mix from Morrisons called "Italian Seasoning", but to make it: dried basil, dried oregano, dried rosemary, dried marjoram, dried thyme, dried sage, red pepper flakes, onion powder, garlic powder - all in equal amounts)
  • 1 tblsp oil for frying

or For Roasted Veg

  • 1 red pepper (bell pepper, capsicum)
  • 1 yellow pepper (bell pepper, capsicum)
  • 1 green pepper (bell pepper, capsicum)
  • 1 courgette
  • 2 large mushrooms
  • 2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Italian Seasoning
+ pasta - you can use any pasta you like, but my fav is tagliatelle


  1. Cook your pasta and leave in cold water (pasta is much better for you if you cook it, cool it down and then refresh it just before you use it).
For Chicken
  1. Take the chicken breasts and butterfly them (this page shows you how).
  2. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken breasts with the Italian seasoning.
  3. Heat the oil in the pan on a high heat and cook the chicken on both sides until it goes golden brown (the caramelisation gives extra flavour).
  4. Turn down the heat, put on a lid and allow the chicken to cook through completely until there is no pink left - shouldn't take more than a minute or two.
  5. Leave to rest in the pan with the lid on (this makes sure it is juicy).
or For Veg
  1. Heat the oven to 240C (230 fan)/475F/Gas 9
  2. Chop all the vegetables into bite sized peices.
  3. Put the oil in a roasting pan and turn all the veg in the oil to coat.
  4. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning.
  5. Cook for approx 45 mins or until tender (start the pesto just before done).
For both
  1. Peel the avocado and cut into pieces (this page shows you the best way to do it without slicing your fingers).
  2. Juice the lemon (I use a tea strainer to make sure there are no pips or bits in my juice).
  3. If you're using whole cloves of garlic, chop them roughly.
  4. Place all the ingredients of the pesto, apart from the salt and pepper into a large bowl or your food processor and blend until smooth. (I found a stick blender was much better at breaking up the basil leaves, but if you like bits in your pesto, use the food processor - you may need to add a little water if the pesto is too thick, but remember that it will loosen a bit when added to the hot pasta).
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste (I used just a tiny bit of salt).
  6. Refresh your pasta with boiling water from the kettle, drain and place back in the saucepan.
  7. Add the pesto to the saucepan and mix with the pasta (the little bit of water that always clings to pasta will loosen the pesto).
  8. If using slice the chicken breasts into bite size pieces.
  9. Place the pesto pasta in bowls with the chicken breast or roasted vegetables scattered on top.
  10. Enjoy.
This is a wonderful creamy recipe - just don't forget the garlic like I did the first time - luckily when I tasted it I realised what I had done before trying to serve it :). As ever the key to getting it right is tasting while cooking (just don't taste the chicken until it's done).

Thursday 4 August 2016

The Dangers of Virtual Rabbit Holes #ThinkyThursdays 20

Well this topic was easy to come up with because I just fell prey to a virtual rabbit hole - the internet is a dangerous place ;).

The Dangers of Virtual Rabbit Holes

We've all done it, haven't we. Clicked on that one link that has then led to another, and another, and another, until we look up two hours later and wonder why our eyes feel like they've been sandblasted.

For me this time I was looking for some traditional ghost stories to help inspire some short stories of my own. Unfortunately I found Listverse and it was downhill from there. Honestly, don't click on that link unless you want to lose a few hours :).

Sometimes its:
  • simply curiosity
  • research
  • the need to find a source
  • the need to dispute a fact
  • a recommendation
Anything can lead us to the entrance to the rabbit hole that sucks us down.

It's not always a bad thing. I now have some really interesting ideas floating around in my brain, inspired by a mixture of everything I have been reading. This afternoon when I put my head down for some serious writing, I hope to put those ideas in to words.

However, there is line between usefulness and procrastination.

Often is is a very thin line.

The internet is set up to entice us to click that one more link. It's the whole idea of the place :). We can lose whole days on clicking if we are not careful. Most of us are sponges for information and the internet offers so much. We simply want more and more.

Personally, I don't think it's possible to over-research a subject until, that is, we reach the point where the research becomes a block to actually creating what the research was for. We can usually feel that balancing point as well. We just have to remember to take note of it.

Here are some techniques to make sure the rabbit hole isn't too deep:
  • set a time limit for clicking
  • set a limit on the number of new pages to visit
  • make a mental agreement to stop when the same links start popping up as reference (because we all know they will)
  • make a mental agreement to stop when we have enough information for the project, rather than keeping going until we know everything
  • all of the above :).
I find the time limit the easiest, but the others also work if, when I started clicking, I didn't realise I was headed for a rabbit hole in the first place, like today. I stopped when I saw the same links popping up as suggested next visiting points. That's when I knew it was time to let my mouse rest a while.

In all honesty, virtual rabbit holes can be fun, that's the problem. We must be strong! ;)

What was the last virtual rabbit hole you vanished into? How did you drag yourself out?

Wednesday 3 August 2016

How to Write a Great Vampire #WriterlyWednesdays 37

Two weeks ago I spoke about the much maligned genre of the vampire novel for Thinky Thursdays and today I wanted to continue the thought into how to create a great vampire.

How to Write a Great Vampire

There are many vampires out there in fiction who seem to simply be clones of one another. Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing, when you find lots of characters of a similar ilk, it is often because that's what people like to watch and read. However, for a great vampire as with any other great protagonist or antagonist, they have to be memorable and a little different.

A lot of this can be achieved by character, but that's not the aspect I want to talk about today. What I want to look at is vampire traits. In the western tradition we tend to think fangs, drinking blood and coffins, but this is a very limited view.

The first thing we all have to understand with vampires is:

There are no hard and fast rules!

Some people seem to think vampires have to fit a certain mould - they really, really don't. Vampires come from folklore and there are as many different vampires out there in mythology as there are fish in the sea. And what is absolutely wonderful about fiction is that we can mix and match to our heart's content.

What Kind of Vampire?

One of the first questions we have to ask is, what makes our character a vampire. A vampire is a parasitic lifeform, living off other beings, but there are many options as to what it is they consume:

Vampire Traits

Next we must decide what traits our vampire has that distinguish them for normal humans. Some things to consider are:
  • fangs (Dracula)
  • tongue that acts like a straw (Penanggalan, Malaysia)
  • eye colour/shape
  • claws or really long nails (Baobhan sith)
  • skin colour (Xiang Shi)
  • demonic additions like brow ridges, pointed ears, gnarled hands, wild hair
  • body bloating (Vrykolakas)
  • emaciation
  • or maybe do they become a floating head and entrails? (Krasue)
We can go from everything from just flashing a little fang, to being or becoming a grotesque monster, depending on what effect we wish our vampire to have on our audience. Even if our vampire is the hero type she can have unusual vampire traits to make her a little more interesting.

Vampire Behaviour

Not all vampires have to be Dracula types. Just as they can consume more than blood, they can act in different ways. Some questions we can ask are the following:
  • Is our vampire a solitary hunter (Dracula et al) or a pack creature (Vampires, Salem's Lot, Blood Sacrifice)?
  • Does our vampire return to their sanctuary during the day, be that a coffin or simply a safe place? (The Lost Boys)
  • Is our vampire a seducer/persuader (Fright Night II) or an attack hunter (From Dusk Til Dawn)?
  • Is our vampire evil, bad or simply misunderstood?
  • Does our vampire enjoy feeding (Dracula's Widow) or is it a curse (Forever Knight)?
  • Is our vampire in charge of their own reactions or at the will of their instincts?
  • Does our vampire even know what they are?
  • Does our vampire wish to create more of their kind, or even can they?

Vampire Abilities

Vampires are predators so they often have advantages over normal humans, deciding what they are can be an important part of creating our character. Too many and they may become Superman boring, too few and they may not be interesting enough.

Possible abilities are:
  • super strength
  • super speed
  • the ability to change into one or more animals
  • power to control one or more animals
  • mesmerism and persuasive powers
  • telepathy
  • dream walking
  • changing into smoke
  • speed healing
  • invulnerability to anything except specific stimulae
  • super hearing
  • super sight
  • unnatural good looks
  • spreading disease by touch
  • killing just with a look
  • etc
We also need to decide if all vampires are made equal or if certain abilities come with time. If we have more than one vampire in our story then it is often interesting to give them differences. Anita Blake Vampire Hunter does this well when setting up a vampire hierachy.

Vampire Weaknesses

Of course all vampires must have weaknesses, sometimes many, sometimes just one, depending on the reaction we want when they are revealed. If our vampires are the bad guys it creates more tension to have them more powerful than the humans until a weakness is found. If our vampires are the heroes then a more obvious weakness can be useful to give them some conflict.

Weaknesses might include:
  • sunlight
  • holy items
  • flowing water
  • fire
  • crushing
  • a wooden stake through the heart
  • an iron stake through the heart
  • hawthorn
  • garlic
  • roses
  • pure faith (in anything)
  • lemons (I know - an odd one)
  • needing to count things
  • decapitation (the one that is simply a flying head would laugh at this idea)
  • a cross of bones
  • mirrors
  • spells
  • destroying their crypt
  • destroying their shroud
I could go on. Vampires are supernatural, anything can be a weakness. The only thing we need to watch out for is that the weakness doesn't turn out to be unintentionally hilarious, unless we're writing a comedy.

As with any character the key to making a great vampire is to make them interesting. Have Egyptian vampires that laugh at crosses, but cower from an Ankh; are terrified of  dogs and jackals, but can turn into a cat at will. Or Indian vampires who only feed from those dying from an act of violence, giving them a merciful death; they like war zones and lawless cities. How about a Malaysian vampire who loses the ability to speak when she gets upset because her vampire form starts to manifest so her tongue starts to grow?

The possibilities are endless.

There is definitely a place for the sexy vampire with fangs and glowing eyes who sleeps in a coffin; I love that kind of vampire and I write that kind of vampire a lot, but there are other options too. We should not let convention stop us imagining.

Are the local vampires legends where you come from? Do you have a favourite fictional vampire?

Tuesday 2 August 2016

Recipe: Pulled Chicken with Avocado Salsa - #TipsTuesdays 38

Welcome back to my blog and Tips Tuesdays, where I am continuing sharing some of the staple recipes I use during the week. I try to use recipes that are as healthy as possible. This is pulled chicken, which is a healthier version of pulled pork, but just as tasty.

Pulled Chicken with Avocado Salsa

This can easily be made gluten free, just check the highlighted* ingredients.

Serves 4 - but is very good reheated the next day


  • 6-8 skinless chicken thighs (you can use bone in or not as you like)
  • 2 tbspn Chipotle Paste (you can use less if you prefer - just go to your own taste)
  • 250ml passata
  • 75g BBQ sauce* (this is the one you need to check for gluten - some add flour - this recipe can be used if you can't find any,)
  • 1 onion (I use red)
  • 1 lime
  • 1 large avocado
  • handful of fresh coriander or 1/2 tsp of dried coriander leaf (optional)
to serve:
  • tacos or rice, 
  • lime wedges, 
  • 1 can of refried beans, 
  • lettuce (shredded), 
  • soured cream if feeling naughty

  1. Put the oven on at 180C/160C fan/Gas mark 4 (350F/300F Fan).
  2. Take the chicken thighs and rub them with 1 tbspn of the chipotle paste. (Use gloves if you can while doing this because you don't want chilli on your skin. You can also add salt and pepper if you want, but I don't really think it needs it.)
  3. Finely chop the onion.
  4. Mix the remaining 1 tbspn of chipotle paste with the passata, the BBQ sauce and half the onion, adding about 100ml of water as well. (I tend to do this straight in the casserole dish to save on washing up :))
  5. Place the chicken in a roasting tin or casserole dish that will take the chicken pieces quite snugly.
  6. Spoon the sauce over the top of the chicken so it is covered.
  7. Either cover with foil very tightly or put on the casserole lid and pop into the oven for 1 hr.
  8. Increase the oven temp to 200C/180 fan/ Gas Mark 6 (400F/350F fan) and uncover the chicken, baking for another 20 mins.
  9. While waiting for the chicken to cook, juice the lime and place in a container with half a teaspoon of salt and the other half of the chopped onion. (I like to use smoked salt because it gives a little more flavour).
  10. If serving with rice, remember to put on your rice for the correct cooking time during this period too.
  11. Check the chicken to see it is tender and the sauce is not too runny. (If your chicken is done and your sauce is not reducing you can take the chicken out and keep warm, then put the sauce in saucepan and reduce it a bit more. You don't want it too sloshy :))
  12. Shred the chicken using 2 forks and remove the bones if using bone in thighs. (I find it easier to do this by taking the chicken out of the sauce and doing it on a flat surface, then adding it back into the sauce).
  13. Cut the avocado into small cubes. 
    1. The easiest way to do this is to cut all around the avocado stone along the longest axis, halving the avocado. 
    2. Then twist and the two halves will come away from each other. 
    3. Then take your knife and tap it sharply into the stone and twist again, the stone should come out.
    4. Now cut stripes into the avocado halves, length wise and width wise while still in the skin. 
    5. Then make one cut perpendicular to the others around the inside of where the stone was. 
    6. Now turn it out into the bowl.
  14. Add the avocado and coriander (if using) to the onion and lime mixture.
  15. Heat the refried bean as instructed on the packet.
To serve either load up tacos with beans, lettuce, pulled chicken and avocado salsa (with soured cream on top if you're feeling decadent) or serve everything on a plate with rice. It is delicious either way. A spritz of lime over the top can make the flavour even fresher if you like that kind of thing.

What is your favourite use of chipotle paste?