Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Review: The Forest with guest Deb Atwood

So today I am pairing up with the lovely Deb Atwood again to do another joint review of a film. We had so much fun last time that we wanted to have another go. The Forest is another horror film, about, you guessed it, a haunted forest.

From IMDB: A woman, Sara, goes into Japan's Suicide Forest to find her twin sister, Jess, and confronts supernatural terror.

The review contains what could be considered spoilers, so be warned if you read on.

The Forest - A Joint Review

by Natasha Duncan-Drake & Deb Atwood

Q1 Deb: As a non-twin, I have to ask. How much of the twin mythology that was made much of in the film—eerily feeling each other's pain, sensing each other's thoughts—is true to your experience, and how much is popularized fiction?

Tasha: Soph and I call it the twin thing and it does happen. It used to happen a lot more when we were younger, but it does still happen now. When we were small my mother says we used to completely swap personalities sometimes.

As for the pain thing, I have trouble walking and if I walk too long it can really hurt. Sometimes when we go shopping together Soph gets the pain and I get less (if that makes any sense) - it's most weird.

We also do things like, we'll both be writing a story and come up with the exact same idea without ever having discussed it.

So I'd say, yes, it really does exist. :) I think the way the film portrayed it was well done, although I do have to say, Soph is not a noise in my head ;).

Deb: So it sounds like you should always take Soph shopping with you, right? I like the idea of someone assuming some of my pain. Have you read the book Identical Strangers by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein? They were twins separated at birth and reunited in their thirties. They discovered they had made some of the same life choices, and they interviewed other separated twin sets who shared eerie similarities. It definitely seems there is a twin magnetism. I'm glad you're able to put your stamp of approval on the twin portrayal in The Forest. I'm a little jealous that I, as a non-twin, don't have that kind of bestie!

Tasha: No I haven't read that book, sounds like a very interesting one. I have seen some documentaries on twins that were interesting, unfortunately I have no idea what they are called :).

Q2 Tasha: Have you ever had anything along the lines of a psychic experience involving another living person, relative or otherwise? Do you believe they can happen. Did the film portray it in a believable way for you?

Deb: The only sort of psychic connection I've felt is when I'm thinking of someone, a friend, and then receive a message from that person. I'm not sure my feeling is psychic as much as it was just naturally time for us to connect. I do believe psychic messages are possible, and I sure love to experience this phenomena in novels and movies. The film's portrayal of this made sense to me other than the idea of knowing whether someone is alive, which seemed too convenient for the plot.

Tasha: To me the part about knowing the other is alive was very important and I think twins probably would know if the other had died. I just wasn't quite there for the way they described it :).

Q3 Deb: The forest is beautiful and haunting. Would you want to visit Aokigahara Forest? If so, would you rub salt on your back as you leave to prevent the Yurei from following you home? I guess that's a roundabout way of asking if you believe in ghosts?

Tasha: Yes I would like to visit the forest, although, these days I doubt I could walk far into it. :) I do believe in ghosts and have had a few experiences over the years. Never actually seen one, but felt and heard one on several occasions. I've lived in two haunted houses in my life and my husband's family have a tendency to see ghosts all over the place. I have no doubt things beyond what we understand do exist, however, I have yet to experience anything which would make me think there are Yurei - angry ghosts.

I actually didn't really gel with the ghost portrayals in the film though. They didn't speak to me and they didn't scare me. I love Asian horror, scares the willies out of me, but this felt like the Westerners trying to do J-horror and missing. It's not a terrible film, I wasn't bored by it, but I wouldn't rush to watch it again.

Deb:  I, too, would like to visit the forest although I think I would feel so sad. I had never heard of this forest, but it turns out all those things--the tents and the direction ropes so people who change their minds can find their way out--are real.

Tasha: I had heard of it before, but didn't know all the details. I think it showed up in another horror movie I watched, or was mentioned at least.

Q4 Tasha: So do you believe ghosts exist? What about the angry ghosts of the film trying to trick living people into killing themselves - or are they just fodder for campfire tales? Did the ghosts in the film give you a good scare?

Deb: I haven't made up my mind about whether I believe in ghosts. Sometimes I think of them more as metaphors for yearning and loss and that makes me love them even more. The angry ghost is not my favorite type of apparition (and, like you, I'm skeptical of an entity capable of doing real harm). I much prefer the wandering, forlorn ghost looking for help. I have to say, though, the scariest ghost movie I ever saw featured angry ghosts and was titled Poltergeist. Interesting that you weren't scared in The Forest. I was terrified. You must be made of sterner stuff than I!

Tasha: I'm not sure why I wasn't scared. Maybe I was just expecting more and I didn't get it, who knows :).

Q5 Deb: What do you think of Sara's decision to spend the night in the forest rather than return in the morning? Other than the fact there'd be no movie otherwise, of course!

Tasha: The logical me sitting here thinks staying in a haunted forest for the night is a really bad plan! The twin part of me, however, says that if that was my sister's tent and I was worried about her, I would have to stay too. Given that Sarah does not believe in the stories about the forest it also makes perfect sense; staying is the only sensible option for her. Jess could have come back at any time.

It's the classic, 'I'll just go down to the basement to check the fuses' moment when we, the audience know it's a really stupid idea because of supernatural beasties, but the logical person in the horror film doesn't believe in anything silly like that :).

Personally though, if that was me, I'd be sitting there the entire night with the torch on, not even remotely attempting to sleep. Sleeping in a haunted forest is asking for trouble!

Q6 Tasha: I was a bit confused about how Sarah explained her parents' deaths while we were shown glimpses of what really happened that contradicted her story. Did you think she was in denial or that she really hadn't seen it and it was the forest that showed her the truth in the end? Do you think it matters to the plot?

Deb: I actually kind of think both if that makes sense. I think Sarah is in denial about her parents' deaths, but I also think the forest shows her the whole truth. I feel the burden Jess took on as the holder of that memory was part of what drove Sarah to stay rather than return in the morning. I imagine you could also view this film as a dark psychological study about a troubled self divided in two (ego/id, maybe?) rather than as a ghost story.

Tasha: You could, but I prefer my horror to be supernatural :D

Q7 Deb: What impressions do you have about the influence of culture on the actions and characters in this movie? How would this movie be different if it were filmed at Beachy Head, England, for instance? I was thinking of this question because I live near another suicide hot-spot, the Golden Gate Bridge.

Tasha:  I thought the way they portrayed Sarah as the outsider in the strange world of Japan when she didn't speak the language or understand the customs, was very striking in the beginning of the film. Somehow I thought it lost that culture shock once they got into the forest though. I think they may have missed a trick there - possibly because they had to have the Western man in there too. He was too useful and comforting - for a while at least. If they had made more of the differences in Japanese and Western folklore I think the film may have had more impact.

Yes the effects were well done, but I didn't really find them frightening. There wasn't enough mythos about the story for me. Japanese folklore has such a rich history that I am sure they could have given it more of an edge.

As for how it would be different in an alternative cultural setting, I think you'd be on to more of a winner with the Golden Gate than I would with Beachy Head :). Lots more dark places to be creepy. Although if we brought in a sea mist it might work.

I just went and looked up Beachy Head and the first article I came across ( said the reputation for suicides is only surpassed by the Golden Gate and Aokigahara Forest :). Apparently there is supposed to be a ghostly black monk who beckons people over the cliff to their death. So I think you could set a film there and have a similar scenario of someone being enticed to their death, although the key to The Forest is the huge and confusing nature of the place, so it would need a different angle for that part.

I think the idea that suicides may linger is a universal concept simply because ghosts are often associated with unhappy spirits and the poor people who take their own lives have to  have been unhappy in some way too. However, the idea of the angry ghost, where because of the way they die they completely change into something evil, is much more prevalent in Asian mythology. So I suspect a Western ghost would have to have much more of a back story to be evil.

Deb: That's a really good point--the huge and confusing nature of the Aokigahara Forest as key to the movie. Again, the psychological element comes in. Related to culture, I was also thinking about cultural influences on how suicide is viewed. Japan has a history of honorable suicide not matched in the West. One article I read suggested this difference is in part because of Christianity, which classifies suicide as a sin. Only a small percentage of the Japanese identify as Christian.

On the Golden Gate Bridge, a group calling themselves the Bridgewatch Angels actively walks the bridge to prevent suicide. In the movie, it seemed the volunteers were more concerned with providing support to those who were questioning than directly intervening. For me, that felt like a key cultural difference and part of what made that particular setting integral to the film.

Tasha: You're right about the honourable suicide angle, I hadn't even thought of that. I think that just underlines quite how much I felt a dislocation in the culture once they entered the forest. In a Western film you would have much more condemnation of the spirits I suppose.

Q8 Tasha: Does the Golden Gate have any ghostly legends associated with it because of its reputation?

Deb: I don't know of any ghost movies that have been made of the Golden Gate Bridge. And apparently no jumpers have come back to haunt the bridge (although some people claim to hear screams when the bridge is fogged in, but that could just as easily be sea gulls screeching). The only ghost tale associated with the bridge features a boat, the SS Tennessee, which was swept onto the rocks of the Golden Gate Strait in 1853. Witnesses have occasionally seen the ship pass by. It leaves a wake but does not register on radar. I was intrigued by your story of the devious monk at Beachy Head. I'll have to watch out for him if I ever visit there!

Tasha: Only a ghostly ship? You'd think there would be tales of ghostly jumpers, but maybe the bridge leaves the ghosts to the water.

Q9 Tasha: Over all I found the film somewhat lacking in detail in places. I would have preferred some more meat to the story, like an explanation for why Jess had decided to go in the forest and who was the school girl. What did you think?

Deb: I guess I assumed Jess had been troubled all her life because of what happened to her parents, but yes, some idea of what triggered her visit to the forest would strengthen the story. The presence of the schoolgirl ghost did not surprise me (though she scared me to death). This article from Newsweek discusses reasons for high suicide rates in Japan among schoolchildren:                      

Something the movie might have explored is a relationship between the schoolgirl and Jess with Jess as her teacher. That could provide more meat to the story and possibly help with Jess's motivation.

Overall, I liked the movie quite a bit even though it made me sad and angry. I can see that I was more scared than you were. I'm the one you don't want to sit next to in a theater. I'm the one who yelps.

Tasha: I hide behind cushions or, in the cinema, my coat - LOL. Glad the movie does have the power to frighten, even if it didn't grab me.


About the Author

Deb Atwood holds an MFA and lives in California with her husband and rescue dog Nala. Her time-slip novel, Moonlight Dancer, was selected as a front page Featured Review by Book Ideas. Deb's interests include ghost fiction and films, Korean culture, dogs, quilting, and, of course, reading. She loves to wander around old cemeteries and peek in mausoleums. Deb blames this odd fascination on the television program Dark Shadows, which she watched as a child. 

Author Links:
Twitter: @deb_atwood | Facebook


Book Info

As readers of Deb Atwood’s blog Pen In Her Hand know, Atwood is passionate about ghost fiction. Since 2011, Atwood has read, re-read, and written about ghost literature. 31 Ghost Novels to Read Before You Die presents a selection of the best of these posts.

Among the books discussed are old favorites (The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson) as well as some indie gems few people will know about (The 20’s Girlthe Ghost, and All That Jazz by June Kearns). There are ghost novels for every reader, in genres ranging from historical to literary to romance.

Book Links:

Monday, 28 November 2016

I Won #NaNoWriMo :)

I made my 50K total today and so I was able to validate my novel.

Defence, Pretence, Offence is actually 152,500 words at the mo, but I only wrote 50K so far this time round.

The first 10 chapters are almost ready for posting, which has me all excited. It's only taken me 12 years to be close to finishing this fanfic. I'm so looking forward to actually sharing it with everyone.

For those who have not heard the tale, I originally wrote Gold Tinted Spectacles (AO3, Watpadd), which this is the sequel to, back in 2003. I immediately started on the sequel, but stalled at approximately 50K. It has since languished in my Harry Potter folder, being looked at wistfully every now and then.

Last year I decided to dig it out for NaNo and completed another 50K, but again stalled thanks to December being completely nuts, and original work taking precedence after that.

This year I was determined to finish it. I haven't quite managed it yet, but there are only odd scenes left to write and a few things to fix, so it's nearly there :).

To everyone still racing to get to 50K before the end of the month, best of luck

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Happy Thanksgiving to My US Friends

Happy Thanksgiving

We don't have this particular holiday in the UK, but I would just like to wish all my US friends a very happy thanksgiving.

I hope you have friends and/or family to share it with, and have many things to be thankful for. May your day be filled with happiness, peace and all things good.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

NaNoWrimo - The End is in Sight

So we are well on our way to the end of November and the end of NaNoWriMo. You can already vaildate your novel if you're way ahead of the game :).

I hope all your novels are coming along well. Here are just a few things to remember to help you to get to the end and your 50K.

Wittegen Press
  • If you've written yourself into a corner - DON'T WORRY
    Go back to where you think it started to go off track and rewrite from there - JUST DON'T DELETE ANYTHING.
    Editing comes later and it may be that there are elements to both versions that you will be able to edit together. You still wrote the words so they still count - no one says the novel has to be publishable by Nov 30th.
  • It's always harder to finish the month, but PERSEVERE
    You've got this far, don't give up. The shiny has rubbed off, you probably hate bits of your novel, but y'know what? You've managed to write it so far. You can manage to finish the month and get your 50K words on the page and your NaNo badge on your blog. If you have to, write random scenes - the achievement of winning will boost your enthusiasm again so you can turn the novel into something great.
  • If you are behind, don't give up yet.
    Try and write a few extra words every day - you will be surprised how quickly they mount up.
  • Finding the word total every day daunting now the initial boost is gone?
    Write in 100 or 200 word segments. It takes no time at all to put down 100 words, you can do it in five mins here or there. Do that 16 times in a day and you have your daily word count.
  • Remember to keep rewarding yourself!
    This can really help with the final push. When you make your total in a sitting, be it the full word count or a smaller one in a smaller sitting - give yourself a treat. The other day my word count was like pulling teeth - I told myself if I finished by lunch time I could watch Patrick Stewart in A Christmas Carol while eating said lunch - it worked :)
  • Remember, writing is a great achievement. You're doing brilliantly.
  • Also remind yourself that some professional writers take years to finish a book, even if you only manage to write half of yours, you are awesome!
  • Don't worry about the nitty gritty, don't worry about the details that don't quite fit.
    Everything can be sorted in the editing stage. Your job now is to get those words out. I just realised that my timeline is shot in one small part of the story, but I'll sort that out later. Perfection will come when I have time to think about it ;).
NaNo Writers, Cheerleaders and everyone else involved, you're all marvellous and don't you forget it.

Good luck to everyone headed for the finish line.

Have you finished already? Are you way behind? Are you just ticking along nicely? LMK

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Sorry for the lack of posts over the last 2 weeks

Good morning all. Hope everyone is well. This is just a little note to apologise for the lack of new posts over the last couple of weeks.

Last week we lost internet for a couple of days, which completely threw me out, and this week I have the dreaded lurgy, so I'm concentrating on getting my NaNo stuff done and anything else I have to do and not much else.

Next week will see a return to our normally scheduled programming. Thank you for your patience.

To fill in time, I am still posting

Dead Before Dawn: The Vampire Curse

over at Wattpad. It's totally free to read and new chapters are posted Tuesday and Friday. We're over half way now and the final chapters will be posted the week before Christmas, so now is the time to catch up.

Best wishes to all, hope you are all well.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Recipe: Bolognese with Crispy Cheesy Courgette Batons (Gluten Free)

Greetings, today I have a new recipe for you. It is gluten free and can very easily be made in vegetarian or non-vegetarian versions. I made it for me and my husband last night and it's very tasty and much lighter in the stomach than pasta.

Bolognese with Crispy Cheesy Courgette (Zucchini) Batons (Gluten Free)

Wittegen Press


serves 2 or 3

  • 250g Turkey Breast Mince (sub quorn or soya mince for veggie version or even a can of pulses if you prefer)
  • 2-3 large flat mushrooms (you can use smaller mushrooms, but the big ones have more flavour)
  • 500g tomato passata
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 stock cubes (I use beef Oxo, if you are going veggie use vegetable stock cubes and if you are going gluten free use Knorr not Oxo)
  • 3 sweet roasted red peppers (I get mine in a jar like this, but you can buy and roast your own - these are not chilli peppers)
  • glug of sherry (optional)
  • 1 tbsp oil (olive, sunflower and coconut are all good)
  • 2.5 medium courgettes (zucchini)
  • 50g (1/2 cup) ground almonds (aka almond flour or almond meal)
  • 50g (1/2 cup) grated Parmesan (for veggie option use a vegetarian substitute hard Italian cheese because Parmesan uses animal rennet - check the packaging to be sure)
  • 1 tbsp salt (don't worry, most of this is washed off)
  • 1.5 tspn Italian seasoning (store bough or here is a recipe)
  • 1/2 tspn garlic powder
  • 1 large egg


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220C or 425F.
  2. Cut 2 of the courgettes (zucchini) into 2.5 to 3 inch lengths (I cut the ends off mine and cut them in half). Then cut each length into 8 pieces along their length so you have batons.
  3. Place the batons in a colander and sprinkle with the salt. Leave for between 30 mins and 1 hr to drain all excess water. (1 hr is better, but 30 mins will do at a push).
  4. When your courgette batons are almost finished draining, chop the mushrooms into bite sized pieces and the remaining 1/2 courgette into thin rounds that are then divided into quarters.
  5. Add the oil and garlic to a deep frying pan and gently heat.
  6. Add the mushrooms and the courgette quarters (NOT the batons) and cook until they are softening and have given up their water.
  7. Drain (if from a jar) and chop the peppers into bite sized pieces and also add to the pan. 
  8. Add the mince and cook through.
  9. Crumble the stock cubes straight into the pan and stir through. (If you like your food with some bite you can add a little chilli too).
  10. Add the passata to the pan, rinse out the passata container with a little water and also add.
  11. Add the sherry and 1/5 tsp Italian seasoning. (My peppers come in brine, so I find I don't need to add any more salt at this point, if you are roasting your own a little salt or a splash of Worcestershire sauce (not veggie) or soy sauce (Tamari is gluten free) is good).
  12. Bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer - allow to cook gently while you are dealing with the rest of the dish (after 10 mins with the lid off the liquid will have reduced so it it thickening, put the lid on).
  13. Mix the ground almonds, Parmesan, 1 tsp of the Italian seasoning and the garlic powder in a flat bottomed, shallow bowl or plate.
  14. Crack the egg into a bowl and whisk it.
  15. Line a large baking tray with grease proof paper or baking parchment or a silicon baking sheet.
  16. Wash the courgette spears under the tap to remove the salt, then pat them dry with kitchen paper towels.
  17. Dip each courgette spear into the egg, then coat in the almond and cheese mixture, before placing on the baking sheet.
  18. Cook for 30 minutes in the oven, turning once during cooking, until the crumb coating is golden brown all over and the courgette inside is tender.

Serve with the bolognese in a bowl and the courgette spears on the side so people can dip them in, or not, as they see fit :).

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

#NaNoWriMo - The Awesome Way to Get the Words Down

So who's doing NaNoWriMo this year?

Wittegen Press
For those wondering what I am talking about - NaNoWriMo is where lots of writers come together and try and write 50K words during the month of November. It's great for motivation because everyone else is feeling the same pain :).

If you are doing NaNo and want to be friends, I'm over here:

As ever I am using NaNo to finish a project I have been meaning to finish all year and haven't had the focus for. For some reason in NaNo I can do that an everything else I'm supposed to do - I can make no excuses for my brain.

I'm finishing up my Harry Potter Fanfic: Defence, Pretence, Offence, which I wrote 50K for last year, taking it up to 100K and never got round to completing, even though I kept wanting to. It's the sequel to my epic Gold Tinted Spectacles :).

Have you had a go at NaNo before? Did you win?

Are you having a go this year? What are you writing?

Do you think you might like to have a go at NaNo?

My tips for making it through are these:

  • Write a little extra in the week if you can because often weekends are full of social events/family time etc.
  • Don't be afraid to write out of order - if you get stuck on one part, jot down the notes you have in your head and then continue the next part of the story, or an entirely different part, as long as it gets your writing.
  • Don't worry about the quality, get the words down and worry about editing in December.
  • If you miss a day, make the word count up as quickly as possible - there is nothing more disheartening than seeing yourself get more and more behind.
  • Tell everyone what you're doing and get them cheering for you - there's nothing like support.
  • Don't burn yourself out too quickly - pace yourself.
  • Give yourself rewards when you make your word count to reinforce the enjoyment.
What tips help you make it through?